Who was the greatest rock and roll guitarist ever? Always and forever the name of Jimi Hendrix will be nominated answering that question. A vastly talented musician and instrumental technician, the legendary Hendrix combined the Blues, Soul, R&B and Rock & Roll into an innovative and mold breaking style. Coupled with flamboyant stage antics and uncharted mixing arrangements, Hendrix became an international, Rock & Roll and pop culture star.
|Photo by Luiz Fernando / Sonia Maria|
Johnny Allen Hendrix was born in 1942 in Seattle, Washington; the son of seventeen year old Lucille Jeter and Army soldier James Allen Hendrix. Jimi's early childhood was marked by poverty and personal tragedies. Of the five Hendrix siblings, three were given up to state custody due to physical disabilities and blindness. Jimi became a shy and reserved boy, isolated and withdrawn. But he loved music and would strum a broomstick as if it were a guitar.
When Jimi was 15 his mother died and he bounced between relatives for a time. The sensitive boy was deeply affected and carried within him a burden of sadness, abandonment and neglect. Sensing his son's detachment and loneliness, Jimi's father paid five bucks for a used acoustic guitar to replace a one-string ukulele Jimi had bonded with for a number of years. At age 17, with his talent blossoming, Jimi received his first electric guitar and thereafter the life story on Jimi Hendricks changed forever,
Jimi began his formal musical career playing with local Seattle area bands, some paying gigs, some not. He was fired more than once for over-the-top stage stunts, but his talent was without question and he played left-handed, behind his back and with his teeth.
Still in high school, Jimi was an indifferent student who curiously received an "F" in music. He was eventually expelled for attendance and discipline problems and soon found himself in minor trouble with the law. The solution; Hendrix was ordered to enlist in the Army. But he was a poor soldier and was discharged within a year.
After his Army stint, Hendrix went on the road playing small towns, honky-tonks, warm-up and background for larger, better known acts. Ever expanding, Jimi was soon playing with notable acts such as the Isley Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner and Little Richard.
With his star rising and reputation growing, he traveled to London where he was introduced to the British rock scene. With the help of a few English musical luminaries, Hendrix formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience, a band that would soon hit the top of the charts and play to sellout crowds. Their first album, Are You Experienced, became a mega-seller, second only to the Beatles epic Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Back in the United States, The Experience, now a rock and roll wonder very much in demand, played the Monterey Pop Festival, Fillmore East, and headlined venues coast to coast. Hendrix's fame grew exponentially and in the "sex, drugs, and rock and roll", culture of the times, he was an accomplished practitioner, or if you like - victim.
Legal and personal entanglements mounted including a drug possession arrest and contractual disputes. During this time of high flying success and excess, The Experience broke up. Other notable musicians joined Jimi and as his schedule excelled and his popularity peaked, so did his use of drugs and alcohol, sometimes affecting his work on stage and in the studio.
Hendrix's signature performance was at the famous, iconic, epic, historically footnoted Woodstock Musical Festival in August of 1969. Jimi and his group played a two-hour set, climaxing in Hendrix's solo rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, which has become a representation and marquee of the turbulent times of the 1960's.
Hendrix played his last concert in the contiguous United States in August, 1970 at Seattle's Sick,s Stadium, blocks from his childhood home. He didn't like the area or his memories growing up and he cursed the rain and played badly. He left abruptly, did a show in Hawaii and returned to England. The next time he would be on American soil would be for his funeral. The life story on Jimi Hendrix was over.
Jimi died September 18, 1970 at the age of 27 in the London flat of friend Monika Danneman after drinking heavily and taking a handful of sleeping pills. His sudden, shocking demise engendered speculation and innuendo. Some rumors claimed suicide, others hinted at murder, still others espoused that he was not dead at all, that reports of his death were only a publicity stunt.
The life story on Jimi Hendrix will be memorialized every time one of his songs is played, replayed, copied, re-copied, stolen or new renditions attempted. There was only one Hendrix and though his legacy may be clouded by his risky, showman's lifestyle, he was truly a man for his times. After all, Jimi was one of the first black Rock and Rollers to capture a predominately white audience while incorporating, mixing, and modifying culturally identifiable genres of American Music and turning out his own unique sound.