Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix perhaps no other rock-and-roll trailblazer was
as original or as influential in such a short span of time as
Jimi Hendrix. Widely acknowledged as one of the most daring and
inventive virtuosos in rock history, Hendrix pioneered the
electric guitar (he played a right-handed Fender Stratocaster–
his “Electric Lady”–upside-down and left-handed) as an
electronic sound source capable of feedback, distortion, and a
host of other effects that could be crafted into an articulate
and fluid emotional vocabulary. And though he was on the scene as
a solo artist for less than five years, Hendrix is credited for
having a profound effect on everyone from George Clinton and
Miles Davis to guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan and Vernon Reid.

Born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942, Hendrix’s father,
James “Al” Hendrix, later changed his son’s name to James
Marshall. Young Jimi taught himself to play the guitar during his
schoolboy days in Seattle, drawing influence from blues legends
like B.B. King and Robert Johnson. He slung his guitar over his
back and left home to enlist in the 101st Division of the Air
Force (the “Screaming Eagles”), where he served as a parachute
jumper until an injury led to his discharge. Hendrix then began
working as a session guitarist under the name Jimmy James,
playing behind such marquee acts as Sam Cooke, Ike and Tina
Turner, and the Isley Brothers. After gigging extensively with
Little Richard in 1964, Hendrix became entangled in a contract
dispute with the mercurial artist and left to form his own band,
Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. With the exception of an obscure
single, “My Diary,” with Rosa Lee Parks, none of the music
Hendrix cut with other artists was made more remarkable by his
presence. After playing Greenwich Village coffeehouses for the
better part of a year (still under the moniker Jimmy James),
Hendrix encountered Chas Chandler, of Animals fame, at a New York
City club. Impressed with his playing, Chandler, who was then
looking to switch gears to management, took Hendrix to London in
the fall of 1966 and masterminded the creation of the Jimi
Hendrix Experience. Backed by Noel Redding on bass and Mitch
Mitchell on drums, the Experience offered Hendrix the wide-open
rock-and-roll format he needed to exercise his dazzling skills as
a guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Chandler unleashed the band
on the London pop scene, and in short order, Hendrix et al.

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became the talk of the town. Hendrix’s first single, “Hey Joe,” a
cover of a song written by the L.A. band the Leaves, hit the U.K.

charts in early 1967, followed in quick succession by “Purple
Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and the trio’s ferocious debut
album, Are You Experienced?, which featured those tracks and the
Hendrix staples “Foxy Lady” and “Manic Depression.” Hendrix’s
popularity Stateside was a bit slower in igniting, but Are You
Experienced? finally broke through in a major way after a
defining moment at the famed Monterey Pop Festival when the
notoriously outlandish frontman created a sensation by coaxing
flames from his Strat during the band’s performance. The next
year, Hendrix’s eclectic psychedelia reached a zenith with two
albums, Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland–the latter
ranks as one of the greatest works of the rock era.

But the experience at the top didn’t last long– Hendrix and
bassist Redding grew apart, and muddled by overindulgence in
drugs and groupies, Hendrix came to believe–wrongly–that his
management was cheating him. In 1969, the Experience disbanded.

In the summer of 1969, Hendrix played Woodstock with an informal
ensemble called the Electric Sky Church, in a performance
highlighted by another career-defining moment: a startling,
renegade rendition of “The Star- Spangled Banner.” Hendrix
subsequently formed the Band of Gypsys, with old Air Force friend
Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles (Electric Flag) on drums. The
band’s New Year’s Eve concert at the Fillmore East in New York
City provided them with material for their first album, Band of
Gypsys (more material from the show was released on Band of
Gypsys 2 in 1986).

Hendrix brought Mitch Mitchell back into the fold in mid-
1970 to begin work on a new double album Jimi had tentatively
titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Several tracks were
recorded for the project, but the sessions were sandwiched
between tour dates, and, sadly, the album was left unfinished
when Hendrix died September 18, 1970. The cause of death noted on
the coroner’s report was inhalation of vomit after barbiturate
intoxication. In 1993, the investigation into Hendrix’s death was
reopened by Scotland Yard, but when no new evidence was
unearthed, the matter was dropped. In 1971, several of the tracks
intended for First Rays were compiled and released as The Cry of
Love, and the ensuing years have witnessed a flood of releases of
Hendrix tributes, books, videos, and albums, including pre-fame
barrel-scrapings of Hendrix takes from his pickup guitarist days.

Posthumous releases took on new life in the CD era. In 1994, MCA
released three Hendrix thematic compilations: one devoted to
blues songs recorded between 1966 and 1970 (Jimi Hendrix: Blues),
one to his live performance at Woodstock (Jimi Hendrix:
Woodstock), and a third (Voodoo Soup) that represented an attempt
to recreate Hendrix’s unfinished fourth studio album. In April of
1997, yet another attempt was made to recreate the album Hendrix
was working on at the time of his death, but this time the
project was overseen by Hendrix co-producer Eddie Kramer and
historian John McDermott–and it had the Hendrix family stamp of
approval. The seventeen-track album, First Rays of the New Rising
Sun, is arguably the best assemblage of Hendrix leftovers so far.

Despite these transgressions against his nearly faultless musical
legacy and attempts to create what could have been, Hendrix’s
innovations and soul live on in the playing of every rock-and-
roll guitarist.