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Jimi Hendrix

“When I die, I want people to play my music, go wild, and freak out an’ do anything they wanna do.” – Jimi Hendrix

Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on 27 November 1942 in Seattle, Washington, USA, and was the first of five children born to Lucille Jeter and James Allen Hendrix, whom everyone knew as Al and who had married Lucille on 31 March 1942, only three days before he started his basic training after being drafted to serve in the army during the second world war. In 1946, Johnny’s name was changed to James Marshall Hendrix as a way of honouring his father and his late uncle Leon Marshall and he would soon become known to the family simply as Jimi.

When his father returned from three years of service in the army, he and Lucille struggled to cope and each addition to the family would end up being placed in foster care and would ultimately be adopted. The couple’s constant battle with alcohol led to frequent fights, so much so that Jimi would hide on occasion in a closet. 

Although Jimi had never owned a guitar as a child it became obvious that he had an interest in playing one as he would be frequently spotted pretending to play a broom handle that he carried with him whilst walking to school at Horace Mann Elementary.

During the early summer of 1958 before moving to study at Garfield High School at the age of 15, Jimi managed to acquire a guitar for five dollars and learned to play it by ear, practising for hours on end whilst listening to blues artists like Muddy Waters and B.B. King.

Shortly afterwards he played in his first band which was called the Velvetones but his acoustic guitar couldn’t be heard over the rest of the group and he realised he needed an electric one. After three months of constant badgering, his father finally relented and bought Jimi a white Supro Ozark 1560 S. Unfortunately, he left it backstage overnight after a gig and it was stolen, so his father replaced it with a red Silvertone Danelectro.

By the time Jimi had reached the age of 19, he had already been caught riding in stolen cars twice by the police and so he was given a choice; go to prison for two years or join the army. So, on 31 May 1961, he enlisted and joined the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. He was stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and it could be said that he wasn’t exactly cut out to be a soldier. He was forever causing issues, whether it was sleeping on duty or playing his guitar whilst the rest of the barracks was trying to sleep. Although he had signed up for three years, his Captain, Gilbert Batchman decided he had had enough and after Hendrix allegedly acquired an ankle injury in a parachuting accident he was offered an honourable discharge, which Jimi wasn’t slow to take up, and so he was discharged on 29 June 1962.

Soon after leaving the army, Jimi Hendrix formed a band called the King Kasuals which played local gigs for a few dollars at a time. To supplement this Jimi also played as a backing musician for some true legends of the time including Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and he would also soon play with the likes of the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and Rosa Lee Brooks who became a close friend.

On 27 July 1965, Jimi Hendrix signed his first recording contract but he felt that he wasn’t being fulfilled simply playing the guitar in the shadow of other artists so he moved in 1966 to Greenwich Village in New York. Whilst he was playing in various coffeehouses in New York, the bassist with the British group The Animals, Chas Chandler heard him play and asked him to come to London as he was thinking of leaving The Animals, and the two of them formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. The band’s first single was Hey Joe and was released through Polydor on 16 December 1966. It achieved the number six position in the UK charts, putting the band on the map.

More hits would soon follow including Purple Haze which got to number three in the charts and The Wind Cries Mary which reached number six, staying in the charts for eleven weeks. Jimi’s on-stage antics were always popular with crowds including his ability to play his left-handed Stratocaster guitar with his teeth. He even set fire to his guitar at one gig in order to get more media exposure. He repeated the gimmick when The Experience played at the Monterey Pop Festival on 18 June 1967, throwing pieces of the destroyed instrument into the crowd. As he set the guitar on fire a 17-year-old called Ed Caraeff used the last shot of black and white film in his camera to take one of the most famous photographs in the history of rock, which went on to be colourised for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in June 1987.

Unfortunately, the magic of The Experience wasn’t to last as the relationship between various members of the band began to deteriorate, especially between Jimi Hendrix and Noel Redding whilst they toured Europe in 1969 with Redding becoming more and more frustrated at Hendrix’s work ethic, or lack thereof, which resulted in Noel Redding leaving the band on 30 June 1969.

At eight in the morning on Monday 18 August, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was introduced to the stage at Woodstock where they were to close the show, but Hendrix clarified that the name of the band had changed saying that it would now be Gypsy Sun and Rainbows but for short it was simply Band of Gypsys.  He played The Star-Spangled Banner on the guitar with huge amounts of feedback and distortion to emulate the sounds made by rockets and bombs. Commentators at the time called it a statement against the Vietnam War. In 2011, Guitar World named that performance as the greatest of all time.

The Band of Gypsys split following their third and final concert during a music festival at Madison Square Garden on 28 January 1970, but a self-titled live album was released in April that year and is the only commercially available Jimi Hendrix live album to have been released during his lifetime.

Hendrix worked sporadically after The Band of Gypsies split on new material for what would have been his next album but he decided to take a break from recording and went on tour. During what became known as the Cry of Love tour, Hendrix played some of his most memorable music to some of his largest crowds. However, his appearance at the New York Pop Festival on 17 July was a disaster with Hendrix having taken too many drugs before going on stage. There were 32 performances in total on the American leg of the tour which concluded in Hawaii on 1 August 1970. The tour then moved to Europe, but he abandoned a concert in Denmark after only three songs on 2 September and four days later he was met by booing fans at a festival in Germany because he had cancelled a show the night before due to torrential rain. The following day he flew to London.

Whilst in London Hendrix performed at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and it was noted that his performance was somewhat subdued, quietly playing backing guitar whilst jamming with Eric Burdon and his band War.

Jimi Hendrix had occasionally used drugs before 1966, but after experiencing LSD that year he became more of a habitual user of cannabis, LSD, hashish and amphetamines as well as alcohol.

At around 11 am on the morning of 18 September 1970 Hendrix’s girlfriend Monika Dannemann found him unconscious on the floor of her flat in London and she called for an ambulance which arrived only 9 minutes later. Paramedics took him to St Mary Abbot’s Hospital but Jimi Hendrix, at the age of only 27 was pronounced dead at 12.45 pm. A post-mortem revealed that he had been intoxicated on barbiturates and that he had died from choking on his own vomit. His body was flown to Seattle and on 1 October it was interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Renton, Washington close to the grave of his mother.

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