James Allan “Jimi” Hendrix was a guitarist, singer and songwriter from Seattle, Washington. His childhood was defined by hardship and uncertainty. His parents married when his mother Lucille was only sixteen years old, and his father Al left a few days later to serve in the Army during World War II. Hendrix was often neglected as an infant, but family members helped raise him until Al returned home in 1945. The young family reunited, but Al struggled to find steady work. Both parents drank to excess. The couple had four more children, but gave the three youngest up for adoption, and eventually divorced in 1951.
When Dad bought James his first guitar in 1958, the young man promptly began devoting most of his free time to playing and learning the guitar. With few prospects after school, he enlisted in the Army in 1961, but was honorably discharged for “unsuitability” within eighteen months. While in the Army, he made friends with Billy Cox through their mutual interest in music, and after Cox left the Army, the two headed to Nashville, Tennessee. Over the next three years, Hendrix toured and recorded as a support musician for such acts as Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, and moved to New York City, to improve his chances of success as a solo artist. By the summer of 1966, now a top notch, soulful rhythm and lead guitarist, James (or Jimmy) caught his big break. Former Animals bassist Chas Chandler was trying to break into the record business as a manager, watched Hendrix perform, and convinced to move to London, England. To add a distinctive ring, Hendrix changed his stage name to Jimi, and paired himself with two young British musicians, drummer Mitch Mitchell and guitarist Noel Redding, who switched to bass, and formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Their first single was a version of the recent folk song “Hey Joe”, which reached #6 on the British pop charts.
Buoyed by the success of “Hey Joe”, the band recorded an album of original material. The resulting effort, called Are You Experienced?, is one of the greatest debut albums in popular music history, featuring a broad exploration of the electric guitar’s capabilities, with strange but evocative lyrics that helped define the psychedelic era of rock music. Within months, Hendrix had become the toast of the town, winning the envy and admiration of the biggest rock stars in London’s orbit.
America’s introduction to the Jimi Hendrix Experience came a few months later, at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June, 1967. Their wild performance, featuring Hendrix’s mastery of feedback techniques and ending with a ceremonial guitar burning, gained him instant notoriety. Combined with the instrumental virtuosity and the hip, humorous stories of Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix became a worldwide sensation.
In His Prime and Decline
The next three years were a whirlwind of activity, and a period of rapid decline. From 1967 to 1970, Hendrix performed and recorded incessantly, issued three more albums of material, fought to gain control of his finances and music, and opened the Electric Lady studios in New York City, while trying to manage his entourage of friends and managers, especially the women who demanded his attention. Hendrix indulged heavily in a wide variety of drugs, which took their toll on his health and well being. Similar to his mother Lucille, who passed away at only thirty three due to alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver, Jimi Hendrix passed away on September 18th, 1970, only twenty seven years old, due to an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol. With the possible exception of Duane Allman, the premature loss of Jimi Hendrix is the greatest tragedy in rock music history. Hendrix was evolving rapidly, moving away from pop music and into the broader world of jazz music expression.
There’s your obligatory boilerplate opening passage, my dismal effort to summarize a great musician’s life into as few paragraphs as possible. There is a wealth of information of the beloved Hendrix for those so inclined. While studying Jimi Hendrix I read “Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky” by David Henderson, a rambling yet ultimately rewarding book which, in particular, well describes the chaos and tragedy during the final couple years of the great guitarist’s life. In the book, a conspiracy theory of Hendrix’s demise is offered, the suggestion that he was murdered by either a greedy businessman or a jealous lover. None of these allegations were proved. Hendrix’s financial affairs were in disarray at the time of his death; it took his father Al more than twenty years to regain full control of his son’s estate.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience:
The Band Of Gypsys:
Jimi Hendrix with:
Do Chicks Dig Hendrix?
I listen to music a couple hours a day; lately, I’ve been reviewing music over breakfast. Inevitably, my wife hears a cross section of each artist in the big countdown. Jimi Hendrix is her least favorite musician to date, a distinction that will stand, given the ten remaining artists to profile. She doesn’t hate his music, but there are few if any songs she actively enjoys, and the shrill sound of Hendrix’s stinging lead guitar grates on her nerves.
A while back I played “Little Wing” for a friend, who didn’t think much of it, and she couldn’t comprehend why I considered it a top song. About ten years ago, I sent my sister a Hendrix compilation for Christmas, along with other music I consider essential, only to have the CD returned with the comment, “We (her family) don’t listen to that kind of music anymore.”
I don’t recall ever meeting a woman who said she enjoyed Jimi Hendrix, or made an effort to listen to his music. I’m a bit surprised by this, as some of his gentle songs have a cosmic warmth to them. He was considered by those closest to him a shy, nice person, except those rare occasions when he had too much to drink.
By contrast, Jimi Hendrix was a veritable sex symbol in London, constantly surrounded by female friends and admirers. Though he had steady girlfriends throughout his career, he also maintained a policy of open sexuality and promiscuity.
“Pete Townshend of the Who had found Hendrix’s early London performances very sexual, not in an “appealing way”, but rather, more “threatening.” When he asked his girlfriend Karen Astley (who he married in 1968) if she thought Hendrix’s act was sexual, and she replied, “Are you fucking kidding?,” Townshend had been unaware of how “aroused” his girlfriend had become seeing those shows.”
— David Henderson, “Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky”
“I saw Paul (McCartney) again at the Bag ‘O Nails in Soho, where Jimi Hendrix was making a celebratory return. Mick Jagger came for a while and then left, unwisely leaving Marianne Faithfull, his girlfriend at the time, behind. Jimi sidled up to her after his mind-bending performance, and it became clear as the two of them danced together that Marianne had the shaman’s stars in her eyes. When Mick returned to take Marianne out to a car he’d arranged, he must have wondered what the sniggering was about. In the end, Jimi himself broke the tension by taking Marianne’s hand, kissing it, and excusing himself to walk over to Paul and me. Mal Evans, the Beatles’ lovable roadie-cum-aide-de-camp, turned to me and breathed a big, ironic Liverpudlian sigh. “That’s called exchanging business cards, Pete.”
— Peter Townshend, “Who I Am”
Here’s a very amusing clip, the first known video featuring Jimi Hendrix. He’s on the left in the back row, and you can hear him quite clearly making some fancy fills in the background:
Why So Many Jimi Hendrix Songs?
In a new feature to be repeated for Lucinda Williams, Grateful Dead and especially Los Lobos, it’s time to defend the high ranking of the profiled artist. Why is Jimi Hendrix rated so highly, given his career was only four years long, and typical American baby boomerettes find his music unappealing? How can I possibly recommend sixty four songs?
My iPod collection, and my list of best artists, attempts to highlight the major innovators of 20th century pop music, and among them is Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix was the first to fully explore the spectrum of sounds possible with an electric guitar. Pete Townshend and John Lennon experimented with feedback, but not to the extent Hendrix did. His command of his instrument sent other musicians home to practice, thinking they’d better try harder; sometimes they thought they should just quit trying. He’s also the rare guitarists able to play complex riffs while singing.
Especially in his first year recording with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix showed a flair for writing concise, unique and fun pop songs. He had a way of telling a story, of talking to his audience that drew in the listener. His narrative story telling is equal parts Howlin’ Wolf and Bob Dylan. After the initial success of his first two albums, his music became more ambitious, with mixed results. Years on the Chitlin’ Circuit made him a great R&B rhythm guitarist; at the time of his death, his ability to play engaging solos was improving. When compared to the all-time great soloists, men like Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt or Eric Clapton, Hendrix was a neophyte, still learning how to construct dynamic, coherent passages that resolved in a pleasing fashion. His solos showed a great command of the sounds a guitar could make, but he hadn’t yet become a master of improvisation. Included are several examples of his posthumous work to show his progress as a musician, and the musical direction he was headed. As a soloist, “All Along The Watchtower” is perhaps his greatest achievement, and also notable as the greatest, most inventive cover version in rock music history.
Beyond his psychedelic pop sensibilities, Hendrix was a first class blues musician, and it would be fair to suggest that his most similar musical ancestor is Robert Johnson. Take away the electrification of his instrument, and the connection appears more obvious. Hendrix owned an extensive knowledge of old blues music, and recorded dozens of blues songs in his career.
“Everyday in the week I’m in a different city,
If I stay too long people try to pull me down.
They talk about me like a dog,
Talk about the clothes I wear,
But they don’t realize they’re the ones who’s square.”
— Jimi Hendrix
You might think that Jimi Hendrix would appear menacingly swinging from treetops, brandishing a spear, and yelling blood-curdling cries of “Aargh!”
For Jimi, who makes Mick Jagger look as respectable as Edawrd Heath and as genial as David Frost, could pass for a hottentot on the rampage; looks as if his foot-long hair has been petrified by a thousand shock waves, and is given to playing his guitar with his teeth.
When the Jimi Hendrix Experience made its first appearance in Britain a few months ago, he was immediately dubbed “The Wild Man of Borneo,” and the group was referred to as “an unfortunate experience.”
“Yet Jimi Hendrix is no snarling jungle primitive.
Though the gold-braided military jacket over the black satin shirt could be taken as incongruous, Jimi off-stage behaves with a quiet polite charm that’s almost olde worlde.
He stands up when you enter a room, lights all your cigarettes, and says: “Do go on,” if he thinks he might be interrupting you.
That “ugly” image, however, doesn’t worry him in the slightest. And he says: “Some of the fans think I’m cuddly, and as long as people buy my records I’ll be happy.”
He could be laughing all the way to the bank.
— Anne Nightingale, Sunday Mirror, May 9, 1967
“Listen to this baby…
A woman here, a woman there, try to keep me in a plastic cage,
But they don’t realize it’s so easy to break.
Oh, but sometimes I get a ha,
I can feel my heart kind a runnin’ hot.
That’s when I got to move before I get caught.
And that’s why, listen to me baby, you can’t hold me down,
I don’t want to be tied down,
I gotta be free!”
— Jimi Hendrix, “Stone Free”, 2nd verse
Sadly, Jimi Hendrix was anything but free in his final years. He was surrounded by people who wanted something, and he was trapped. Women fought for his time and affection; (Monika Dannemann), who was with Jimi during his last evening, had declared to all who would listen that she and Jimi were engaged, and protested when he wanted to spend time with other people. Manager Chas Chandler resigned when Jimi’s music became less pop oriented, and his new manager, Michael Jeffery, was unscrupulous. Offshore Bermuda banking accounts were established, and Hendrix’s personal balance always seemed short of funds. Jeffery surrounded himself with large, thuggish associates, who always had high quality drugs available for Jimi and his entourage. David Henderson’s book chronicles his descent in detail. Just four years before his death, the fresh young guitarist from Washington state proclaimed his freedom. In the last year of his life, he tried to reclaim it, and failed.
Jimi Hendrix plays an unusual role in pop music history —— he was a dark-skinned performer (mixed descent including African and Native American blood) popular with white audiences while receiving little attention from the African American community. Chas Chandler actually discouraged him from performing with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, both black musicians, because they might lose their appeal with white audiences. But Jimi was black, and comfortable in the company of black men, and as he evolved, he wanted to perform more music with black artists.
In terms of introducing a generation of white music fans to hip African American lingo and culture, Jimi Hendrix was perhaps the most influential. James Brown was influential within the black community, but not outside it. Sly & The Family Stone were also popular with white audiences, but Jimi Hendrix’s hip use of language and emotive on-stage persona was most admirable and impressive. Hendrix was impossibly cool. In unheralded fashion, Jimi Hendrix was a key figure in liberalizing racial views during the civil rights era.
Conversely, Hendrix went largely unrecognized by his own community during his lifetime. Soul and R&B music stations rarely if ever played his music. The African American community may have resented Hendrix for crossing over and playing hard rock music; more likely, the community was just as shocked as conservative white audiences by his radical departure from traditional sounds. Historically, African-Americans embrace this artistic creativity, but in this rare case they failed to fully endorse one of their most creative contributors.
Jimi Hendrix Song Notes:
The first three albums are all highly recommended:
Are You Experienced?
Axis: Bold As Love
The other recommended songs can be found on the following CDs:
Band Of Gypsys
Who Knows (Live)
Machine Gun (Live)
Them Changes (Live)
Message Of Love (Live)
Power To Love (Live)
First Rays Of The New Rising Sun
Belly Button Window
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set
Little Wing (Live) (★★★ version)
Little Wing (Alt)
Hey Joe (Live)
Purple Haze (Alt)
If 6 Was 9 (Alt)
Message To Love
Live At Monterey
Rock Me Baby (Live)
Like A Rolling Stone (Live)
Wild Thing (Live)
Catfish Blues (Live)
Stone Free (Live)
Driving South (Live)
Day Tripper (Live)
West Coast Seattle Boy
In particular, the alternate mix of “Fire” is better than the original.
Love Or Confusion (Alt)
May This Be Love (Alt)
The Wind Cries Mary (Live)
Castles Made Of Sand (Alt)
Red House (Live)
“Johnny B. Goode (Live)” and “Little Wing (Live)” (★★ version) can be found on Hendrix In The West.—
“Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) (Live)” can be found on Live At Berkeley.
“All Along The Watchtower (Alt)” can be found on Voodoo Child — The Jimi Hendrix Collection.
“Pali Gap” can be found on South Saturn Delta.
“Hear My Train A-Comin’ (Live)” can be found on Live At The Fillmore East.
“Star Spangled Banner (Live)” can be found on Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music.
Jimi Hendrix Songs:
All Along The Watchtower, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★★
Voodoo Child (Slight Return), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Manic Depression, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Hey Joe, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
The Wind Cries Mary, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Little Wing, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Fire (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Stone Free, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Purple Haze, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Foxy Lady, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
If 6 Was 9, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Castles Made Of Sand, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Crosstown Traffic, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Rainy Day, Dream Away, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Little Wing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Little Wing (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Machine Gun (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Them Changes (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Message Of Love (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Message To Love, Jimi Hendrix ★★
Red House (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Third Stone From The Sun, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Spanish Castle Magic, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Wait Until Tomorrow, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Bold As Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Little Wing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Purple Haze (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
If 6 Was 9 (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Red House, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
All Along The Watchtower (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Love Or Confusion (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
The Wind Cries Mary (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Who Knows (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★
Power To Love (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★
Angel, Jimi Hendrix ★
Dolly Dagger, Jimi Hendrix ★
My Friend, Jimi Hendrix ★
Belly Button Window, Jimi Hendrix ★
Johnny B. Goode (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★
Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★
Hear My Train A-Comin’ (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★
Pali Gap, Jimi Hendrix ★
Star Spangled Banner (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★
Castles Made Of Sand (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Are You Experienced?, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Remember, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Up From The Skies, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
You Got Me Floatin’, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Catfish Blues (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Stone Free (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Driving South (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Day Tripper (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Voodoo Chile, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Still Raining, Still Dreaming, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Hey Joe (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Killing Floor (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Rock Me Baby (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
Wild Thing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
May This Be Love (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★
And The Gods Made Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Mercy, Mercy, Don Covay ★★
Old Times, Good Times, Stephen Stills ★★
Testify (Parts 1 & 2), Isley Brothers ★
All Along The Watchtower, Bob Dylan ★★★★
All Along the Watchtower, Dave Mason ★★
Hey Joe, The Leaves ★★
Hey Joe, Tim Rose ★
Hey Joe, Patti Smith ★
Little Wing, Derek & The Dominos ★★
Little Wing (Live), Derek & the Dominos ★
Little Wing, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble ★★
Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Mono), Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
Them Changes, Buddy Miles ★★
Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry ★★★★★
Johnny B. Goode (Live), Grateful Dead ★
Catfish Blues, Robert Petway ★★
Rolling Stone (Alt), Muddy Waters ★★
Travelin’ To California, Albert King ★
Day Tripper, The Beatles ★★★
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles ★★
Killing Floor, Howlin’ Wolf ★★
Rock Me, Muddy Waters ★★★★
Rock Me (Alt), Muddy Waters ★★
Rock Me Baby, B.B. King ★★
Rock Me Mama, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup ★★