“Excuse me, while I kiss the sky ….”
He was an American musician and singer-songwriter. He is widely considered to be the greatest electric guitarist in music history, and one of the most influential musicians of his era despite his mainstream exposure being limited to a meager four years. He achieved fame in the United States following his 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival after initial success in Europe with his group The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Later, he headlined the iconic 1969 Woodstock Festival and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. He favored raw overdriven amplifiers with high gain and treble and was instrumental in developing the previously undesirable technique of guitar amplifier feedback.
Hendrix helped to popularize use of the wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock, which he often used to deliver tonal exaggerations in his solos, particularly with high bends, complex guitar playing, and use of legato. Hendrix was a pioneer in experimentation with stereophonic phasing effects in rock music recordings. He was influenced by electric blues artists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and many more. Hendrix began dressing and wearing a moustache like Little Richard when he performed and recorded in his band from March 1, 1964, through to the spring of 1965.
Hendrix won several prestigious rock music awards during his lifetime, and many more posthumously. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the US Rock and Roll hall of Fame in 1992. The award's biography noted that Jimi Hendrix “expanded the range and vocabulary of the electric guitar into areas no musician had ever ventured before. His boundless drive, technical ability and creative application of such effects as wah-wah and distortion forever transformed the sound of rock and roll.” Hendrix was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. An English Heritage blue plaque was erected to identify his former residence on Brook Street, London, in September 1997. A star for Hendrix on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was dedicated on November 14, 1991 at 6627 Hollywood Boulevard. In 2005, his debut US album, “Are You Experienced”, was one of 50 recordings added that year to the United States National Recording registry to be preserved for all time in the Library of Congress as part of the nation's audio legacy. Rolling Stone named Hendrix the top guitarist on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all-time in 2003.
Hendrix was of mixed African American, European, and Cherokee ancestry. His paternal great-great grandmother was a Cherokee from Georgia. Bertran Philander Ross Hendrix, his paternal grandfather, a wealthy white grain dealer from Urbana Ohio, was of Irish, German, and English descent. Out of wedlock, Bertran P. Ross Hendrix and Zenora Moore, who may have worked in the grain mill owned by Bertram, and been a slave, had a son, Al Hendrix (Jimi Hendrix's father) and three other children. Mulatto son of slaves Preston Jeter, Hendrix's maternal grandfather, left Richmond, Virginia in his early manhood after he witnessed a man being lynched. He began a new life in Seattle and, in 1915, he married Clarice Lawson of Arkansas. Half his age, Lawson was mixed Cherokee and African-American.
As stated earlier, Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington, the first of five children born to Lucille Jeter, only three of them have been publicly stated to have been registered by James Allen Hendrix. He much later denied fathering all but Jimi and Leon in his autobiography, where he strongly hinted that Leon was the product of a Filipino friend of Lucille's, that she briefly cohabited with. His parents met at a dance in Seattle in 1941 when Lucille Jeter was 16. When she married Al Hendrix on March 31, 1942, she was pregnant. Al had been drafted into the United States Army due to World War II and was shipped out three days later. He completed his basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma but was stationed in Alabama when his son was born. The commanding officer thought he would go AWOL to Seattle to see his new son and had him locked up as a preventative measure. It was in the stockade that Al Hendrix received the telegram announcing his son's birth. He spent most of the war in the South Pacific Theater in Fiji.
During his three year absence, Lucille struggled to raise her infant son, neglecting him in favor of the nightlife. Hendrix was mostly cared for by family members and friends during this period, notably Lucille's sister, Delores Hall, and her friend Dorothy Harding. Another key member of the family circle was Nora Hendrix, his paternal grandmother. A former vaudeville dancer, she moved to Vancouver, Canada, from Tennessee after meeting her husband, former special police officer Bertram Philander Ross Hendrix, on the Dixieland circuit. Nora Hendrix shared a love for theatrical clothing and adornment, music, and performance with Jimi Hendrix. She also imbued him with the stories, rituals and music that had been part of her own Afro-Cherokee heritage and her former life on the stage. Along with his attendance at black Pentecostal church services, writers have suggested these experiences may later have informed Hendrix's thinking about the connections between emotions, spirituality and music.
Hendrix's father received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army on September 1st, 1945. Unable to find Lucille, he went to the Berkeley home of a family friend who had taken care of Jimi Hendrix, Mrs. Champ. Almost three years old, it was the first time Hendrix met his father. According to those that were adults at the time. Jimi Hendrix was known as Buster to friends and family from birth. Only Leon claims Jimi chose the nickname himself after watching Buster Crabbe in Flash Gordon which he claims he first watched with Jimi when he was three. He had three other younger siblings, Joseph, Kathy & Pamela. With serious health issues in childhood (e.g. Kathy was blind) all three were surrendered into foster care when very young. Later Hendrix's sisters were given up for adoption. Hendrix's relationship with his brother Leon was close but precarious. Leon was in and out of foster care, and the threat of fraternal separation was an ongoing and very present possibility. When Leon died, Al legally changed his son's name to James Marshall Hendrix in memory of his late brother. After his return, Al reunited with Lucille. He found it difficult to get steady work, and the family was impoverished. Both he and Lucille struggled with alcohol and fought frequently. At one point a pimp named John Page who had a history with Lucille even tried to commandeer her out of a movie theater while she was with Al. Al objected and a fight ensued, spilling out into the street. Al had been an amateur boxer and stunned the pimp with a first punch, eventually winning the brawl and they never saw the pimp again.
His parents' fighting sometimes made Hendrix withdraw and hide in a closet in their home. The family moved often, staying in cheap hotels and apartments around Seattle. On occasion Hendrix was taken to Vancouver to stay at his grandmother's and sometimes his uncle Frank's family. A shy, sensitive boy, all these experiences deeply and irrevocably affected Hendrix. In addition to the instability of his home life, in later years he confided to one girlfriend that he had been the victim of sexual abuse, although he did not go into detail other than to say that the perpetrator had been a man who wore a uniform. In one instance while he was living in Harlem, Hendrix broke down crying as his girlfriend related the sexual abuse she had suffered as a child, telling her that the same thing had happened to him.
On December 17th, 1951, when Hendrix was nine years old, his parents divorced; Al got custody of Jimi and Leon. At thirty-three, his mother developed cirrhosis of the liver and died on February 2nd, 1958 when her spleen ruptured. Instead of letting his boys attend their mother's funeral, Al Hendrix instructed them on how men dealt with their grief, by giving them shots of whiskey. Some of Hendrix's feelings about his mother's death were revealed in a survey he took for the British publication, “New Musical Express” in 1967 stating that his personal ambition was to have his own style of music, and to see his mother again.
At Horace Mann Elementary School in Seattle, Hendrix's habit of carrying a broom with him everywhere, to imitate a guitar, got the attention of the school's social worker (he destroyed several brooms in the process of fashioning a guitar). After a year of this pitiable behavior where he clung to each broom like a blanket, she insisted in her letter to Hendrix's father that leaving him without a guitar may result in psychological damage. Her efforts to either get school funding for needy children or his father to buy Hendrix a guitar failed.
At age 15, around the time his mother died, Hendrix acquired his first acoustic guitar for $5 from an acquaintance of his father. This guitar replaced the ukulele his father had found in a basement when cleaning it out. Al is talking about Jimi when he was quite small when says he found an old ukelele when cleaning out a basement and took it home for Jimi, and got a set of strings for it, he doesn't mention Leon. Leon tells it that he and Jimi were helping Al on one of his odd jobs, and Jimi found the ukulele. Learning by ear by spending hours and hours with the one-string instrument, playing single notes, Hendrix still followed along to a couple of Elvis Presley songs on the radio. He learned to play guitar by continuing to apply himself. Daily, he practiced for several hours, watched others, got tips from more experienced guitarists, and listened to Ernestine Benson's blues records by Muddy Waters, B.B. King and other artists. In mid-1959, his father bought him a white Supro Ozark, his first electric guitar, but there was no available amplifier. According to Hendrix's Seattle band mates, he learned most of his acrobatic stage moves, including playing with his teeth, behind his back, and Chuck Berry’s trademark duck walk, from a fellow young musician, Raleigh Snipes. Hendrix played in local bands, occasionally playing outlying gigs in Washington State and at least once over the border in Vancouver, British Columbia. His first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle's Temple De Hirsch. After too much wild playing and showing off, he was fired between sets. The first formal band he played in was The Velvetones, who performed regularly at the Yesler Terrace Neighborhood House without pay. He later joined the Rocking Kings, who played professionally at such venues as the Birdland. When his guitar was stolen (after he left it backstage overnight), Al bought him a white Silvertone Danelectro. He painted it red and had the name Betty Jean emblazoned on it - the name of his high school girlfriend at the time. Hendrix was particularly fond of Elvis Presley, whom he saw perform in Seattle in 1957.
Hendrix completed junior high at Washington Junior High School with little trouble but did not graduate from Garfield High School. Unusual for his era, the school had a relatively even ethnic mix of African, European, and Asian Americans. Later he was awarded an honorary diploma, and in the 1990s a bust of him was placed in the school library. After he became famous in the late 1960s, Hendrix told reporters that he had been expelled from Garfield by racist faculty for holding hands with a white girlfriend in study hall. Principal Frank Hanawalt says that it was due to poor grades and attendance problems.
Hendrix got into trouble with the law twice for riding in stolen cars. He was given a choice between spending two years in prison or joining the Army. Hendrix chose the latter and enlisted on May 31st, 1961. After completing basic training at Fort Ord near Monterey in California, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. His commanding officers and fellow soldiers considered him to be a sub-par soldier because he slept while on duty, had little regard for regulations, required constant supervision, and showed no skill as a marksman. When Hendrix also began to sleep with his guitar to keep it safe he was bullied and, on one occasion, beaten. Two fellow soldiers had befriended the “outsider.” Raymond Ross, a heavyweight boxer, stood up for him, and Billy Cox, a bass player, understood him. Cox and Hendrix often performed with other musicians on and off the base in a loosely organized band called “The Casuals“. This was a loyal friendship that Hendrix called upon from April 1969 until shortly before his death.
After he had served only one year, Captain Gilbert Batchman requested that Hendrix be discharged. Hendrix did not challenge the discharge request. The National Personnel Records Centre contain 98 pages documenting Hendrix's army service, including all his infractions. Private Hendrix received an honorable discharge on the basis of “unsuitability” on June 29th, 1962.
Later in the UK, Hendrix spoke about his military service in three interviews. In the 1967 film “See My Music Talking” (later released as “Experience) which was made for TV to promote his recently released “Axis: Bold As Love” LP, he spoke about his first parachuting experience: “...once you get out there everything is so quiet, all you hear is the breezes-s-s-s..…” In interviews with Melody Maker in 1967 and 1969, he spoke of his dislike of the army. He claimed to reporters that he received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle during his 26th parachute jump. In U.S. interviews, seminal TV host and interviewer Dick Cavett asked Hendrix about his time in the 101st Airborne more than once. On one such occasion, Hendrix's only response was to confirm that he was stationed at Fort Campbell.
After his Army discharge, Hendrix and Army friend Billy Cox moved to nearby Clarksville, Tennessee and undertook in earnest to earn a living with their existing band. They played mainly in low-paying gigs at obscure venues. The band eventually moved to Nashville’s Jefferson Street, the traditional heart of Nashville's black community and home to a lively rhythm and blues scene. After they moved to Nashville, upon learning there was already an established band by the name “The Casuals“, they amended their name to the “King Kasuals“. While in Nashville, according to Cox and Larry Lee, who replaced Alphonso Young on guitar, they were basically the house band at Club del Morocco. Hendrix and Cox shared a flat above Joyce's House of Glamour. Hendrix's girlfriend at this time was Joyce Lucas.
Bobby Taylor gave an interview in which he claimed that in December 1962, Hendrix left Nashville and traveled to his grandmother's in Vancouver, Canada (a journey of 2,582 miles, for no apparent reason). Taylor claimed that while there, Hendrix performed with future members of the Motown band Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, including Tommy Chong (of later Cheech and Chong fame). his story has often been repeated as a fact. However, Chong, later, disputed this ever happened and that any such appearance was a product of Taylor's “imagination“. On hearing this story Leon accepted it as a fact and was apparently surprised Jimi didn't visit, as Seattle is near en route. None of Jimi's Nashville friends that he was regularly playing with in their small band noticed his absence, strangely. For the next two years, Hendrix made a living performing in and around and on a circuit of venues throughout the South and up to New York catering to black audiences. These were venues affiliated with the Theater Owners' Booking Association (TOBA), sarcastically known as “Tough on Black Asses” because the audiences were very demanding. The TOBA circuit was also widely known as the Chitlin Circuit. In addition to performing in his own band, Hendrix performed with Bob Fisher and the Bonnevilles, and in backing bands for various soul, R&B, and blues musicians. The Chitlin' Circuit was where Hendrix refined his style.
Feeling he had artistically outgrown the circuit and frustrated at following the rules of bandleaders, Hendrix decided to try his luck in New York City and in January 1964 moved into the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he soon befriended Lithofayne Pridgeon (known as “Faye“, who became his girlfriend) and the Allen twins, Arthur and Albert (now known as Taharqa and Tunde-Ra Aleem). The Allen twins became friends and kept Hendrix out of trouble in New York. The twins also performed as backup singers (under the name Ghetto Fighters) on some of his recordings, most notably the song “Freedom“. Pridgeon, a Harlem native with connections throughout the area's music scene, provided Hendrix with shelter, support, and encouragement. In February 1964, Hendrix won first prize in the Apollo Theater amateur contest. Hoping to land a gig, Hendrix made the club circuit and sat in with various bands. Eventually, Hendrix was offered the guitarist position with The Isley Brother’s back-up band and he readily accepted.
Hendrix' first studio recording occurred in March 1964, when the Isley Brothers, with Hendrix as a member of the band, recorded the two-part single “Testify”. Hendrix then went on tour with the Isley Brothers. “Testify” was released in June 1964, but did not make an impact on the charts. After touring as a member of the Isley Brothers until mid-late 1964, Hendrix grew dissatisfied and left the band in Nashville. There, he found work with the tour's MC “Gorgeous” George Odell. On March 1st, 1964, Hendrix (then calling himself Maurice James) began recording and performing with Little Richard. During a stop in Los Angeles while touring with Little Richard in 1965, Hendrix played a session for Rosa Lee Brooks on her single “My Diary“. This was his first recorded involvement with Arthur Lee of the band “Love” While in L.A., he also played on the session for Little Richard's final single for Vee-Jay, “I Don't Know What You've Got, But It's Got Me“. He later made his first recorded TV appearance on Nashville's Channel 5 Night Train with “The Royal Company” backing up “Buddy and Stacy” on “Shotgun“. Hendrix clashed with Richard, over tardiness, wardrobe, and, above all, Hendrix's stage antics. On tour they shared billing a couple of times with Ike and Tina Turner. It has been suggested that Hendrix left Richard and played with the Turners briefly before returning to Richard, but there is no firm evidence to support this. Hendrix mentioned playing with them, and Ike Turner shortly before his death claimed that he did, but this is emphatically denied by Tina. Months later, he was either fired or he left after missing the tour bus in Washington, D.C. He then rejoined the Isley Brothers in the summer of 1965 and recorded a second single with them.
Later in 1965, Hendrix joined a New York based R&B band, Curtis Knight and the Squires, after meeting Knight in the lobby of the Hotel America, off Times Square, where both men were living at the time. He performed on and off with them for eight months. In October 1965, Hendrix recorded a single with Curtis Knight. On October 15 he signed a three-year recording contract with entrepreneur Ed Chalpin, receiving 1% royalty. While the relationship with Chalpin was short-lived, his contract remained in force, which caused considerable problems for Hendrix later on in his career. The legal dispute has continued to the present day. (Several songs (and demos) from the 1965-1966 Curtis Knight recording sessions, deemed not worth releasing at the time, were marketed as “Jimi Hendrix” recordings after he became famous.) Aside from Curtis Knight and the Squires, Hendrix then toured for two months with Joey Dee and the Starliters.
In between performing with Curtis Knight in 1966, Hendrix toured and recorded with King Curtis. Also around this time in 1966, Hendrix got his first composer credits for two instrumentals. Hendrix, now going by the name Jimmy James, formed his own band, “The Blue Flame”. Hendrix and his new band played at several places in New York, but their primary venue was a residency at the Café Wha? on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. Their last concerts were at the Café au Go Go, as John Hammond Jr.’s backing group, billed as “The Blue Flame“.
Early in 1966 at the Cheetah Club on Broadway at 53rd Street, Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, befriended Hendrix and recommended him to Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham and later, producer Seymour Stein. Neither man took a liking to Hendrix's music, and they both passed. She then referred Hendrix to Chas Chandler, who was ending his tenure as bassist in “The Animals” and looking for talent to manage and produce. Chandler liked the song “Hey Joe” and was convinced he could create a hit single with the right artist.
Impressed with Hendrix's version, Chandler brought him to London in September 1966 and signed him to a management and production contract with himself and ex-Animals manager Michael Jeffry. It was Chandler who came up with the spelling change of “Jimmy” to “Jimi“. Chandler then helped Hendrix form a new band, “The Jimi Hendrix Experience”, with guitarist-turned-bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, both English musicians. Shortly before the Experience was formed, Chandler introduced Hendrix to Brian Auger, Eric Burdon, Pete Townsend and to Eric Clapton, who had only recently helped put together the band “Cream”. At Chandler's request, Cream let Hendrix join them on stage for a jam. Hendrix and Clapton remained friends up until Hendrix's death. The first night Hendrix arrived in London, he began a relationship with Kathy Etchingham that lasted until February 1969. She later wrote an autobiographical book about their relationship and the sixties London scene in general.
Hendrix sometimes had a camp sense of humor, specifically with the song “Purple Haze“. A mondegreen had appeared, in which the line “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky” was misheard as “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy“. In a few performances, Hendrix humorously used this, deliberately singing “kiss this guy” while pointing to Mitch or Noel, as he did at Monterey. In the Woodstock DVD he deliberately points to the sky at this point, to make it clear. A volume of misheard lyrics has been published, using this mondegreen itself as the title, with Hendrix on the cover. After his enthusiastically received performance at France's No. 1 venue, the Olympia Theatre in Paris on the Johnny Hallyday tour, an on-stage jam with Cream a showcase gig at the newly opened, pop-celebrity oriented nightclub Bag O’Nails and the all important appearances on the top UK TV pop shows Ready Steady Go! and the BBC's Top of the Pops, word of Hendrix spread throughout the London music community in late 1966. His showmanship and virtuosity made instant fans of reigning guitar heroes Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, as well as members of The Beatles and The Who, whose managers signed Hendrix to their new record label, Track Records.
The first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, “Are You Experienced” was released in the United Kingdom on May 12, 1967, and shortly thereafter internationally, outside of the United States and Canada. It contained none of the previously released (outside the United States and Canada) singles or their B sides. At this time, the Experience extensively toured the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. This allowed Hendrix to develop his stage presence, which reached a high point on March 31, 1967, when, booked to appear as one of the opening acts on the Walker Brothers farewell tour, he set his guitar on fire at the end of his first performance, as a publicity stunt. This guitar has now been identified as the guitar “found” and later restored by Frank Zappa. He used it to record his album, “Zoot Allures” (1971). When Zappa's son, Dweezil, found the guitar some twenty years later, Zappa gave it to him. Although very popular in Europe at this time, The Jimi Hendrix Experience had yet to crack the United States. Their chance came when Paul McCartney recommended the group to the organizers of the Monterey International Pop Festival. This proved to be a great opportunity for Hendrix, not only because of the large audience present at the event, but also because of the many journalists covering the event who wrote about him. The performances were filmed and later shown in some movie theaters around the country in early 1969 as the concert documentary “Monterey Pop”, which immortalized Hendrix's iconic burning and smashing of his guitar at the finale of his performance.
After a year based in the US, Hendrix temporarily moved back to London and into his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham's rented Brook Street flat in the West End of London. During this time The Jimi Hendrix Experience toured Scandinavia, Germany, and included a final French concert. They later performed two sold-out concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall on February 18th and 24th, 1969, which were the last European appearances of this line-up of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The last Experience concert took place on June 29th, 1969 at Barry Fey's Denver Pop Festival, a three-day event held at Denver’s Mile High Stadium that was marked by police firing tear gas into the audience as they played “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”. The band escaped from the venue in the back of a rental truck which was partly crushed by fans trying to escape the tear gas. The next day, Noel Redding announced that he had quit the Experience.
Hendrix was advertised to play the Woodstock Music Festival, along with many of the other biggest rock groups of the time. It was to take place on rented farmland in Upper State New York from August 15th to the 18th in 1969. Although Hendrix's music had been written for a power trio of guitar, bass, and drums, he wanted to expand his sound so he added rhythm guitarist Larry Lee (another old friend from his R&B days), and Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez to play congas. After drummer Mitch Mitchell arrived, this new lineup rehearsed for less than two weeks before the festival and according to Mitchell never really meshed. In addition, although Woodstock would become famous and mythologized through the documentary film of the same name, by the time of his performance, Hendrix had been up for three days, and his band was short on sleep as well, contributing a rawness to their filmed performance.
After Woodstock, this particular lineup of the band appeared on only two more occasions. The first was a street benefit in Harlem where, in a scenario similar to the festival, most of the audience had left and only a fraction remained by the time Hendrix took the stage. Within seconds of Hendrix arriving at the site two youths had stolen his guitar from the back seat of his car, although it was later recovered. The band's only other appearance was at the Salvation club in Greenwich Village, New York. After some studio recordings, Hendrix disbanded the group.
Hendrix is widely known for and associated with the use of psychedelic drugs, most notably lysergic diethylamide (LSD), as were many other famous musicians and celebrities of that time. He supposedly had never taken psychedelic drugs until the night he met Linda Keith, but had smoked cannabis and drank alcohol previously. Amphetamines are also recorded as being used by Hendrix during tours. Hendrix was notorious among friends and band-mates for sometimes becoming angry and violent when he drank too much alcohol.
Early on September 18th, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in London. He had spent the latter part of the previous evening at a party and was picked up at close to 3:00 by girlfriend Monika Dannemann and driven to her flat at the Samarkand Hotel. From autopsy data and statements by friends about the evening of September 17th, it has been estimated that he died sometime after 3:00, possibly before 4:00, but also possibly as late as 11:30, though no estimate was made at the autopsy, or inquest.
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