Born Johnny Allen Hendrix (later changed to James Marshall) on 27 November 1942, in Seattle, Washington. Learning to play guitar as a teenager, Hendrix grew up to become a rock guitar legend. He had a difficult childhood, sometimes living in the care of relatives and even acquaintances at times.
His mother, Lucille, was only 17-years-old when Hendrix was born. She had a stormy relationship with his father, Al, and eventually left the family after the couple had two more children together, sons Leon and Joseph. Hendrix would only see his mother sporadically before her death in 1958.
In many ways, music became a sanctuary for Hendrix. He was a fan of blues music and taught himself to play guitar. At the age of 14, Hendrix saw Elvis Presley perform. He got his first electric guitar the following year and eventually played with two bands—the Rocking Kings and the Tomcats. In 1959, Hendrix dropped out of high school. He worked odd jobs while continuing to follow his musical aspirations.
Hendrix enlisted in the United States Army in 1961 and trained at Fort Ord in California to become a paratrooper. Even as a soldier, he found time for music, creating a band named The King Casuals. Hendrix served in the army until 1962 when he was discharged due to an injury.
After leaving the military, Hendrix pursued his music, working as a session musician and playing backup for such performers as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and the Isley Brothers. He also formed a group of his own called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, which played gigs around New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.
In mid-1966, Hendrix met Chas Chandler, a former member of the Animals, a successful rock group, who became his manager. Chandler convinced Hendrix to go to London where he joined forces with musicians Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to create The Jimi Hendrix Experience. While there, Hendrix built up quite a following among England’s rock royalty. Members of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Eric Clapton were all great admirers of Hendrix’s work. One critic for the British music magazine Melody Maker said that he “had great stage presence” and looked at times as if he was playing “with no hands at all.”
Released in 1967, the band’s first single, ‘Hey Joe’ was an instant smash in Britain, and was soon followed by other hits such as ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘The Wind Cried Mary’. On tour to support his first album, ‘Are You Experienced?’ (1967), Hendrix delighted audiences with his outrageous guitar-playing skills and his innovative, experimental sound. He won over American music fans with his stunning performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, which ended with Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire.
Quickly becoming a rock music superstar, Hendrix scored again with his second album, ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ (1968). His final album as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Electric Ladyland’ (1968), was released and featured the hit ‘All Along the Watchtower’, which was written by Bob Dylan. The band continued to tour until it split up in 1969.
That same year, Hendrix performed at another legendary musical event: the Woodstock Festival. His rock rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ amazed the crowds and demonstrated his considerable talents as a musician. He was also an accomplished songwriter and musical experimenter. Hendrix even had his own recording studio in which he could work with different performers and try out new songs and sounds.
Hendrix tried his luck with another group, forming Band of Gypsys in late 1969 with his army buddy Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. The band never really took off, and Hendrix began working on a new album tentatively named ‘First Rays of the New Rising Sun’, with Cox and Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Unfortunately, Hendrix did not live to complete the project.
Hendrix died on 18 September 1970, from drug-related complications. While this talented recording artist was only 27-years-old at the time of his passing, Hendrix left his mark on the world of rock music and remains popular to this day. As one journalist wrote in the Berkeley Tribe, “Jimi Hendrix could get more out of an electric guitar than anyone else. He was the ultimate guitar player.”
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