My lucky 13th inductee, 1st for 2023, is one of the greatest guitar players ever. James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix) was born at 10:15 a.m. on November 27, 1942, at Seattle’s King County Hospital.
He was initially raised by his mother, Lucille, while his father, James “Al” Hendrix, was in Europe fighting in World War II. When Al returned to the United States in 1945, he reunited with Lucille, but his inability to find steady work left the family down and out. They both struggled with alcohol and often fought when intoxicated. The violence sometimes drove Hendrix to withdraw and hide in a closet in their home.
The first guitarist I was aware of was Muddy Waters. I heard one of his old records when I was a little boy and it scared me to death because I heard all these sounds.Jimi Hendrix
His relationship with his brother Leon (born 1948) was close but uncertain; with Leon in and out of foster care, they lived with an almost constant threat of fraternal separation. In addition to Leon, Hendrix had three younger siblings: Joseph, born in 1949, Kathy in 1950, and Pamela, 1951, all of whom Al and Lucille gave up to foster care and adoption. The family frequently moved, staying in cheap hotels and apartments around Seattle.
On occasion, family members would take Hendrix to Vancouver, Canada to stay with his grandmother. A shy and sensitive boy, he was deeply affected by his life experiences. On December 17, 1951, when Hendrix was nine years old, his parents divorced; the court granted Al custody of him and Leon.
Young Jimmy (as he was referred to at the time) took an interest in music, drawing influence from virtually every major artist at the time, including B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Holly, and Robert Johnson. Entirely self-taught, Jimmy’s inability to read music made him concentrate even harder on the music he heard.
Al found an old one-string ukulele, which he gave to Jimmy to play a huge improvement over playing guitar with a broom. By the summer of 1958, Al had purchased Jimmy a five-dollar, second-hand acoustic guitar from one of his friends. Shortly thereafter, Jimmy joined his first band, The Velvetones. After a three-month stint with the group, Jimmy left to pursue his own interests. The following summer, Al purchased Jimmy his first electric guitar, a Supro Ozark 1560S; Jimi used it when he joined The Rocking Kings. Hendrix’s first gig was with an unnamed band in the Jaffe Room of Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch, but they fired him between sets for showing off. He joined the Rocking Kings, which played professionally at venues such as the Birdland club.
When his guitar was stolen after he left it backstage overnight, Al bought him a red Silvertone Danelectro. Jimmy Hendrix was caught twice riding in stolen cars before he reached 19 years of age. He was given the choice of prison time or joining the Army. Hendrix chose the latter and was shipped to Fort Campbell in Kentucky. In letters to his father, Hendrix expressed continued dread at the situation and begged for his guitar to be sent to him. His father obliged and the guitar became his escape from the Army world and even an obsession. He continued to experience abuse and taunting from his peers, who took the guitar away from him.
Hendrix eventually got his guitar back and started performing in clubs at the Army base. He received a discharge from the Army after an official deemed him unfit to serve. Jimi always said they had discharged him because he had broken his ankle while training to be a paratrooper, but this was apparently a fabrication.
In addition to playing in his own bands, Hendrix performed as a backing musician for various soul, R&B, and blues musicians, including Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, Ike & Tina Turner, and Jackie Wilson. In January 1964, looking for a new scene Jimi moved into the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he befriended Lithofayne Pridgon, known as “Faye”, who became his girlfriend.
In February 1964, Hendrix won first prize in the Apollo Theater amateur contest. He then became the guitarist with the Isley Brothers’ backing band, the I.B. Specials. Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler was impressed with his playing and quit his gig to be Jimmy’s manager. In September 1966 Hendrix signed an agreement to move to London and form a new band. Chandler’s first task was to change Hendrix’s name to “Jimi.”
The newly formed Jimi Hendrix Experience, featuring drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, quickly became the talk of London in the fall of 1966. Their first single was “Hey Joe” / “Stone Free” which was released 0n December 16, 1966, and peaked at number 6 on the UK charts.
The authorship of the song “Hey Joe” has been contested, and different recordings have credited its writing to either Billy Roberts or Dino Valenti, or have listed it as a traditional song. “Hey Joe” was registered for copyright in the US in 1962 by Billy Roberts, a California-based folk musician. The next single was “Purple Haze” / “51st Anniversary”.
“Purple Haze” was written by Jimi Hendrix and released on March 17, 1967. The song features his inventive guitar playing, which uses the signature Hendrix chord and a mix of blues and Eastern modalities, shaped by novel sound processing techniques. This psychedelic experience was explained by Hendrix as a love song. It was number 3 in the UK.
“The Wind Cries Mary” / “Highway Chile” was released on May 5, 1967. This was a rock ballad written by Jimi Hendrix as a reconciliatory love song for his girlfriend in London, Kathy Mary Etchingham. Some of the lyrics appeared in poetry written by Hendrix earlier in his career when he was in Seattle. According to his then-girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham’s, account, he wrote the lyrics after an argument with her about her cooking lumpy mashed potatoes, using “Mary” (Etchingham’s middle name).
Their first album was Are You Experienced released on May 12, 1967, in the UK, by Track Records. It peaked at number 2. In the US it was released on August 23, 1967, by Reprise Records, and peaked at number 5. The album features Jimi Hendrix’s innovative approach to songwriting and electric guitar playing which soon established a new direction in psychedelic and hard rock music.
The US version had the three A-side tracks above and “Manic Depression”, “Fire”, “Third Stone from the Sun”, and “Foxey Lady”. The “Purple Haze” lyric “‘scuse me while I kiss the sky” was in reference to a drowning man Hendrix saw in his dream. This makes the fact that many fans often mishear the line as “‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy” even more appropriate.
Their next single “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” / “The Stars That Play with Laughing Sam’s Dice” was released on August 19, 1967. It was the group’s fourth single in the United Kingdom and was later included on the 1968 British edition of their compilation, “Smash Hits”. The song was added to both US and UK editions of Electric Ladyland (1968).
“All Along the Watchtower” / “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” was released on September 2, 1968. They began to record their version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” on January 21, 1968, at Olympic Studios in London. The song is strongly identified with the interpretation Hendrix recorded with the group for their third studio album Electric Ladyland.
Axis: Bold as Love was their second studio album and was released in the United Kingdom on December 1, 1967, only 7 months after the debut album. The album introduced “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Little Wing”, two Hendrix compositions that draw on his roots performing with rhythm and blues bands, that would remain in his live repertoire throughout his career. The album charted number 5 UK and number 3 US.
“Castles Made of Sand” is one of Hendrix’s more obviously biographical songs, said to be written about his uncertain and transitional childhood involving “different homes, different schools, different careers and a mother who was here one minute and gone the next”.
Hendrix’s brother, Leon Hendrix, has commented that the lyrics allude to their father’s alcoholism, Leon being taken away so suddenly by Child Protective Services without announcement, and the abusive relationship between their parents (or from stories told by their grandmother). This is one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix songs. The track begins with overdubbed backward guitar creeping in, as Hendrix lays down his signature clean guitar sound.
Each verse contains separate descriptions of universal disappointments … All is not lost, however, as in the last verse a suicidal girl who is “crippled for life,” moving her wheelchair to the shore, is saved by a sort of optimistic epiphany – … The band drops out as Hendrix speaks [the] final lines, his voice and slithering guitar circling and echoing up and away into the heavens.Writer Tom Maginn for AllMusic
“Up from the Skies” / “One Rainy Wish”, from Axis: Bold as Love, was released on February 26, 1968. The lyrics of “Up from the Skies” reflect Hendrix’s interest in science fiction and relate to an extraterrestrial visitor’s curiosity about life on Earth. Musically, it incorporates elements of jazz, particularly in drummer Mitch Mitchell’s use of brushes.
Their third and last studio album was Electric Ladyland released on October 16, 1968, in the US where it peaked on the Billboard chart at number 1. The double LP was the only Experience album mixed entirely in stereo. Hendrix experimented with other combinations of musicians, including Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady and Traffic’s Steve Winwood, who played bass and organ, respectively, on the 15-minute slow-blues jam “Voodoo Chile”.
He was a pioneer for the electric guita. Even the guys before him – like Clapton and Beck and all that – but the thing about Jimi is he came along and he was definitely the primal wild man, shit coming out of his pores. It was the extremes of all the different nuances that all the different guitar players before him had and just coming out in droves and saying it in a certain way that was uniquely Jimi and nobody else. Jimi’s still the man. It’s funny because you hear about him so much but he was that great. And his material stands the test of time all these years later.Slash
One of Hendrix’s signature effects was the wah-wah pedal, which he first heard used with an electric guitar in Cream’s “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, released in May 1967. He used a wah-wah pedal during the opening to “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, creating one of the best-known wah-wah riffs of the classic rock era. He also uses the effect in “Up from the Skies”, “Little Miss Lover”, and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”. Marshall amps were important to the development of Hendrix’s overdriven sound and his use of feedback, creating what author Paul Trynka described as a “definitive vocabulary for rock guitar”. Hendrix usually turned all the control knobs to the maximum level, which became known as the Hendrix setting.
By 1969, Hendrix was the world’s highest-paid rock musician. In August, he headlined the Woodstock Music and Art Fair which included many of the most popular bands of the time. Hendrix’s performance included a rendition of the US national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, with copious feedback, distortion, and sustain to imitate the sounds made by rockets and bombs. There is a mystery around the death of Jimi Hendrix.
We’re all Americans … it was like ‘Go America!’… We play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static, see.Jimi Hendrix on his rendition of the “The Star-Spangled Banner”
He spent much of September 17, 1970, in London with his then-girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, the only witness to his final hours. Dannemann awoke around 11 a.m. and found Hendrix breathing but unconscious and unresponsive. She called for an ambulance at 11:18 a.m., and it arrived nine minutes later. Ambulancemen transported Hendrix to St Mary Abbots Hospital where Dr. John Bannister pronounced him dead at 12:45 p.m. on September 18, 1970.
Coroner Gavin Thurston ordered a post-mortem examination which was performed on September 21 by Professor Robert Donald Teare, a forensic pathologist. Thurston completed the inquest on September 28 and concluded that Hendrix aspirated his own vomit and died of asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates. Citing “insufficient evidence of the circumstances”, he declared an open verdict. Dannemann later revealed that Hendrix had taken nine of her prescribed Vesparax sleeping tablets, 18 times the recommended dosage.
Jimi Hendrix Recordings
- Studio albums 3
- Live albums 3
- Compilation albums 2
- Singles 14
- Albums as sideman 9
- Singles as sideman 24
Jimi Hendrix Posthumous Discography
- Studio albums 13
- Live albums 28
- Singles 28
- Soundtrack albums 2
- Anthologies and retrospective albums 19
- EPs and special releases 27
- Official bootlegs 23
- Supro was among the coolest guitar brands manufactured by the American music behemoth Valco in the fifties. Those guitars were cheap and have long been considered as pawnshop prizes, but they have a vibe all of their own, and they have the ability to sing with a very personal voice in the hands of a player that knows how to approach those oddities. Among the many models made under the Supro brand, 1560 holds a special place since it was Hendrix’s first electric guitar, the one that he used in the first bands he joined in the late fifties. He bought his from Myers Music in Seattle back in 1958, therefore this 1956 piece is very close to Jimi’s own. [Back]
- Silvertone is a brand created and promoted by Sears for its line of consumer electronics and musical instruments from 1916 to 1972. The rights to the Silvertone brand were purchased by the South Korean corporation Samick Music in 2001. Samick made new musical instruments under the Silvertone brand and relaunched some historic models. In 2020, RBI Music was appointed the exclusive worldwide distributor of the Silvertone brand. Musical instruments under the Silvertone name are electric and acoustic guitars, basses, and ukuleles. [Back]
- Marshall is a British company that designs and manufactures music amplifiers, speaker cabinets, brands of personal headphones and earphones, drums, and bongos. The company also owns a record label called Marshall Records. It was founded in London by drum shop owner and drummer, Jim Marshall, and is now based in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, England. Marshall’s guitar amplifiers are among the most recognized in the world. Their signature sound – characterized by sizzling distortion and “crunch” – was conceived after guitarists, such as Pete Townshend, visited Marshall’s drum shop complaining that the guitar amplifiers then on the market did not have the right sound or enough volume. After gaining publicity, Marshall guitar amplifiers and loudspeaker cabinets were sought by guitarists for this new sound and increased volume. Many of the current and reissued Marshall guitar amplifiers continue to use valves, as is common in this market sector. Marshall also manufactures less expensive solid-state, hybrid (vacuum tube and solid-state), and modeling amplifiers. [Back]