Birth: Born as Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in
Death: September 18, 1970 in London, England
Background: "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 [Jimmy's father] took notice of Jimmy's interest in the guitar, recalling, "I used to have Jimmy clean
up the bedroom all the time while I was gone, and when I would come home I would find a lot of broom
straws around the foot of the bed. I'd say to him, `Well didn't you sweep up the floor?' and he'd say, `Oh
yeah,' he did. But I'd find out later that he used to be sitting at the end of the bed there and strumming the
broom like he was playing a guitar." Al found an old one-string ukulele, which he gave to Jimmy to play; a
huge improvement over the 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.
In 1961, Jimmy left home to enlist in the United States Army and in November 1962 earned the right
to wear the "Screaming Eagles" patch for the paratroop division. While stationed at Fort Campbell,
Kentucky, Jimmy formed The King Casuals with bassist Billy Cox [whom later on became Jimi’s bass
player in The Gypsy Sun & Rainbows, and Band of Gypsys]. After being discharged due to an injury
he received during a parachute jump, Jimmy began working as a session guitarist under the name Jimmy
James. By the end of 1965, Jimmy had played with several marquee acts, including Ike and Tina Turner,
Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers, and Little Richard. These artists performed on what is known as the
“Chitlin Circuit” because every club they played in served chitlins. “In fact, Hendrix’s apprenticeship in [the
R&B] bands...contributed to the development of his own style and to his use of ring tropes. But eventually,
heavy metal became his overall conceptual framework, a sound that, in spite of its current association with
white-oriented rock, goes back to Howlin Wolf’s recordings in the early 1950s” (Floyd 1995:202).
Jimmy parted ways with Little Richard to form his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, [in
1965] shedding the role of back-line guitarist for the spotlight of lead guitar. It was during this time that
Chas Chandler, the bass player for The Animals, first heard Jimi play the guitar and realized how talented
Jimi was. Chas encouraged Jimi to go with him to England to get a band together, and Chas also
changed Jimmy James' name to Jimi.
In England, Jimi was introduced to two
English men; Noel Redding (bass player)
and Mitch Mitchell (drummer). Together the
trio became The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The Experience's first single,
"Hey Joe," spent ten weeks on the UK charts,
topping out at spot No. 6 in early 1967. The debut single was quickly followed by the release of a full-
length album Are You Experienced, a psychedelic musical compilation featuring anthems of a generation.
Are You Experienced has remained one of the most popular rock albums of all time, featuring tracks like
"Purple Haze," "The Wind Cries Mary," "Foxey Lady," "Fire," and "Are You Experienced?"
[Jimi] was very showy on stage, playing his guitar behind his back, lighting his guitar on fire, and
gyrating with his guitar many times. Audiences loved watching him perform live due to the sound that he
produced through his Fender Stratocaster Guitar and Marshall Amplifiers. Together, his guitar and
amplifiers that produced “matching energy with ingenuity, while a wealth of technical possibilities -
distortion, feedback and sheer volume - brought texture to his overall approach” (Vh1.com-Jimi Hendrix).
Hendrix’s stage appearances gave him a label as an Uncle Tom mainly by black critics because Jimi’s
flamboyance on the stage was seen as trying to “ingratiate himself with the white audience to keep a white
audience coming to see him perform”(Vh1.com-Jimi Hendrix). However the truth behind Jimi’s
flamboyance on stage was to not keep just a white audience coming to his shows, Jimi just wanted to
have a large fan base. And at that time, the majority of Jimi’s fans were white.
Although Hendrix experienced overwhelming success in Britain, it wasn't until he returned to
America in June 1967 that he ignited the crowd at the Monterey International Pop Festival with his
incendiary performance of "Wild Thing." Literally overnight, The Jimi Hendrix Experience became one of
most popular and highest grossing touring acts in the world.