Hendrix performing on the Dutch television show Hoepla
||Johnny Allen Hendrix
||November 27, 1942
Seattle, Washington, US
||September 18, 1970 (aged 27)
Kensington, London, England
||Psychedelic rock, hard rock, blues, rhythm and blues
||Musician, singer, songwriter
||Vee-Jay, RSVP, Track, Barclay, Polydor, Reprise, Capitol, MCA
||The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Curtis Knight and the Squires, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Band of Gypsys
Gibson Flying V
James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix; November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970) was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. Although his mainstream career spanned only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music”.
Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15. In 1961, he enlisted in the US Army; he was granted an honorable discharge the following year. Soon afterward, he moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and began playing gigs on the chitlin’ circuit, earning a place in the Isley Brothers‘ backing band and later with Little Richard, with whom he continued to work through mid-1965. He then played with Curtis Knight and the Squires before moving to England in late 1966 after being discovered by bassist Chas Chandler of the Animals. Within months, Hendrix had earned three UK top ten hits with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Hey Joe“, “Purple Haze“, and “The Wind Cries Mary“. He achieved fame in the US after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and in 1968 his third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland, reached number one in the US. The double LP was Hendrix’s most commercially successful release and his first and only number one album. The world’s highest-paid performer, he headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 before his accidental death from barbiturate-related asphyxia on September 18, 1970, at the age of 27.
Hendrix was inspired musically by American rock and roll and electric blues. He favored overdriven amplifiers with high volume and gain, and was instrumental in developing the previously undesirable technique of guitar amplifier feedback. He helped to popularize the use of a wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock, and was the first artist to use stereophonic phasing effects in music recordings. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone commented: “Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source. Players before him had experimented with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began.”
Hendrix was the recipient of several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1967, readers of Melody Maker voted him the Pop Musician of the Year and in 1968, Billboard named him the Artist of the Year and Rolling Stone declared him the Performer of the Year. Disc and Music Echo honored him with the World Top Musician of 1969 and in 1970, Guitar Player named him the Rock Guitarist of the Year. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Rolling Stone ranked the band’s three studio albums, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland, among the 100 greatest albums of all time, and they ranked Hendrix as the greatest guitarist and the sixth greatest artist of all time.
Ancestry and childhood
Hendrix’s paternal grandparents, Ross and Nora Hendrix, pre-1912
Jimi Hendrix’s ancestry included African American, Irish, and Cherokee ancestors. His paternal great-great-grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee from Georgia who married an Irishman named Moore. They had a son Robert, who married an African-American woman named Fanny. In 1883, Robert and Fanny had a daughter whom they named Zenora “Nora” Rose Moore, Hendrix’s paternal grandmother.[nb 1] Hendrix’s paternal grandfather, Bertran Philander Ross Hendrix (born 1866), was the result of an extramarital affair between a black slave woman, also named Fanny, and her white overseer, a grain merchant from Urbana, Ohio, and one of the wealthiest white men in the area at that time. On June 10, 1919, Hendrix and Moore had a son they named James Allen Ross Hendrix; people called him Al.
In 1941, Al met Lucille Jeter (1925–1958) at a dance in Seattle; they married on March 31, 1942. Al, who had been drafted by the United States Army to serve in World War II, left to begin his basic training three days after the wedding. Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington; he was the first of Lucille’s five children. In 1946, Johnny’s parents changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix, in honor of Al and his late brother Leon Marshall.[nb 2]
Stationed in Alabama at the time of Hendrix’s birth, Al was denied the standard military furlough afforded servicemen for childbirth; his commanding officer placed him in the stockade to prevent him from going AWOL to see his infant son in Seattle. He spent two months locked up without trial, and while in the stockade received a telegram announcing his son’s birth.[nb 3] During Al’s three-year absence, Lucille struggled to raise their son, often neglecting him in favor of nightlife. When Al was away, Hendrix was mostly cared for by family members and friends, especially Lucille’s sister Delores Hall and her friend Dorothy Harding. Al received an honorable discharge from the US Army on September 1, 1945. Two months later, unable to find Lucille, Al went to the Berkeley, California home of a family friend named Mrs. Champ, who had taken care of and had attempted to adopt Hendrix. There Al saw his son for the first time.
After returning from service, Al reunited with Lucille, but his inability to find steady work left the family impoverished. They both struggled with alcohol abuse, and often fought when intoxicated. The violence sometimes drove Hendrix to withdraw and hide in a closet in their home. His relationship with his brother Leon (born 1948) was close but precarious; 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 to stay at his grandmother’s. A shy and sensitive boy, he was deeply affected by his life experiences. In later years, he confided to a girlfriend that he had been the victim of sexual abuse by a man in uniform. On December 17, 1951, when Hendrix was nine years old, his parents divorced; the court granted Al custody of him and Leon.
At Horace Mann Elementary School in Seattle during the mid-1950s, Hendrix’s habit of carrying a broom with him to emulate a guitar gained the attention of the school’s social worker. After more than a year of his clinging to a broom like a security blanket, she wrote a letter requesting school funding intended for underprivileged children, insisting that leaving him without a guitar might result in psychological damage. Her efforts failed, and Al refused to buy him a guitar.[nb 4]
In 1957, while helping his father with a side-job, Hendrix found a ukulele amongst the garbage that they were removing from an older woman’s home. She told him that he could keep the instrument, which had only one string. Learning by ear, he played single notes, following along to Elvis Presley songs, particularly Presley’s cover of Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog“.[nb 5] By the age of thirty-three, Hendrix’s mother Lucille had developed cirrhosis of the liver, and on February 2, 1958, she died when her spleen ruptured. Al refused to take James and Leon to attend their mother’s funeral; he instead gave them shots of whiskey and instructed them that was how men were supposed to deal with loss.[nb 6] In mid-1958, at age 15, Hendrix acquired his first acoustic guitar, for $5. Hendrix earnestly applied himself, playing the instrument for several hours daily, watching others and getting tips from more experienced guitarists, and listening to blues artists such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Robert Johnson. The first tune Hendrix learned how to play was the theme from Peter Gunn.
Soon after he acquired the acoustic guitar, Hendrix formed his first band, the Velvetones. Without an electric guitar, he could barely be heard over the sound of the group. After about three months, he realized that he needed an electric guitar in order to continue. In mid-1959, his father relented and bought him a white Supro Ozark. Hendrix’s first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch, but after too much showing off, the band fired him between sets. He later joined the Rocking Kings, which played professionally at venues such as the Birdland club. When someone stole his guitar after he left it backstage overnight, Al bought him a red Silvertone Danelectro. In 1958, Hendrix completed his studies at Washington Junior High School, though he did not graduate from Garfield High School.[nb 7]
Hendrix in the US Army, 1961
Before Hendrix was 19 years old, law enforcement authorities had twice caught him riding in stolen cars. When given a choice between spending time in prison or joining the Army, he chose the latter and enlisted on May 31, 1961. After completing eight weeks of basic training at Fort Ord, California, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He arrived there on November 8, and soon afterward he wrote to his father: “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell. They work you to death, fussing and fighting.” In his next letter home, Hendrix, who had left his guitar at his girlfriend Betty Jean Morgan’s house in Seattle, asked his father to send it to him as soon as possible, stating: “I really need it now.” His father obliged and sent the red Silvertone Danelectro on which Hendrix had hand-painted the words “Betty Jean”, to Fort Campbell. His apparent obsession with the instrument contributed to his neglect of his duties, which led to verbal taunting and physical abuse from his peers, who at least once hid the guitar from him until he had begged for its return.
In November 1961, fellow serviceman Billy Cox walked past an army club and heard Hendrix playing guitar. Intrigued by the proficient playing, which he described as a combination of “John Lee Hooker and Beethoven“, Cox borrowed a bass guitar and the two jammed. Within a few weeks, they began performing at base clubs on the weekends with other musicians in a loosely organized band called the Casuals.
Hendrix completed his paratrooper training in just over eight months, and Major General C.W.G. Rich awarded him the prestigious Screaming Eagles patch on January 11, 1962. By February, his personal conduct had begun to draw criticism from his superiors. They labeled him an unqualified marksman and often caught him napping while on duty and failing to report for bed checks. On May 24, Hendrix’s platoon sergeant, James C. Spears filed a report in which he stated: “He has no interest whatsoever in the Army … It is my opinion that Private Hendrix will never come up to the standards required of a soldier. I feel that the military service will benefit if he is discharged as soon as possible.” On June 29, 1962, Captain Gilbert Batchman granted Hendrix an honorable discharge on the basis of unsuitability. Hendrix later spoke of his dislike of the army and falsely stated that he had received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle during his 26th parachute jump.[nb 8]
In September 1963, after Cox was discharged from the Army, he and Hendrix moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and formed a band called the King Kasuals. Hendrix had watched Butch Snipes play with his teeth in Seattle and by now Alphonso ‘Baby Boo’ Young, the other guitarist in the band, was performing this guitar gimmick. Not to be upstaged, Hendrix learned to play with his teeth, he commented: “The idea of doing that came to me … in Tennessee. Down there you have to play with your teeth or else you get shot. There’s a trail of broken teeth all over the stage.” Although they began playing low-paying gigs at obscure venues, the band eventually moved to Nashville‘s Jefferson Street, which was the traditional heart of the city’s black community and home to a thriving rhythm and blues music scene. They earned a brief residency playing at a popular venue in town, the Club del Morocco, and for the next two years Hendrix made a living performing at a circuit of venues throughout the South who were affiliated with the Theater Owners’ Booking Association (TOBA), widely known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. In addition to playing in his own band, Hendrix performed as a backing musician for various soul, R&B, and blues musicians, including Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson.
In January 1964, feeling he had outgrown the circuit artistically, and frustrated by having to follow the rules of bandleaders, Hendrix decided to venture out on his own. He moved into the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he befriended Lithofayne Pridgeon, known as “Faye”, who became his girlfriend. A Harlem native with connections throughout the area’s music scene, Pridgeon provided him with shelter, support, and encouragement. Hendrix also met the Allen twins, Arthur and Albert.[nb 9] In February 1964, Hendrix won first prize in the Apollo Theater amateur contest. Hoping to secure a career opportunity, he played the Harlem club circuit and sat in with various bands. At the recommendation of a former associate of Joe Tex, Ronnie Isley granted Hendrix an audition that led to an offer to become the guitarist with the Isley Brothers‘ back-up band, the I.B. Specials, which he readily accepted.
In March 1964, Hendrix recorded the two-part single “Testify” with the Isley Brothers. Released in June, it failed to chart. In May, he provided guitar instrumentation for the Don Covay song, “Mercy Mercy“. Issued in August by Rosemart Records and distributed by Atlantic, the track reached number 35 on the Billboard chart.
Hendrix toured with the Isleys during much of 1964, but near the end of October, after growing tired of playing the same set every night, he left the band.[nb 10] Soon afterward, Hendrix joined Little Richard‘s touring band, the Upsetters. During a stop in Los Angeles in February 1965, he recorded his first and only single with Richard, “I Don’t Know What You Got (But It’s Got Me)”, written by Don Covay and released by Vee-Jay Records. Richard’s popularity was waning at the time, and the single peaked at number 92, where it remained for one week before dropping off the chart.[nb 11] Hendrix met singer Rosa Lee Brooks while staying at the Wilcox Hotel in Hollywood, and she invited him to participate in a recording session for her single, which included “My Diary” as the A-side, and “Utee” as the B-side. He played guitar on both tracks, which also included background vocals by Arthur Lee. The single failed to chart, but Hendrix and Lee began a friendship that lasted several years; Hendrix later became an ardent supporter of Lee’s band, Love.
In July 1965, on Nashville’s Channel 5 Night Train, Hendrix made his first television appearance. Performing in Little Richard’s ensemble band, he backed up vocalists Buddy and Stacy on “Shotgun”. The video recording of the show marks the earliest known footage of Hendrix performing. Richard and Hendrix often clashed over tardiness, wardrobe, and Hendrix’s stage antics, and in late July, Richard’s brother Robert fired him. He then briefly rejoined the Isley Brothers, and recorded a second single with them, “Move Over and Let Me Dance” backed with “Have You Ever Been Disappointed”. Later that year, he joined a New York-based R&B band, Curtis Knight and the Squires, after meeting Knight in the lobby of a hotel where both men were staying. Hendrix performed with them for eight months. In October 1965, he and Knight recorded the single, “How Would You Feel” backed with “Welcome Home” and on October 15, Hendrix signed a three-year recording contract with entrepreneur Ed Chalpin. While the relationship with Chalpin was short-lived, his contract remained in force, which later caused legal and career problems for Hendrix.[nb 12] During his time with Knight, Hendrix briefly toured with Joey Dee and the Starliters, and worked with King Curtis on several recordings including Ray Sharpe‘s two-part single, “Help Me”. Hendrix earned his first composer credits for two instrumentals, “Hornets Nest” and “Knock Yourself Out”, released as a Curtis Knight and the Squires single in 1966.[nb 14]
Feeling restricted by his experiences as an R&B sideman, Hendrix moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1966, which had a vibrant and diverse music scene. There, he was offered a residency at the Cafe Wha? on MacDougal Street and formed his own band that June, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, which included future Spirit guitarist Randy California.[nb 15] The Blue Flames played at several clubs in New York and Hendrix began developing his guitar style and material that he would soon use with the Experience. In September, they gave some of their last concerts at the Cafe au Go Go, as John Hammond Jr.‘s backing group.[nb 16]
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
By May 1966, Hendrix was struggling to earn a living wage playing the R&B circuit, so he briefly rejoined Curtis Knight and the Squires for an engagement at one of New York City’s most popular nightspots, the Cheetah Club. During a performance, Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards noticed Hendrix. She remembered: “[His] playing mesmerised me”. She invited him to join her for a drink; he accepted and the two became friends.
Keith recommended Hendrix to Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham and producer Seymour Stein. They failed to see Hendrix’s musical potential, and rejected him. She then referred him to Chas Chandler, who was leaving the Animals and interested in managing and producing artists. Chandler liked the Billy Roberts song “Hey Joe“, and was convinced he could create a hit single with the right artist. Impressed with Hendrix’s version of the song, he brought him to London on September 24, 1966, and signed him to a management and production contract with himself and ex-Animals manager Michael Jeffery. On September 24, Hendrix gave an impromptu solo performance at the Scotch-Club, and later that night he began a relationship with Kathy Etchingham that lasted for two and a half years.[nb 17]
Following Hendrix’s arrival in London, Chandler began recruiting members for a band designed to highlight the guitarist’s talents, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix met guitarist Noel Redding at an audition for the New Animals, where Redding’s knowledge of blues progressions impressed Hendrix, who stated that he also liked Redding’s hairstyle. Chandler asked Redding if he wanted to play bass guitar in Hendrix’s band; Redding agreed. Chandler then began looking for a drummer and soon after, he contacted Mitch Mitchell through a mutual friend. Mitchell, who had recently been fired from Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, participated in a rehearsal with Redding and Hendrix where they found common ground in their shared interest in rhythm and blues. When Chandler phoned Mitchell later that day to offer him the position, he readily accepted. Chandler also convinced Hendrix to change the spelling of his first name from Jimmy to the exotic looking Jimi.
On September 30, Chandler brought Hendrix to the London Polytechnic at Regent Street, where Cream was scheduled to perform, and where Hendrix and Eric Clapton met. Clapton later commented: “He asked if he could play a couple of numbers. I said, ‘Of course’, but I had a funny feeling about him.” Halfway through Cream’s set, Hendrix took the stage and performed a frantic version of the Howlin’ Wolf song “Killing Floor“. In 1989, Clapton described the performance: “He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way. I mean he did a few of his tricks, like playing with his teeth and behind his back, but it wasn’t in an upstaging sense at all, and that was it … He walked off, and my life was never the same again”.
In mid-October 1966, Chandler arranged an engagement for the Experience as Johnny Hallyday‘s supporting act during a brief tour of France. Their enthusiastically received 15-minute performance at the Olympia theatre in Paris on October 18 marks the earliest known recording of the band. In late October, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, managers of the Who, signed the Experience to their newly formed label, Track Records, which released the Experience’s first single on October 23. “Hey Joe”, which included a female chorus provided by the Breakaways, was backed by Hendrix’s first songwriting effort after arriving in England, “Stone Free“.
In mid-November, they performed at the Bag O’Nails nightclub in London, with Clapton, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Kevin Ayers in attendance. Ayers described the crowd’s reaction as stunned disbelief: “All the stars were there, and I heard serious comments, you know ‘shit’, ‘Jesus’, ‘damn’ and other words worse than that.” The successful performance earned Hendrix his first interview, published in Record Mirror with the headline: “Mr. Phenomenon”. “Now hear this … we predict that [Hendrix] is going to whirl around the business like a tornado”, wrote Bill Harry, who asked the rhetorical question: “Is that full, big, swinging sound really being created by only three people?” Hendrix commented: “We don’t want to be classed in any category … If it must have a tag, I’d like it to be called, ‘Free Feeling’. It’s a mixture of rock, freak-out, rave and blues”. After appearances on the UK television shows Ready Steady Go! and the Top of the Pops, “Hey Joe” entered the UK charts on December 29, 1966, peaking at number six. Further success came in March 1967 with the UK number three hit “Purple Haze“, and in May with “The Wind Cries Mary“, which remained on the UK charts for eleven weeks, peaking at number six.
On March 31, 1967, while the Experience waited to perform at the London Astoria, Hendrix and Chandler discussed ways in which they could increase the band’s media exposure. When Chandler asked journalist Keith Altham for advice, Altham suggested that they needed to do something more dramatic than the stage show of the Who, which involved the smashing of instruments. Hendrix joked: “Maybe I can smash up an elephant”, to which Altham replied: “Well, it’s a pity you can’t set fire to your guitar”. Chandler then asked road manager Gerry Stickells to procure some lighter fluid. During the show, Hendrix gave an especially dynamic performance before setting his guitar on fire at the end of a 45-minute set. In the wake of the stunt, members of London’s press labeled Hendrix the “Black Elvis” and the “Wild Man of Borneo”.[nb 18]
Are You Experienced
The cover of the US edition by graphic designer Karl Ferris
After the moderate UK chart success of their first two singles, “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze”, the Experience began assembling material for a full-length LP. Recording began at De Lane Lea Studios and later moved to the prestigious Olympic Studios. The album, Are You Experienced, features a diversity of musical styles, including blues tracks such as “Red House” and “Highway Chile“, and the R&B song “Remember”. It also included the experimental science fiction piece, “Third Stone from the Sun” and the post-modern soundscapes of the title track, with prominent backwards guitar and drums. “I Don’t Live Today” served as a medium for Hendrix’s guitar feedback improvisation and “Fire” was driven by Mitchell’s drumming.
Released in the UK on May 12, 1967, Are You Experienced spent 33 weeks on the charts, peaking at number two.[nb 19] It was prevented from reaching the top spot by the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.[nb 20] On June 4, 1967, Hendrix opened a show at the Saville Theatre in London with his rendition of Sgt. Pepper‘s title track, which was released just three days previous. Beatles manager Brian Epstein owned the Saville at the time, and both George Harrison and Paul McCartney attended the performance. McCartney described the moment: “The curtains flew back and he came walking forward playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honors of my career.” Released in the US on August 23 by Reprise Records, Are You Experienced reached number five on the Billboard 200.[nb 21]
In 1989, Noe Goldwasser, the founding editor of Guitar World magazine, described Are You Experienced as “the album that shook the world … leaving it forever changed”.[nb 22] In 2005, Rolling Stone called the double-platinum LP Hendrix’s “epochal debut”, and they ranked it the 15th greatest album of all time, noting his “exploitation of amp howl”, and characterizing his guitar playing as “incendiary … historic in itself”.
Monterey Pop Festival
Author Michael Heatley wrote: “The iconic image by Ed Caraeff of Hendrix summoning the flames higher with his fingers will forever conjure up memories of Monterey for those who were there and the majority of us who weren’t.”
Although popular in Europe at the time, the Experience’s first US single, “Hey Joe”, failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100 chart upon its release on May 1, 1967. The group’s fortunes improved when McCartney recommended them to the organizers of the Monterey Pop Festival. He insisted that the event would be incomplete without Hendrix, whom he called “an absolute ace on the guitar”, and he agreed to join the board of organizers on the condition that the Experience perform at the festival in mid-June.
Introduced by Brian Jones as “the most exciting performer [he had] ever heard”, Hendrix opened with a fast arrangement of Howlin’ Wolf’s song “Killing Floor”, wearing what author Keith Shadwick described as “clothes as exotic as any on display elsewhere.” Shadwick wrote: “[Hendrix] was not only something utterly new musically, but an entirely original vision of what a black American entertainer should and could look like.” The Experience went on to perform renditions of “Hey Joe”, B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby”, Chip Taylor‘s “Wild Thing“, and Bob Dylan‘s “Like a Rolling Stone“, as well as four original compositions: “Foxy Lady“, “Can You See Me”, “The Wind Cries Mary”, and “Purple Haze”. The set ended with Hendrix destroying his guitar and tossing pieces of it out to the audience. Rolling Stone‘s Alex Vadukul wrote:
When Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival he created one of rock’s most perfect moments. Standing in the front row of that concert was a 17-year-old boy named Ed Caraeff. Caraeff had never seen Hendrix before nor heard his music, but he had a camera with him and there was one shot left in his roll of film. As Hendrix lit his guitar, Caraeff took a final photo. It would become one of the most famous images in rock and roll.[nb 23]
Caraeff stood on a chair next to the edge of the stage while taking a series of four monochrome pictures of Hendrix burning his guitar.[nb 24] Caraeff was close enough to the fire that he had to use his camera as a shield to protect his face from the heat. Rolling Stone later colorized the image, matching it with other pictures taken at the festival before using the shot for a 1987 magazine cover. According to author Gail Buckland, the fourth and final frame of “Hendrix kneeling in front of his burning guitar, hands raised, is one of the most famous images in rock.” Author and historian Matthew C. Whitaker wrote: “Hendrix’s burning of his guitar became an iconic image in rock history and brought him national attention.” The Los Angeles Times asserted that, upon leaving the stage, Hendrix “graduated from rumor to legend”. Author John McDermott commented: “Hendrix left the Monterey audience stunned and in disbelief at what they’d just heard and seen.” According to Hendrix: “I decided to destroy my guitar at the end of a song as a sacrifice. You sacrifice things you love. I love my guitar.” The performance was filmed by D. A. Pennebaker, and later included in the concert documentary Monterey Pop, which helped Hendrix gain popularity with the US public.
Immediately after the festival, the Experience were booked for a series of five concerts at Bill Graham‘s Fillmore, with Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane. The Experience outperformed Jefferson Airplane during the first two nights, and replaced them at the top of the bill on the fifth. Following their successful West Coast introduction, which included a free open air concert at Golden Gate Park and a concert at the Whisky a Go Go, the Experience were booked as the opening act for the first American tour of the Monkees. They requested Hendrix as a supporting act because they were fans, but their young audience disliked the Experience, who left the tour after six shows. Chandler later admitted that he engineered the tour in an effort to gain publicity for Hendrix.
Axis: Bold as Love
An excerpt from the outro guitar solo. The sample demonstrates the first recording of stereo phasing
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The second Experience album, Axis: Bold as Love, opens with the track “EXP”, which innovatively utilized microphonic and harmonic feedback. It also showcased an experimental stereo panning effect in which sounds emanating from Hendrix’s guitar move through the stereo image, revolving around the listener. The piece reflected his growing interest in science fiction and outer space. He composed the album’s title track and finale around two verses and two choruses, during which he pairs emotions with personas, comparing them to colors. The song’s coda features the first recording of stereo phasing.[nb 25] Shadwick described the composition as “possibly the most ambitious piece on Axis, the extravagant metaphors of the lyrics suggesting a growing confidence” in Hendrix’s songwriting. His guitar playing throughout the song is marked by chordal arpeggios and contrapuntal motion, with tremolo-picked partial chords providing the musical foundation for the chorus, which culminates in what musicologist Andy Aledort described as “simply one of the greatest electric guitar solos ever played”. The track fades out on tremolo-picked thirty-second note double stops.
The scheduled release date for Axis was almost delayed when Hendrix lost the master tape of side one of the LP, leaving it in the back seat of a London taxi. With the deadline looming, Hendrix, Chandler, and engineer Eddie Kramer remixed most of side one in a single overnight session, but they could not match the quality of the lost mix of “If 6 Was 9“. Bassist Noel Redding had a tape recording of this mix, which had to be smoothed out with an iron as it had gotten wrinkled. During the verses, Hendrix doubled his singing with a guitar line which he played one octave lower than his vocals. Hendrix voiced his disappointment about having re-mixed the album so quickly, and he felt that it could have been better had they been given more time.
The cover of Axis: Bold as Love
Axis featured psychedelic cover art that depicts Hendrix and the Experience as various forms of Vishnu, incorporating a painting of them by Roger Law, from a photo-portrait by Karl Ferris. The painting was then superimposed on a copy of a mass produced religious poster. Hendrix stated that the cover, which Track spent $5,000 producing, would have been more appropriate had it highlighted his American Indian heritage. He commented: “You got it wrong … I’m not that kind of Indian.” Track released the album in the UK on December 1, 1967, where it peaked at number five, spending 16 weeks on the charts. In February 1968, Axis: Bold as Love reached number three in the US.
While author and journalist Richie Unterberger described Axis as the least impressive Experience album, according to author Peter Doggett, the release “heralded a new subtlety in Hendrix’s work”. Mitchell commented: “Axis was the first time that it became apparent that Jimi was pretty good working behind the mixing board, as well as playing, and had some positive ideas of how he wanted things recorded. It could have been the start of any potential conflict between him and Chas in the studio.”
Recording for the Experience’s third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland, began at the newly opened Record Plant Studios, with Chandler as producer and engineers Eddie Kramer and Gary Kellgren. As the sessions progressed, Chandler became increasingly frustrated with Hendrix’s perfectionism and his demands for repeated takes. Hendrix also allowed numerous friends and guests to join them in the studio, which contributed to a chaotic and crowded environment in the control room and led Chandler to sever his professional relationship with Hendrix. Redding later recalled: “There were tons of people in the studio; you couldn’t move. It was a party, not a session.” Redding, who had formed his own band in mid-1968, Fat Mattress, found it increasingly difficult to fulfill his commitments with the Experience, so Hendrix played many of the bass parts on Electric Ladyland. The album’s cover stated that it was “produced and directed by Jimi Hendrix”.[nb 26]
During the Electric Ladyland recording sessions, Hendrix began experimenting with other combinations of musicians, including Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady and Traffic’s Steve Winwood, who played bass and organ respectively on the fifteen-minute slow-blues jam, “Voodoo Chile“. During the album’s production, Hendrix appeared at an impromptu jam with B.B. King, Al Kooper, and Elvin Bishop.[nb 27] Electric Ladyland was released on October 25, and by mid-November it had reached number one in the US, spending two weeks at the top spot. The double LP was Hendrix’s most commercially successful release and his only number one album. It peaked at number six in the UK, spending 12 weeks on the chart. Electric Ladyland included Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s song, “All Along the Watchtower“, which became Hendrix’s highest-selling single and his only US top 40 hit, peaking at number 20; the single reached number five in the UK. The album also included his first recorded song to feature the use of a wah-wah pedal, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp“, which reached number 18 in the UK charts.
In 1989, Noe Goldwasser, the founding editor of Guitar World magazine, described Electric Ladyland as “Hendrix’s masterpiece”. According to author Michael Heatley, “most critics agree” that the album is “the fullest realization of Jimi’s far-reaching ambitions.” In 2004, author Peter Doggett commented: “For pure experimental genius, melodic flair, conceptual vision and instrumental brilliance, Electric Ladyland remains a prime contender for the status of rock’s greatest album.” Doggett described the LP as “a display of musical virtuosity never surpassed by any rock musician.”
Break-up of the Experience
The white building (left) is 23 Brook Street; the building on the right is the Handel House Museum.
In January 1969, after an absence of more than six months, Hendrix briefly moved back into his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham’s Brook Street apartment, which was next door to the Handel House Museum in the West End of London.[nb 28] During this time, the Experience toured Scandinavia, Germany, and gave their final two performances in France. On February 18 and 24, they played sold-out concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which were the last European appearances of this line-up.[nb 29]
By February 1969, Redding had grown weary of Hendrix’s unpredictable work ethic and his creative control over the Experience’s music. During the previous month’s European tour, interpersonal relations within the group had deteriorated, particularly between Hendrix and Redding. In his diary, Redding documented the building frustration during early 1969 recording sessions: “On the first day, as I nearly expected, there was nothing doing … On the second it was no show at all. I went to the pub for three hours, came back, and it was still ages before Jimi ambled in. Then we argued … On the last day, I just watched it happen for a while, and then went back to my flat.” The last Experience sessions that included Redding—a re-recording of “Stone Free” for use as a possible single release—took place on April 14 at Olmstead and the Record Plant in New York. Hendrix then flew bassist Billy Cox to New York; they started recording and rehearsing together on April 21.
The last performance of the original Experience line-up took place on June 29, 1969, at Barry Fey’s Denver Pop Festival, a three-day event held at Denver‘s Mile High Stadium that was marked by police using tear gas to control the audience. The band narrowly escaped from the venue in the back of a rental truck, which was partly crushed by fans who had climbed on top of the vehicle. Before the show, a journalist angered Redding by asking why he was there; the reporter then informed him that two weeks earlier Hendrix announced that he had been replaced with Billy Cox. The next day, Redding quit the Experience and returned to London. He announced that he had left the band and intended to pursue a solo career, blaming Hendrix’s plans to expand the group without allowing for his input as a primary reason for leaving. Redding later commented: “Mitch and I hung out a lot together, but we’re English. If we’d go out, Jimi would stay in his room. But any bad feelings came from us being three guys who were traveling too hard, getting too tired, and taking too many drugs … I liked Hendrix. I don’t like Mitchell.”
Soon after Redding’s departure, Hendrix began lodging at the eight-bedroom Ashokan House, in the hamlet of Boiceville near Woodstock in upstate New York, where he had spent some time vacationing in mid-1969. Manager Michael Jeffery arranged the accommodations in the hope that the respite might encourage Hendrix to write material for a new album. During this time, Mitchell was unavailable for commitments made by Jeffery, which included Hendrix’s first appearance on US TV—on The Dick Cavett Show—where he was backed by the studio orchestra, and an appearance on The Tonight Show where he appeared with Cox and session drummer Ed Shaughnessy.
Main article: Woodstock
Hendrix flashed a peace sign at the start of his performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, August 18, 1969.
By 1969, Hendrix was the world’s highest-paid rock musician. In August, he headlined the Woodstock Music and Art Fair that included many of the most popular bands of the time. For the concert, he added rhythm guitarist Larry Lee and conga players Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez. The band rehearsed for less than two weeks before the performance, and according to Mitchell, they never connected musically. Before arriving at the engagement, he heard reports that the size of the audience had grown to epic proportions, which gave him cause for concern as he did not enjoy performing for large crowds. He was an important draw for the event, and although he accepted substantially less money for the appearance than his usual fee he was the festival’s highest-paid performer.[nb 30] As his scheduled time slot of midnight on Sunday drew closer, he indicated that he preferred to wait and close the show in the morning; the band took the stage around 8:00 a.m. on Monday. By the time of their set, Hendrix had been awake for more than three days. The audience, which peaked at an estimated 400,000 people, was now reduced to 30–40,000, many of whom had waited to catch a glimpse of Hendrix before leaving during his performance. The festival MC, Chip Monck, introduced the group as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but Hendrix clarified: “We decided to change the whole thing around and call it Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. For short, it’s nothin’ but a Band of Gypsys“.
An excerpt from the beginning of “The Star Spangled Banner”, at Woodstock, August 18, 1969. The sample demonstrates Hendrix’s cutting-edge use of feedback.
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Hendrix’s performance featured a rendition of the US national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner“, during which he used copious amounts of amplifier feedback, distortion, and sustain to replicate the sounds made by rockets and bombs. Although contemporary political pundits described his interpretation as a statement against the Vietnam War, three weeks later Hendrix explained its meaning: “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”. Immortalized in the 1970 documentary film, Woodstock, his guitar-driven version would become part of the sixties Zeitgeist. Pop critic Al Aronowitz of The New York Post wrote: “It was the most electrifying moment of Woodstock, and it was probably the single greatest moment of the sixties.” Images of the performance showing Hendrix wearing a blue-beaded white leather jacket with fringe, a red head-scarf, and blue jeans are widely regarded as iconic pictures that capture a defining moment of the era.[nb 31] He played “Hey Joe” during the encore, concluding the 3½-day festival. Upon leaving the stage, he collapsed from exhaustion.[nb 32] In 2011, the editors of Guitar World placed his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock at number one in their list of his 100 greatest performances.
Band of Gypsys
Main article: Band of Gypsys
A legal dispute arose in 1966 regarding a record contract that Hendrix had entered into the previous year with producer Ed Chalpin. After two years of litigation, the parties agreed to a resolution that granted Chalpin the distribution rights to an album of original Hendrix material. Hendrix decided that they would record the LP, Band of Gypsys, during two live appearances. In preparation for the shows he formed an all-black power-trio with Cox and drummer Buddy Miles, formerly with Wilson Pickett, the Electric Flag, and the Buddy Miles Express. Critic John Rockwell described Hendrix and Miles as jazz-rock fusionists, and their collaboration as pioneering. Others identified a funk and soul influence in their music. Concert promoter Bill Graham called the shows “the most brilliant, emotional display of virtuoso electric guitar” that he had ever heard. Biographers have speculated that Hendrix formed the band in an effort to appease members of the Black Power movement and others in the black communities who called for him to use his fame to speak-up for civil rights.
An excerpt from the first guitar solo that demonstrates Hendrix’s innovative use of high gain and overdrive to achieve an aggressive, sustained tone.
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Hendrix had been recording with Cox since April and jamming with Miles since September, and the trio wrote and rehearsed material which they performed at a series of four shows over two nights on December 31 and January 1, at the Fillmore East. They used recordings of these concerts to assemble the LP, which was produced by Hendrix. The album includes the track “Machine Gun“, which musicologist Andy Aledort described as the pinnacle of Hendrix’s career, and “the premiere example of [his] unparalleled genius as a rock guitarist … In this performance, Jimi transcended the medium of rock music, and set an entirely new standard for the potential of electric guitar.” During the song’s extended instrumental breaks, Hendrix created sounds with his guitar that sonically represented warfare, including rockets, bombs, and diving planes.
The Band of Gypsys album was the only official live Hendrix LP made commercially available during his lifetime; several tracks from the Woodstock and Monterey shows were released later that year. The album was released in April 1970 by Capitol Records; it reached the top ten in both the US and the UK. That same month a single was issued with “Stepping Stone” as the A-side and “Izabella” as the B-side, but Hendrix was dissatisfied with the quality of the mastering and he demanded that it be withdrawn and re-mixed, preventing the songs from charting and resulting in Hendrix’s least successful single; it was also his last.
On January 28, 1970, a third and final Band of Gypsys appearance took place; they performed during a music festival at Madison Square Garden benefiting the anti-Vietnam War Moratorium Committee titled the “Winter Festival for Peace”. American blues guitarist Johnny Winter was backstage before the concert; he recalled: “[Hendrix] came in with his head down, sat on the couch alone, and put his head in his hands … He didn’t move until it was time for the show.” Minutes after taking the stage he snapped a vulgar response at a woman who had shouted a request for “Foxy Lady”. He then began playing “Earth Blues” before telling the audience: “That’s what happens when earth fucks with space”. Moments later, he briefly sat down on the drum riser before leaving the stage. Both Miles and Redding later stated that Jeffery had given Hendrix LSD before the performance. Miles believed that Jeffery gave Hendrix the drugs in an effort to sabotage the current band and bring about the return of the original Experience lineup. Jeffery fired Miles after the show and Cox quit, ending the Band of Gypsys.
Cry of Love Tour
Soon after the abruptly ended Band of Gypsys performance and their subsequent dissolution, Jeffery made arrangements to reunite the original Experience line-up. Although Hendrix, Mitchell, and Redding were interviewed by Rolling Stone in February 1970 as a united group, Hendrix never intended to work with Redding. When Redding returned to New York in anticipation of rehearsals with a reformed Experience, he was told that he had been replaced with Cox. During an interview with Rolling Stone‘s Keith Altham, Hendrix defended the decision: “It’s nothing personal against Noel, but we finished what we were doing with the Experience and Billy’s style of playing suits the new group better.” Although the lineup of Hendrix, Mitchell, and Cox became known as the Cry of Love band, after their accompanying tour, billing, advertisements, and tickets were printed with the New Jimi Hendrix Experience or occasionally just Jimi Hendrix.
During the first half of 1970, Hendrix sporadically worked on material for what would have been his next LP. Many of the tracks were posthumously released in 1971 as The Cry of Love. He had started writing songs for the album in 1968, but in April 1970 he told Keith Altham that the project had been abandoned. Soon afterward, he and his band took a break from recording and began the Cry of Love tour at the L.A. Forum, performing for 20,000 people. Set-lists during the tour included numerous Experience tracks as well as a selection of newer material. Several shows were recorded, and they produced some of Hendrix’s most memorable live performances. At one of them, the second Atlanta International Pop Festival, on July 4, he played to the largest American audience of his career. According to authors Scott Schinder and Andy Schwartz, as many as 500,000 people attended the concert. On July 17, they appeared at the New York Pop Festival; Hendrix had again consumed too many drugs before the show, and the set was considered a disaster. The American leg of the tour, which included 32 performances, ended at Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 1, 1970. This would be Hendrix’s final concert appearance in the US.
Electric Lady Studios
In 1968, Hendrix and Jeffery jointly invested in the purchase of the Generation Club in Greenwich Village. They had initially planned to reopen the establishment, but after an audit revealed that Hendrix had incurred exorbitant fees by block-booking lengthy sessions at peak rates they decided that the building would better serve them as a recording studio. With a facility of his own, Hendrix could work as much as he wanted while also reducing his recording expenditures, which had reached a reported $300,000 annually. Architect and acoustician John Storyk designed Electric Lady Studios for Hendrix, who requested that they avoid right angles where possible. With round windows, an ambient lighting machine, and a psychedelic mural, Storyk wanted the studio to have a relaxing environment that would encourage Hendrix’s creativity. The project took twice as long as planned and cost twice as much as Hendrix and Jeffery had budgeted, with their total investment estimated at $1 million.[nb 33] Electric Lady was the first artist owned and operated recording studio.
Hendrix first used Electric Lady on June 15, 1970, when he jammed with Steve Winwood and Chris Wood of Traffic; the next day, he recorded his first track there, “Night Bird Flying”. The studio officially opened for business on August 25, and a grand opening party was held the following day. Immediately afterwards, Hendrix left for England; he never returned to the States. He boarded an Air India flight for London with Cox, joining Mitchell for a performance as the headlining act of the Isle of Wight Festival.
When the European leg of the Cry of Love tour began, Hendrix was longing for his new studio and creative outlet, and was not eager to fulfill the commitment. On September 2, 1970, he abandoned a performance in Aarhus after three songs, stating: “I’ve been dead a long time”. Four days later, he gave his final concert appearance, at the Isle of Fehmarn Festival in Germany. He was met with booing and jeering from fans in response to his cancellation of a show slated for the end of the previous night’s bill due to torrential rain and risk of electrocution.[nb 34] Immediately following the festival, Hendrix, Mitchell, and Cox travelled to London.
Three days after the performance, Cox, who was suffering from severe paranoia after either taking LSD or being given it unknowingly, quit the tour and went to stay with his parents in Pennsylvania. Within days of Hendrix’s arrival in England, he had spoken with Chas Chandler, Alan Douglas, and others about leaving his manager, Michael Jeffery. On September 16, Hendrix performed in public for the last time during an informal jam at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho with Eric Burdon and his latest band, War. They began by playing a few of their recent hits, and after a brief intermission Hendrix joined them during “Mother Earth” and “Tobacco Road”. His performance was uncharacteristically subdued; he quietly played backing guitar, and refrained from the histrionics that people had come to expect from him. He died less than 48 hours later.
Death, post-mortem, and burial
The Samarkand Hotel, where Hendrix spent his final hours
Although the details of Hendrix’s last day and death are widely disputed, he spent much of September 17, 1970, in London with Monika Dannemann, the only witness to his final hours. Dannemann said that she prepared a meal for them at her apartment in the Samarkand Hotel, 22 Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill, sometime around 11 p.m., when they shared a bottle of wine. She drove Hendrix to the residence of an acquaintance at approximately 1:45 a.m., where he remained for about an hour before she picked him up and drove them back to her flat at 3 a.m. Dannemann said they talked until around 7 a.m., when they went to sleep. She awoke around 11 a.m., and found Hendrix breathing, but unconscious and unresponsive. She called for an ambulance at 11:18 a.m.; they arrived on the scene at 11:27 a.m. Paramedics then transported Hendrix to St Mary Abbot’s Hospital where Dr. John Bannister pronounced him dead at 12:45 p.m. on September 18, 1970.
To determine the cause of death, coroner Gavin Thurston ordered a post-mortem examination on Hendrix’s body, 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.
After Hendrix’s body had been embalmed by Desmond Henley, it was flown to Seattle, Washington, on September 29, 1970. After a service at Dunlop Baptist Church on October 1, he was interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Renton, Washington, the location of his mother’s gravesite. Hendrix’s family and friends traveled in twenty-four limousines and more than two hundred people attended the funeral, including several notable musicians such as original Experience members Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, as well as Miles Davis, John Hammond, and Johnny Winter.[nb 35]
Drugs and alcohol
In July 1962, after Hendrix was discharged from the US Army, he entered a small club in Clarksville, Tennessee. Drawn-in by live music, he stopped for a drink and ended up spending most of the $400 he had saved. He explained: “I went in this jazz joint and had a drink. I liked it and I stayed. People tell me I get foolish, good-natured sometimes. Anyway, I guess I felt real benevolent that day. I must have been handing out bills to anyone that asked me. I came out of that place with sixteen dollars left.” According to the authors Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber: “Alcohol would later be the scourge of his existence, driving him to fits of pique, even rare bursts of atypical, physical violence.”
Like most acid-heads, Jimi had visions and he wanted to create music to express what he saw. He would try to explain this to people, but it didn’t make sense because it was not linked to reality in any way.
While Roby and Schreiber assert that Hendrix first experimented with LSD when he met Linda Keith in late 1966, according to the authors Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek, the earliest that Hendrix is known to have ingested the drug was in June 1967, while attending the Monterey Pop Festival. According to Hendrix biographer Charles Cross, the subject of drugs came up one evening in 1966 at Keith’s New York apartment; when one of Keith’s friends offered Hendrix acid, which is the street name for lysergic acid diethylamide, Hendrix declined, asking instead for LSD, showing what Cross described as “his naivete and his complete inexperience with psychedelics”. Before that, Hendrix had only sporadically used drugs, his experimentation was significantly limited by his dire financial circumstances to cannabis, hashish, amphetamines, and occasionally cocaine. After 1967, he regularly smoked cannabis and hashish, and used LSD and amphetamines, particularly while touring. According to Cross, by the time of his death in September 1970, “few stars were as closely associated with the drug culture as Jimi.”
Substance abuse and violence
Hendrix would often become angry and violent when he drank too much alcohol, or when he mixed alcohol with illicit drugs. His friend Herbie Worthington explained: “You wouldn’t expect somebody with that kind of love to be that violent … He just couldn’t drink … he simply turned into a bastard.” According to journalist and friend Sharon Lawrence, Hendrix “admitted he could not handle hard liquor, which set off a bottled-up anger, a destructive fury he almost never displayed otherwise.”
In January 1968, the Experience travelled to Sweden for a one-week tour of Europe. During the early morning hours of the first day, Hendrix became engaged in a drunken brawl in the Hotel Opalen, in Gothenburg, smashing a plate-glass window and injuring his right hand, for which he received medical treatment. The incident culminated in his arrest and release, pending a court appearance that resulted in a large fine. After the 1969 burglary of a house Hendrix was renting in Benedict Canyon, California, and while he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he punched his friend Paul Caruso and accused him of the theft. He then chased Caruso away from the residence while throwing stones at him. A few days later, one of Hendrix’s girlfriends, Carmen Borrero, required stitches after he hit her above her eye with a vodka bottle during a drunken, jealous rage.
Canadian drug charges and trial
On May 3, 1969, while Hendrix was passing through customs at Toronto International Airport, authorities detained him after finding a small amount of what they suspected to be heroin and hashish in his luggage. Four hours later, he was formally charged with drug possession and released on $10,000 bail. He was required to return on May 5 for an arraignment hearing. The incident proved stressful for Hendrix, and it weighed heavily on his mind during the seven months that he awaited trial.
In order for the Crown to prove possession they had to show that Hendrix knew the drugs were there. During the jury trial, which took place in December, he testified that a fan had given him a vial of what he thought was legal medication, which he put in his bag without knowledge of the illegal substances contained therein. He was acquitted of the charges. Both Mitchell and Redding later revealed that everyone had been warned about a planned drug bust the day before flying to Toronto; both men also stated that they believed that the drugs had been planted in Hendrix’s bag.
By 1967, as Hendrix was gaining in popularity, many of his pre-Experience recordings were marketed to an unsuspecting public as Jimi Hendrix albums, sometimes with misleading later images of Hendrix. The recordings, which came under the control of producer Ed Chalpin of PPX, with whom Hendrix had signed a recording contract in 1965, were often re-mixed between their repeated reissues, and licensed to record companies such as Decca and Capitol. Hendrix publicly denounced the releases, describing them as “malicious” and “greatly inferior”, stating: “At PPX, we spent on average about one hour recording a song. Today I spend at least twelve hours on each song.” These unauthorized releases have long constituted a substantial part of his recording catalogue, amounting to hundreds of albums.
Some of Hendrix’s unfinished material was released as the 1971 title The Cry of Love. Although the album reached number three in the US and number two in the UK, producers Mitchell and Kramer later complained that they were unable to make use of all the available songs because some tracks were used for 1971’s Rainbow Bridge; still others were issued on 1972’s War Heroes. Material from The Cry of Love was re-released in 1997 as First Rays of the New Rising Sun, along with the other tracks that Mitchell and Kramer had wanted to include.[nb 36]
In 1993, MCA Records delayed a multi-million dollar sale of Hendrix’s publishing copyrights because Al Hendrix was unhappy about the arrangement. He acknowledged that he had sold distribution rights to a foreign corporation in 1974, but stated that it did not include copyrights and argued that he had retained veto power of the sale of the catalogue. Under a settlement reached in July 1995, Al Hendrix prevailed in his legal battle and regained control of his son’s song and image rights. He subsequently licensed the recordings to MCA through the family-run company Experience Hendrix LLC, formed in 1995. In August 2009, Experience Hendrix announced that it had entered a new licensing agreement with Sony Music Entertainment‘s Legacy Recordings division which would take effect in 2010. Legacy and Experience Hendrix launched the 2010 Jimi Hendrix Catalog Project, starting with the release of Valleys of Neptune in March of that year. In the months before his death, Hendrix recorded demos for a concept album tentatively titled Black Gold, which are now in the possession of Experience Hendrix LLC; as of 2013 no official release date has been announced.[nb 37]
Guitars and amplifiers
Hendrix’s Gibson Flying V guitar
Hendrix played a variety of guitars throughout his career, but the instrument that became most associated with him was the Fender Stratocaster. He acquired his first Stratocaster in 1966, when a girlfriend loaned him enough money to purchase a used one that had been built around 1964. He thereafter used the model prevalently during performances and recordings. In 1967, he described the instrument as “the best all-around guitar for the stuff we’re doing”; he praised its “bright treble and deep bass sounds”.
With few exceptions, Hendrix played right-handed guitars that were turned upside down and restrung for left-hand playing. This had an important effect on the sound of his guitar; because of the slant of the bridge pickup, his lowest string had a brighter sound while his highest string had a darker sound, which was the opposite of the Stratocaster’s intended design. In addition to Stratocasters, Hendrix also used Fender Jazzmasters, Duosonics, two different Gibson Flying Vs, a Gibson Les Paul, three Gibson SGs, a Gretsch Corvette, and a Fender Jaguar. He used a white Gibson SG Custom for his performances on The Dick Cavett Show in September 1969, and a black Gibson Flying V during the Isle of Wight festival in 1970.[nb 38]
During 1965 and 1966, while Hendrix was playing back-up for soul and R&B acts in the US, he used an 85-watt Fender Twin Reverb amplifier. When Chandler brought Hendrix to England in October 1966, he supplied him with 30-watt Burns amps, which Hendrix thought were too small for his needs.[nb 39] After an early London gig when he was unable to use his preferred Fender Twin, he asked about the Marshall amps that he had noticed other groups using. Years earlier, Mitch Mitchell had taken drum lessons from the amp builder, Jim Marshall, and he introduced Hendrix to Marshall. At their initial meeting, Hendrix bought four speaker cabinets and three 100-watt Super Lead amplifiers; he would grow accustomed to using all three in unison. The equipment arrived on October 11, 1966, and the Experience used the new gear during their first tour. Marshall amps were well-suited for Hendrix’s needs, and they were paramount in the evolution of his heavily overdriven sound, enabling him to master the use of feedback as a musical effect, creating what author Paul Trynka described as a “definitive vocabulary for rock guitar”. Hendrix usually turned all of the amplifier’s control knobs to the maximum level, which became known as the Hendrix setting. During the four years prior to his death, he purchased between 50 and 100 Marshall amplifiers. Jim Marshall said that he was “the greatest ambassador” his company ever had.
A 1968 King Vox-Wah pedal similar to one that was owned by Hendrix
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. In July of that year, while playing gigs at the Scene club in New York City, Hendrix met Frank Zappa, whose band, the Mothers of Invention were performing at the adjacent Garrick Theater. Hendrix was fascinated by Zappa’s application of the pedal, and he experimented with one later that evening.[nb 40] He used a 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 can also be heard using the effect on “Up from the Skies“, “Little Miss Lover”, and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”.
Hendrix consistently used a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and a Vox wah pedal during recording sessions and live performances, but he also experimented with other guitar effects. He enjoyed a fruitful long-term collaboration with electronics enthusiast Roger Mayer, whom he once called “the secret” of his sound. Mayer introduced him to the Octavia, an octave doubling effect pedal, in December 1966, and he first recorded with the effect during the guitar solo to “Purple Haze”.
Hendrix also utilized the Uni-Vibe, which was designed to simulate the modulation effects of a rotating Leslie speaker by providing a rich phasing sound that could be manipulated with a speed control pedal. He can be heard using the effect during his performance at Woodstock and on the Band of Gypsys track “Machine Gun”, which prominently features the Uni-vibe along with an Octavia and a Fuzz Face. His signal flow for live performance involved first plugging his guitar into a wah-wah pedal, then connecting the wah-wah pedal to a Fuzz Face, which was then linked to a Uni-Vibe, before connecting to a Marshall amplifier.
As an adolescent during the 1950s, Hendrix became interested in rock and roll artists such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. In 1968, he told Guitar Player magazine that electric blues artists Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and B.B. King inspired him during the beginning of his career; he also cited Eddie Cochran as an early influence. Of Muddy Waters, the first electric guitarist of which Hendrix became aware, he said: “I heard one of his records when I was a little boy and it scared me to death because I heard all of these sounds.” In 1970, he told Rolling Stone that he was a fan of western swing artist Bob Wills and while he lived in Nashville, the television show the Grand Ole Opry.
I don’t happen to know much about jazz. I know that most of those cats are playing nothing but blues, though—I know that much.
—Hendrix on jazz music
Cox stated that during their time serving in the US military he and Hendrix primarily listened to southern blues artists such as Jimmy Reed and Albert King. According to Cox, “King was a very, very powerful influence”. Howlin’ Wolf also inspired Hendrix, who performed Wolf’s “Killing Floor” as the opening song of his US debut at the Monterey Pop Festival. The influence of soul artist Curtis Mayfield can be heard in Hendrix’s guitar playing, and the influence of Bob Dylan can be heard in Hendrix’s songwriting; he was known to play Dylan’s records repeatedly, particularly Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
He changed everything. What don’t we owe Jimi Hendrix? For his monumental rebooting of guitar culture “standards of tone”, technique, gear, signal processing, rhythm playing, soloing, stage presence, chord voicings, charisma, fashion, and composition? … He is guitar hero number one.
—Guitar Player magazine, May 2012
The Experience’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography states: “Jimi Hendrix was arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music. 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.” Musicologist Andy Aledort described Hendrix as “one of the most creative” and “influential musicians that has ever lived”. Music journalist Chuck Philips wrote: “In a field almost exclusively populated by white musicians, Hendrix has served as a role model for a cadre of young black rockers. His achievement was to reclaim title to a musical form pioneered by black innovators like Little Richard and Chuck Berry in the 1950s.”
Hendrix favored overdriven amplifiers with high volume and gain. He was instrumental in developing the previously undesirable technique of guitar amplifier feedback, and helped to popularize use of the wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock. He rejected the standard barre chord fretting technique used by most guitarists in favor of fretting the low 6th string root notes with his thumb. He applied this technique during the beginning bars of “Little Wing“, which allowed him to sustain the root note of chords while also playing melody. This method has been described as piano style, with the thumb playing what a pianist’s left hand would play and the other fingers playing melody as a right hand. Having spent several years fronting a trio, he developed an ability to play rhythm chords and lead lines together, giving the audio impression that more than one guitarist was performing.[nb 41] He was the first artist to incorporate stereophonic phasing effects in rock music recordings. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone commented: “Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source. Players before him had experimented with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began.”[nb 42] Aledort wrote: “In rock guitar, there are but two eras—before Hendrix and after Hendrix.
While creating his unique musical voice and guitar style, Hendrix synthesized diverse genres, including blues, R&B, soul, British rock, American folk music, 1950s rock and roll, and jazz. Musicologist David Moskowitz emphasized the importance of blues music in Hendrix’s playing style, and according to authors Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber, “[He] explored the outer reaches of psychedelic rock“. His influence is evident in a variety of popular music formats, and he has contributed significantly to the development of hard rock, heavy metal, funk, post-punk, and hip hop music. His lasting influence on modern guitar players is difficult to overstate; his techniques and delivery have been abundantly imitated by others. Despite his hectic touring schedule and notorious perfectionism, he was a prolific recording artist who left behind numerous unreleased recordings. More than 40 years after his death, Hendrix remains as popular as ever, with annual album sales exceeding that of any year during his lifetime.
Hendrix has influenced numerous funk and funk rock artists, including Prince, George Clinton, John Frusciante, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic, and Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers. Hendrix’s influence also extends to many hip hop artists, including De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Digital Underground, Beastie Boys, and Run–D.M.C. Miles Davis was deeply impressed by Hendrix, and he compared Hendrix’s improvisational abilities with those of saxophonist John Coltrane.[nb 43] Hendrix influenced blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan, Metallica‘s Kirk Hammett, instrumental rock guitarist Joe Satriani, and heavy metal virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen, who said: “[Hendrix] created modern electric playing, without question … He was the first. He started it all. The rest is history.”
Recognition and awards
Hendrix statue outside Dimbola Lodge, Isle of Wight
Hendrix received several prestigious rock music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1967, readers of Melody Maker voted him the Pop Musician of the Year. In 1968, Billboard named him the Artist of the Year and Rolling Stone declared him the Performer of the Year. Also in 1968, the City of Seattle gave him the Keys to the City. Disc & Music Echo newspaper honored him with the World Top Musician of 1969 and in 1970, Guitar Player magazine named him the Rock Guitarist of the Year.
Rolling Stone ranked his three non-posthumous studio albums, Are You Experienced (1967), Axis: Bold as Love (1967), and Electric Ladyland (1968) among the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. They ranked Hendrix number one on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, and number six on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. Guitar World’s readers voted six of Hendrix’s solos among the top 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time: “Purple Haze” (70), “The Star-Spangled Banner” (52; from Live at Woodstock), “Machine Gun” (32; from Band of Gypsys), “Little Wing” (18), “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (11), and “All Along the Watchtower” (5). Rolling Stone placed seven of his recordings in their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: “Purple Haze” (17), “All Along the Watchtower” (47) “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (102), “Foxy Lady” (153), “Hey Joe” (201), “Little Wing” (366), and “The Wind Cries Mary” (379). They also included three of Hendrix’s songs in their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time: “Purple Haze” (2), “Voodoo Child” (12), and “Machine Gun” (49).
A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was dedicated to Hendrix on November 14, 1991, at 6627 Hollywood Boulevard. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In 1999, readers of Rolling Stone and Guitar World ranked Hendrix among the most important musicians of the 20th century. In 2005, his debut album, Are You Experienced, was one of 50 recordings added that year to the United States National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress, “[to] be preserved for all time … [as] part of the nation’s audio legacy”.
The English Heritage blue plaque that identifies his former residence at 23 Brook Street, London, which is one door down from the former residence of George Frideric Handel, was the first the organization ever granted to a pop star. A memorial statue of Hendrix playing a Stratocaster stands near the corner of Broadway and Pine Streets in Seattle. In May 2006, the city renamed a park near its Central District, Jimi Hendrix Park, in his honor. In 2012, an official historic marker was erected on the site of the July 1970 Second Atlanta International Pop Festival near Byron, Georgia. The marker text reads, in part: “Over thirty musical acts performed, including rock icon Jimi Hendrix playing to the largest American audience of his career.”
Hendrix’s music has received a number of Hall of Fame Grammy awards, starting with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, followed by two Grammys in 1999 for his albums Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland; Axis: Bold as Love received a Grammy in 2006. In 2000, he received a Hall of Fame Grammy award for his original composition, “Purple Haze”, and in 2001 for his recording of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was honored with a Grammy in 2009.