James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix, November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970) was an American guitarist and singer-songwriter. He is widely considered to be the greatest electric guitarist in the history of music, and one of the most influential musicians of his era across a range of genres.
After initial success in Europe, he achieved fame in the United States following his 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Later, Hendrix headlined the iconic 1969 Woodstock Festival and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. He often favored raw overdriven amplifiers with high gain and treble and helped develop the previously undesirable technique of guitar amplifier feedback. Hendrix, as well as his friend Eric Clapton, popularized use of the wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock which he often used to deliver an exaggerated pitch in his solos, particularly with high bends and use of legato. He was influenced by blues artists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Albert King and Elmore James, rhythm and blues and soul guitarists Curtis Mayfield, Steve Cropper, as well as by funk and some modern jazz. As a record producer, Hendrix also broke new ground in using the recording studio as an extension of his musical ideas. He was one of the first to experiment with stereophonic phasing effects for rock recording.
Hendrix won many of the most prestigious rock music awards in his lifetime, and has been posthumously awarded many more, including being inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. An English Heritage blue plaque was erected in his name on his former residence at Brook Street, London, in September 1997. A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6627 Hollywood Blvd.) was dedicated in 1994. In 2006, his debut US album, Are You Experienced, was inducted into the United States National Recording Registry, and Rolling Stone named Hendrix the top guitarist on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all-time in 2003. He was the first person inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame.
Born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, the first of five children to James Allen "Al" Hendrix (10 June 1919, Vancouver, British Columbia – 17 April 2002, Renton, Washington) and Lucille Jeter (12 October 1925, Seattle, Washington – 2 February 1958, Renton, Washington). His father was a soldier in the United States Army stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma at the time of his birth, before he was shipped to France in World War II. When he was two years old, his mother placed him in the temporary care of friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. His father received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army on September 1, 1945, and retrieved his eldest son and legally changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix in memory of his late brother, Leon Marshall Hendrix. He was known as "Buster" to friends and family, from birth. After his return, Al reunited with Lucille. He found it difficult to gain steady employment after the Second World War, and the family was impoverished.
Hendrix had two brothers, Leon and Joseph, and two sisters, Kathy and Pamela. Joseph was born with physical difficulties and was placed in foster care at age three. His two sisters were also both placed in foster care at a young age. Kathy was born blind and Pamela suffered lesser physical difficulties.
On December 17, 1951, when Hendrix was nine years old, his parents divorced. The divorce was caused by Lucille's alcoholism; she developed cirrhosis of the liver and died on February 2, 1958 when the state of her liver caused her spleen to rupture. On occasion, he was placed in the care of his paternal grandmother in Vancouver, British Columbia because of the unstable household, and his brother Leon was placed in foster care temporarily. Hendrix was a shy and sensitive boy, deeply affected by the poverty and family disruption he experienced at a young age. Unusual for his era, Hendrix's high school had a relatively equitable ethnic mix of African Americans, European Americans, and Asian Americans. At age 15, around the time his mother died, he acquired his first acoustic guitar for $5 from an acquaintance of his father. This guitar replaced both the broomstick he had been strumming in imitation, and a ukulele which his father had found while cleaning a garage. Hendrix learned to play by practicing for several hours a day, watching others play, getting tips from more experienced players, and listening to records. In mid-1959, his father bought Hendrix a white Supro Ozark, his first electric guitar, but there was no available amplifier. According to fellow Seattle bandmates, he learned most of his acrobatic stage moves, a major part of the blues/R&B tradition, including playing with his teeth and behind his back, from a fellow young musician, Raleigh "Butch" Snipes, guitarist with local band The Sharps. Hendrix himself performed Chuck Berry's trademark "duck walk" on occasion. Hendrix played in a couple of local bands, occasionally playing outlying gigs in Washington State and at least once over the border in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Hendrix was particularly fond of Elvis Presley, whom he saw perform in Seattle, in 1957. Leon Hendrix claimed in an early interview that Little Richard appeared in his Central District neighborhood and shook hands with his brother, Jimi. This is unattested elsewhere and vehemently denied by his father. Hendrix's early exposure to blues music came from listening to records by Muddy Waters and B.B. King which his father owned. Another early impression came from the 1954 western Johnny Guitar, in which the hero carries no gun but instead wears a guitar slung behind his back.
Hendrix's first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle's Temple De Hirsch. After too much wild playing and showing off, he was fired between sets. The first formal band he played in was The Velvetones, who performed regularly at the Yesler Terrace Neighborhood House without pay. He later joined the Rocking Kings, who played professionally at such venues as the Birdland. When his guitar was stolen (after he left it backstage overnight), Al bought him a white Silvertone Danelectro. He painted it red and had "Betty Jean" emblazoned on it — the name of his high school girlfriend.
Hendrix completed junior high at Washington Junior High School with little trouble but did not graduate from Garfield High School. Later he was awarded an honorary diploma, and in the 1990s a bust of him was placed in the school library. After he became famous in the late 1960s, Hendrix told reporters that he had been expelled from Garfield by racist faculty for holding hands with a white girlfriend in study hall. Principal Frank Hanawalt says that it was simply due to poor grades and attendance problems.
Hendrix got into trouble with the law twice for riding in stolen cars. He was given a choice between spending two years in prison or joining the Army. Hendrix chose the latter and enlisted on May 31, 1961. After completing basic training, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. His commanding officers and fellow soldiers considered him to be a subpar soldier: he slept while on duty, had little regard for regulations, required constant supervision, and showed no skill as a marksman. For these reasons, his commanding officers submitted a request that Hendrix be discharged from the military after he had served only one year. Hendrix did not object when the opportunity to leave arose. He would later tell reporters that he received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle during his 26th parachute jump. The rock music journalist Charles Cross contended in his biography of Hendrix, Room Full of Mirrors (2005) that Hendrix faked being homosexual—claiming to have fallen in love with a fellow soldier—in order to be discharged, but did not produce credible evidence to support this contention.
At the base recreation center, Hendrix met fellow soldier and bass player Billy Cox, and the two forged a loyal friendship that Hendrix would call upon from April 1969 until Billy's breakdown shortly before Hendrix's death. The two would often perform with other musicians at venues both on and off the base as a loosely organized band there named the Casuals. As a celebrity in the UK, Hendrix mentioned his military service in three published interviews; one in 1967 for the film See My Music Talking (much later released under the title Experience), which was intended for TV to promote his recently released Axis: Bold as Love LP, in which he spoke very briefly of his first parachuting experience: "...once you get out there everything is so quiet, all you hear is the breezes-s-s-s..." This comment has later been used to claim that he was saying that this was one of the sources of his "spacy" guitar sound. The second and third mentions of his military experience were in interviews for Melody Maker in 1967 and 1969, where he spoke of his dislike of the army. In interviews in the US, Hendrix almost never mentioned it, and when Dick Cavett brought it up in his TV interview, Hendrix's only response was to verify that he had been based at Fort Campbell.
After his Army discharge, Hendrix and Army friend Billy Cox moved to nearby Clarksville, Tennessee and undertook in earnest to earn a living with their existing band. Hendrix had already seen Butch Snipes play with his teeth in Seattle and now Alphonso 'Baby Boo' Young the other guitarist in the band, was featuring this gimmick. Not to be upstaged, it was then that Hendrix learned to play with his teeth properly, according to Hendrix himself: "... the idea of doing that came to me in a town 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..." They played mainly in low-paying gigs at obscure venues. The band eventually moved to Nashville's Jefferson Street, the traditional heart of Nashville's black community and home to a lively rhythm and blues scene. After they moved to Nashville, upon learning there was already an established band by the name "The Casuals", they amended their name to the "King Kasuals". While in Nashville, according to Cox and Larry Lee—who replaced Alphonso Young on guitar—they were basically the house band at "Club del Morocco". Hendrix and Cox shared a flat above "Joyce's House Of Glamour". Hendrix's girlfriend at this time was Joyce Lucas. Bill 'Hoss' Allen's memory of Hendrix's supposed participation in a session with Billy Cox in November 1962, in which he cut Hendrix's contribution due to his over-the-top playing, has now been called into question; a suggestion has been made that he may have confused this with a later 1965 session by Frank Howard And The Commanders in which Hendrix participated. In December 1962, Hendrix visited his relatives in Vancouver, Canada, where as a child he had sometimes lived with his grandmother. It has been claimed that while there, he performed with future members of the Motown band Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, including Tommy Chong (of later Cheech & Chong fame). Chong, however, disputes this ever happened and that any such appearance is a product of Taylor's "imagination". In early 1963, Hendrix returned to the South. For the next two years, Hendrix made a living performing on a circuit of venues throughout the South catering to black audiences. These were venues affiliated with the Theater Owners' Booking Association (TOBA), sarcastically known as "Tough On Black Asses" because the audiences were very demanding. The TOBA circuit was also widely known as the Chitlin' Circuit. In addition to performing in his own band, he performed with Bob Fisher and the Bonnevilles, and in backing bands for various soul, R&B, and blues musicians, including Chuck Jackson, Slim Harpo, Tommy Tucker, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson. The Chitlin' Circuit was where Hendrix refined his style.
Feeling he had artistically outgrown the circuit and frustrated at following the rules of bandleaders, Hendrix decided to try his luck in New York City and in January 1964 moved into the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he soon befriended Lithofayne Pridgeon (known as "Faye", who became his girlfriend) and the Allen twins, Arthur and Albert (now known as Taharqa and Tunde-Ra Aleem). The Allen twins became friends and kept Hendrix out of trouble in New York. The twins also performed as backup singers (under the name Ghetto Fighters) on some of his recordings, most notably the song "Freedom". Pridgeon, a Harlem native with connections throughout the area's music scene, provided Hendrix with shelter, support, and encouragement. In February 1964, Hendrix won first prize in the Apollo Theater amateur contest. Hoping to land a gig, Hendrix made the club circuit and sat in with various bands. Eventually, Hendrix was offered the guitarist position with The Isley Brothers' back-up band and he readily accepted. Hendrix' first studio recording occurred in March 1964, when the Isley Brothers, with Hendrix as a member of the band, recorded the two-part single "Testify". Hendrix then went on tour with the Isley Brothers. "Testify" was released in June 1964, but did not make an impact on the charts. After touring as a member of the Isley Brothers until mid-late 1964, Hendrix grew dissatisfied and left the band in Nashville. There, he found work with the tour's MC "Gorgeous" George Odell. On March 1, 1964, Hendrix (then calling himself Maurice James) began recording and performing with Little Richard. Hendrix would later (1966) say, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice." During a stop in Los Angeles while touring with Little Richard in 1965, Hendrix played a session for Rosa Lee Brooks on her single "My Diary". This was his first recorded involvement with Arthur Lee of the band "Love". While in L.A., he also played on the session for Little Richard's final single for Vee-Jay, "I Don't Know What You've Got, But It's Got Me". He later made his first recorded TV appearance on Nashville's Channel 5 "Night Train" with "The Royal Company" backing up "Buddy and Stacy" on "Shotgun". Hendrix clashed with Richard, over tardiness, wardrobe, and, above all, Hendrix's stage antics. On tour with Richard they shared billing a couple of times with Ike and Tina Turner. It has been suggested that he left Richard and played with Ike & Tina briefly before returning to Richard, but there is no firm evidence to support this, and this is emphatically denied by Tina. Months later, he was either fired or he left after missing the tour bus in Washington, D.C. He then rejoined the Isley Brothers in the summer of 1965 and recorded a second single with them, "Move Over and Let Me Dance" backed with "Have You Ever Been Disappointed" (1965 Atlantic 45-2303).
Later in 1965, Hendrix joined a New York–based R&B band, Curtis Knight and the Squires, after meeting Knight in the lobby of the Hotel America, off Times Square, where both men were living at the time. He performed on and off with them for eight months. In October 1965, Hendrix recorded a single with Curtis Knight, "How Would You Feel" backed with "Welcome Home" (1966 RSVP 1120) and on October 15 he signed a three-year recording contract with entrepreneur Ed Chalpin, receiving 1% royalty. While the relationship with Chalpin was short-lived, his contract remained in force, which caused considerable problems for Hendrix later on in his career. The legal dispute has continued to the present day. (Several songs (and demos) from the 1965–1966 Curtis Knight recording sessions, deemed not worth releasing at the time, were marketed as "Jimi Hendrix" recordings after he became famous.) Aside from Curtis Knight and the Squires, Hendrix then toured for two months with Joey Dee and the Starliters.
In between performing with Curtis Knight in 1966, Hendrix toured and recorded with King Curtis. Hendrix recorded the two-part single "Help Me (Get the Feeling)" with Ray Sharpe and the King Curtis Orchestra (1966 Atco 45-6402) (the backing track was subsequently overdubbed by other vocalists with different lyrics and released as new songs). Later in 1966, Hendrix also recorded with Lonnie Youngblood, a saxophone player who occasionally performed with Curtis Knight. The sessions produced two singles for Youngblood: "Go Go Shoes"/"Go Go Place" (Fairmount F-1002) and "Soul Food (That's What I Like)"/"Goodbye Bessie Mae" (Fairmount F-1022). Additionally, singles for other artists came out of the sessions: The Icemen's "(My Girl) She's a Fox"/ "(I Wonder) What It Takes" (1966 SAMAR S-111) and Jimmy Norman's "You're Only Hurting Yourself"/"That Little Old Groove Maker" (1966 SAMAR S-112). As with the King Curtis recordings, backing tracks and alternate takes for the Youngblood sessions would be overdubbed and otherwise manipulated to create many "new" tracks. (Many Youngblood tracks without any Hendrix involvement would later be marketed as "Jimi Hendrix" recordings). Also around this time in 1966, Hendrix got his first composer credits for two instrumentals "Hornets Nest" and "Knock Yourself Out", released as a Curtis Knight and the Squires single (1966 RSVP 1124).
Hendrix, now going by the name Jimmy James, formed his own band, The Blue Flame, composed of Randy Palmer (bass), Danny Casey (drums), a 15-year-old guitarist who played slide and rhythm named Randy Wolfe, and the occasional stand in June 1966.
Since there were two musicians named "Randy" in the group, Hendrix dubbed Wolfe "Randy California" (as he had recently moved from there to New York City) and Palmer (a Tejano) "Randy Texas". Randy California would later co-found the band Spirit with his stepfather, drummer Ed Cassidy. It was around this time that Hendrix's only daughter Tamika was conceived with Diana Carpenter (also known as Regina Jackson), a teenage runaway and prostitute that he briefly stayed with. Her claim has not been recognized by the US courts where, after death, she may not have a claim on his estate even if she could legally prove he was her father, unless recognized previously as such by him or the courts.
Hendrix and his new band played at several places in New York, but their primary venue was a residency at the Cafe Wha? on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. The street runs along "Washington (Square) Park" which appeared in at least two of Hendrix's songs. Their last concerts were at the Cafe au Go Go, as John Hammond Jr.'s backing group, billed as "The Blue Flame". Singer-guitarist Ellen McIlwaine and guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter also claim to have briefly worked with Hendrix in this period.