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Hendrix, Jimi(1942–1970) - Guitarist, rock musician, composer, songwriter, singer, Discovers Music and Guitars, Chronology

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Jimi Hendrix became recognized during his short life and music career as a brilliant innovator on the electric guitar and arguably the greatest rock musician of all time. His music combined elements of blues, jazz, folk, pop, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, country, classical virtuosity, electronic experimentation and manipulation of noise, volume, feedback, sound delay, repetition, and other special effects in live and recorded performances. His songs and instrumental compositions expanded the vocabulary of his instrument, and his showmanship helped to define and draw attention to rock as a separate and unique musical art form.

Johnny Allen Hendrix was the given name of the first child born to James Allen (Al) Hendrix and Lucille Jeter Hendrix on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington. His paternal grandparents, Ross and Nora Hendrix, had been members of a vaudeville performing company that went broke in Seattle in 1910.

Al Hendrix was drafted into the U.S. Army in early 1942, and at age twenty-two decided to marry Lucille on March 31 of that year before leaving for basic military training. When their son was born in Kings County Hospital, Lucille was unprepared to raise a child on her own. Al did not get to see his son until his discharge in 1945. In 1946, Al Hendrix changed his son’s name to James Marshall Hendrix.

Al had difficulty making a steady living from a variety of temporary, low-paying jobs in the Seattle area. Lucille was frequently absent from the home, but she gave birth to a second son, Leon, in 1948. As a result, young James (Jimmy) and his brother were often shuttled among various relatives and friends in Seattle and as far away as Texas. Jimmy also spent time with his grandmother Nora Hendrix in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), who shared stories of her vaudeville days and their Cherokee Indian ancestors in Georgia and Tennessee.

In 1951 Lucille separated from Al, but Jimmy and Leon would often sneak away for secret visits with their mother and half-siblings from her other relationships. She died at age thirty-two in 1958.

Discovers Music and Guitars

While his father was away from home for long periods seeking and finding work, Jimmy spent considerable time listening to music from his father’s jazz and blues record collection. He was drawn to the sound of the guitar in particular, as played by Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, B. B. King, John Lee Hooker, and others. Hendrix convinced his father to buy an acoustic guitar for five dollars from the son of their landlord.

The left-handed Jimmy reversed the order of the strings on the instrument, but later became adept at playing right-handed guitars upside down with their strings in regular order, a unique approach to the instrument. At age twelve he began playing the acoustic guitar, and he continued to learn from records, radio, and local musicians. His first electric guitar, a white Supro Ozark model, was purchased by his father from the Myers Music Store in Seattle, and in the summer of 1959 Hendrix joined a teenage group called the Rocking Kings. He did not own an amplifier, so he plugged into a borrowed unit and played bass guitar parts for the band on his lead guitar.



Born in Seattle, Washington on November 27


Name changed by father to James Marshall Hendrix


Begins playing acoustic guitar


Mother dies from cirrhosis of the liver


Joins first musical group after father buys electric guitar


Joins U.S. Army after dropping out of high school


Leaves military service and begins music career in Nashville, Tennessee


Leaves Nashville for New York City


Travels to London, England with new manager Chas Chandler


Forms Jimi Hendrix Experience; records “Purple Haze”; releases record albums Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love ; appears at the first Monterey (California) International Pop Festival


Records third record album Electric Ladyland


Jimi Hendrix Experience disbands; forms new group called Gypsy Sun and Rainbows; arrested for drug possession in Toronto (later cleared of charges); performs “Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock Festival; disbands Gypsy Sun and Rainbows and forms Band of Gypsys


Begins “Cry of Love” tour; dies at age 27 in London, England on September 18

The group’s first performance was at a National Guard armory, where they were paid thirty-five cents each for their musical efforts. After his electric guitar was stolen from Seattle’s Birdland nightclub, his father got a white Danelectro model, which was painted red by Hendrix. The Rocking Kings went through a period of local popularity before the group disbanded.

Hendrix continued to lose interest in academics and dropped out of Garfield High School in October 1960, only a few months before graduation. He helped his father by working with him in his landscaping and gardening business but soon became bored and restless.

Shortly afterwards he got into trouble, was arrested in May 1961, sent to a juvenile detention center, and given a two-year suspended sentence. With a criminal record and no high school diploma, Hendrix had few options. At the age of eighteen, he decided to enlist, instead of waiting to be drafted into military service. Hendrix followed in his father’s footsteps and signed up for three years of active duty.

Hendrix was sent to Fort Ord, California for basic training but could not bring his guitar. He was then sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the base of the 101st Airborne Division, called the Screaming Eagles. The nickname was apt and somewhat prophetic for Hendrix, in light of his future guitar exploits. He was jumping out of airplanes weeks later and enjoyed the experience of flight and freefalling. In January 1962 he wrote his father and asked for his guitar, which he named Betty Jean after a Seattle girlfriend and played as often as possible.

Another soldier, Billy Cox, was a bass player, and the two musicians started playing together on a regular basis. They formed a band named the King Kasuals and began working at military service clubs, in the nearby community of Clarksville, Tennessee, and traveled to other locations in surrounding states.

Leaves Military for Nashville Music Scene

Hendrix received an honorable discharge from the army in summer 1962. Reports vary as to the reasons for his early exit, but music became his main occupation. Hendrix decided to establish himself in Nashville, which had developed a strong rhythm and blues music scene in addition to its reputation for country music.

The King Kasuals played on a regular basis at black nightclubs, where Hendrix also participated in jam sessions and so-called battles with other guitarists, including Larry Lee and Johnny Jones, who played alongside Hendrix and Cox on Night Train , a Nashville rhythm and blues television program. Hendrix said later that Nashville was where he actually learned how to play the guitar.

Despite the variety of playing opportunities, Hendrix and his fellow musicians made little money and often relied on friends, club owners, and other associates for financial assistance, food, and shelter. He worked infrequently as a backing musician for nationally known entertainers visiting Nashville, and eventually Hendrix went on the road with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Curtis Mayfield, a singer, songwriter, and guitarist whose approach also influenced Hendrix.

These persons and promoter “Gorgeous George” Odell exposed Hendrix to showmanship and versatility in playing different musical styles. After a package tour with Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions in late 1962, Hendrix returned to the Seattle/Vancouver area, where he spent time with his grandmother and briefly joined another soul group, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. He returned to Nashville in the spring of 1963 then went back out on the road with other artists. In his spare time he continued to write his own songs, poetry, and lyrics.

Moves to New York to Advance Career

In late 1963 Hendrix moved to New York City, where he hoped to find more performing opportunities. He had little money and pawned his guitar for food and lodging. When these funds ran out, he managed to survive, redeem his instrument, and work with local bands. He won the $25 first prize at the Apollo Theatre talent competition and met Fayne Pridgeon, who helped him get established in the Harlem music scene at the Palm Cafe.

By March 1964 Hendrix was touring and recording with the Isley Brothers, who let him have solos and indulge his showmanship. Hendrix in turn became a major influence on their younger brother, guitarist Ernie Isley, who joined their group in later years. Hendrix decided to leave the Isleys when they performed in Nashville and reunited briefly with old friends and colleagues.

He went out on another tour promoted by Odell and made a short-lived connection with rhythm and blues/rock and roll legend “Little Richard” Penniman in Atlanta, who needed musicians for his new group. During several performances Hendrix upstaged his employer, who was not pleased and imposed fines. Shortly afterwards Hendrix quit the band, returned to New York, quickly landed another job in 1965 with Curtis Knight and the Squires, freelanced with other New York groups, and did some recording studio work.

Hendrix also began to investigate the predominantly white music scene centered in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan, gained inspiration to sing his own songs, and in summer 1966 formed a group and a new stage name, as Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. The group began appearing in small Village cafes. His talent continued to draw attention but provided meager financial rewards.

All this changed after an English musician, Chas Chandler, heard Hendrix playing at Café Wha? on July 5. Chandler, a former bass guitarist, was now involved in the business side of the music industry. He talked to Hendrix, confirmed that he did not have any legal obligations, and offered his services.

Becomes Symbol of Counterculture

Hendrix reflected the turmoil of the times in his music, as the civil rights movement, youth and sexual revolution, and Vietnam War era all were a part of his personal experience as an African American musician, military veteran, and expatriate. He tried to avoid direct commentary on political and social issues, but his status made him a hero or target for others who approved or disapproved of his music and lifestyle.

Hendrix canceled a scheduled performance after Martin Luther King was assassinated and gave $5,000 to a memorial fund but received criticism for not speaking out against the riots and upheaval that followed. He chose to respond through his music and began work on his third record album, Electric Ladyland , the same month in New York. Hendrix used numerous musicians, full studio technical capabilities, spent huge sums for studio time, and finished it in October 1968. The album rose to number one on the music charts, but its success created additional problems.

Hendry, Gloria (1949–) [next] [back] Hendricks, John - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: John Hendricks

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