Jimi Hendrix was one of rock’s few true originals. He was one of the most innovative and influential rock guitarists of the late Sixties and perhaps the most important electric guitarist after Charlie Christian. His influence figures prominently in the playing style of such rock guitarists as Robin Tower, Vernon Reid (Living Colour), and Stevie Ray Vaughan. A left-bander who took a right-handed Fender Stratocaster and played it upside down, Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source -- forging a trail followed by several generations of experimental rock guitarists. Rockers before Hendrix had experimented with feedback and distortion, but he turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues he began with. But while he unleashed noise -- and such classic hard-rock rifts as "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady," and "Crosstown Traffic" -- with uncanny mastery, Hendrix also created such tender ballads as "The Wind Cries Mary," the oft-covered "Little Wing," and "Angel" and haunting blues recordings such as "Red House" and "Voodoo Chile." And although Hendrix did not consider himself a good singer, his vocals were nearly as wide-ranging, intimate, and evocative as his guitar playing.
Hendrix’s studio craft and his virtuosity with both conventional and unconventional guitar sounds have been widely imitated, and his image as the psychedelic voodoo child conjuring uncontrollable forces is a rock archetype. His songs have inspired several tribute albums and have been recorded by a jazz group (1989’s Hendrix Project), the Kronos String Ouartet, and avant-garde flutist Robert Dick. Hendrix’s musical vision had a profound effect on everyone from Sly Stone and George Clinton -- and, through them, Prince -- to Miles Davis. His theatrical performing style -- full of unmistakably sexual undulations, and such tricks as playing the guitar behind his back (a tradition that went back at least to bluesman T-Bone Walker) and picking it with his teeth -- has never quite been equaled, but in the nearly three decades since his death, pop stars from Michael Jackson (with his ever-present paramilitary jackets) to Prince have evoked Hendrix’s look and style.
As a teenager, Hendrix taught himself to play guitar by listening to records by blues guitarists Muddy Waters and B. B. King and rockers such as Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. He played in high school bands before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1959. Discharged after parachuting injuries in 1961, Hendrix began working under the pseudonym Jimmy James as a pickup guitarist. By 1964, when he moved to New York City, he had played behind Sam Cooke, B. B. King, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Ike and Tina Turner, and Wilson Pickett. In New York he played the club circuit with King Curtis, the Isley Brothers, John Hammond Jr., and Curtis Knight.
In 1965 Hendrix formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, to play Greenwich Village coffeehouses. Chas Chandier of the Animals took him to London in the autumn of 1966 and arranged for the creation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, with Englishmen Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums.
The Experience’s first single, "Hey Joe," reached #6 on the U.K. chart early in 1967, followed shortly by "Purple Haze" and their debut album. Hendrix fast became the rage of London’s pop society. Though word of the Hendrix phenomenon spread through the U.S., he was not seen in America (and no records were released) until June 1967, when, at Paul McCartney’s insistence, the Experience appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival. The performance, which Hendrix climaxed by burning his guitar, was filmed for Monterey Pop.
Hendrix quickly became a superstar. Stories such as one reporting that the Experience was dropped from the bill of a Monkees tour at the insistence of the Daughters of the American Revolution became part of the Hendrix myth, but he considered himself a musician more than a star. Soon after the start of his second American tour, early in 1968, he renounced the extravagances of his stage act and simply performed his music. A hostile reception led him to conclude that his best music came out in the informal settings of studios and clubs, and he began construction of Electric Lady, his own studio in New York.
Hendrix was eager to experiment with musical ideas, and he jammed with John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, and members of Traffic, among others. Miles Davis admired his inventiveness (and, in fact, planned to record with him), and Bob Dylan -- whose "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watchtower," and "Drifter’s Escape" Hendrix recorded -- later returned the tribute by performing "All Along the Watchtower" in the Hendrix mode.
As 1968 came to a close, disagreements arose between manager Chas Chandler and co-manager Michael Jeffrey; Jeffrey, who opposed Hendrix’s avant-garde leanings, got the upper hand. Hendrix was also under pressure from black-power advocates to form an all-black group and play to black audiences. These problems exacerbated already existing tensions within the Experience, and early in 1969 Redding left the group to form Fat Mattress. Hendrix replaced him with an army buddy, Billy Cox. Mitchell stayed on briefly, but by August the Experience was defunct.
Hendrix appeared at the Woodstock Festival with a large informal ensemble called the Electric Sky Church, and later that year he put together the all-black Band of Gypsys -- with Cox and drummer Buddy Miles (Electric Flag), with whom he had played behind Wilson Pickett. The Band of Gypsys’ debut concert at New York’s Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969 provided the recordings for the group’s only album (its second album was not released until 1986). Hendrix walked offstage in the middle of their Madison Square Garden gig; when he performed again some months later it was with Mitchell and Cox, the group that recorded Cry of Love, Hendrix’s last self-authorized album. With them he played at the Isle of Wight Festival, his last concert, in August 1970. A month later he was dead. The cause of death was given in the coroner’s report as inhalation of vomit following barbiturate intoxication. Suicide was not ruled out, but evidence pointed to an accident.
In the years since his death, the Hendrix legend has lived on through various media. Randi Hansen (who appeared in the video for Devo’s 1984 cover of "Are You Experienced?") became the best known of a bunch of full-time Hendrix impersonators, even re-forming the Band of Gypsys with bassist Tony Saunders and Buddy Miles -- who, briefly in the late Eighties, was replaced by Mitch Mitchell. Over a dozen books have been written about Hendrix, including tomes by both Redding and Mitchell; the most authoritative bin is generally considered to be David Henderson’s ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky. And virtually every note Hendrix ever allowed to be recorded has been marketed on approximately 100 albums. Of these -- recordings dredged up from his years as a pickup guitarist, live concerts, and jam sessions, both bootleg and legitimate, even interviews and conversations -- most attention has been given to a series produced by Alan Douglas, who recorded over 1,000 hours of Hendrix alone at the Electric Lady studio in the last year of his life. With the consent of the Hendrix estate, Douglas edited the tapes, erased some tracks, and dubbed in others, with mixed results. Radio One collected energetic live-in-the-studio performances by Hendrix and the Experience recorded for British radio in 1967.
In 1990 the first of several Hendrix tribute albums, If Six Was Nine, was released, followed by Stone Free. In 1991 ex-Hendrix girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, along with Eric Burdon and Mitch Mitchell and his wife Dee, began prodding Scotland Yard to reopen an investigation into Hendrix’s death. England’s attorney general finally agreed to the request in 1993; in early 1994 Scotland Yard announced it had found no evidence to bother pursuing the case any further. In 1993 an audiovisual exhibit of Hendrix’s work called "Jimi Hendrix: On the Road Again" toured college campuses and art galleries in the U.S., to enthusiastic -- and predominately young -- audiences, and Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company, the Firm) released a Hendrix tribute album (The Hendrix Set, 1993) and appeared on an all-star tribute album called Stone Free, with Hendrix songs also covered by everyone from Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, the Pretenders, and Buddy Guy to the Cure, Belly, PM Dawn, Ice-T, and even classical violinist Nigel Kennedy.
In 1994 24-year-old James Henrik Daniel Sundquist emerged from Sweden claiming to be the son Hendrix had sired with Eva Sundquist, during a 1969 Stockholm sojourn. Sundquist announced plans to legally challenge Hendrix’s father Al as sole heir to the Jimi Hendrix estate, estimated to be worth at least $30 million. In 1993, Al -- who in the mid-Seventies had begun signing away rights to portions of his son’s work to various international conglomerates -- claimed he’d been swindled and filed a federal lawsuit against those conglomerates, as well as various holding companies and lawyers connected to the estate.
Born November 27, 1942, Seattle, Washington;