Jimi Hendrix (Nov. 27, 1942 — Sept. 18, 1970) was an American blues-rock/psych guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer from Seattle who released three 1967/68 albums on Track/Polydor/Reprise with his London-based power-trio The Experience, followed by the 1970 live release Band of Gypsys.
He was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, to James Allen “Al” Hendrix (1991–2002) and Lucille Hendrix (née Jeter, 1925–1958). In 1946, they changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix in honor of Al and his late brother, Leon Marshall. His parents divorced in 1951 and Al got sole custody of James and his younger brother, Leon.
In elementary school, Hendrix developed a habit of holding broomsticks to emulate a guitar. Eventually, he found a one-string banjo in a pile of garbage and used it to learn rock n’ roll songs by ear. At age fifteen, he got his first acoustic guitar for $5 and formed his first band, The Velvetones.
In mid-1959, Al bought Hendrix his first electric guitar, a white Supro Ozark. He started gigging with his first professional band, The Rocking Kings, but the instrument was soon stolen. Al bought him another guitar, a red Silvertone Danelectro.
In 1961, Hendrix enlisted in the US Army, where he jammed with fellow serviceman, bassist Billy Cox. After being discharged, they settled in Clarksville, Tenn., in 1963 and formed The King Kasuals. The band’s other guitarist, Alphonso “Baby Boo” Young, began playing guitar with his teeth. Hendrix harnessed this gimmick as part of his stage act. They relocated to Nashville, where Hendrix moonlighted as a backing musician for Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Ike & Tina Turner, and Jackie Wilson.
Hendrix left the Kings in 1964 and moved to Harlem, where the Isley Brothers hired him for their backing band. That March, he played on their two-part single “Testify,” followed that summer by a credit on the Don Covay single “Mercy Mercy” (US #35). He gigged with the Isley’s until October, then started an eight-month stint with Little Richard’s touring band, The Upsetters. He played on Richard’s February 1965 single “I Don’t Know What You Got (But It’s Got Me).”
During the Upsetters gig, he played on the 1965 single “My Diary” (b/w “Utee”) by soul singer Rosa Lee Brooks. Both sides feature backing vocals by Arthur Lee of the fledgling west coast rock band Love. After coming to blows with Richard, Hendrix played on another Isley’s single, “Move Over and Let Me Dance” (b/w “Have You Ever Been Disappointed”).
In late 1965, Hendrix began an eight-month stint with Curtis Knight and the Squires. That October, he played on their single “How Would You Feel” (b/w “Welcome Home”). Concurrently, he toured with Joey Dee and the Starliters and played on the two-part single “Help Me” by Ray Sharpe. Hendrix earned his first composer credits on the 1966 Squires single “Hornets Nest” (b/w “Knock Yourself Out”).
Wishing to free himself from R&B sideman status, Hendrix moved to New York’s Greenwich Village in 1966 and formed his first rock band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, which also featured future Spirit guitarist Randy California (then fifteen). While performing at the Cheetah Club, Hendrix was spotted by the girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who recommended the young guitarist to aspiring rock manager Chas Chandler, who was just exiting The Animals.
Chandler flew Hendrix to London on September 24, 1966. For his new band, the Experience, Hendrix recruited bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. Redding hailed from beatsters The Lonely Ones; Mitchell from Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. At Chandler’s suggestion, Hendrix changed the spelling of his nickname from Jimmy to Jimi.
After a brief opening engagement with French popstar Johnny Hallyday, the Jimi Hendrix Experience signed to Who manager Kit Lambert’s Track Record label and issued their first single, “Hey Joe” (b/w “Stone Free“) on December 16, 1966.
- Are You Experienced (1967 • The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
- Axis: Bold as Love (1967 • The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
- Electric Ladyland (2LP, 1968 • The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
- Band of Gypsys (1970 • Hendrix )
- The Cry of Love (1971)
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