Jimi Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27th, 1942 in Seattle, WA. He was the first of five children born to James Allen “Al” Hendrix and Lucille Jeter. Hendrix’s father was a soldier in the U.S. Army. He was stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. At the age of two his mom placed him in the care of friends in Berkeley. His father was given an honorable discharge from the Army on September 1st, 1945. After which he went to get back Jimi.
Jimi had two brothers, Leon and Joseph and two sisters, Kathy and Pamela. Joseph had physical difficulties and was given to foster care at the young age of three. Both of his sisters where also placed in foster care. Kathy was born blind, while Pamela had lesser physical disabilities.
On December 17th, 1951, Hendrix’s parents divorced. Hendrix was only nine years old. About seven years after the divorce, his mother developed cirrhosis of the liver and died on February 2nd, 1958. He was place in the care of his grandmother who lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, while his brother Leon was placed in foster care. As a child and teen, Hendrix was a shy and sensitive boy. He was greatly affected by the poverty and family trouble that he grew up with.
The high school Hendrix went to was strange for its era. The high school was integrated. Hendrix got his first guitar at the age of fifteen. He bough it from a friend of his father for five dollars. Before he had imagined that the broom was a guitar. He also played on a ukulele that his father had found for him while cleaning up a garage.
Jimi mostly taught himself how to play guitar by watching others play. He also gained tips from others who’d been playing longer than him. Listening to records helped him as well. It wasn’t till mid-1959 that his father bought him his first electric guitar, a white Supro Ozark. Though there was no amplifier available at the time. Hendrix went on to play in a few local bands.
Elvis Presley was a musician Hendrix was fond of. Though his early contact with blues music came in the form of Muddy Waters and B.B. King records owned by his father. The 1954 film, Johnny Guitar is also believed to be another influence on Hendrix’s style.
Hendrix’s first show was in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle’s Temple De Hirsh with an untitled group. Jimi was fired from the group after playing wildly and trying to show off. The Velvetones were the first official band Hendrix played in. They performed with Yesler Terrance Neighborhood House on a regular bases, but without pay. Hendrix then went on to play with Rocking Kings, who played places like Birdland.
After he left his guitar backstage over night and it was stolen, his father replaced it with a white Silvertone Danelectro. He then painted it red and printed the name of his high school girlfriend, Betty Jean, on it. While he did complete junior high, Hendrix didn’t graduate from Garfield High School. Jimi was later presented with an honorary diploma. No one is sure weather it is as Hendrix claims that they kicked him out for holding the hand of his white girlfriend or if it was due to poor grades.
After getting caught in stolen cars twice, Hendrix was given two choices by the law, one, spend two years in jail or two, join the Army. He chose the Army and joined May 31, 1961. He completed basic training and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Hendrix was placed in Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He wasn’t the best solider as he mostly slept on duty, cared little for the rules, needed to be watched like a child, and had no clear ability as a marksmen. His commanding officers wished for him to be discharged and Hendrix was quick to jump at the opportunity. Jimi met Billy Cox, who played bass guitar at the base’s recreation center. The two became fast friends.
Once discharged from the Army, Hendrix and Cox moved to Clarksville in Tennessee. Beforehand, Jimi had seen how Butch Snipes could play guitar with his teeth , now Alphonso “Baby Boo” Young, the other guitarist in the band, was using the same technique. He would not be shown up.They didn’t play any big gigs. They soon moved back to Nashville’s Jefferson Street, also known as the heart of the black community and rhythm and blues scenes.
Early in 1963, Hendrix returned to the South. Where he would be for the next two years, making a living off of performing for black audiences. All of these places where associated with the Theater Owners’ Booking Association, also called “Tough On Black Asses” due to the fact that the crowds where challenging. TOBA was widely known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. Hendrix performed not only with his own band, but others such as Bob Fisher and the Bonnevilles, back up for Harpo, Tommy Tucker, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson. It was within this circuit that Hendrix truly refined his own style.
Soon Hendrix felt he had artistically outgrown the TOBA and was tried of playing by the rules of bandleaders. He moved up to New York City, into the Hotel Theresa in Harlem in January of 1964. There he befriended Lithofayne Pridgeno, also known as Faye, who later became his girlfriend. He also met the Allen Twines, Arthur and Albert. The Twines managed to keep Hendrix out of trouble.
The Twins also where the back up vocals on some of his records, going by the name of the Ghetto Fighters. They’re most well known work was on the song “Freedom”. Pridgeon knew Harlem like the back of her own hand and helped Jimi with shelter, support, and encouragement. Hendrix won the first prize in the Apollo Theater amateur contest in February of 1964. In hopes of getting a gig, he made the club circuit and sat in with a number of bands. Soon after, Hendrix was offered to be the guitarist in the band, The Isley Brothers’ back up band. He’s first real recording happened on March in 1964 on which day Jimi and the Isley Brothers recorded the two-part single “Testify”. They then went on tour.
It wasn’t till June of 1964 that “Testify” was released, though it did not have a true impact on the charts. Hendrix, before long, became very disgruntled with the band and left them in Nashville. Not long after, he found a job touring with MC Gorgeous George Odell. Hendrix begin performing with Little Richard under the name Maurice James on March 1, 1964. He would later be quoted saying, “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.”
While stopping in L.A. during a tour with Little Richard, Hendrix played with Rosa Lee Brooks on her single “My Diary”, making for his first recording with Arthur Lee of the band Love. He was also able to play for Little Richard’s final single for Vee-Jay, “I don’t know what you’ve got , but its got me” . He then had his first recorded TV appearance with The Royal Company, backing up Buddy and Stacy on “Stogun” on Nashville’s Night Train on Channel 5. Hendrix fought with Richard over lateness, outfits, and most importantly, how Jimi acted on stage. Months later, he left Little Richard.
Hendrix then got back with the Isley Brothers in the summer of 1965. Together they recorded a second single, “Move over and let me dance” backed with “Have you ever been disappointed”. In 1965, he went on to join a New York based R&B band, Curtis Knight and the Squires. After having met Knight in the lobby of Hotel America on Times Square, where they were both residing. He went on to play with the Squires on and off again for about eight months. With Hendrix, the Squires recorded the single, “How would you feel” in October of 1965. Then on October 15th he signed a recording contract with Ed Chalpin. While he and Chalpin never stayed close, the contract stayed intact for the full three years. This caused issues for Hendrix’s career later on. He also toured with Joey Dee and the Starliters on the side.
Hendrix and Curtis Knight recorded the two-part single “Help me (get the feeling)” with Ray Sharpe and the King Curtis Orchestra in 1966. Later on in 1966, Hendrix also recorded with Lonnie Youngblood, a saxophone player, who’d preformed with Curtis Knight before hand. Youngblood got two singles out of the sessions, “Go go shoes”/”Go go place” and “Soul food (that’s what I like)”/”Goodbye Bessie mae”.Around 1966, Hendrix got his first composer credits for two instrumentals “Hornets nest” and “Knock yourself out”, these where released as a Curtis Knight and the Squires singles.
Under the name Jimmy James, Hendrix formed his own band, The Blue Flame in June of 1966. The members where Randy Palmer on bass, Danny Casey on drums, 15-year-old Randy Wolfe on slide and rhythm guitar, with the occasional stand in. Due to the fact that there where two members named Randy, Hendrix called Wolfe “Randy California” and Palmer “Randy Texas”. Randy California would go on to start the band Spirit with his stepfather and drummer, Ed Cassidy. During this time, Tamika, Hendrix’s only daughter was conceived with Diane Carpenter, who was a teenage runaway and prostitute that he stayed with for a short time. This claim has not been recognized in the U.S. courts.
Hendrix and his new crew played several gigs in New York, though their main venue was at the Café Wha? on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. Though their last concerts were at Café au Go Go, backing up for John Hammond Jr, under the title “The Blue Flame”.
Linda Keith, then girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, befriended and introduced Hendrix to the Stones’ manger Andrew Loog Oldham, then later to producer Seymour Stein. Though neither of men appreciated Hendrix’s style. He was then referred to Chas Chandler, who was ending his term as bassist for The Animals and looking for talent to mange/produce. Chandler enjoyed the song “Hey Joe” and was certain he could make a hit single with the right artist.
Wowed by Hendrix’s idea, Chandler took Hendrix to London where he was signed to a management/production contract with himself and ex-Animal manager Michael Jeffery. It is noted that Chandler came up with the idea of changing the spelling of “Jimmy” to “Jimi”. He then assisted Hendrix with forming a new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This group was made up of guitarist-turned-bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, both of whom where English musicians.
Beforehand, Hendrix had been introduced to Pete Townshed and to Eric Clapton, who had just formed Cream. Hendrix was to join them on stage for the song “Killing Floor” at Chandler’s asking. Hendrix and Clapton continued to stay friends up till Hendrix’s death. He began a relationship with Kathy Etchingham the first night he was in London. They only lasted till February of 1969. She would later write an autobiography about their relationship and the sixties scene in London.
Jimi Hendrix tended to have a campy kind of humor, specifically with the song “Purple Haze”. In the song is a line that goes, “Scuse me while I kiss the sky”. It was misheard as “Scuse me while I kiss this guy”. In a number of shows, Hendrix deliberately sang “kiss this guy” while pointing at Mitch or Noel. Though in the Woodstock DVD, he points at the sky during this line in order to make it clear what he means.
After playing the Olympia theatre in Paris on the Johnny Hallyday tour, a showcase gig at the newly opened nightclub, Bag O’Nails and appearances on top UK TV shows “Ready, Set, Go!” and BBC’s “Top of the Pops”, Hendrix’s name spread like wildfire about London. With his showmanship, Hendrix “stole” the fans of guitar legends, such as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. He was then signed by the Who’s manger to their new record label, Track Records.
Hendrix’s cover of the song “Hey Joe” was his first single. He chose the arrangement done by Tim Rose which was slower and included a female backing the chorus. Following this song was Hendrix’s first self-written song, “Stone Free”. Success came in the form of “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” early in 1967. The song, “Purple Haze” featured the so-called “Hendrix cord”. All three topped the U.K. Top 10 charts and found international popularity.
In 1968, Hendrix and Jeffery came together to buy the Generation Club in Greenwich Village. Their original ideas where to reopen the club were disregarded when they decided that it would make a far better recording studio. The fees for the studio, named the Electric Ladyland were enormous, leaving Hendrix constantly in search of a recording environment that worked for him. It wasn’t till August of 1970 that Electric Lady Studios was open to New York.
The studio was made personally for Hendrix. It had rounded windows and a machine capable of producing ambient lighting in a multitude of colors. The studio was created to have a claming feeling to encourage his creativity, while still having a professional recording atmosphere. Eddie Kramer, the engineer, endorsed this by making it a drug free zone during sessions.
Hendrix died on September 18th, 1970 in London. He had previously spent the night at a party and was picked up by Monika Dannemann. She drove him to her flat at the Samarkand Hotel. Concluding from the autopsy and accounts from friends at the party on the 17th, Hendrix died a few hours after midnight.
In Dannemann’s testimony, she said that after arriving at her house, Jimi had, unbeknownst to her, taking nine of her Vesparax sleeping pills. Hendrix was unfamiliar with the strong German band and had not known that the typical medical dose was half a tablet. According to the doctor who initially attended to Hendrix, surgeon John Bannister, Hendrix had choked on his own vomit, mostly red wine which had sealed his lungs.
Years after this, Danneman claimed that road managers, Gerry Srickels and Eric Barrett had been there before the ambulance was called and had removed some of Hendrix’s things. Succeeding a libel case carried on in 1996 by Hendrix’s long-term English girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, Monika Dannemann killed herself.