Who is Jimi Hendrix?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Jimi Hendrix was an American rock guitarist, singer and songwriter. He won numerous awards for his contributions to rock music, both during his life and after his death at age 27. With a unique style that blended rock and roll, blues and funk, Jimi Hendrix was one of the most influential musicians in rock and roll history, and his guitar playing skills are legendary.

Jimi Hendrix is famous for manipulating the sounds of his guitar amps.
Jimi Hendrix is famous for manipulating the sounds of his guitar amps.

Birth and Childhood

He was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on 27 November 1942 in Seattle, Washington. His father was stationed at a United States Army camp in Oklahoma when he was born, and when his father returned home, he changed his new son's name to James Marshall Hendrix. Jimi's home life as a child was unstable. His family was poor, and he was often sent to stay with members of his extended family or friends. One of his two brothers was handicapped and was raised by the state, and both of his sisters, also handicapped, were given up for adoption.

Jimi Hendrix was born in 1942 in Seattle, Washington.
Jimi Hendrix was born in 1942 in Seattle, Washington.

Hendrix's parents divorced in 1952, and his mother died six years later. Around that time, Jimi purchased his first guitar and began practicing almost constantly. His father gave him his first electric guitar the following year.

Early Career

Jimi Hendrix's first band was The Velvetones, followed by The Rocking Kings. After dropping out of high school, he got into legal trouble for riding in a stolen car. As an alternative to prison, he was allowed to join the U.S. Army. He enlisted on 31 May 1961 and was discharged after one year. At the post recreation center, he met bass guitarist Billy Cox, with whom he would have a close personal and professional relationship for the rest of his life.

After leaving the Army, Hendrix and Cox moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and formed a band called The King Casuals, which played throughout the South for about two years. Hendrix's experience in the South allowed him to develop his personal style, but it was difficult to make a living. He moved to New York in 1964 for a change of scene. While there, he won first prize in an amateur contest at The Apollo Theater and joined the Isley Brothers' national tour.

Hendrix played backup for Little Richard in 1965, but their personalities clashed, and the engagement was short-lived. Throughout 1965 and 1966, Hendrix played in several bands before forming his own, Jimmy James and The Blue Flames. Later the same year, he founded his most important band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with the help of English producer Chas Chandler. The original band members were Hendrix and English musicians Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Hendrix performed and recorded his best-remembered and most influential music with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The band released four studio albums, Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love in 1967, Electric Ladyland in 1968 and The Cry of Love in 1971 after Hendrix's death. All four albums made it into the top five on the charts in the United Kingdom and the United States, and Electric Ladyland was No. 1 in the U.S.

After gaining fame in England, The Jimi Hendrix Experience won over many American fans through its performance at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival in Monterey, California. Hendrix notoriously smashed and burned his guitar at the end of his set, a moment that has been immortalized in the documentary Monterey Pop. The band next toured Europe, but Redding left in June 1969 and was replaced by Cox.

Other Projects

Although Cox had been playing with Hendrix since April 1969, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was defunct until 1970. In the interim, Hendrix had two short-lived projects, one called Gypsy Sun and Rainbows and the other called Band of Gypsys. With the first, he gave one of his most iconic performances, at Woodstock on 18 August 1969. His solo, improvised version of The Star-Spangled Banner was one of the groundbreaking moments of his career.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience reunited for its Cry of Love tour in 1970, with Cox again replacing Redding. The band had a successful, 30-show tour in the U.S., and Hendrix, Cox and Mitchell had a short stint in Europe. Hendrix played his last concert in Germany on 6 September 1970.

Death at Age 27

Hendrix died from barbiturate intoxication and the inhalation of his own vomit on 18 September 1970, reportedly after overdosing on sleeping pills. Despite his tragic end at the age of 27, Hendrix's music continued to influence and inspire musicians and fans alike. In 1992, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. An album of previously unreleased songs that had until then been mostly unfinished, titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun, was released in 1997.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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