A true giant of rock and roll, Jimi Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Wash. Influenced by artists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Buddy Holly, Hendrix became interested in music at a young age. His father noticed his passion for music and bought him his first acoustic guitar.
As a self-taught musician, Hendrix was determined to learn the songs of his favorite artists despite the fact that he couldn’t read music. After receiving the guitar from his father, Hendrix joined his first band, The Velvetones. After three months, Hendrix decided to leave the band to focus on his own musical interests. His father purchased him his first electric guitar and he later joined a new band, The Rocking Kings, which played in the Seattle area.
In 1961, Hendrix enlisted in the United States Army. While he was stationed in Kentucky, he teamed up with bassist Billy Cox. Together they formed The King Casuals. During this time, Hendrix also worked as a session musician in hopes of becoming a lead guitarist.
He performed with several artists including Sam Cooke, Ike and Tina Turner, Little Richard and the Isley Brothers. Hendrix eventually formed the band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames — a new direction that allowed him to step into the spotlight as a lead guitarist.
Hendrix made his way to New York after leaving the army, and gained attention by playing in venues around New York’s Greenwich Village.
In 1966, he signed a contract that would see him move to London to form another band. Upon arriving in the UK, management suggested he change his name “Jimi,” which became the basis for putting together the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell rounded out the powerful rock trio.
The band quickly gained prominence in London and saw success with their first single “Hey Joe.” The song spent 10 weeks on the UK charts. Shortly after, the band’s first album Are You Experienced was released. The album included songs that have now become standards: “Purple Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Fire.”
The followup, Axis: Bold As Love, was released in 1967 and further broke down barriers.
Hendrix returned to the United States to perform at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, and drove the crowd into a frenzy with an electrifying performance of “Wild Thing.” At the conclusion of the tune, he set his guitar on fire, the first time American audiences had seen anyone abuse thier instrument in that manner.
The following year, he released the sprawling Electric Ladyland.
In 1969, Hendrix closed the iconic Woodstock Festival, where he performed his own version of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Hendrix was one of the first musicians to experiment and explore the farthest limits and possibilities on the electric guitar. According to JimiHendrix.com, “Hendrix’s innovative style of combining fuzz, feedback and controlled distortion created a new musical form.” He also pioneered the use of overdubbing techniques on his recordings, vastly changing what musicians could accomplish in the studio.
Although his career was brief, Hendrix became one of the most influential rock musicians of the 20th century.
Five songs that represent Jimi Hendrix
- “Hey Joe” — A rock classic and the first single from the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
- “Fire” — An energetic and soulful rock anthem fused with intricate drum patterns.
- “Purple Haze” — A song inspired by one of Hendrix’s dreams.
- “Are You Experienced” — A psychedelic and experimental track that features the sounds of backward guitar.
- “The Wind Cries Mary” — Mellow and soulful.
All three of the records Hendrix completed as a band leader are essential to any listener wanting to understand rock guitar.
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