Jimi Hendrix’s recording career lasted only a few years, but he blew a swath threw the late 1960s, doing things with a Fender Stratocaster guitar that nobody had done before. He’s widely acknowledged as one of the most influential and innovative musicians Rock has produced, and is often cited as the greatest electric guitarist in history.
Hendrix was born in 1942 in Seattle, Washington, and raised mostly by his single father. As a boy Hendrix spent hours “playing” a broom as if it were a guitar, eventually graduating to a one-stringed ukulele he found in the trash. When he finally got a guitar he slept with it; by 17 he’d dropped out of high school and was playing in local bands and getting into trouble around the neighborhood. After being caught joyriding in a stolen car Hendrix was offered a choice of jail or the Army. He enlisted, and in November 1962 he completed paratrooper training. Although he was able to form a band that performed on the base, Army life did not suit the shy, dreamy young man and he was discharged after serving less then a year.
Hendrix relocated to Nashville and began to make inroads in the R&B club scene there. In a town full of guitar players Hendrix sought to stand out, and developed his showmanship, playing the guitar behind his back, between his legs, with his teeth. He began working in road bands, often for Soul package shows, backing established stars like Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and Ike and Tina Turner. The stars he backed didn’t always appreciate his flamboyance onstage, and by 1964, thinking it was time to try his own thing, he relocated to New York City.
In New York, Hendrix split his time between the Soul clubs uptown and the burgeoning club scene of Greenwich Village. Inspired by the mix of Rock, Folk, and Blues flourishing downtown, Hendrix formed his own band, the Blue Flames. As a guitarist, Hendrix had become a powerful force, captivating audiences not only with his playing, but with his showmanship and innovative use of feedback and distortion, and the band quickly developed a buzz. Well-known musicians began to check out the new phenomenon, and when Chas Chandler, bassist for the British band the Animals, saw Hendrix, he was so bowled over he signed him to a management contract and convinced him to relocate to London.
In London Chandler recruited drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The band created a sensation, quickly making fans of stars including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and members of the Rolling Stones and Beatles. The group’s debut album, Are You Experienced, was released in 1967, its heavy, trippy sound melding R&B, Blues, Rock, and Psychedelia. Often ranked among the best records of the era, it’s full of songs that have become Classic Rock staples – “Hey Joe," “Purple Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” "Foxy Lady," "Fire." Hendrix’s success soon spread to America, his rise culminating in June 1967, with a starmaking performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival that climaxed with Hendrix setting his guitar on fire.
Less then a year after the release of Are You Experienced came the follow-up, Axis: Bold As Love, which found Hendrix indulging his interest in studio recording techniques, an interest that led Hendrix to build his own Electric Lady studio in New York. His next release, Electric Ladyland, a double LP that reached No. 1 in the U.S. in 1968, would be his last album.
In 1969, Hendrix disbanded the Experience and formed the Band of Gypsys with former Army buddy Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. He began touring and recording with the trio, but his career ended prematurely when he died at the age of 27 after a night of partying in London.