Celebrating Jimi Hendrix on his 80th birthday

The Hendrix family owns and operates Jimi’s official website, which includes this biography.

[Jimi was] renamed James Marshall by his father, James “Al” Hendrix. Young Jimmy (as he was referred to at the time) took an interest in music, drawing influence from virtually every major artist at the time, including BB King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Holly, and Robert Johnson. Entirely self-taught, Jimmy’s inability to read music made him concentrate even harder on the music he heard.

Al took notice of Jimmy’s interest in the guitar, recalling, “I used to have Jimmy clean up the bedroom all the time while I was gone, and when I would come home I would find a lot of broom straws around the foot of the bed . I’d say to him, `Well didn’t you sweep up the floor?’ and he’d say, “Oh yeah,” he did. But I’d find out later that he used to be sitting at the end of the bed there and strumming the broom like he was playing a guitar.” Al found an old one-string ukulele, which he gave to Jimmy to play a huge improvement over the broom.

By the summer of 1958, Al had bought Jimmy a five-dollar, second-hand acoustic guitar from one of his friends. Shortly thereafter, Jimmy joined his first band, The Velvetones. After a three-month stint with the group, Jimmy left to pursue his own interests. The following summer, Al bought Jimmy his first electric guitar, a Supro Ozark 1560S; Jimi used it when he joined The Rocking Kings.

In 1961, Jimmy left home to enlist in the United States Army and in November 1962 earned the right to wear the “Screaming Eagles” patch for the paratroop division. While stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Jimmy formed The King Casuals with bassist Billy Cox. After being discharged due to an injury he received during a parachute jump, Jimmy began working as a session guitarist under the name Jimmy James. By the end of 1965, Jimmy had played with several marquee acts…

If you’d like to read a more in-depth biography, I recommend purchasing or borrowing poet David Henderson’s book, ‘Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky.

The book was completed only after the author’s extensive first-person interviews with Hendrix and then, following the rock star’s untimely death, through ongoing, dogged research. This acclaimed work would later be richly expanded in new editions, offering still later generations important introductions to both writer and subject. A review in Tribes magazine stated that “Henderson had the benefit, as a young rock critic, to meet and talk to Hendrix before his death, and it would be an understatement to say he made an impression on the author. The book jacket exhorts that the biography is a promise to Jimi. Henderson clearly deeply appreciated Hendrix, not just his music or image.”

Hendrix’s history has also been documented in photographs. Since no one knows the fate of Twitter or whether it will be around much longer, I thought I’d share some of the many Hendrix pictures that have been posted there, starting with these from his childhood:

After being busted for auto theft and given a choice to go to jail or join the Army, Hendrix’s less-than-stellar Army stint ended with an honorable discharge after one year.

Hendrix would become a respected sideman for several R&B bands, playing with Curtis Knight and the Squires, The Isley Brothers, and Little Richard, among others.

Related: He put the R in rock ‘n’ roll: Remembering Little Richard

My first memories of seeing and hearing Hendrix live was with Curtis Knight, in chitlin circuit clubs, not that I paid him any mind. He looked like all the other young Black musicians with the pompadour conked hairstyles back in the day. Many hung out in a restaurant near New York’s famous Brill Building—the home to many recording companies—near where I worked as a bartender.

Thinking back on it now, I wish I could claim that I was paying close attention to the young man in the band playing outstanding left-handed guitar licks. But I wasn’t.

Nevertheless, I’m paying attention now.

Look at that hair!

Dagger Records released a live album of Hendrix playing with Knight, as well as this interview with bass player Horace “Ace” Hall.

As Dagger Records’ website tells it:

New York area bandleader Curtis Knight met Jimi Hendrix, then known as Jimmy James, in October 1965 and recruited the budding guitarist for his pre-Squires band the Lovelights. At the cusp of turning 23, Hendrix was already somewhat of a veteran, having already toured and recorded with, among others, the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. These raw recordings, made at George’s Club 20 in Hackensack, NJ on December 26, 1965 and January 22, 1966, capture the Lovelights (filled out with bassist Ace Hall, drummer Ditto Edwards and saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood) tearing through popular rock and roll, soul and blues songs of the day. Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1000 Dances,” Ray Charles’ “What I Say,” “Mercy Mercy” by Don Covay and “I’ll Be Doggone,” the Marvin Gaye hit, are featured in their repertoire, in addition to two songs Jimi would go on to play with the Experience: “Driving South” by Albert Collins and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.”

Even in these recordings, Jimi’s personality, stagecraft and humor are evident throughout. More so was his burgeoning skill as a guitarist. “Jimi wasn’t someone coming and learning on the gig. He was very seasoned. He had knowledge of all the hit songs. He had ’em down,” Ace Hall recalls. “Jimi was a leader. He would play out. A lot of guitar players are just card shufflers. Jimi was playing it loud. He made sure that everybody heard what he was doing. I have to give him that. He did it very well.”

Here’s Hendrix on Nashville’s WLAC Channel 5’s Night Train Show in 1965, backing a local duo, Buddy and Stacey.

And with the Isley Brothers:

In this four-minute clip from CBS Sunday Morning, Ernie and Ron Isley tell Maurice DuBois about discovering Jimi.

You can hear Hendrix with the Isleys on this 1964 recording of “Testify.”

Hendrix also played with Little Richard.

I don’t remember if I saw the new and transformed psychedelic Hendrix at The Electric Circus on St. Marks Place in New York, or if it was the Fillmore East. I admit that things from around that time are a bit, um … purple hazy … in my memory, due to my indulging in a variety of mind-altering substances.

I do remember that everyone I hung out with had a copy of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut album, Are You Experienced.

Here’s a live performance of “Purple Haze” from 1967.

And its famous chorus:

Purple haze all in my brain

Lately things don’t seem the same

Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why

‘Excuse me while I kiss the sky

Here he is at the Fillmore East, where hey, I might have also been.

1969 would bring Hendrix to Woodstock, where he took the stage at 9 AM on Monday morning, Aug. 18, and performed for more than two hours.

Here’s another great pic from Woodstock.

Hendrix’s Woodstock performance of The Star-Spangled Banner stirred up a mean hornet’s nest.

Hon September 9, Hendrix appeared on The Dick Cavett Show to address the subject. Rolling Stone revisited the appearance in 2019.

“I thought it was beautiful,” legendary guitarist tells talk show host Dick Cavett

Just one month after closing out Woodstock with a searing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Jimi Hendrix went on The Dick Cavett Show to explain why he decided to reimagine the song. It’s seen today as one of the greatest moments of his career, but at the time some Americans were offended that his take on the song — which used squelching feedback to simulate the sound of exploding bombs — was a means to protest the Vietnam War.

[…]

Hendrix’s performance at Woodstock came at a major transition point in his life since the Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded earlier that summer. He took to the stage with his newly formed band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, aka a Band of Gypsys — consisting of Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, bassist Billy Cox, guitarist Larry Lee and percussionists Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez.

The irony about the legendary performance is that few people actually saw it in person since so many fans had fled the upstate New York farm by that point. He went on late because he wanted to be the final act, not realizing that would mean playing on Monday morning to a virtually empty audience. The crowd had gone from “half a million strong” to a handful of diehard fans sitting in a giant ocean of garbage.

You can watch the six-and-a-half-minute exchange between an openly exhausted Hendrix and Cavett below.

Only a year later, Hendrix would die of an overdose of pills in London, as covered in this 48-minute 2007 documentary Swinging ’60s: Jimi Hendrix.

As The Boomer Channel explains in the YouTube notes:

This documentary contains live performances by Jimi Hendrix at the Seville Theater London in 1968 from the archives of Peter Whitehead. This documentary also features a performance by Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones of ‘My Little One’ a previously unreleased collaboration of two of the most famous guitarists the world has ever seen.

These words from Hendrix are quoted frequently. It seems he fulfilled his own prophecy.

Although Hendrix has passed on from this mortal realm, his music made an indelible mark on the industry and all of us. He will remain, forever, one of the greatest, if not the greatest electric guitarists of all time.

Happy birthday in guitar heaven, Jimi.

Join me for more Hendrix in the comments, and please post your favorites.

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