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Jimi Hendrix, 1942-1970

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Jimi's affairs were in a state of confusion at the time. At one point his road manager, Jerry Stickles, said that the day Hendrix died, he (Stickles) had called Dick Katz, his European agent, to tell him that Jimi wanted to do another European tour and a British tour as soon as possible. Katz lined up a German tour and some British dates that day before he heard the news, according to Stickles.

At another point, however, Stickles said that at Jimi's request he made airline reservations to return to the States September 21st, because Jimi wanted to finish up some recording for a new album by the Experience. (All that needed to be done on that album was the mastering, which Hendrix was going to do himself at Electric Lady.)

None of Jimi's friends or associates except Burdon, at first, would discuss the matter, and in the absence of a complete report, the London press chose to carry instead pure sensationalism. One Sunday paper had an "exclusive story" by a groupie which told of five-in-a-bed orgies with Hendrix.

In America, the first report – spread across the country primarily by FM radio within hours after his death – was that Hendrix had died of a heroin overdose. American newspapers generally carried the story of his death on the front page Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

September 26th, Radio Geronimo in England played unreleased Hendrix material the entire evening, including a tape of Jimi with Buddy Miles and the Last Poets, and another unreleased live album.

The funeral was to have been Monday, September 28th, in Jimi's hometown of Seattle, Washington.

 

James Marshall Hendrix was born November 27th, 1945. On the day of his death, his father, James, a landscape architect, talked about his son's childhood. The Hendrix family lives in a simple house with lawn and garden in the better part of Seattle's black neighborhood, near Lake Washington. The mantel is covered with pictures, guitar straps, magazine clips and other evidence of Jimi's illustrious career. Mr. Hendrix has remarried, and has two daughters by that second marriage. He also has a 22-year-old son, Leon, by the first marriage.

The last time the family saw Jimi was on July 26th, the day after Leon began doing time for grand larcency. As always when he was in Seattle, Jimi stayed at the Hendrix house that weekend.

Mr. Hendrix recalled that Jimi first became interested in music when he was 10 years old. His father remembers going into Jimi's room one night in the dark and tripping over a broom. He asked Jimi why the broom was there, since he obviously wasn't using it to clean up his room.

"That's my guitar, Dad," Jimi had answered. "I'm learning how to play it."

When he was 11, his father bought him a cheap acoustic guitar, and at 12, Jimi got his first electric guitar. He learned quickly, and was playing in bands at 13. When he was 14, that first electric guitar (inscribed "Jimmy") was stolen, and he was unable to replace it until his sophomore year at Garfield High.

Members of Jimi's bands were quite surprised when he became a star, because he seemed the least likely person in any of his groups to make it. He was then only an average musician, and gave no indication of the almost compulsive creativity that he showed later. He was also known for being very shy and reserved. He displayed no stage presence at all.

Jimi quit Garfield High in the middle of his senior year and went to work as a handyman for his father, who was then doing mostly gardening and lawn jobs. One day as they were working, Jimi told his father that he felt the work was a drag, and that he'd just decided to join the Army instead. This was in 1963.

He left Seattle within a few days and joined the 101st Airborne Division, stationed in the South. His father remembers going into Jimi's room right after he left, seeing the guitar, and expressing surprise that Jimi hadn't taken it with him. Sure enough, a few days later he got a call from Jimi, who said the Army was driving him mad and he needed his guitar "right away."

Except for a photo he received in the mail, that was the last time Mr. Hendrix heard from his son until Jimi reached England in 1966. He had been discharged from the military after 14 months when he suffered a back injury in a parachute jump, and he'd spent the next couple of years criss-crossing the United States, playing with more than 40 rhythm and blues groups. Using the name Jimmy James, he played for six months with a New York group called the Blue Flames. At various times, he backed Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, the Isley Brothers, and Wilson Pickett.

"I got tired of feeding back 'In the Midnight Hour,'" he told an interviewer in 1968. "I was a backing musician playing guitar."

He also played with a group called Curtis Knight and the Squires, and, after he became a star in 1967, Capitol Records embarrassed him by releasing an album called Got That Feeling; Jimi Hendrix Plays, Curtis Knight Sings, an album that was poorly recorded and of no historical value. It revealed only traces of the Hendrix artistry. Hendrix said: "The Curtis Knight album was from bits of tape they used from a jam session, bits of tape, tiny little confetti bits of tapes ... it was done. Capitol never told us they were going to release that crap. That's the real drag about it. It shows exactly how some people in America are still not where it's at, regardless. You don't have no friend scenes, sometimes makes you wonder. That cat and I used to really be friends. Plus I was just at a jam session and here they just try to connive and cheat and use. It was really a bad scene."

In 1966, he was playing (and, for the first time, singing) with a group at the Cafe Wha? on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village when Chas Chandler, then the bass player with the Animals, walked in. Chandler was enthusiastic about Hendrix, who had assembled this group only two months before, but Jimi expressed doubts about his own musical ability and about Chandler's claim that he could become a star. Two weeks later, after a quick tour with the Animals, Chandler returned to New York, confirmed his first impressions, and talked Hendrix into going back to England with him. This was in September, 1966.

A few days later, James Hendrix, Sr., received a phone call at about 4 a.m.

"It's me, Jimi. I'm in England, Dad," said the voice at the other end of the line. "I met some people and they're going to make me a big star. We changed my name to J-i-m-i."

Surprised, his father asked why he'd changed his name, and Jimi replied that it was "just to be different." Mr. Hendrix remembers telling Jimi that if he was really calling from London, the call was going to be very expensive. They both started crying over the phone. "We were both so excited I forgot to even tell him I'd remarried," his father says.

 

Once in England, Hendrix formed a new band. Noel Redding, who had come to audition as guitarist in the Animals, met Hendrix through Chandler. "Can you play bass?" was the first thing Jimi asked Redding. He never had before, but he immediately became bassist, and sometimes-guitarist, with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitch Mitchell, another Englishman, was picked as drummer.

Six weeks after he left New York, four days after forming his trio, Hendrix opened at the Olympia in Paris, on the bill with French pop star Johnny Halliday. He reminisced about it for an interviewer in 1968:

"Paris Olympia is worse than playing the Apollo. Four days after we got together, we were playing the Olympia. It is the biggest thing in Europe. The reception was great and we played four songs. We were trying to get together. We did everything. We never played these songs except once in Germany. We got together with 'Midnight Hour,' 'Land of 1000 Dances,' 'Everyone Needs Someone to Love' and 'Respect.'"

They took off on a tour of Europe. Eight days after the Beach Boys broke an attendance record by playing to 7,000 in two shows at the Tivoli in Stockholm, the Experience drew 14,500 for two shows. They became the second group (the Rolling Stones were the first) to sell out the Sports Arena in Copenhagen. At the Seville Theater in London, they were the first act ever to sell out both shows, and, when a return engagement was booked a month later, tickets sold out the day they became available. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was, as the European press said, "an overnight smash."

Now it was time to return to America. With several hit singles and a successful album in Europe behind him, Hendrix made his U.S. debut in 1967 at the Monterey International Pop Festival. Few in the audience knew that, until nine months ago, Hendrix had lived his whole life in this country. Few knew anything about him except that this "freaky black English bluesman" was making his "American debut."

Lou Adler, with John Phillips, co-producer of the festival, said he heard of Hendrix from Paul McCartney – "He told me about some guy in England playing guitar with his teeth." Adler decided on Hendrix and the Who as the "new" acts to be introduced to the Monterey audience.

In the liner notes to the live recording of Jimi's performance (ironically, it was the last Hendrix recording to be released before his death), Pete Johnson of Warner Brothers writes what happened:

"Their appearance at the festival was magical; the way they looked, the way they performed and the way they sounded were light years away from anything anyone had seen before. The Jimi Hendrix Experience owned the future, and the audience knew it in an instant."

Another ironic note was the presence of Jimi's R&B counterpart, the late Otis Redding, whose own Monterey performance is coupled with Hendrix's on the new album.

And yet another fallen star was at Monterey – Brian Jones, who attended the festival with Nico and spent most of his time as a spectator, seated in the press section. Adler recalled: "Brian was over here for his own pleasure, but he went up on stage and introduced one of the English acts – either Jimi or the Who." Hendrix was on the same bill as the Who and the Mamas and the Papas. His next performance would be at the Hollywood Bowl with the Mamas and the Papas.

The stories that came out about Hendrix after Monterey were enough to shoot him straight to the top, just like in Europe. "Purple Haze" became a hit single, Are You Experienced? a hit album. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, electric hair and all, was taking America by storm.

But if the audience knew just where Jimi Hendrix was at, the same can't be said of the music business brains. In one of those showbiz anomalies, the Experience took off on a tour, second billed to the Monkees, playing to the kiddies. When a promoter complained (under pressure from the Daughters of the American Revolution) that their stage act was "too sexy," the Experience refused to modify it, instead dropping out of that tour and packing houses on one of their own.

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