Jimi Hendrix, an American boy out of Seattle, went to England and headed a British band in 1966 and 1967. He spent most of 1968 back home in the States. When you went to hear him you heard a lot more guitar – and got a fantastic stage presence to go along with it with a whole lot less bullshit in the bargain. Incredible guitar. Blues players, jazz players, rock players – all were agreed that Hendrix' improvisations transcended category and constituted music as imaginative and alive as rock and roll has known. Jimi, more than any other player, has extended the voice of amplified guitar to an incredible new range of emotive sounds. And in Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell he chose the perfect musicians to complement him.
Hendrix simultaneously went farther out and closer to the core in 1968, blowing more blues than ever since the Experience came together. His three LPs all rode high in the charts during the year: Are You Experienced?, released in the fall of 1967; Axis: Bold As Love, released in spring 1968; and Electric Ladyland, the amazing two-record set that came out in the fall. The first two albums only intimated the Experience's full power, though the first was notable for "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze" and both were first-rate rock and roll records. Both won Gold Records for their sales.
But Electric Ladyland was the first Hendrix LP to reach top place on the LP charts – and deservedly so. The album had everything going for it; generous parts of Hendrix' vaunted jamming (with friends like Al Kooper and Buddy Miles and Jack Casady and Steve Winwood along for the trip), a string of gassy new compositions, a beautiful performance of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" – which also did well as a single – and all-around excellent production (especially on "House Burning Down," where his guitar itself seems to be going up in flames) by Hendrix, who was his own producer.
He celebrated his return to his native soil patriotically by creating a spaced, totally chaotic "Star Spangled Banner" rendition owing nothing to the more-often heard American Legion-DAR-generations of school teachers arrangement of the anthem. The only sour notes came late in the year, when Jimi was hospitalized with torn ligaments in his leg from a street accident, and earlier, when the Carnegie Hall management, fearful of what horrors of destruction his electric presence might summon, banned him. It was announced just as 1968 slipped away that Mitch Mitchell would go out on his own as a single – though the drummer will still perform with Hendrix.
For creativity, electricity and balls above and beyond the call of duty, he has won for himself the Rolling Stone Performer of the Year Award.
This story is from the February 1st, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.