Personalities | Jimi Hendrix | Sixties | Rock

With his pioneering use of fuzz, feedback and distortion in tandem with a God-given talent, Jimi Hendrix expanded and redefined the range of the electric guitar, and in so doing he became one of rock’s greatest superstars, all within the space of just four years.

Changing Names

Born in Seattle, Washington, on 27 November 1942, the left-handed Johnny Allen Hendrix (renamed James Marshall by his father Al Hendrix in 1946) taught himself to play guitar while drawing on blues influences such as Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker and B.B. King, as well as soul legend Curtis Mayfield and early rockers like Buddy Holly. He played in a couple of high-school bands, as well as for another outfit during a US Army stint that ended with his November 1962 discharge due to injury, at which point he began working as a session guitarist under the names of both Maurice and Jimmy James.

Assignments followed with the soul/R&B likes of Sam Cooke, King Curtis, Ike and Tina Turner, The Isley Brothers, Little Richard and John Hammond Jr., before Hendrix opted to switch from sideman to lead guitarist in his own band, Jimmy James and The Blue Flames. Playing gigs around New York City’s Greenwich Village throughout late 1965 and much of 1966, Hendrix was spotted by Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler during a performance at Café Wha? in July of that year, and a couple of months later Chandler persuaded him to relocate to London, which back then represented the centre of the creative/cultural universe.

Instant Fame

After quitting The Animals, and in partnership with the group’s manager, Mike Jeffery, Chandler signed Hendrix to a management contract and helped create The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with guitarist Noel Redding (1945–2003) on bass and the highly talented Mitch Mitchell (born John Mitchell, 9 June 1947) on drums. Within weeks, the trio’s performances were creating a major buzz on the London scene, and they also hit the UK Top 10 three times during the first half of 1967 with the singles ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, all produced by Chas Chandler and included on Hendrix’s outstanding debut album Are You Experienced? (1967).

Displaying not only the artist’s stunningly virtuosic talents as a guitarist, which melded an assortment of high-volume sonic effects with lightning-fast fingerwork, but also the breadth of his previously unknown abilities as a songwriter, this record ran the gamut from tender ballads to mind-blowing, psychedelic fusions of rock, pop, blues and soul, all wed to Hendrix’s distinctively husky vocals. And together with his sensational appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, it made him a superstar in his home country as well as overseas, just nine months after he had left.

Pushing The Technological Envelope

Onstage the innately shy Hendrix ignited audiences with his breathtaking musicianship and willingness to put on a show, featuring such antics as setting fire to...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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