The Rise and Fall of Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix, the greatest guitarist in rock history,
revolutionized the sound of rock. In 1967, the Jimi Hendrix
Experience rocked the nation with their first album, Are You
Experienced? Hendrix's life was cut short by the tragedy of drugs in
1970, when he was only twenty seven years old. In these three years
the sound of rock changed greatly, and Hendrix's guitar playing was a
Jimi was born in Seattle, Washington on November 27, 1942. As a
young boy, whenever the chance came, Jimi would try to play along with
his R & B records. However, music was not his life long dream. At
first, the army was. In the late 1950's, Hendrix enlisted in the
101st Airborne Division. After sustaining a back injury during a
jump, he received a medical discharge. After his army career came to
an abrupt end, he decided to go into the music field. By this time
he had become an accomplished guitarist, and was soon to become known
as the greatest guitarist ever (Stambler, pg. 290).
However, he did not start out at the top. Jimi started
out playing as part of the back-up for small time R & B groups. It
did not take long before his work was in demand with some of the best
known artists in the field, such as B.B. King, Ike and Tina Turner,
Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson, Littler Richard, Wilson Pickett, and
King Curtis (Clifford, pg. 181). Using the name Jimmy James, he
toured with a bunch of R & B shows, including six months as a member
of James Brown's Famous Flames (Stambler, pg. 290).
At the Cafe Wha! in New York, in 1966, Hendrix decided to try
singing. Jimi lucked out when a man by the name of Charles "Chas"
Chandler from Eric Burdon's Animals heard him at the club and thought
he was sensational. When Chas heard him again later that year, he
talked Jimi into moving to England where he would really get the
chance to start his career (Stambler, pg. 290).
Along with Chas, Hendrix auditioned some musicians to complete
the new Hendrix group. They choose Mitch Mitchell, a fantastic
drummer, and Noel Redding, one of England's best guitar and bass
players (Stambler, pg. 290). In 1966, at the Olympia in Paris, the
Experience debuted. One year later, the Experience was breaking
attendance records right and left at European clubs. When the Monkees
toured England in 1967, they heard Jimi and liked him. The Monkees
asked Hendrix to join them on their tour through the U.S., and Jimi
was on his way home (Stambler, pg. 290).
"Jimi's erotic stage actions, suggestive lyrics, and guitar-
smashing antics..." did not go over well with the Monkees' fans or
many adults. Being criticized over and over again forced the
Experience to be dropped from the tour (Stambler, pg. 290). This
however did not get Hendrix down. By the end of the year, the group
was invited to the Monterey Pop Festival. Jimi won a standing ovation
for the "...nerve-shattering sounds from the group's nine amplifiers
and eighteen speakers, topped by Jimi dousing his guitar with lighter
fluid and burning it..." (Stambler, pg. 291).
Hendrix became popular overnight, and his shows became standing
room only. His stage acts were so wild, Time magazine described it
as: "He hopped, twisted and rolled over sideways without missing a
twang or a moan. He slung the guitar low over swiveling hips, or
raised it to pick the strings with his teeth; he thrust it between his
legs and did a bump and grind, crooning: 'oh, baby, come on now, sock
it to me.'...For a symbolic finish, he lifted the guitar and flung it
against the amplifiers." Time (April 25, 1968). His specialty became
the way he used feedback, which up until now was an undesired sound.
Using his guitar and the feedback it created, he was able to generate
sounds which were used to his advantage in creating his unique style.
This style is copied today by modern rock artists; however, this style
is duplicated today with the use of special equipment, such as
Are You Experienced?, Electric Ladyland, Axis: Bold as Love,and
Smash Hits were all platinum albums. For the year of 1968, Billboard
named him Artist of the Year; and in August he played a heart-stopping
performance of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. His fame did
not last forever though. In 1969, the Experience broke-up. However,
Hendrix claimed it was not forever, but was just a chance for the
members to develop their musical abilities. Then Jimi's drug
addiction became worse. In Toronto, he was arrested for possession of
heroin (Stambler, pg. 291).
None of this held him back from his music though. He played with
other rock artists such as Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, and their album,
Band of Gypsy's, won a gold record. In 1969, he was chosen as the
Artist of the Year by Playboy. His career seemed limitless, but the
heroin use caught up with him (Stambler, pg. 291). On September 18,
1970, he was found dead in his room from a drug overdose. He was only
twenty seven years old. His music has not been forgotten, as it is
still popular today. If his addiction had not overcome him, he could
still be revolutionizing the style of rock today.
1.Stambler, Irwin. The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul. New York:
St. Martin's Press, 1989.
2.Clifford, Mike. The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. New
York: Harmony Books, 1988