James Marshall Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on the 27th of November, 1942 in Seattle, Washington. When he was 9 years old, his parents divorced; his mother passed away when he was 16. He went to live with his grandmother who was a Cherokee.
Hendrix received his first guitar at the age of 12, and began to play in local bands. He taught himself how to play the guitar, never learning it formally. He never graduated from high school. He got into trouble with the law for driving a stolen car. He was given two options―spend two years in prison or join the army. Jimi Hendrix chose to join the army. However, he had no aptitude for army life and was released early.
Career in Music
Jimi and his friend from the army, Billy Cox, moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and formed a band called 'The King Kasuals'. They played some gigs and eventually moved to Nashville. There they were exposed to the rhythm and blues in the primarily black community. For 3 years, from 1962, Jimi and his band made some sort of a living touring on the Chitlin Circuit. They played in several backing bands as well. This life was not making him either popular or rich. So he decided to move to New York City.
In 1964 he moved to Harlem. There he met Lithofayne 'Fayne' Pridgeon, who later became his girlfriend, and Arthur and Albert Allen (the Allen twins). They helped him a lot. The twins also performed as backup singers for his song 'Freedom'. Fayne provided him with shelter and support and used her music connections in the area to help him out.
But in general, Jimi Hendrix found it hard to break into the New York music scene due to his wild guitar playing which many found to be 'too loud and crazy'. In 1965, he played his first successful studio session on the Isley Brothers hit song 'Testify'. Later he joined the backup band of Little Richard called 'The Upsetters'. But he was removed from the band soon after. Meanwhile, he had refined his guitar playing technique.
In 1965, he joined the band 'Curtis Knight and the Squires'. He signed a 3-year contract with Ed Chalpin, where he received $1 and 1% royalty on records with Curtis Knight. This contract caused him quite a few problems later on in his career, and was eventually settled.
In 1966, he formed his own band called 'Jimmy James and The Blue Flames'. They used to play at the Café Wha?, where they gained quite a lot of popularity in New York.
Jimi Hendrix then formed a band called 'The Jimi Hendrix Experience' with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, after signing a contract with Chas Chandler, and moved to the UK. There he also met Pete Townsend and Eric Clapton. Hendrix's first single was the cover of 'Hey Joe' and was followed up with 'Stone Free', 'Purple Haze' and 'The Wind Cries Mary'. All these were hits, and were in the UK top 10. Jimi Hendrix soon became a big hit with guitar players like Eric Clapton, members of The Beatles, and The Who. Jimi also released covers of 'Rock Me Baby' and 'Killing Floor' which became instant hits.
In 1967, he released his first album called 'Are You Experienced' with his 'Jimi Hendrix Experience' band which reached the number one spot on the UK charts. They also toured Europe. This helped Jimi develop his stage presence. In 1967, he played in London's Saville Theater. The show was attended by the who's who of the music scene, including Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Spencer Davis, Brian Epstein, and many more.
A few months later, the album was also released in USA. Paul McCartney recommended their band to the Monterey International Pop Festival organizers. The performance of 'The Jimi Hendrix Experience' was recorded on film at the festival, and played in movie theaters across the country. It was here that Jimi burned his guitar and smashed it after his performance was over. This made him quite popular in America as well.
They played the opening gig for the band 'The Monkees', but the audience of the Monkeeys were mostly teenagers and did not like Jimi. The band was then removed from the spot.
Jimi was fast gaining popularity for his work, but the media attention on his on-stage gimmicks left him disturbed.
In 1967, he also released another album 'Axis: Bold As Love' which included hits like 'Little Wing' and 'If 6 was 9'.
The Experience band toured extensively. Jimi Hendrix also used to take hallucinogens, like LSD, and all this touring was quite exhausting. He also had a drinking problem, often becoming quite violent after drinking too much. He was also arrested in Stockholm after he trashed his hotel room while drunk and enraged.
In 1968, Jimi released 'Electric Ladyland'. During the recording of this album, differences grew between Jimi and Chas Chandler. Chandler soon quit and Jimi took over the process. The album then became Jimi's baby and recording became quite erratic. They would often begin in the middle of the night. Also, Jimi began to experiment with a variety of musical instruments, musicians, and effects. One of the tracks of the album called 'Gypsy Eyes' was apparently recorded 43 times because Jimi was not satisfied. Other tracks from this album include 'Voodoo Child' and the cover of 'All Along The Watchtower'. During this time, he lived with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. Also, during this time, he appeared in several jamming sessions with several musicians.
In 1969, the band played 2 concerts in London's Royal Albert Hall which were totally sold out. However, during this time, Noel Redding was getting increasingly frustrated with the way public hysteria surrounded Jimi's histrionics. He quit the band. The Ed Chalpin contract also came to haunt Jimi that year. The resolution of this dispute was the live album entitled 'Band of Gypsies'.
Later that year, Jimi was also arrested for possession of heroin and hashish in his luggage at the Toronto Airport. He argued that those were put into his baggage by his fans and he was acquitted.
Jimi's new manager, Michael Jeffrey, tracked down Billy Cox and brought him to join the band. After Noel's departure, the band appeared on 'The Tonight Show'. The new band was called 'The Gypsy Sun and The Rainbows'. They released hit singles like 'Jam Back at the House', 'Shokan Sunrise', 'Villanova Junction' and 'Izabella'.
In 1969, the band played in the Woodstock Festival and was the top-billed band of the entire show. They played a two-hour set which was delayed due to bad weather and which was rigged with technical problems. But they still managed to deliver a performance that went down in history. The most controversial part of his set was his rendition of the 'Star Spangled Banner'―the national anthem of USA―played to the accompaniment of machine guns, bombs, and screams.
In 1970, he reformed the band, calling them 'Band of Gypsies' with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. Together they recorded several original songs including the hit 'Earth Blues'.
Jimi's drug-addiction had become quite problematic, to the point that at one concert (the Winter Festival For Peace) he simply couldn't perform. This prompted his manager Michael Jeffrey to fire Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, and call Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell back. But then Jimi fired Redding and took Billy Cox back. This band was called the 'Cry of Love Band' after the name of the tour name. A few of these shows were recorded and have formed a part of his live and memorable performances.
On the morning of 18th September, 1970, Jimi Hendrix was found dead. His death is surrounded by a variety of versions. The most well-known is that he went to bed drunk and took sleeping pills. Then he died by choking on his own vomit. He is buried in Greenwood Memorial Park in Washington.