The Early Life and Career of Jimi Hendrix

By Graham Smithers

Johnny Allen Hendrix was born in Seattle on the 27th of November in 1942. His parents Al Hendrix and his mother Lucille Jeter split up and Johnny went to live with his father in Seattle with his younger brother Leon. When Johnny was four his father legally changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix.
Jimmy persuaded his father to buy him his first guitar when he was 15. “I put in plenty of gardening time with my dad to get that guitar,” he said “hours of sweat, lifting, carrying, mowing, trimming, and taking orders.”[1] Jimmy played this guitar for hours each day and learned from copying guitarists like Chuck Berry. After almost a year Jimmy played around the Seattle clubs and became known for his flashy playing.
Jimmy failed to graduate from Garfield high school because of poor grades and bad attendance. After some trouble for riding in a stolen car he traded a possible two year jail sentence for enrolment in the U.S army. He was assigned to the 101st airborne division. Although Jimmy enjoyed being part of the 101st airborne division he was not a good soldier as he needed constant supervision and lacked motivation.
Jimmy received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle on his 26th parachute jump. During his time in the 101st airborne division he met fellow soldier and bass player Billy Cox. They became good friends and later formed a band called the King Kasuals and played some of the local clubs. The two eventually moved to Nashvillebut then went on to make a living playing on the chitlin circuit in different backing bands. The chitlin circuit was the many black-orientated venues throughout the south. Although he earned very little and found little fame Jimmy made a living playing in there for 3 years.
              “Four months later, with a few dollars saved, Jimmy summoned up his nerve to take on New York[2]. Jimi never had a steady place to stay. 
Jimmy had many friends in New York that had connections in the New York music scene. With these he still found it hard to break the New York music scene.
“A friend of a friend introduced him to the Isley Brothers, and he joined their backup band”[3].After playing with the Isley brother’s band for a while he eventually got a spot in little Richards backing band, The Upsetters. Hendrix left the tour to tour with other artists. He went back on tour with Little Richard but was soon fired for missing a tour bus in Washington D.C.

In 1965 Hendrix joined the New York based band Curtis Knight and the Squires. He signed a three year recording contract with Ed Chaplin which meant he would earn 1% of royalty for every Curtis Knight record sold. Although his relationship with Chaplin was short the contract was still valid, this caused a lot of legal problems in the future for Hendrix.
In 66’ Hendrix formed his own band, Jimmy James and The Blue Flames, and became well known in the New York music scene.

Linda Keith, girlfriend of rolling stones guitarist Keith Richards, noticed him and recommended him to the rolling stone’s manager and a major record producer but they both declined. She then recommended him to ex Animals bassist Chas Chandler, who was looking for new talent to manage and produce. Chandler went to see Hendrix play in a New York club and was so impressed that he brought Hendrix to London, on the 24th of September 1966, and signed him to a management and production contract with ex Animals manager Michael Jeffery. Chandler helped Hendrix form a band and the final line up was Noel Redding on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums and Hendrix on guitar and vocals. The new band was called The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The bands final line up was competed on the 5th of October. After only one week of playing together they played there first live show on the 13th of October 1966 in Novelty, Evreux, France. They played four cover songs including “Hey Joe”, a Billy Roberts cover.

Their big chance to break America came when Paul McCarthy recommended to play the Monterey International Pop Festival. The organizers put the Jimi Hendrix Experience onto the line up. This was a huge opportunity for the band to find success in America. During their set Hendrix famously smashed and lit his guitar on fire. “The audience was completely overwhelmed by Hendrix”[4].

“On December 1, the second Experience album, Axis: Bold as Love, was released in the UK”[5]. This was followed by extensive touring, which now included larger venues and headlining their own shows. “Axis Bold as Love” further highlighted Hendrix as the greatest guitarist at the time and gained him more respect from other musicians including Eric Clapton and John Lennon.
Hendrix went on to build his own studio called “Electric Lady Studios” in New York. “Most of Jimi’s thoughts in April, May and june1968 were focused one recording Electric ladyland[6]”. During the recording of “Electric Ladyland” Hendrix’s manager and producer Chas Chandler became very frustrated with Hendrix because he completely changed the way he would record songs. Chandler was used to recording songs to release them for singles. Hendrix also recorded on an irregular schedule, sometimes recording tracks in the middle of the night. Chandler was not the only person that this frustrated, bassist Noel Redding often had to leave the room to calm him self down.  Sometimes returning to find Hendrix had already recorded his bass part. After Hendrix failed to improve on these problems, Chandler eventually quite as the manager and producer of Jimi Hendrix.

“Electric Ladyland” was released in late 1968 and was a huge departure from Hendrix’s previous albums. It included songs that further highlighted Hendrix’s talent like “Voodoo Child (slight return)” and his cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. The band toured this album playing shows all over the world. During this tour Bassist Noel Redding became increasingly frustrated that he wasn’t able to play guitar, his favored instrument. He set up a band called “Fat Mattress”; Fat Mattress would sometimes open for the Hendrix experience.
Noel eventually decided to leave the band to focus on Fat Mattress. Noel Redding played his last show with the Hendrix Experience on June 29th 1969 at Barry Fey’s Denver Pop Festival. Soon after Noel left the band Jimi recruited Billy Cox to play bass.
“Billy is a solid bass player…and he listens”[7] Soon after adding Cox to the line up Hendrix also added a rhythm guitarist, another friend from the Chitlin Circuit, Larry Lee. He also added percussionists Jumo Sultan and Jerry Velez. Hendrix called this band “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows” although it was never the official name of the band.
This line up was set to headline the Woodstock music festival on the 18th of August. Hendrix was set to play at midnight on the Sunday to finish the festival but because there were many delays Hendrix did not play till the Monday morning. The 500,000 crowd shrunk to around 180,000.
When Hendrix and his new band came on the stage they were announced as the Jimi Hendrix Experience but Hendrix soon corrected this to Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. The new band played a 2 hours set. Although there were many technical difficulties this was still said to be one of Hendrix’s best performance. The set included an extended version of “Voodoo Child (slight return)” and a controversial rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner”.


Soon after the bands historic performance at Woodstock Jimi cut the line up to a three piece again with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, this band was called the “Band of Gypsys”. The band played four shows at Billy Graham’s Fillmore East in New York, one show on New Years Eve 1969. These shows were recorded and released as a live album called “Band of Gypsys”.
After a few live performances with the band of Gypsys, Jimi’s  manager Michael set up for Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding to rejoin the band and go on a Hendrix experience re-union tour. Soon after Noel re-joined the band Jimi fired him and brought back bassist Billy Cox, this line up is referred to as the “Cry of Love Band”. This line up headlined the famous Isle of Wight festival. After the Isle of Wight festival the band started a European tour and on the 6th of September Hendrix played his last live show at the Isle of Fehmarn Festival in Germany. After this show Hendrix went back to London were he spent most of his time with Chas Chandler and Eric Burdon.  Hendrix’s last ever public performance was a jam with Burdon’s band in a club in Soho.

On the 18th of September Jimi Hendrix was found dead in the basement flat of the Samarkand Hotel   at 22 Lansdowne Crescent in London. He had asphyxiating on his own vomit during the night. Before he went to bed that night he took 9 sleeping pills and drank some wine and was unable to wake up when he vomited.
“Hendrix is recognized as one of the greatest and most influential guitarists in rock music history.”[8] He changed the way the electric guitar was played and influenced many  guitarists. Hendrix was also one of the first musicians to take full advantage of effects available in the studio at the time making his music unique.


[1] From jimi Hendrix The man the magic the truth – page 14
[2] From jimi Hendrix The man the magic the truth – page 28
[3] From jimi Hendrix The man the magic the truth – page 29
[4] From jimi Hendrix The man the magic the truth – page 80
[5] From jimi Hendrix The man the magic the truth – page 92
[6] From jimi Hendrix The man the magic the truth – page 99
[7] From jimi Hendrix The man the magic the truth – page 156
[8] Jimi Hendrix @