James Marshall Hendrix (real name: Johnny Allen Hendrix) was born in Seattle, Washington in 1942. He began his short career by touring with a number of R&B shows from 1961 to 1966.
In 1966 Hendrix moved to England and founded The Jimi Hendrix Experience, a trio that included Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, and who were – with the possible exception of Cream – arguably the world’s finest ever power-trio.
The group made its debut appearance in Paris, France, in 1966 and toured clubs on the European continent and in England over the next two years.
The Experience was an immediate hit, and its singles Hey, Joe, Purple Haze, and The Wind Cries Mary rose to the top of the pop charts in England.
Hendrix’s erotic style, with suggestive gyrations, a pulsating beat, a strongly amplified sound, and the smashing of his guitar, made his appearances controversial but extremely popular.
Even elite guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend admired Hendrix’s style and abilities.
Returning to the United States, The Experience appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Hendrix’s dramatic performance of the song Wild Thing is documented in the film Monterey Pop (1969), and after that concert, he became a superstar.
The movie Woodstock (1970) recorded his set at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. His version of The Star Spangled Banner – in which he plucked the guitar with his teeth – became legendary.
Remarkably Jimi Hendrix only ever recorded four albums, and the third, Electric Ladyland (1968), is considered by everyone to have been way ahead of its time.
Recording took months. Hendrix would rock up to the studio at any old time, usually stoned out of his mind and with groupies in tow – Sometimes he’d be incoherent and all but incapable of playing; sometimes he’d play like an angel.
When Hendrix arrived to play Berkeley, California in 1970, the town was convulsed with student protest at the Vietnam War, which in turn was met with a vicious crackdown by Governor Ronald Reagan who called in the National Guard (they responded with tear gas and batons).
Hendrix played two shows, unaware that ticketless fans had caused riots outside the theatre. A film – Jimi Plays Berkeley – was pieced together from Hendrix’s performances and footage of anti-Vietnam protests.
Hendrix’s (unintended) final concert took place on the Isle of Fehmarn in Germany on 6 September 1970.
With an exhausting itinerary that had seen six shows in six days in four countries, the new Jimi Hendrix Experience were not in good shape when they arrived to play a ‘Love and Peace Festival’.
Even worse, bassist Billy Cox had begun descending into paranoia and an ongoing nervous breakdown after trying acid for the first time during the European tour.
Roadie Gerry Stickells had to promise to stand behind Cox onstage to persuade him to play the gig. Unfortunately, Stickells was hit on the head by a plank of wood studded with six-inch nails, thrown by a group of Hells Angels.
Warring biker factions battled throughout the night, culminating in the Angels burning the stage down. In the melee, Rocky (another of Hendrix’s roadies) was shot in the leg while attempting to get the band’s gear off the stage.
Cox continued to freak out for two days when the band arrived back in London, forcing Hendrix to send him home to his parents in Pennsylvania. He would never see Hendrix again . . .
On 18 September 1970, James Hendrix died after drinking wine, taking barbiturates and choking on his own vomit. His girlfriend, Monica Danneman, awoke to find him in a comatose state in their room at the Samarkand Hotel in West London.
He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. He was only 27.
His record company immediately released a single, Voodoo Chile. The single became Hendrix’s only UK #1.
In July 1995, Jimi’s father, Al, won back the rights to his son’s songs – estimated to be worth $50 million. To fund the legal action, Al Hendrix borrowed $5 million interest-free from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, a devoted fan of the guitarist’s work.