One of the first stories I had in mind when I started this website was the Jimi Hendrix story. After all, this website is called Hard Riff, and the guitar riff is the central theme around I build everything. So, honestly, who is the one man that embodies guitar playing in the consciousness of most people? That’s right – Jimi Hendrix.
The story of Jimi Hendrix started in 1942 in Seattle. I can’t help but notice that Seattle is a landmark of rock music and the hometown of so many people who changed music in a revolutionary way. Just think about all the legendary grunge bands that emerged from this city.
The Legend Begins
James Marshall Hendrix, born November 27, 1942 in Seattle, is unanimously considered the greatest electric guitarist of all time. With his beloved instrument of choice he was able to draw an innumerable quantity of different timbral effects. He played it with his teeth, with his elbow or with the microphone stand, in a way consistent with the instinctive and exhibitionistic character of his concerts.
Childhood of Jimi Hendrix
The result of a cross between Cherokee Indian blood, black and Mexican, the brilliant musician lives his first years of life immersed in a family situation that is not the happiest. For years he lived with his grandmother (an Indian thoroughbred Cherooke which brings him even closer to his Indian and rebellious roots), while his father and mother get by in a thousand jobs.
At the age of only twelve, he received his first electric guitar as a gift, affectionately called “Al”. Al was a small instrument with which he began his first musical experiences as a self-taught.
The problems start shortly thereafter. His mother dies when Jimi is only fifteen and at the age of sixteen, he is expelled from school, probably for racial reasons (we are in Puritan and McCarthy America of the 1950s). He actually starts wandering, earning a living with rhythm and blues and rock’n’roll groups. After having served in the military as a paratrooper, at twenty-one, he is part of the session-man circle. He starts to be paid by the piece for his musical performances.
Thanks to his extraordinary talents, in a short time he became a well-known session guitarist. Jimi played with music legends like Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Tina Turner, and King Curtis, some of the biggest stars of rock.
In 1965, in Greenwich Village he formed his first permanent band, obtaining a contract to perform regularly. With a safer situation behind him, he has the opportunity to concentrate even more on the study of the playing technique. His love for music, endurance and talent allowed him to reach heights that are difficult to approach. It is not so much for the technique itself, but for the skills achieved in the treatment of the sound or the single note. His unique approach, albeit intuitively, launched and placed him forever among the musical gods of the twentieth century.
Style and Influences
Hendrix’s innovative style of combining excruciating, pain-filled distortions with a pure bluesy vein actually creates a new musical form. Using all the technology related to the instrument – from finger-picking to wah-wah, from the pick to the pedals, from feedback to the Larsen effect, from tone controls to distortions. In his short four-year “reign”, Jimi Hendrix expands the vocabulary of the electric rock guitar more than any other. Hendrix becomes a master at being able to get sounds out of the guitar that have never been heard before. often with amplification experiments that went beyond the capabilities of the equipment used.
His performances are distinguished by the wild energy of his playing and the irresistible sexual charge of his attitude. More often than not, his performances were seasoned with acids and psychotropic substances.
Anyway, if it weren’t for Chas Chandler, ex-Animals, manager in New York in search of new talent, perhaps Jimi Hendrix would be just one of the many nameless talented musicians of the time. So many true musical talents were overshadowed by young white talents to which public opinion and the media in general paid more attention.
The Jimi Hendrix story as we know it
Chandler instead takes him with him to London where he gets him a rhythm section. Jimi’s new band, significantly called “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” includes drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. They quickly become the main subject of conversation in London by the end of 1966. In addition, the first single of the Experience, “Hey Joe”, remained on the UK charts for ten weeks, peaking at number six in late 1967. The debut single was quickly followed by the release of the ‘LP “Are You Experienced?”. It was a psychedelic compilation full of generational anthems. Not surprisingly, the LP remains one of the most popular rock albums of all time. We all know the immortal songs such as “Purple Haze”, “The Wind Cries Mary”, “Foxy Lady”, “Fire” and “Are You Experienced?”.
Despite the overwhelming success of the Hendrix Experience in England, they were still not famous in America. It was only when they returned to the US in June 1967, that they became the most popular band in the world. At the end of one of his grueling performances (with a demonic version of “Wild Thing”), after setting the guitar on fire, Jimi collects an interminable ovation.
The road of success
The next LP is “Axis: Bold As Love” , the first result of Jimi Hendrix taking total control of the band and spending a lot of time on the console in the studio. In 1968, “Electric Ladyland”, a masterpiece of rock history, was released.
But Hendrix’s physical, moral and artistic decline began in 1968. Throughout that year the pressing requests for concerts and studio recordings greatly unnerved the group’s fiber. So much so that in 1969 the Experience melted, perhaps even under the pressure of the black movement of the “Black Panther”, to which Hendrix had joined. , who disdained Hendrix’s membership in a white trio.
In August he triumphs in Woodstock, not only with the usual “fiery” performance but also with a delirious version of the American anthem. It is probably the most famous mockery in rock music. With his guitar Hendrix, not only distorting the famous melody but, in line with the pacifism and the protests of the time, imitates the sound of gunfire and bombing, reminding everyone that the tragic Vietnam war was underway.
1969 begins with a new collaboration between Jimi, Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles (all black musicians), who give life to the “Band of Gypsys”. The three undertake a series of stellar performances in the days between December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. Recordings of these concerts are made and then put on the market starting from the mid-70s in a single album.
Later Jimi contacts drummer Mitch Mitchell again and, together with bassist Billy Cox, puts the Jimi Hendrix Experience back on its feet. The group records many tracks for another LP, tentatively titled “First Rays Of The New Rising Sun”.
The end of the Jimi Hendrix story
Unfortunately, Hendrix will not be able to see this new work published: a month later, at the age of 28, he is found dead in London. His lifeless body lay on the bed in a room at the Samarkand Hotel. Jimi suffocated on his own vomit from an overdose of barbiturates. It was September 18, 1970.
Since then it has been a succession of tributes to his memory, but also of insinuations about his death, considered “mysterious”, a bit like all the rock stars who died prematurely. Predictably, a heap of legal disputes and speculative operations have been unleashed around Hendrix’s assets.
As in life, even after his death, the great guitarist was manipulated by unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Hendrix was undoubtedly one of the most exploited artists in the music record industry. Still, to this day his body of creative work keeps on being published.
Nobody knows how Hendrix’s star would have evolved, nor what path his parable would follow. He was respected by all true musicians, his peers, before and after his passing. Shortly before his death, rumors circulated of his possible collaboration with another genius: Miles Davis.
I think that the best way to close this short article is with the words I have read somewhere a long time ago. I think that this sentence paints a perfect picture of the Jimi Hendrix story:
Hendrix is a lonely and visionary musician, ready to fly even higher, to the point of burning his wings, destroyed by excesses in a desperate attempt not to replicate himself in the face of those who ask him for proof of his divinity.