As a record producer, Hendrix also broke new ground in using the recording studio as an extension of his musical ideas. He was one of the first to experiment with stereophonic and phasing effects for rock recording.
Hendrix won many of the most prestigious rock music awards in his lifetime, and has been posthumously awarded many more, including being inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. An English Heritage blue plaque was erected in his name on his former residence at Brook Street, London, in September 1997. A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6627 Hollywood Blvd.) was dedicated in 1994. In 2006, his debut US album, Are You Experienced, was inducted into the United States National Recording Registry, and Rolling Stone named Hendrix the top guitarist on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all-time in 2003. He was also the first person inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame.
Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, while his father was stationed at an Army base in Oklahoma. He was named Johnny Allen Hendrix at birth by his mother, 17-year-old Lucille Hendrix née Jeter. While his mother had put him in the temporary care of friends in California, his father, James Allen "Al" Hendrix (1919–2002), was released from the Army, and took custody of his son and changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix in memory of his deceased brother, Leon Marshall Hendrix. He was known as "Buster" to friends and family, from birth. Shortly after, Al reunited with Lucille. He found it hard to gain steady employment after the Second World War, and the family experienced financial hardship. Hendrix had two brothers, Leon and Joseph, and two sisters, Kathy and Pamela. Joseph was born with physical difficulties and at the age of three was given up to state care. His two sisters were both given up at a relatively early age, for care and later adoption, Kathy was born blind and Pamela had some lesser physical difficulties.
Hendrix's parents divorced when he was nine years old; his mother, who had cirrhosis of the liver, died in 1958 when the state of her liver caused her spleen to rupture. On occasion, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Vancouver, British Columbia because of the unstable household, and his brother Leon was put into temporary welfare care for a period. Hendrix grew up as a shy and sensitive boy, deeply affected by the conditions of poverty and neglect he experienced. In a relatively unusual experience for African Americans of his era, Hendrix's high school had a relatively equitable ethnic mix of African Americans, European Americans (including Jews), and Asian Americans (Japanese, Filipino and Chinese). At age 15, around the time his mother died, he acquired his first acoustic guitar for $5 from an acquaintance of his father. This guitar replaced both the broomstick he had been strumming in imitation, and the ukulele which his father had found while cleaning out a garage. Hendrix learned to play by practicing almost constantly, watching others play, through tips from more experienced players, and by listening to records. In the summer of 1959, his father bought Hendrix a white Supro Ozark, his first electric guitar, but there was no available amplifier. According to fellow Seattle bandmates, he learned most of his acrobatic stage moves, a major part of the blues/R&B tradition, including playing with his teeth and behind his back, from a fellow young musician, Raleigh "Butch" Snipes, guitarist with local band The Sharps. Hendrix himself performed Chuck Berry's trademark "duck walk" on occasion. Hendrix played in a couple of local bands, occasionally playing outlying gigs in Washington State and at least once over the border in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Hendrix was particularly fond of Elvis Presley, whom he saw perform in Seattle, in 1957. Leon Hendrix claimed, in an early interview, that Little Richard appeared in his Central District neighborhood and shook hands with his brother, Jimi. This is unattested elsewhere and vehemently denied by his father. Hendrix's early exposure to blues music came from listening to records by Muddy Waters and B.B. King which his father owned. Another early impression came from the 1954 western Johnny Guitar, in which the hero carries no gun but instead wears a guitar slung behind his back.
Hendrix's first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle's Temple De Hirsch. After too much wild playing and showing off, he was fired between sets. The first formal band he played in was The Velvetones, who performed regularly at the Yesler Terrace Neighborhood House without pay. His flashy style and left-handed playing of a right-handed guitar already made him a standout. He later joined the Rocking Kings, who played professionally at such venues as the Birdland. When his guitar was stolen (after he left it backstage overnight), Al bought him a white Silvertone Danelectro. He painted it red and had "Betty Jean" emblazoned on it – the name of his high school girlfriend.
Hendrix completed junior high at Washington Junior High School with little trouble but did not graduate from Garfield High School. Later he was awarded an honorary diploma, and in the 1990s a bust of Hendrix was placed in the school library. After he became famous in the late 1960s, Hendrix told reporters that he had been expelled from Garfield by racist faculty for holding hands with a white girlfriend in study hall. However, Principal Frank Hanawalt says that it was simply due to poor grades and attendance problems.
Early in 1966 at the Cheetah Club on Broadway at 53rd Street, Linda Keith, then girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, befriended Hendrix and recommended him to Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham and later, producer Seymour Stein. Neither man took a liking to Hendrix's music, and they both passed. She then referred Hendrix to Chas Chandler, who was ending his tenure as bassist in The Animals and looking for talent to manage and produce. Chandler was enamored with the song "Hey Joe" and was convinced he could create a hit single with the right artist.
Impressed with Hendrix's version, Chandler brought him to London and signed him to a management and production contract with himself and ex-Animals manager Michael Jeffery. Chandler then helped Hendrix form a new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with guitarist-turned-bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, both English musicians. Shortly before the Experience was formed, Chandler introduced Hendrix to Pete Townshend and to Eric Clapton, who had only recently helped put together Cream. At Chandler's request, Cream let Hendrix join them on stage for a jam on the song "Killing Floor". Hendrix and Clapton remained friends up until Hendrix's death. The first night he arrived in London, he began a relationship with Kathy Etchingham that lasted until February 1969. She later wrote a well received autobiographical book about their relationship and the sixties London scene in general.
Hendrix sometimes had a camp sense of humor, specifically with the song "Purple Haze". A mondegreen had appeared, in which the line "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky" was misheard as "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy." In a few performances, Hendrix humorously used this, deliberately singing "kiss this guy" while pointing to Mitch or Noel, as he did at Monterey. In the Woodstock DVD he deliberately points to the sky at this point, to make it clear. A volume of misheard lyrics has been published, using this mondegreen itself as the title, with Hendrix on the cover.
After his enthusiastically received performance at France's No. 1 venue, the Olympia theatre in Paris on the Johnny Hallyday tour, an on-stage jam with Cream, a showcase gig at the newly-opened, pop-celebrity oriented nightclub Bag O'Nails and the all important appearances on the top UK TV pop shows "Ready Steady Go!" and the BBC's "Top of the Pops", word of Hendrix spread throughout the London music community in late 1966. His showmanship and virtuosity made instant fans of reigning guitar heroes Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, as well as Brian Jones and members of The Beatles and The Who, whose managers signed Hendrix to their new record label, Track Records.
Hendrix's first single was a cover of "Hey Joe", using Tim Rose's uniquely slower arrangement of the song including his addition of a female backing chorus. Backing this first 1966 "Experience" single was Hendrix's first songwriting effort, "Stone Free". Further success came in early 1967 with "Purple Haze" which featured the "Hendrix chord" and "The Wind Cries Mary". The three singles were all UK Top 10 hits and were also popular internationally including Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan (though failed to sell when released later in the US). Onstage, Hendrix was also making an impression with speeded up renditions of the B.B. King hit "Rock Me Baby" and Howlin' Wolf's hit "Killing Floor".
The first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Are You Experienced, was released in the United Kingdom on May 12, 1967 and shortly thereafter internationally, outside of USA and Canada. It contained none of the previously released (outside North America) singles or their B sides ("Hey Joe/Stone Free", "Purple Haze/51st Anniversary" and "The Wind Cries Mary/Highway Chile"). Only The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band prevented Are You Experienced from reaching No. 1 on the UK charts.
Although very popular internationally at this time, the Experience had yet to crack America, their first single there failed to sell. Their chance came when Paul McCartney recommended the group to the organizers of the Monterey International Pop Festival. This proved to be a great opportunity for Hendrix, not only because of the large audience present at the event, but also because of the many journalists covering the event that wrote about him. The performances were filmed by D. A. Pennebaker and later shown in some movie theaters around the country in early 1969 as the concert documentary Monterey Pop, which immortalized Hendrix's iconic burning and smashing of his guitar at the finale of his performance.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience's second 1967 album, Axis: Bold as Love was his first recording made with a view to a stereo release and was where he first experimented with this format, using much panning and other stereo effects. It continued the style established by Are You Experienced, The opening track, "EXP", featured a stereo effect in which a sound emanating from Hendrix's guitar appeared to revolve around the listener, fading out into the distance from the right channel, then returning in on the left. This album marked the first time Hendrix recorded the whole album with his guitar tuned down one half-step, to E♭, which he used exclusively thereafter and was his first to feature the wah-wah pedal A mishap almost delayed the album's pre-Christmas release: Hendrix lost the master tape of side one of the LP, leaving it in the back seat of a London taxi. With the release deadline looming, Hendrix, Chas Chandler and engineer Eddie Kramer had to re-mix most of side one in an overnight session, but they couldn't match the lost mix of "If 6 was 9". It was only saved by the discovery that bassist Noel Redding had a copy of it on tape, which had to be flattened as it was wrinkled. Hendrix was disappointed that the album had to be finished so quickly and felt it could have been better, given more time. He was also somewhat disappointed with Track Records British designers who created the album's cover art. He remarked that it would have been more appropriate if the cover had highlighted his American-Indian heritage. The cover art depicts Hendrix and his Experience bandmates as the various forms of Vishnu, incorporating a painting of them by Roger Law (from a photo-portrait by Karl Ferris)
Hendrix's third recording, the double album Electric Ladyland (1968), was a departure from previous efforts. Following his third and penultimate French concert at the Paris Olympia, Hendrix flew to the US to start his first tour there, and after two months returned to his Electric Ladyland project at the newly opened Record Plant Studios with engineers Eddie Kramer and Gary Kellgren and initially Chas Chandler as producer. Electric Ladyland includes a number of compositions and arrangements for which Hendrix is still remembered. These include "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" as well as Hendrix's rendition of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower".
After a year based in the US, Hendrix temporarily moved back to London and into his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham's rented Brook Street flat, next door to the Handel House Museum, in the West End of London. During this time The Jimi Hendrix Experience toured Scandinavia, Germany, and included a final French concert. They later performed two sold-out concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall on February 18 and February 24, 1969, which were the last European appearances of this line-up of the "Jimi Hendrix Experience". A Gold and Goldstein-produced film titled Experience was also recorded at these two shows, which, according to Experience Hendrix LLC, "Elements of these recordings are sure to be utilized when the official release of this material is finally made."
Noel Redding felt increasingly frustrated by the fact that he was not playing his original and favored instrument, the guitar. In 1968, he decided to form his own band Fat Mattress, which would sometimes open for the Experience (Hendrix would jokingly refer to them as "Thin Pillow"). Redding and Hendrix would begin seeing less and less of each other, which also had an effect in the studio, with Hendrix playing many of the bass parts on Electric Ladyland. Fruitless recording sessions at Olympic in London; Olmstead and the Record Plant in New York that ended on April 9, which only produced a remake of Stone Free for a possible single release, were the last to feature Redding. Jimi then flew Billy Cox up to New York and started recording and rehearsing with him on April 21 as a replacement for Noel. In a recorded interview by Nancy Carter on June 15 at his hotel in Los Angeles, Hendrix announced that he had been recording with Cox and that he would be replacing Noel as bass player in "The Jimi Hendrix Experience".
At the famous "Woodstock" performance, bad weather and logistical problems caused long delays, so that Hendrix did not appear on stage until Monday morning. By this time, the audience (which had peaked at over 500,000 people) had been reduced to, at most, 180,000, many of whom merely waited to catch a glimpse of Hendrix before leaving. Festival MC Chip Monck introduced the band as "The Jimi Hendrix Experience", but Hendrix quickly corrected this to "Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, for short it's nothin’ but ‘A Band Of’ Gypsies" and launched into a two hour set, the longest of his career. As well as the two percussionists, the performance notably featured Larry Lee performing two songs and Lee sometimes soloing while Hendrix played rhythm in places. Most of this has been edited out of the officially released recordings, including Lee's two songs, reducing the sound to basically a three piece. The concert was relatively free of the technical difficulties that frequently plagued Hendrix's performances, although one of his guitar strings snapped while performing "Red House" (he kept playing regardless). The band, unused to playing large audiences and exhausted after being up all night, could not always keep up with Hendrix's pace, but in spite of this the guitarist managed to deliver a memorable performance, climaxing with his highly-regarded rendition of the The Star-Spangled Banner, a solo improvisation which is now regarded as a special symbol of the 1960s era.
Along with Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles (formerly with Wilson Pickett and The Electric Flag) with whom he had been jamming together since September, Hendrix wrote and rehearsed material which they then performed at a series of four concerts over two nights, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day at Fillmore East. The second night produced the material for the Band Of Gypsys LP, which was produced by Hendrix (under the name "Heaven Research").
In 1968, Hendrix and Jeffery had invested jointly in the purchase of the Generation Club in Greenwich Village. Their initial plans to reopen the club were scrapped when the pair decided that the investment would serve them much better as a recording studio. The studio fees for the lengthy Electric Ladyland sessions were astronomical, and Hendrix was constantly in search of a recording environment that suited him. In August 1970, Electric Lady Studios was opened in New York.
Designed by architect and acoustician John Storyk, the studio was made specifically for Hendrix, with round windows and a machine capable of generating ambient lighting in a myriad of colors. It was designed to have a relaxing feel to encourage Hendrix's creativity, but at the same time provide a professional recording atmosphere. Engineer Eddie Kramer upheld this by refusing to allow any drug use during session work.
Hendrix spent only two and a half months recording in Electric Lady, most of which took place while the final phases of construction were still ongoing. Following a recording/dubbing session on August 26, an opening party was held later that day. He then boarded an Air India flight for London with Billy Cox, joining Mitch Mitchell to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival.
Early on September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in London under circumstances which have never been fully explained. He had spent the latter part of the previous evening at a party and was picked up by girlfriend Monika Dannemann and driven to her flat at the Samarkand Hotel, 22 Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill. According to the estimated time of death, from autopsy data and statements by friends about the evening of September 17, he would have died within a few hours after midnight, though no precise estimate was made at the original inquest.
Dannemann claimed in her original testimony that after they returned to her lodgings the evening before, Hendrix, unknown to her, had taken nine of her prescribed Vesperax sleeping pills. The normal medical dose was half a tablet, but Hendrix was unfamiliar with this very strong German brand. According to surgeon John Bannister, the doctor who initially attended to him, Hendrix had asphyxiated in his own vomit, mainly red wine which had filled his airways, as the autopsy was to show. For years, Dannemann publicly claimed that she had only discovered that her lover was unconscious and unresponsive sometime after 9:00 am, that Hendrix was alive when placed in the back of the ambulance after half past eleven, and that she rode with him on the way to the hospital; the latter two are denied by the ambulance crew. However, Dannemann's comments about that morning were often contradictory, varying from interview to interview. Police and ambulance statements reveal that there was no one but Hendrix in the flat when they arrived at 11:27 am, and not only was he dead when they arrived on the scene, but was fully clothed and had been dead for some time.
Later, Dannemen claimed that former road managers Gerry Stickels and Eric Barrett had been present before the ambulance was called and had removed some of Hendrix's possessions including some of his most recent messages. Two weeks before, Hendrix had fired the roadies, and on September 6, at the Open Air Love & Peace Festival in Fehmarn, Germany, Stickells reportedly stormed the box office in an attempt to shut the concert down. Stickels began taunting Hendrix offstage, and Hendrix responded by telling the crowd that Stickels and Barrett were lovers. By the end of the concert, a group of Hells Angels had fired automatic weapons and attacked some of the concert-goers, frightening the crowd and Hendrix, who fled the stage shortly after the end of the set. Photographs of Hendrix at the time show him brandishing a pistol as he travelled, elevating concerns that he feared for his life.
Lyrics written by Hendrix, which were found in the apartment, led Eric Burdon to make a premature announcement on the BBC-TV program 24 Hours that he believed Hendrix had committed suicide. Burdon often claimed he had been telephoned by Dannemann after she discovered that Jimi failed to wake up.
Following a libel case brought in 1996 by Hendrix's long-term English girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, Monika Dannemann committed suicide, though her later lover, Uli Jon Roth, has made accusations of foul play.
A former Animals "roadie," James "Tappy" Wright, published a book in May 2009 claiming Hendrix's manager, Mike Jeffery, admitted to him that he had Hendrix killed because the rock star wanted to end his management contract. This claim was given added weight when John Bannister, the doctor who attended the scene of his death in 1970 stated publicly in 2009 "The amount of wine that was over him was just extraordinary. Not only was it saturated right through his hair and shirt but his lungs and stomach were absolutely full of wine. I have never seen so much wine. We had a sucker that you put down into his trachea, the entrance to his lungs and to the whole of the back of his throat. We kept sucking him out and it kept surging and surging. He had already vomited up masses of red wine and I would have thought there was half a bottle of wine in his hair. He had really drowned in a massive amount of red wine." This testimony is contradicted by everyone else involved, the ambulance drivers and Dr Donald Teare etc. Bannister according to the Daily Mail was struck off for "fraudlent conduct", thus making his testimony questionable.
Hendrix owned and used a variety of guitars during his career. His guitar of choice however, and the instrument that became most associated with him, was the Fender Stratocaster, or "Strat". He started playing Stratocasters in 1966 and thereafter used it almost exclusively for his stage performances and recordings.
Hendrix bought many Strats and gave some away as gifts. The original sunburst Stratocaster that Hendrix burnt at the Astoria in 1967, and that he kept as a souvenir, was given to Frank Zappa by a Hendrix roadie at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival; Zappa assumed it was the one Hendrix had played there.
Hendrix used right-handed guitars, turned upside-down for left-hand playing, and re-strung so that the heavier strings were in their standard position at the top of the neck. This had an important effect on his guitar sound: because of the slant of the Strat's bridge pickup, his lowest string had a bright sound while his highest string had a mellow sound, the opposite of the Stratocaster's intended design.
Heavy use of the tremolo bar necessitated frequent tuning; Hendrix often asked the audience for a "minute to tune up."
In addition to Fender Stratocasters, Hendrix was also photographed playing Jazzmasters, Duosonics, two different Gibson Flying Vs, a Gibson Les Paul, three Gibson SGs, a Gretsch Corvette he used at the 1967 Curtis Knight sessions and miming with a right strung Fender Jaguar on the "Top Of The Pop's" TV show, as well as several other brands. Hendrix borrowed a Fender Telecaster from Noel Redding to record "Hey Joe" and "Purple Haze", used a white Gibson SG Custom for his performances on the Dick Cavett show in the summer of 1969, and the Isle of Wight film shows him playing his second Gibson Flying V. While Jimi had previously owned a Flying V that he'd painted with a psychedelic design, the Flying V used at the Isle of Wight was a unique custom left-handed guitar with gold plated hardware, a bound fingerboard and "split-diamond" fret markers that were not found on other 60s-era Flying Vs.
On December 4, 2006, one of Hendrix's 1968 Fender Stratocaster guitars with a sunburst design was sold at a Christie's auction for USD$168,000
Hendrix was a catalyst in the development of modern guitar effects pedals. His high volume and use of feedback required robust and powerful amplifiers. For the first few rehearsals he used Vox and Fender amplifiers. Sitting in with Cream, Hendrix played through a new range of high-powered guitar amps being made by London drummer turned audio engineer Jim Marshall, and they proved perfect for his needs. Along with the Stratocaster, the Marshall stack and amplifiers were crucial in shaping his heavily overdriven sound, enabling him to master the use of feedback as a musical effect, and he created a "definitive vocabulary for rock guitar."
While his mainstays were the Arbiter Fuzz Face and a Vox wah-wah pedal, Hendrix experimented with guitar effects as well. He had a fruitful association with engineer Roger Mayer who later went on to make the Axis fuzz unit, the Octavia octave doubler and several other devices based on units Mayer had created or tweaked for Hendrix. The Japanese-made Univibe, designed to simulate the modulation effects of the rotating Leslie speaker, provided a rich phasing sound with a speed control pedal, and is heard on the Band of Gypsys track "Machine Gun," which highlights use of the univibe, octavia and fuzz face pedals.
The Hendrix sound combined high volume and high power, feedback manipulation, and a range of cutting-edge guitar effects. He was also known for his trick playing, which included playing with only his right (fretting) hand and using his teeth or playing behind his back and between his legs. Hendrix had large hands and characteristically used his thumb to fret bass notes, leaving his fingers free to play melodic fills on top, so he could play lead and rhythm parts simultaneously. This technique was made easier by his Stratocaster's 7.25" fingerboard radius (more rounded than the modern standard 9.5"). A clear demonstration of this thumb technique can be witnessed in the Woodstock video; during the song Red House there are excellent closeups of Hendrix's fretting hand.