Left-handed Hendrix wrenched from his Fender Stratocaster sounds that had not been heard before in mainstream rock, using Marshall amplifiers, wah pedals and feedback and distortion, all the while grounding his sound in the history of the blues, embroidered by poetry steeped in love and social consciousness. He was an eclectic musician, synthesizing blues, R&B, soul, British rock, American folk music, 1950s rock and roll, and jazz. Hendrix conquered the guitar, performing with his teeth behind his back, even setting it alight at the Monterey Blues Festival in 1967, where overnight he was elevated to a rock and roll god.
James Johnny Allen Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington, where his early life was marked by family fracture and difficulty; he often lived with relatives and spent a brief period in foster care. His desire to play the guitar was evident from when he was young, playing air guitar on a broomstick at elementary school, and by the time he was a teenager, he had taught himself the blues and emulated the styles of the greats: Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, Elmore James and Chuck Berry.
After completing high school and falling into petty crime in Seattle, he did a stint in the military in the fifties. He then moved south to Nashville, Tennessee, to find work as a musician. Between 1963 and 1965, he gained invaluable experience playing on the famous “chitlin circuit”, backing rhythm and blues acts such as the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, B.B. King, Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner.
By 1965, Hendrix had moved north to Harlem, residing at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he found work with Curtis Knight and his band, the Squires and the Isley Brothers' backing band, the IB Specials. His girlfriend at the time, Lithofane Pridgon, recalls how he began to fall in love with the lyrics of Bob Dylan and began to gravitate toward the more experimental Greenwich Village scene. Heading another band, Jimmy Jones and the Blue Flames, Hendrix gained prominent local attention playing in clubs such as Cafe Wha, where he met Chas Chandler, the former bassist for the Animals.
Chandler convinced the young guitarist that a move to London would make him famous. Hendrix relocated to London in 1966, where he was signed to a management and production contract with ex-Animals manager Michael Jeffery. Chandler recruited members for his new band in 1967, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which consisted of Hendrix, guitarist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. It would be in London, amongst new friends and musical peers, including Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Kevin Ayers, that Hendrix found the creative space to fly his "freak flag high". Within months, signed to Track Records, Experience had three UK chart successes and three top ten hits, "Hey Joe", "Purple Haze", and "The Wind Cries Mary".
The Experience recorded their first full-length LP at De Lane Lea Studios, later moving to the Olympic Studios. Are You Experienced lasted 33 weeks on the charts, peaking at number two. Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, at number one. Axis: Bold as Love, with its science fiction and outer space themes, soon followed, spending 16 weeks on the charts. At just twenty-four, The Experience performed at the Monterey Blues Pop Festival, where Jimi famously set his guitar on fire. The Experience's final studio album, Electric Ladyland, recorded in London and New York, featuring other musicians, including Traffic's Steve Winwood, who played bass and organ on "Voodoo Chile". Hendrix covered Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower", which became his biggest-selling single. Electric Ladyland was Hendrix's most commercially successful release and his only number one album and has often been touted as rock's greatest album.
By 1969, Hendrix was the world's highest-paid rock musician. In August, he headlined the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, including many of the most popular bands. Pop critic Al Aronowitz of the New York Post wrote: "It was the most electrifying moment of Woodstock" and called Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner "" the single greatest moment of the sixties". However, between 1968 and 1969, the Experience faced many interpersonal difficulties. This resulted in Hendrix forming a new band called Band of Gypsies, an all-black band with Buddy Miles on drums and old ex-army buddy Billy Cox on bass. Their album Machine Gun, dedicated to street fighters worldwide, would be their first and only album. In 1970, Hendrix headlined the Isle of Wight Festival Hendrix and performed in public for the last time during an informal jam at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho with Eric Burdon and his latest band, War. Two days later, the world was stunned to hear of his tragic death from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.
Hendrix has received numerous prestigious awards during his lifetime and posthumously in America, including six Hall of Fame Grammy awards. In addition, Rolling Stone ranked Hendrix number one on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time and number six on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. In 1999, Rolling Stone and Guitar World readers ranked Hendrix among the most influential musicians of the 20th century.
In the UK, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. The first blue plaque issued by English Heritage to commemorate a pop star identified Hendrix's former residence at 23 Brook Street, London, where he had lived with his girlfriend, Kathy Ethchingham.
Sponsored by Experience L.C.C. and the Hard Rock Hotel London in partnership with the NJCT, the blue plaque ceremony took place on 10 June 2022 and was a part of a series of activities commemorating Jimi’s time in the capital. It was followed by a screening of the documentary Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix in Maui, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Music Film in 2021, and an exclusive Q&A with Jimi’s sister Janie Hendrix, his producer/engineer Eddie Kramer, and the film’s director John McDermott. There was also a rooftop performance by Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and a Linda McCartney Hendrix Photo exhibition, and a light installation involving some rarely seen images of Jimi.
Quotes: Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s sister said: “I’m so proud of my brother Jimi and his being honored again in London. His mission was to spread love across the world through his music, and we continue to see that come to fruition all these years later”
Dr Jak Beula, founder of Nubian Jak Community Trust said: “This plaque has been in the planning stage for 5 years. We wanted to honour Jimi Hendrix as part of his 50th anniversary celebrations, but we are delighted he will be the 72nd recipient of a Nubian Jak heritage plaque.