The Jimi Hendrix Biography

Jimi Hendrix Performs in New York
JIMI HENDRIX PERFORMS IN NEW YORK - Photographer: Walter Iooss Jr/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Jimi Hendrix is the most legendary virtuoso electric guitarist of all time and is rock music’s ultimate guitar-god archetype. Since his accidental death took him from us in 1970, he has become a worldwide icon.

He is equally famous for his look and exciting stage performances as he is for his brilliant psychedelic-rock recordings. Perhaps most responsible for his iconic status is his performance of The Star Spangled Banner at The Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969 and for burning and smashing his guitar [ most famously ] at The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

The move to London - 1966

Jimi was discovered by Bryan “Chas” Chandler (the bassist for the British rock act The Animals) in New York City. At the time, Jimi was regularly leading a band he formed named “Jimi James and the Blue Flames” at the Café Wha, a music club in Greenwich Village.

About three weeks after meeting each other, in September of 1966, Jimi and his new manager Chas flew to London England. Chas immediately began introducing Jimi around and on October 1, 1966 Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton met for the very first time. In fact, Hendrix joined Cream (Clapton’s band) on stage and jammed out a killer cover of the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Killing Floor.” Jeff Beck was in the audience that night and was as reportedly blown away by Hendrix as Clapton was. In fact, Clapton was so affected by Hendrix that he started wearing his hair frizzy to try to emulate Jimi's hairstyle.

Soon after his London introductions, Jimi recruited band members Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) while Chas invited Michael Jeffery to co-manage the group. According to Mitch Mitchell, it was Michael Jeffery’s idea to name the band “The Jimi Hendrix Experience.”

The Experience played its first shows in France and Germany and soon after recorded and released a cover version of Hey Joe and Jimi’s first original song Stone Free. Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary and Fire would soon follow. While in England, the band released its first LP "Are You Experienced," which climbed as high as No. 2 on the British album charts.

Back Home in America - 1967

The Jimi Hendrix Experience made its American debut in California at the Monterey Pop Festival on Sunday June 18, 1967. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones introduced Jimi at the show by saying, "I'd like to introduce a very good friend, a fellow countryman of yours... the greatest performer and most exciting guitarist I've ever heard; The Jimi Hendrix Experience."

Jimi performed brilliantly at Monterey, proclaiming his arrival home in America by burning and smashing his specially prepared sacrificial guitar at the finale of "Wild Thing."

"Are You Experienced" was released in the US and bizarrely, The Experience went on tour in the United States as the opening act for The Monkees.

Jimi returned to the studio and recorded "Axis: Bold as Love" at Olympic Studios with engineer Eddie Kramer. Axis featured new psychedelic sounds like backwards guitar, phasing and the wah-wah pedal. Probably the best known song on Axis is "Little Wing" a Curtis Mayfield style ballad. The song has since been covered by Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and most recently by Carlos Santana & Joe Cocker on Santana's album "Guitar Heaven."

In 1969, Jimi released his most brilliant work and last studio album; "Electric Ladyland." The album, primarily recorded at Jimi's Electric Lady Studios (which was still under construction), included classic songs such as Crosstown Traffic, All Along The Watchtower, Voodoo Child and Voodoo Chile (Slight Return). However the recording sessions took its toll on Jimi and Noel’s relationship, who were frequently at odds with each other.

Noel Quits the Experience - 1969

The last Experience show (with the original lineup) took place at the Denver Pop Festival in June 1969. Jimi announced during the show that “This is the last gig we’ll ever be playing together.” A riot broke out inside the stadium and the police fired tear-gas canisters into the crowd. The band piled into the back of a U-Haul truck and barely escaped the rioters.

Noel Redding left the band the next day and flew back to England. Brian Jones, Jimi’s friend who introduced him at Monterey, drowned in his own swimming pool a day later.

Woodstock and The Star Spangled Banner

On Wednesday August 18, 1969, Jimi Hendrix took the stage at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair with his new, hastily formed band; “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows”. The new band included Noel’s replacement on bass; Billy Cox, and a new rhythm guitarist; Larry Lee. Both Cox and Lee we’re old buddies of Hendrix. Two new percussionists joined Mitch Mitchell on drums; Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez.

Jimi introduced the band by saying, “We decided to change the whole thing around and call it ‘Gypsy Sun, and Rainbows.’ For short, it’s nothing but a ‘Band of Gypsys.’”

At around eight thirty in the morning, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows performed a collection of Jimi Hendrix Experience songs and jams. The Woodstock performance was the longest of Jimi’s career, lasting a full two hours. The show reached its peak during Jimi’s “unorthodox” version of “The Star Spangled Banner” which is widely regarded as the single greatest performance of Woodstock by any performer.

The Gypsy Sun and Rainbows incarnation would not last long however and soon Jimi would need to fulfill an obligation to release an album for Capital Records. Jimi and his management decided the best way to fulfill the obligation was with a live album.

A Band of Gypsys - 1969/1970

Jimi formed a new band for the Capital Records project with Buddy Miles on drums and vocals, and Billy Cox on bass. The band recorded three performances at rock promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore East rock venue in Manhattan’s East Village. The all black band named “A Band of Gypsys,” played with a much funkier groove then the Experience ever had.

The spectacularly creative live album featured mostly new songs and included the brilliant “Machine Gun,” an out-of-this-world meditation on the consequences of war. Songs like Message of Love and Power of Soul showcased Jimi’s funkier new direction and positive thinking.

Internal issues and politics soon ended the Miles-Cox line up however, and the Experience re-united with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass.

First Rays of the New Rising Sun at Electric Lady Studios

With Electric Lady Studios nearing completion Jimi focused his efforts on recording new material for a new double album tentatively titled “First Rays of the New Rising Sun.” Recording at the new studio was a happy and productive time for the group. As Billy Cox explained, “Jimi was really happy. To us, the studio was a toy. Because it was Jimi’s studio, we could go in at eight in the evening and come out the next day at twelve in the afternoon, just creating and having fun musically. This allowed Jimi to keep expenses down, instead of the Record Plant, where it would get expensive if we spent a lot of time in there. I think in Electric Lady we were more productive than any of the other studios we had been to.”

Hendrix loved his studio and achieved great things there stating, “I have done great things with this place. It has the best equipment in the world. We can record anything we like here. There is one thing I hate about studios usually and that is the impersonality of them. They are cold and blank and within a few minutes I lose all drive and inspiration. Electric Lady is different. It has been built with great atmosphere, lighting, seating and every comfort that makes people think they are recording at home.”

An Exhausting Schedule - 1970

In the spring and summer of 1970 the group went out on tour playing an eclectic assortment of large festivals, colleges and sporting areas. On July 4th he played to an audience of over 200,000 people at the Atlanta Pop Festival. The tour wrapped up with dates in San Diego, Honolulu and Seattle. While in Maui, the movie Rainbow Bridge was recorded.

Jimi returned to Electric Lady to continue recording the new album and opened the studio for business on August 26th 1970, but couldn’t stay long because he had committed to play a European tour. On August 30th The Jimi Hendrix Experience performed at The Isle of Wright festival to an estimated 600,000 people. The very same evening, the group flew to Stockholm, Sweden and did another performance.

More shows would follow and soon both Jimi and Billy were overcome with exhaustion and illness. The group’s last live performance was on September 6th at the Isle of Fehmarn in Germany after which the remaining tour dates were cancelled.

The Accidental Death of Jimi Hendrix – September 18, 1970

With his tour cancelled, James Marshall Hendrix returned to London and spent most of September 17, 1970 with one of his girlfriends Monica Dannemann, an Ice Skater from West Germany. That night the couple retired to her Lansdowne Crescent apartment. Jimi couldn’t sleep so he took some of Dannemann’s prescription sleeping pills and went to bed. At some point that night he was sick in his sleep and asphyxiated on his own vomit. Later that morning, at around 11:30am, Monica called for an ambulance.

On September 18, 1970, at the age of twenty-seven years, James Marshall Hendrix was pronounced dead at St. Mary Abbot Hospital in London, England. Jimi’s funeral took place in Seattle Washington at Dunlap Baptist Church. The lyrics to Jimi’s song Angel were read.

After Jimi's funeral, a short graveside service was held at Greenwood Memorial Cemetery in Renton Washington, where he was laid to rest.

Jimi Hendrix Quote -- "When I die, I'm not going to have a funeral, I'm going to have a jam session. And Knowing me, I'll probably get busted at my own funeral."

Three days after Jimi’s funeral, Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose in Hollywood, California. Nine months later in Paris France, Jim Morrison died of a heart attack. All three were only twenty-seven years old.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded and released three studio albums; Are you Experienced in 1967, Axis: Bold as Love in 1967 and Electric Ladyland in 1969. Their greatest hits collection, Smash Hits was released in 1968.

I have plans that are unbelieveable, but then again wanting to be a guitar player seemed unbelieveable at one time
--James Marshall Hendrix