An astonishing innovator who pushed the technical boundaries of his instrument while incorporating a dizzying range of blues, jazz, and rock influences, the great guitarist Jimi Hendrix had a brief but incandescent solo career that oddly recalls that of Robert Johnson. Thirty-five years after his death, Hendrix's work has yet to be fully assimilated; in many ways, rock and roll is still trying to catch up with him.
On the March
To learn more about Jimi Hendrix, visit www.jimihendrix.com, and check out “Are You Experienced?” (MCA Records).
Hendrix has been called the greatest and most flamboyant lead guitarist who ever lived, but he began his career as a backup player for bands like the Isley Brothers and the Impressions. His big break came when the former Animals bassist Chas Chandler saw him play at a New York venue called café Wha?
What was the high point in Jimi Hendrix's career? His 1969 rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the epic Woodstock concert—complete with guitar effects evoking jet planes, falling bombs, and the screams of Vietnamese peasants—remains one of the most stunning performances in rock history.
Chandler signed on as Hendrix's manager, got him to change the spelling of his name from “Jimmy” to “Jimi,” and brought him to England. There, Hendrix became the leader of a high-powered rock trio built specifically around his virtuoso guitar skills. The band, known as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, exploded onto the London scene late in 1966; Hendrix's performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967 won him a passionate following in the United States as well.
Attempting to describe the essence of Hen-drix's sound is a little like attempting to de-scribe the essence of a tornado or some other force of nature. It is worth noting, though, that, three and a half decades after his passing, Hendrix's legion of imitators over the years have not yet come close to capturing the incendiary fury and technical sophistication of his solos. He was, by all accounts, obsessed with the act of playing a guitar as no one else had ever played it.
Drug abuse, overwork, a lack of personal discipline, and the pressures of stardom conspired against Hendrix. He died in his sleep in 1970 after releasing three extraordinary studio albums and setting a new standard for rock concert performance. A relentless perfectionist, he had recorded so much unused material that a steady stream of “new” Hendrix product—officially released and otherwise—has come out in the years following his death.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History © 2003 by Melba J. Duncan. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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