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Jimi Hendrix

+ {The Jimi Hendrix Experience}

Something akin to being dropped off by a star-spangled spaceship, the late-great guitarist extraordinaire JIMI HENDRIX took the music world by storm when his cool reading of Billy Roberts’ `Hey Joe’ climbed into the British charts (and our hearts) in the early months of 1967.
Never before or since has one person had so much talent, electric guitar performances aside, he could write, sing and strike bolts of fire and lightning into anyone who was lucky enough to witness Jimi perform. To many rock music buffs, HENDRIX remains the greatest axe-grinder of all-time, and God only knows what he might’ve been, had he not become an acid casualty of his tormented times when he died of drug complications on September 18, 1970. Two weeks later, JANIS JOPLIN would follow him to the grave, she too, only 27 years of age, while a 27-year-old JIM MORRISON was found dead in his Paris hotel bathtub the following May. What a waste.
Born Johnny Allen Hendrix, November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington, USA, and raised by a part-Cherokee Indian mother and an Afro-American father, his forenames were altered to James Marshall when he was only 3 years-old; it wasn’t long before he was bought his first guitar. Being left-handed, he turned the instrument upside down and reversed the strings, teaching himself by listening to blues and rock’n’roll artists such as ROBERT JOHNSON, MUDDY WATERS, B.B. KING and CHUCK BERRY.
In the early 60s, James enlisted in the paratroopers, thus avoiding the draft into the US army. He was subsequently discharged for medical reasons in 1962, after injuring himself during a jump. Two years later, the young HENDRIX moved to New York and backed acts like LITTLE RICHARD, The ISLEY BROTHERS and Lonnie Youngblood. He soon struck up a partnership with soul singer Curtis Knight, also obtaining a contract with Ed Chalpin (Knight is said to have written `The Ballad Of Jimi’ in 1965, after Jimi prophesied his own death!). Early the following year, HENDRIX’s first real band Jimmy James & The Blue Flames were born.
With Jimi’s reputation now spreading slowly but surely, he was discovered performing on stage in the Big Apple by ANIMALS bass-man Chas Chandler, who duly invited him to record and play gigs in London. After glowing auditions, they found the friendly rhythm section of bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell,
Dubbed The JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE, acid-rock hits such as `Purple Haze’ and `The Wind Cries Mary’ followed the aforementioned `Hey Joe’ debut in to the British Top 10; Chandler having already secured him a place with Kit Lambert’s fresh Track imprint (also home to The WHO). HENDRIX was a revelation, a black super-freak whose mastery of the electric guitar was above and beyond anything previously heard. In fact, he virtually re-invented the instrument, duly illustrating various methods of on-stage abuse (i.e. biting it, playing it with his teeth, mounting it and even setting fire to it!). He was duly booked on the Monterey International Pop Festival bill that June, where he proceeded to play an orgasmic version of `Wild Thing’ among all his other “wild things”.
Psychedelic heavy-blues and soul came of age with the release in the UK of ARE YOU EXPERIENCED (1967) {*10}, a debut piece de resistance that at last gave him the needed exposure to succeed in his homeland America a couple of months later – note that the tracks listings were not as the UK version. From `Foxy Lady’ and `Manic Depression’ to the finale title track, Jimi’s cosmic improv-jazz or sheer sonic distortions, there was little room for compromise in its unyielding grooves; `Red House’, `Fire’ and `3rd Stone From The Sun’ were equally crunchy and brooding.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, the following month saw a wholly inappropriate US support tour with The MONKEES, leaving both him and teeny-bop audiences baffled, but no doubt entertained for seven nights. After another classic UK hit with `Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’, the trio released his second LP, AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE (1967) {*9}, another to crack both Top 5’s. Produced by Chandler and engineered by Eddie Kramer, the set took the man’s psychedelic vision and lyrical growth to new climes, the best tracks stemming from `Spanish Castle Magic’, `If 6 Was 9’ and `Wait Until Tomorrow’, plus smooch-ier cues like `Little Wing’ and `Castles Made Of Sand’.
In the autumn of ‘68, HENDRIX revived and transformed BOB DYLAN’s `All Along The Watchtower’, a song that broke into the US Top 20 and UK Top 5. It was trailed by a momentous British Top 10 (US No.1) double-LP, ELECTRIC LADYLAND (1968) {*9}, the record featuring the now infamous naked women sleeve (much to Jimi’s displeasure), which some retailers sold in a brown cover! Alongside DYLAN’s aforementioned gemstone, the singer/guitarist revived an old OTIS REDDING collaboration `Little Miss Strange’ and an Earl King piece `Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)’. The magic and vision of the man was unquestionable, as the experiments of `Crosstown Traffic’, `House Burning Down’, `Gypsy Eyes’ and the 15-minute original take of `Voodoo Chile’ would testify; `Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ – the 5-minute classic and posthumous smash hit – would end the set in fine fettle.
The beginning of the end came the following year, when Jimi was busted for drugs, leading to his “Experience” disintegrating soon afterwards; the trio played together for the last time on the 29th June 1969 at the Denver Pop Festival. Earlier that year (January), Jimi and the band played a live tribute of-sorts to CREAM’s riff-tastic `Sunshine Of Your Love’ on The LULU Show, much to annoyance of TV controllers.
Redding had already formed Fat Mattress, Mitchell returning with other musicians Billy Cox and Larry Lee to make the group a quartet. The new “Experience” played the Woodstock Festival on the 17-18 August ‘69, performing an excellent version of American Nation Anthem `Star Spangled Banner’ to a tumultuous response while duly going down in the folklore of rock music.
To end the year, Jimi was found not guilty of an earlier charge of heroin and marijuana possession and at the same time, he formed all-black outfit, Band Of Gypsys, along with the aforesaid Cox and seasoned drummer Buddy Miles. They released the self-titled Top 5 HENDRIX: BAND OF GYPSYS {*8} live at Fillmore East set in May 1970; following a court order, he was forced to pay ex-manager Ed Chalpin $1m in compensation and a percentage of his royalties. Psychedelic soul to the max, the funk was part of HENDRIX’s newfound make-up, as was the protest song via the tour de force that was the 12-minute `Machine Gun’, a mesmerising slight on the Vietnam war complete with explosive wah-wah and staccato techniques by both Jimi and Buddy.
Tragically, after a few more open-air summer festival concerts and some bad drug trips, the legend that was JIMI HENDRIX died in his Notting Hill apartment on September 18, 1970. He was said to have left a phone message to Chandler saying “I need help bad, man”. The official cause of death was an inhalation of vomit, due to barbiturate intoxication, leading to a coroner’s decision of an open verdict.
The HENDRIX musical legacy almost immediately got underway via one of the man’s best posthumous album releases, the live 1967-recorded MONTEREY INTERNATIONAL POP FESTIVAL (1970) {*8}, a US-only Top 20 set shared with another late-great, OTIS REDDING. Having been of London’s owl-set rather than his homeland America, the British public paid homage to the king of heavy-rock by way of making an edited version of `Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ – a maxi-single with `Hey Joe’ and `All Along The Watchtower’ – a number one hit. The early part of the 70s at least – one could expand many releases into the 80s and beyond! – were saturated by a plethora of exploitation albums (and the odd single), from 1971’s THE CRY OF LOVE {*7} and RAINBOW BRIDGE {*4} double-LP OST, to 1972’s HENDRIX IN THE WEST {*6} – featuring covers of `Johnny B. Goode’, `Blue Suede Shoes’, `Sgt. Pepper’ and the British national anthem – and WAR HEROES {*5}. His posthumous discography has overtaken the body of his living works ten-fold over the last four decades or so and, if one was looking for something to crack open if both a beginner or connoisseur, best bet was the 4-CD boxed set, WEST COAST SEATTLE BOY: THE JIMI HENDRIX ANTHOLOGY (2013) {*8}.
© MC Strong GRD/BG-MCS // rev-up Apr2012-Oct2014

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