Jimi Hendrix: The Man Behind the Guitar

Essay by atomicasiaHigh School, 10th gradeA+, April 2009

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Many people know of Jimi Hendrix, but they don't know about Jimi Hendrix, or the man behind the guitar. When people hear someone speaking of Jimi they might just think of loud guitar playing, or extravagant 'hippie' clothing. Jimi was much more than just a guitarist that died, though. Jimi Hendrix was possibly the best guitarist in the history of the world. Jimi Hendrix was a great influence on the future of music because of his experimental guitar techniques and excellent, meaningful song writing.

When young Jimi Hendrix was born on the 27th of November, 1942, he wasn't born James Marshall Hendrix. Jimi was named Johnny Allen Hendrix by his mother Lucille upon birth. At the age of three, Jimi's father Al came to Berkeley, California straight out of the military. By this time, Lucille has grown tired of caring for young Jimi. She would often leave her son with friends, her mother, and other relatives for long periods of time (Poole 6).

Al and Lucille married and had Jimi's younger brother Leon hendrix in 1948, when Jimi was six. Three years later the couple divorced, and Lucille left Jimi and Leon with Al. The two brothers would see their mother when it was convenient for her, which would sometimes be months apart (7).

Jimi was a good student up until around his sophomore year of high school when he started to actively perform his music in bands with other boys from his school. Jimi soon became so entranced with playing the guitar that school was no longer important to him. During his senior year of high school, in 1959, Jimi dropped out of school to pursue his musical career (14).

The first band Jimi Hendrix ever played in was called the Rocking Kings. It consisted of Jimi and some other boys from Garfield High School. The first payed show they played was at the National Armory in Kent, Washington. They each earned 35 cents for their show (12). Soon the other members of the band became jealous of Jimi, and the band broke up (13).

After dropping out of high school, Al convinced Jimi to join the military. Jimi became a paratrooper, but was honorably discharged from the army two years later, in 1961, after suffering from a broken ankle from a paratrooper accident (Rolling Stone 3).

One night in a nightclub where musicians jammed for fun, Jimi met Fay Pridgeon. Fay saw something special in the young guitarist. Soon Jimi and Fay were living together. Since they were both usually broke, they would skip from one cheap hotel to the next (Poole 23). Through her connections, Fay got Jimi a spot to play at amateur night in the Apollo Theater (24). These amateur nights often launched the successful careers of many young musicians.

During amateur night, Jimi caught the attention of talent seeker Chas Chandler who convinced Jimi to go to England and play his music (Jimi Hendrix Biography 2). In London Jimi joined forces with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to from his first professional band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The first album Jimi ever sold was called 'Are You Experienced?' and contained his first smash hit called, "Hey Joe" (3).

Though Jimi was an amazing musician through and through, he didn't consider himself to be a good singer (Rolling Stone 1). Through out his career Jimi played both the electric and bass guitar, though her was better known for the electric guitar that he treasured playing so much.

Jimi played in a great number and variety of different bands in his life, but he had just a small handful of key bands that really got the young man recognized. When Hendrix was just first starting off with his legendary music, Jimi would play backup for recognizable people and groups such as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and the Isley Brothers.

Soon playing backup wasn't enough for Jimi. He wanted to play his own music, his own way. The first true band of his own was The Jimi Hendrix Experience in London, England. They later broke apart, and Jimi came back to America to play his music in his home country.

Jimi wasn't actually seen in America, and none of his records were released, until June of 1967 when Hendrix own over American crowds during the Montery International Pop Festival (Jimi Hendrix Biography 3) which he ended with lighting his guitar on fire. Hendrix also performed at the Woodstock Festival. During Woodstock Jimi played an amazing rock rendition of "The Star-spangled Banner" that seemed to contain all of the pride, angst, and power of America.

Hendrix was once quoted saying, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace." (Jimi Hendrix quotes 44) The quotation has inspired an entire generation of peace seekers, freedom fighters, and hippie-types alike. It has held together the world's peaceful youth in this country, and others around the world.

The way Hendrix looked at life, death, and everything in between is extremely inspirational. While speaking of death, Jimi once said, "You have to forget what other people say when you're supposed to die, or when you're supposed to be loving. You have to forget all these things." (49) Jimi had a great outlook on his life, and others' lives in general, and enjoyed living his own to what his considered his full potential.

In 1968 Jimi renounced the extravagances of the stage, in preference of just playing his music instead of trying to become an impression on stage. Jimi was seen on his own playing at festivals, and in nightclubs around America. On September 7, 1970, Jimi called his lawyer and told him to start officially severing the ties with Mike Jeffery (Poole 98), who had been his music agent since The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

On September 18, 1970 Jimi called two musicians in London and asked them to meet him in a club to play. He never showed up. At some point during the night Jimi took a large, but not usually lethal, dose of Dannemann's sleeping pills, and had large amounts of alcohol. The combined affect was strong. Hendrix vomited, but he wasn't able to stop the fluid from entering his lungs and suffocating him. The coroner's report stated that James Marshall Hendrix died of inhalation of vomit following barbiturate intoxication (Rolling Stone 8).

At the young age of 27, Jimi Hendrix was dead. Through the days, weeks, months and years following his death, there was much speculation about how Hendrix had "truly" died. Many people were not willing to accept that Jimi had died of drug and alcohol use, so they found other possible ways he could have died. Some looked to suicide as an option, as it wasn't completely ruled out in the coroner report, but most looked to murder. Many would agree that the perfect suspect of Jimi's murder would be his girlfriend, Fay. He had spent the entire day in their hotel room with her, and no one saw her exit.

Despite all of the hype about Jimi's death, there was still more controversy within his family and friends about exactly who would get the Hendrix fortune. Since Jimi wasn't expecting to die any time soon there was no will, or if there was one, it was never found. For years after his death there were lawsuits and different claims to the legacy Jimi left behind in death (Poole 99). There were several claims of people being one of his "love children" from tours on the road, but all were proven inadequate claims. Finally it was decided that Jimi's father Al would receive all of Jimi's possessions and money (100).

In the times before Jimi picked up a guitar there was no such thing as the "Hendrix Setting", which is always having your amplifier set on full blast (40). Jimi changed the face of music forever with his playing, and he changed the face of the world forever with his attitude on life, words, and his music. Before Jimi died he was working on a new, tentative album which would be called 'First Rays of the New Rising Sun' with his old army buddy Billy Cox, and his partner from The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitch Mitchell. It is unfortunate that Jimi had to die in such a way that he did, but without his death, many of his best songs never would have been released, and many people would never know of his greatness.

Jimi touched people deeply with his music. He was one of rock's few true originals, and though many people try to repeat his legendary rocking, none have succeeded in doing so. The song "Little Wing" has been described by John Mayer as such, " 'Little Wing' is painfully short a painfully beautiful. It's like your grandfather coming back from the dead and hanging out with you for a minute and a half and then going away. It's perfect, then it's gone.

Many of Jimi's songs have hidden meaning behind them , and most speak of love and peace between the people of this world. Though Jimi did sing of love a lot, he didn't preach any of his beliefs to people he knew, and he didn't believe that all you should sing of is love. Jimi once said, "You don't have to be singing about love all the time in order to give love to the people. You don't have to keep flashing those words all the time." (Jimi Hendrix Quotes 48) He was correct.

Jimi Hendrix was an amazing influential figure on the future of music because of his risque use of the guitar, and his amazing, fantastic song writing. Jimi was one of the best guitarists in the history of the instrument, and he will always be remembered as an amazing artist who got mixed up in the wrong type of thing, as many people did in the 1960's, and ended up dying a tragic death because of it. Many people will remember him an inspiration, while very few others will consider him a drug addict who got what was coming to him. More than that, they will remember him as the peace-loving, guitar-playing man that managed to change the world with his words and music.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:Poole, Rebecca. Jimi Hendrix. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 2006. 4, 6, 12-14, 20, 22-24, 28, 40, 96, 98-100.

Willett, Edward. Jimi Hendrix, "Kiss The Sky". Berkely Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2006. 18-22, 24, 42-43, 54-55, 64, 76, 106.

McLesse, Don. "Hendrix, Jimi". The World Book Encyclopedia. 9. 2006.

Mayer, John. "The Immortals - The Greatest Artist of All Time: 6)Jimi Hendrix." April 15, 2004. May 14, 2008.

"Jimi Hendrix Biography". 2006. A&E Television networks. May 14, 2008. [http://www.biography.com/search.article.do?id=9334756]"Jimi Hendrix". 2001. Rolling Stone. May 14, 2008. [http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/jimihendrix/biography]"Jimi Hendrix Quotes". 2008. Brainy Media. May 14, 2008. [http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/jimi_hendrix.html]"Jimi Hendrix". 2002. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. May 16, 2008. [http://www.pbs.org/wnet/aaworld/reference/articles/jimi_hendrix.html]"Jimi Hendrix Biography". April 30, 2008. May 16, 2008. [http://www.last.fm/music/Jimi+Hendrix/+wiki]