In Jimi Hendrix's short career, he made a name for himself as one of the most gifted - if not THE most gifted - guitar players ever known, and even more than 35 years after his death, this reputation lives on. Hendrix's contribution to music has influenced every guitar player that has come after him.
Jimi Hendrix Career - The Early Days
Jimi Hendrix started his first band in 1962 in Clarksville, Tennessee, with a friend, Billy Cox. This band, called The King Kasuals, had a modest amount of success on the live circuit in Nashville and later on the so-called Chitlin Circuit around the Deep South, but the combination of racial barriers in the South with Hendrix's as yet undeveloped sound conspired to keep the band from real, mainstream recognition. His work on the Chitlin Circuit won him jobs as a session musician backing artists like Little Richard and B.B. King, but Hendrix soon became frustrated and craved his own taste of the limelight.
Tired of the racial segregations of the South, Hendrix moved to Harlem for a better shot at the big time. His first taste of the limelight came when he won the top prize at an Apollo theater open mic night in 1964. More work as a session musician followed, and Hendrix toured with The Isley Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, and Little Richard again. Little Richard and Ike and Tina Turner each kicked Hendrix out of their bands for stealing too much of the spotlight when he was on stage with them.
After playing off and on in New York City between his touring, Hendrix got his first big break. The then girlfriend of Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones saw Hendrix play and fell in love with his music. She used her music connections to get his music heard by labels and producers. One musician, Chas Chandler of The Animals, took a shine to Hendrix's music and offered to manage and produce him. Chandler convinced Hendrix to follow him to London, a trip that would take the career of Jimi Hendrix in a new direction.
Rise to the Top
The move to the UK proved to the right one for Hendrix. He formed a band, called The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with British musician friends of Chandler's, and Chandler also managed to get Hendrix on stage with Pete Townsend and Eric Clapton's Cream. The British music scene embraced Hendrix, and it is from this period that one of his most known songs, Purple Haze, was born. He released his first full length album, Are You Experienced, in 1967, in the UK and Europe. His extensive touring to promote the album also earned him a reputation for being a must-be-seen-to-be-believed showman.
Despite the UK success, Hendrix had yet to break into the U.S. market. Are You Experienced eventually got a halfhearted American release, without much promotion behind the album. The tides changed in the U.S. thanks to Paul McCartney, who suggested that The Jimi Hendrix Experience be include on the bill of the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival. Hendrix's performance at this festival sent him exploding into the U.S. mainstream music world.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience released two more albums, Bold as Love and the landmark Electric Ladyland. During the recording sessions for Electric Ladyland, Hendrix and Chandler had a falling out, and Chandler quit as Hendrix's manager. Tension between Hendrix and the rest of the band also came to a head during this time, and shortly after the release, The Jimi Hendrix Experience called it quits.
The year of 1969 was one of many ups and downs for Hendrix. He was embroiled in a legal battle with a producer from his early career who had tied Hendrix into a bad contract (a contract he eventually fulfilled by signing over the right so the live album Band of Gypsys to the producer). He was arrested for drug possession in a Canadian airport, and he was trying to get a new band together. It was also the year of the highlight of his career however - headlining Woodstock. His performance of the Star Spangled Banner was controversial, but this performance has gone down in rock history of one the all time best performances of any artist.
The last years of Hendrix's life were filled with rotating band members and some memorable performances - especially the Isle of Wight festival - and the opening of the Electric Ladyland studios in New York. Drugs began to be a constant problem for Hendrix, however. Jimi Hendrix's career was cut short on September 22, 1970, when Hendrix's body was found in a London hotel. There have been many rumors and conspiracy theories surrounding his death - some say he committed suicide, some saying that Hendrix was still alive when found and that the paramedics failed to save him, and other's question the ever changing story of his then girlfriend about the death. Official reports state that he choked on his vomit in his sleep after drinking heavily and taking sleeping pills.
Hendrix wished to be buried in the UK, but his family had his remains returned to America. He is buried in Seattle, WA, the city of his birth.