Purple Haze: The Life and Legacy of Jimi Hendrix

Staff Writer: Hannah Johnson   

James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix born Johnny Allen Hendrix; November 27, 1942 was an American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Although his mainstream career spanned only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music”. 

Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15. In 1961, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and trained as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division; he was granted an honorable discharge the following year. Soon afterward, he moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and began playing gigs on the Chitlin’ Circuit, earning a place in the Isley Brothers’ backing band and later with Little Richard, with whom he continued to work through mid-1965. He then played with Curtis Knight and the Squires before moving to England in late 1966 after being discovered by Linda Keith, who in turn interested bassist Chas Chandler of the Animals in becoming his first manager. Within months, Hendrix had earned three UK top ten hits with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, and “The Wind Cries Mary”. He achieved fame in the U.S. after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and in 1968 his third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland, reached number one in the U.S.; it was Hendrix’s most commercially successful release and his first and only number one album. The world’s highest-paid performer, he headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 before his accidental death from barbiturate-related asphyxia on September 18, 1970, at the age of 27.  

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Here, we have Hendrix jamming on his guitar while he sings his famous song “Angel” for an excited audience.

 

 

Hendrix was inspired musically by American rock and roll and electric blues. He favored overdriven amplifiers with high volume and gain, and was instrumental in utilizing the previously undesirable sounds caused by guitar amplifier feedback. He helped to popularize the use of a wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock, and was the first artist to use stereophonic phasing effects in music recordings. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone commented: “Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source. Players before him had experimented with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began.”

In 1957, while helping his father with a side-job, Hendrix found a ukulele amongst the garbage that they were removing from an older woman’s home. She told him that he could keep the instrument, which had only one string.  Learning by ear, he played single notes, following along to Elvis Presley songs, particularly Presley’s cover of Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog”. By the age of thirty-three, Hendrix’s mother Lucille had developed cirrhosis of the liver, and on February 2, 1958, she died when her spleen ruptured.  Al refused to take James and Leon to attend their mother’s funeral; he instead gave them shots of whiskey and instructed them that was how men were supposed to deal with loss.  In 1958, Hendrix completed his studies at Washington Junior High School and began attending, but did not graduate from, Garfield High School. 

In mid-1958, at age 15, Hendrix acquired his first acoustic guitar, for $5. He earnestly applied himself, playing the instrument for several hours daily, watching others and getting tips from more experienced guitarists, and listening to blues artists such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Robert Johnson. The first tune Hendrix learned how to play was Peter Gunn”, the theme from the television series of the same name. 

Soon after he acquired the acoustic guitar, Hendrix formed his first band, the Velvetones. Without an electric guitar, he could barely be heard over the sound of the group. After about three months, he realized that he needed an electric guitar in order to continue. In mid-1959, his father relented and bought him a white Supro Ozark. Hendrix’s first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch, but after too much showing off, the band fired him between sets. He later joined the Rocking Kings, which played professionally at venues such as the Birdland club. When someone stole his guitar after he left it backstage overnight, Al bought him a red Silvertone Danelectro. “The way he played his guitar was almost like it was his new wife and they were on their honeymoon… absolute magic”. -Thomas White, junior at Woodstock High school.  

Before Hendrix was 19 years old, law enforcement authorities had twice caught him riding in stolen cars. When given a choice between spending time in prison or joining the Army, he chose the latter and enlisted on May 31, 1961. After completing eight weeks of basic training at Fort Ord, California, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He arrived there on November 8, and soon afterward he wrote to his father: “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell. They work you to death, fussing and fighting.” In his next letter home, Hendrix, who had left his guitar at his girlfriend Betty Jean Morgan’s house in Seattle, asked his father to send it to him as soon as possible, stating: “I really need it now.” His father obliged and sent the red Silverstone Danelectro on which Hendrix had hand-painted the words “Betty Jean” to Fort Campbell. His apparent obsession with the instrument contributed to his neglect of his duties, which led to verbal taunting and physical abuse from his peers, who at least once hid the guitar from him until he had begged for its return. 

In September 1963, after Cox was discharged from the Army, he and Hendrix moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and formed a band called the King Kasuals. Hendrix had watched Butch Snipes play with his teeth in Seattle and by now Alphonso ‘Baby Boo’ Young, the other guitarist in the band, was performing this guitar gimmick.  Not to be upstaged, Hendrix learned to play with his teeth. He later commented: “The idea of doing that came to me…in Tennessee. Down there you have to play with your teeth or else you get shot. There’s a trail of broken teeth all over the stage.” Although they began playing low-paying gigs at obscure venues, the band eventually moved to Nashville’s Jefferson Street, which was the traditional heart of the city’s black community and home to a thriving rhythm and blues music scene. They earned a brief residency playing at a popular venue in town, the Club del Morocco, and for the next two years Hendrix made a living performing at a circuit of venues throughout the South that were affiliated with the Theater Owners’ Booking Association (TOBA), widely known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. In addition to playing in his own band, Hendrix performed as a backing musician for various soul, R&B, and blues musicians, including Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, Ike & Tina Turner and Jackie Wilson. 

In January 1964, feeling he had outgrown the circuit artistically, and frustrated by having to follow the rules of bandleaders, Hendrix decided to venture out on his own. He moved into the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he befriended Lithofayne Pridgon, known as “Faye”, who became his girlfriend. A Harlem native with connections throughout the area’s music scene, Pridgon provided him with shelter, support, and encouragement. Hendrix also met the Allen twins, Arthur and Albert. In February 1964, Hendrix won first prize in the Apollo Theater amateur contest. Hoping to secure a career opportunity, he played the Harlem club circuit and sat in with various bands. At the recommendation of a former associate of Joe Tex, Ronnie Isley granted Hendrix an audition that led to an offer to become the guitarist with the Isley Brothers’ back-up band, the I.B. Specials, which he readily accepted. “I love Jimi and have been a fan of his ever since the 70s, I was a hippy back in the day, so his music really appealed to me and my hobbies…”-Daryl Anderson, grandfather and former dirty hippy. 

In July 1962, after Hendrix was discharged from the U.S. Army, he entered a small club in Clarksville, Tennessee. Drawn in by live music, he stopped for a drink and ended up spending most of the $400 he had saved. He explained: “I went in this jazz joint and had a drink. I liked it and I stayed. People tell me I get foolish, good-natured sometimes. Anyway, I guess I felt real benevolent that day. I must have been handing out bills to anyone that asked me. I came out of that place with sixteen dollars left.  According to the authors Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber: “Alcohol would later be the scourge of his existence, driving him to fits of pique, even rare bursts of atypical, physical violence.” Hendrix would often become angry and violent when he drank too much alcohol or when he mixed alcohol with drugs.  His friend Herbie Worthington explained: “You wouldn’t expect somebody with that kind of love to be that violent … He just couldn’t drink … he simply turned into a bastard”.  According to journalist and friend Sharon Lawrence, Hendrix “admitted he could not handle hard liquor, which set off a bottled-up anger, a destructive fury he almost never displayed otherwise”.  

On January 28, 1970, a third and final Band of Gypsys appearance took place; they performed during a music festival at Madison Square Garden benefiting the anti-Vietnam War Moratorium Committee titled the “Winter Festival for Peace”.  American blues guitarist Johnny Winter was backstage before the concert; he recalled: “[Hendrix] came in with his head down, sat on the couch alone, and put his head in his hands … He didn’t move until it was time for the show.” Minutes after taking the stage he snapped a vulgar response at a woman who had shouted a request for “Foxy Lady”. He then began playing “Earth Blues” before telling the audience: “That’s what happens when earth fucks with space”. Moments later, he briefly sat down on the drum riser before leaving the stage. Both Miles and Redding later stated that Jeffery had given Hendrix LSD before the performance.  Miles believed that Jeffery gave Hendrix the drugs to sabotage the current band and bring about the return of the original Experience lineup. Jeffery fired Miles after the show and Cox quit, ending the Band of Gypsys.  

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Jimi isn’t dead, it was all a conspiracy… word on the street is that he will be releasing an album soon.

 

September 17, 1970, in London with Monika Dannemann, the only witness to his final hours. Dannemann said that she prepared a meal for them at her apartment in the Samarkand Hotel, 22 Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill, sometime around 11 p.m., when they shared a bottle of wine. She drove Hendrix to the residence of an acquaintance at approximately 1:45 a.m., where he remained for about an hour before she picked him up and drove them back to her flat at 3 a.m. Dannemann said they talked until around 7 a.m., when they went to sleep. She awoke around 11 a.m., and found Hendrix breathing, but unconscious and unresponsive. She called for an ambulance at 11:18 a.m., which arrived on the scene at 11:27 a.m. Paramedics then transported Hendrix to St Mary Abbot’s Hospital where Dr. John Bannister pronounced him dead at 12:45 p.m. on September 18, 1970. “He didn’t deserve to die so young even with all of his drug problems, I wish someone could have gotten him through his hard times”. -Cameron Hampton, freshman at Etowah High school.   

To determine the cause of death, coroner Gavin Thurston ordered a post-mortem examination on Hendrix’s body, which was performed on September 21 by Professor Robert Donald Teare, a forensic pathologist. Thurston completed the inquest on September 28, and concluded that Hendrix aspirated his own vomit and died of asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates. “, he declared an open verdict. Dannemann later revealed that Hendrix had taken nine of her prescribed Vesparax sleeping tablets, 18 times the recommended dosage. 

*All Photos are gathered and collected by Carleigh Ellison and Creative Commons*

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