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Music / Jimi Hendrix

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The classic line-up of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Left to right: Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix.

"'Scuse me while I kiss the sky."
— "Purple Haze", source of the most famous mondegreen of all time

James Marshall Hendrix (Born Johnny Allen Hendrix; November 27, 1942 — September 18, 1970) was an American musician, widely regarded by other musicians, listeners and critics as one of the best and most creative electric guitarists of all time. After playing in back-up bands for artists like Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, he was discovered and managed by Chas Chandler, who took him to London and made him a star as the lead singer and guitarist of The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Which included Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell).

First achieving success in England, his American career took some effort such as attempting to be the warm-up act as requested by The Monkees, which unfortunately their kid audience didn't care for. Hendrix's domestic breakthrough was at 1967's Monterey Pop Festival, where he managed to upstage The Who having destroyed their instruments by setting his guitar on fire.

After the classic line-up of the Experience broke up, Hendrix formed Gypsy Sun and Rainbows (Which included Billy Cox, Mitch Mitchell, Larry Lee, Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez), which played at the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival. As it happened, bad weather forced numerous acts off the playlist, including Hendrix's friends, the campy retro doo-wop band, Sha Na Na. Hendrix showed what a generous guy he was when he insisted that band perform immediately before him, giving them their big break. Regardless, the moment when Hendrix finally went on his apocalyptic performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a Best for Last treat that pretty much revived a very tired crowd.

The Experience didn't last long after Woodstock and was succeeded by the Band of Gypsys (which included Billy Cox and Buddy Miles). They broke up after two memorable gigs and a self-titled live album, after which Hendrix re-formed the Experience with Mitchell (Billy Cox replacing Noel Redding) in time for the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. Died early at the age of 27 of choking on his vomit due to alcohol and drug overdose, the second (only around a year after Brian Jones) of several prominent rock artists to die at that age (although his blues roots have led some to say that he merely moved the curse from blues to rock, as the legendary Robert Johnson had died at 27, too).

Hendrix was highly influenced by blues, jazz, R&B, and soul music; his amazing rhythm playing stemmed from his desire to make his guitar sound like an entire R&B backing band with horn section. In turn, he codified techniques and trends many other bands and artists had used, such as amplified feedback (done before by others, but Hendrix almost literally turned it up to eleven), creative use of electronic effects and extended improvisations. Although he arrived in London at a time when there was an entire generation of impressive guitarists reaching the peak of their powers, his peers were pretty quick to acknowledge him as The Ace: Pete Townshend recalled feeling sorry for Eric Clapton in that Clapton wanted to be able to play like Hendrix, but couldn't, whereas Townshend was glad that he himself 'never had any sense that I could even come close'. (The great guitarist Larry Coryell once attempted to beat Hendrix in a cutting contest; according to eyewitnesses, Hendrix blew him off the stage with a single note.) His guitar style was also an influence on many later Psychedelic Rock, Funk Rock, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, and Alternative Rock (particularly Grunge) acts.

Hendrix's musicianship, his experimental albums that did not stay strictly in one genre of music, and his aforementioned outrageous stage theatrics earned him enough of a reputation to make him one of the most prominent rock performers of the late '60s. Not for nothing was he selected as Woodstock's last artist to perform, after all. Ironically, this popularity wasn't quite reflected on radio in his lifetime, as related in a documentary produced after his death. Black radio, at the time entrenched in the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown and the roster of Motown Records amongst other, more straightforward rhythm and blues artists, wanted little to do with his heavy rock guitar sound. And many white rock radio stations, places one might have thought would be a more natural home for his songs, simply thought he sounded "too black." Contrasting this with his frequently standing-room-only crowds says a lot about the tastes of radio programmers compared to their audiences.

While many today mention him as the most influential guitarist of the era, his reputation was only consolidated after his death; his friend and rival Eric Clapton commemorated him with a cover version of Hendrix's song "Little Wing".note  Nevertheless, many guitarists who came after him were indeed influenced by both his work and his on-stage theatrics, including Ernie Isley, a latter-day member of The Isley Brothers, the same group Jimi used to play back-up for, and Brian May of Queen, whose first band in college actually opened for Jimi in 1967. His most conspicuous if not most profound legacy is to have inspired generations of metal guitarists, although bizarrely enough, Eddie Van Halen, the most Hendrixoid of them all, claims that his greatest influence was Clapton. At the time of Hendrix's death, he had plans to record with Miles Davis and to study music in more depth, possibly performing less and composing more; although it's sad to think of what was lost, Hendrix's expressive playing and extraordinary musical imagination continue to inspire musicians in all fields of music.

Two of his most famous performances are "Purple Haze" and his cover of the Bob Dylan classic "All Along the Watchtower". He is listed as the greatest guitarist of all time on Rolling Stone's list of 100 greatest guitarists.

His group The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall Of Fame in 2005.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Billy Cox - bass, vocals (1969-1970)
  • Jimi Hendrix - guitar, lead vocals, piano, recorder, percussion, kazoo, harpsichord, bass (1966-1970, died 1970)
  • Larry Lee - guitar, lead vocals (1969, died 2007)
  • Buddy Miles - drums, lead vocals (1968, 1969-1970, died 2008)
  • Mitch Mitchell - drums, backing and co-lead vocals, percussion, glockenspiel (1966-1969, 1970, died 2008)
  • Noel Redding - bass, backing and lead vocals, guitar (1966-1969, died 2003)
  • Juma Sultan - percussion (1969)
  • Jerry Velez - percussion (1969)

Studio and Live Discography (* = The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ** = Band of Gypsys):

Posthumous Studio Discography:

  • 1971 - The Cry of Love
  • 1971 - Rainbow Bridge
  • 1972 - War Heroes
  • 1974 - Loose Ends
  • 1975 - Crash Landing
  • 1975 - Midnight Lightning
  • 1980 - Nine to the Universe
  • 1995 - Voodoo Soup
  • 1997 - South Saturn Delta
  • 1997 - First Rays of the New Rising Sun
  • 2000 - Morning Symphony Ideas
  • 2004 - Hear My Music
  • 2006 - Burning Desire
  • 2010 - Valleys of Neptune
  • 2013 - People, Hell and Angels

Posthumous Live Discography (* = The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ** = Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, *** = Band of Gypsys. All tracks recorded from 1966 to 1970):

  • 1971 - Experience*
  • 1971 - Isle of Wight*
  • 1972 - Hendrix in the West*
  • 1972 - More Experience*
  • 1982 - The Jimi Hendrix Concerts*
  • 1986 - Johnny B. Goode*
  • 1986 - Band of Gypsys 2* ***
  • 1987 - Live at Winterland*
  • 1988 - Radio One*
  • 1991 - Stages*
  • 1998 - Live at the Oakland Coliseum*
  • 1998 - BBC Sessions*
  • 1999 - Live at the Fillmore East***
  • 1999 - Live at Woodstock**
  • 1999 - Live at Clark University*
  • 2001 - Live in Ottawa*
  • 2002 - The Baggy's Rehearsal Sessions***
  • 2002 - Blue Wild Angel: Live at the Isle of Wight*
  • 2003 - Paris 1967 / San Francisco 1968*
  • 2003 - Live at Berkeley*
  • 2005 - Live at the Isle of Fehmarn
  • 2007 - Live at Monterey*
  • 2008 - Live in Paris & Ottawa 1968*
  • 2009 - Live at Woburn*
  • 2011 - Winterland*
  • 2013 - Miami Pop Festival*

Non-album singles:

  • 1966 - Hey Joe note 
    • Stone Free as the UK B-side.
      • 51st Anniversary as the US B-side note 
  • 1967 - Purple Haze note 
    • 51st Anniversary as the UK B-side.
      • The Wind Cries Mary as the US B-side note 
  • 1967 - The Wind Cries Mary note 
    • Highway Chile as the B-side.
  • 1967 - Burning of the Midnight Lamp note 
    • The Stars That Play with Laughing Sam's Dice as the B-side.

"Excuse me while I kiss the tropes!":

  • Affectionate Nickname: Jimi and the other members of the Experience had these for one another. Jimi called Noel Redding "Bob Dylan's Grandmother" due to his mass of dark curls and his Nerd Glasses. Noel retaliated by dubbing Jimi "Henpecked," a play on his last name. The two referred to Mitch Mitchell as "Queen Bee" and "Julie Andrews" for his prima donna tendencies.
  • Ancient Astronauts: "Up from the Skies", sung from the perspective of an alien visitor to Earth ("this here people farm") who had been here before thousands of years ago during an ice age, and has come back to observe how things have changed.
    • Given an opening, with "EXP," the first track on the album:
    Mitch Mitchell: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to radio station EXP. We are interviewing a peculiar looking gentleman who goes by the name of Mr. Paul Caruso on the dodgy subject of "Are there or are there not Flying Saucers (or UFOs)." Please, Mr. Caruso, can you give us your regarded opinion on this nonsense about space ships, and even SPACE PEOPLE?!
    Mitch Mitchell: I—I don't believe it!
    (Hendrix makes spaceship noises for 1:30)
  • And You Thought It Would Fail: In-Universe example with "the machine" in "1983... (And a Merman I Should Turn to Be)".
  • Artist and the Band: He was part of various bands before forming The Jimi Hendrix Experience. These bands are Curtis Knight and The Squires, Joey Dee and The Starliters, and Jimmy James and The Blue Flames.
  • Atlantis: Mentioned in "1983... (And a Merman I Should Turn to Be)".
  • Badass Boast: "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)":
    Well I stand up next to a mountain
    And I chop it down with the edge of my hand
  • Briefer Than They Think: He became a star with the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and was dead three years later, just like fellow "27 Club" member Janis Joplin.
  • Celebrities Hang Out in Heaven: "Rock and Roll Heaven" by the Righteous Brothers imagines Hendrix with several deceased other musicians — including Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce, and Bobby Darin — in Heaven together forming a hell of a band, band, band!
  • Cover Version: Many, among the most notable being Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor", The Troggs' "Wild Thing", John Stafford Smith's "The Star-Spangled Banner", Earl King's "Come On", Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode", and Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and "Like a Rolling Stone".
  • A Deadly Affair: "Hey Joe".
  • Didn't Think This Through: Jimi's response when asked about what he wanted for the cover art of Axis: Bold As Love was "something Indian," by which he meant American Indian (Jimi was of partial Native American ancestry, and was proud of this). In Britain, however, "Indian" is pretty much exclusively used to refer to something or someone from the Indian subcontinent...and the result was that the artist drew the three members of the Experience amongst an assortment of Hindu-inspired imagery. Jimi wasn't pleased.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Hendrix was famous for using his guitar for visual innuendos when performing.
  • Double Entendre: "Crosstown Traffic" is made of this, as well as being a Reason You Suck Song.
  • Epic Rocking: "Machine Gun", among others.
  • Former Child Star: Mitch Mitchell had been a child actor before turning to music full time in his teens.
  • Freudian Trio: In the original Experience, Jimi was the Ego to Mitch's Id and Noel's Superego.
  • Game Changer: He was one of these for post-World War II popular music, along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles.
  • Genre-Busting: As a black bandleader with (frequently) white sidemen, schooled in blues and R&B and soul but playing rock and constantly reinventing his own music, Hendrix's entire career was about this.
  • Genre Shift: The three Experience studio albums are essentially psychedelic rock but Hendrix' later work with the Band of Gypsies saw him shifting to a sound based more around funk and soul.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Voodoo Soup, compiled after his death by producer Alan Douglas, features newly recorded instrumentation by drummer Bruce Gary, who Hendrix never met or performed with, and whose most famous band, The Knack, was formed years after Hendrix had died. Voodoo Soup was intended as an "official" version of Hendrix' never-completed First Rays of the New Rising Sun album. Later, the Hendrix family presented a different reconstruction of that album, using the most complete recordings of the songs intended for the album, to avoid making decisions that Hendrix may not have approved of, in sharp contrast to Douglas, who believed that he was completing the album as Hendrix had intended with Voodoo Soup.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: Actually he was, but he had a slightly irrational belief that left-handed guitars would be less well-made than right-handed guitars, so he reversed the strings on a Stratocaster and played it upside down. The result meant that he didn't sound quite like anyone else. At least one biography claims that Jimi was actually ambidextrous, while slightly more southpaw. Another claim states that he played upside-down righty guitars instead of lefty guitars so the dials and whammy bar would be easier to reach. Yet another claim states that the reason he was arguably ambidextrous was simply the common case of his deeply-religious father forcing him to convert, as was the style at the time. It's even said he would play guitar right-handed if his father was around, then switch back once his father left.
  • I Am the Band: With The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, and Band of Gypsys. Something that Noel Redding grew to resent.
  • Iconic Outfit: The 'fro and headband.
  • Improv: Hendrix was a master of it.
  • I Have Many Names: Jimi's legal name was James Marshall Hendrix, and he'd regularly used the diminutive "Jimmy" since childhood. He re-christened himself "Jimmy James" during his days in Greenwich Village, but Chas Chandler encouraged him to return to his own surname. Chandler also changed the spelling of "Jimmy" to the more exotic-looking "Jimi," which was the spelling he used until his death. And for an extra wrinkle, the name on Jimi's birth certificate was actually "Johnny Allen Hendrix"—his parents legally changed his name when he was three.
  • Incendiary Exponent: Smashing guitars not shocking enough? Try setting them on fire first!note 
  • It Will Never Catch On: Jimi wasn't too impressed with an up-and-coming band called Pink Floyd: "I heard they have beautiful lights but they don't sound like nothing." Although, some time later he grew to like them and called them "the mad scientists of this day and age".
  • Last Chorus Slow-Down: Noticeable in "Voodoo Child".
  • Lead Singer Plays Lead Guitar: Jimi had the daunting task of being the lead singer, rhythm guitarist, and lead guitarist all at once, but pulled it off flawlessly.
  • Mondegreen: "Excuse me while I kiss this guy!" (It's "the sky".) Jimi was actually fully aware of how this sounded, and would jokingly point at Noel Redding whenever he sang the line.
  • Murder Ballad: "Hey Joe".
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: Noel Redding felt he was being treated this way in the Experience, which was all about Hendrix, and wanted more attention and input than he was getting. This was what led to his departure, and—along with his distaste for the "Hendrix industry" (i.e. the mythologizing of Jimi that followed the latter's death)—led to his sometimes being perceived as a Grumpy Old Man in his later years.
  • No Name Given: Hendrix' last trio, which featured Billy Cox from the Band of Gypsies on bass and Mitch Mitchell from the Experience on drums, never had an official name. They were sometimes billed as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but a number of fans prefer to call them the Cry of Love band to distinguish them from the better-known Mitchell/Redding line-up.
  • Now That's Using Your Teeth!: Using them to play guitar!
  • The Perfectionist: Not for nothing did he end up building his own recording studio. For example, he spent seven months recording "All Along the Watchtower", and most of that time was taken up with revising and redoing various individual guitar riffs.
  • Precursor: "Up from the Skies", perhaps.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The original cover of Electric Ladyland was simply a large group of nude women (that's front and back cover). This cover somehow managed to survive being used in the UK, but the USA (and later CD) version of the album uses Karl Ferris' psychedelic portrait. Interestingly enough, none of these were approved by Hendrix: He had explicitly told his record label that for the cover he wanted a Linda McCartney photo of him with some children, but the label proceeded to ignore him and pick what ended up on the final product.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Set them on fire, actually.
  • Rock Trio: Two of them: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Band of Gypsys.
  • Run for the Border: "Hey Joe" ends with the title character planning to do this.
  • Seduction Lyric: "Wild Thing" (actually a cover of a song by the Troggs) makes the "I love you so let's have sex" approach to seduction hilariously blunt.
    Wild thing, I think I love you
    But I wanna know for sure
    So come on and hold me tight...
  • Self-Deprecation: His onstage banter was filled with this. His liner notes on the back cover of Axis: Bold As Love said: "Jimi Hendrix writes his own songs and almost sings them."
  • Signature Sound Effect: Actually a Signature Chord: Hendrix loved the sound of the 7#9 chord and used it all over songs like "Purple Haze", "Stone Free", "Voodoo Chile" and his version of "Killing Floor", to the point where musicians sometimes refer to it as the "Hendrix chord".
  • Situational Hand Switch: Actually contributed slightly to his sound. He frequently used a Fender Stratocaster, which has one of the pickups tilted. This gives each string a slightly different sound. As a lefty, however, Hendrix reversed the order of the strings, thereby reversing the order of the differences and giving his music a unique feel.
  • Something Blues: "Earth Blues", "Country Blues", "Catfish Blues" and "Slow Blues".
  • Step Up to the Microphone: "She's So Fine" from Axis: Bold as Love has Noel Redding on lead vocals and "Little Miss Strange" from Electric Ladyland have Redding and Mitch Mitchell sharing lead vocals. Both songs are written by Redding. In another vein, Redding, according to Mitchell, "got pissed and went down the pub" during the final recording of "All Along The Watchtower", so Hendrix recorded the bass on that song, playing Noel's right-handed bass upside down.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Castles Made of Sand", "The Wind Cries Mary", "Angel", "Little Wing", "Bold as Love", "Drifting". While the Power Ballad was an Unbuilt Trope at the time, these songs could be considered ancestors of the style.
  • Team Dad: Chas Chandler for the Hendrix Experience as a group.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Despite his clear technical skills, he was closer to the Performer end of the spectrum. Had virtually no formal musical training, could barely even read music, but was blessed with natural talent, had a deep practical (if not theoretical) knowledge of harmony and rhythm, and near-perfect pitch — which was just as well since his playing style frequently made him go out of tune. (Nearly all live Hendrix albums feature him tuning up in mid-song.) Of course, all those years as a sideman in R&B bands didn't hurt. Towards the end of his life, he'd become aware that his conscious knowledge of music wasn't adequate to the things he wanted to do (he planned to compose more and play guitar less), and he planned to study music in more depth, which would have brought him closer to the Technician end.
  • Textless Album Cover: Electric Ladyland.
  • Theme Naming: Noel Redding was born on Christmas day 1945, hence his name.
  • The Unfair Sex: Defied in "Hey Joe":
    "Huh yes I did I shot her
    You know I caught my old lady messin' 'round town
    And I gave her the gun
    And I shot her"

The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye. The story of love is hello and goodbye. Until we meet again.

Alternative Title(s): The Jimi Hendrix Experience