Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

Ace guitarist Jimi Hendrix was at the top of the rock world at his death in 1970.

He had spent four years creating new boundaries for electric-guitar playing and writing dozens of fiery blues/rock songs, and he definitively reinterpreted Bob Dylan's 'All Along the Watchtower,' making it a classic of his own.

The tragedy of his drug overdose is freshened in the minds of music followers almost every year as posthumous albums of his work are released.

In 1942, Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix (as registered by his mother, a Cherokee Indian) in Seattle, but was renamed James Marshall Hendrix four years later by his father.

Hendrix survived a battle with pneumonia as a child and began playing a guitar he bought from a friend of his father. Hendrix had a unique perspective on the instrument, chiefly because he was left-handed -- he taught himself to play, but turned the guitar upside down to learn. He practiced by listening to records by such blues greats as Muddy Waters and B.B. King and such rockers as Chuck Berry.

After playing in high-school bands, Hendrix enlisted in the Army in 1959. After his discharge, he began playing guitar as Jimmy James during the '60s, backing the likes of the Isley Brothers (on whose single 'Testify' some of Hendrix's wizardry can be heard) and Little Richard.

In 1965, he formed Jimmy James and the Blue Flames and soon met Animals' bassist Chas Chandler, who took him to London and helped him form the Jimi Hendrix Experience (which also included bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell).

The Experience became famous rapidly as 'Hey Joe,' 'Purple Haze' (RealAudio excerpt) and 'The Wind Cries Mary' all made the top 10 in Britain in early 1967.

Their 1967 debut LP, the pop/rock/blues/soul fusion Are You Experienced?, also became a smash and was a great showcase for Hendrix's amplification and distortion experiments. He also became noted for setting his guitar on fire, as well as playing it behind his back and with his teeth. Hendrix created a sensation at 1967's Monterey Pop Festival, where he stunned concert-goers with his lightning-fast riffs and feedback.

Hendrix's music took on an increasingly experimental mysticism in such ensuing albums as 1968's Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. He also became entangled in unpleasant disputes with managers and record executives, which began distracting him from musical endeavors.

In 1969, Hendrix broke up the Experience and formed the funkier Band of Gypsys with ace drummer Buddy Miles. His next famous gig was at the epochal Woodstock festival, which he memorably closed with his unique interpretation of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' The following year, Hendrix re-formed the Experience, only to disband them again very shortly.

A follow-up LP to Electric Ladyland never appeared in Hendrix's lifetime, though he spent the last year of his life recording a great deal. Hendrix toured during his last few months with Mitchell on drums.

The Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970 was Hendrix's last major concert.

Hendrix died in London on Sept. 18, 1970, from inhalation of vomit following barbiturate intoxication. He'd been working on a new album, tentatively titled First Ray of the New Rising Sun.

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Many live albums have been released after Hendrix's death. Studio LPs also were numerous, but some were attacked because producer Alan Douglas added parts by session men. In 1992, Hendrix was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Three years later, the rights to Hendrix's estate were given to his father, Al.

This year, UNI/MCA issued BBC Sessions from Hendrix's 1967 shows.

Manager Chandler was quoted as saying the following about Hendrix's death: 'Somehow I wasn't surprised. I don't believe for one minute that he killed himself. That was out of the question. But something had to happen, and there was no way of stopping it. You just get a feeling sometimes. It was as if the last couple of years had prepared us for it. It was like a message I had been waiting for.'

Other birthdays: Charlie Burchill (Simple Minds), 39; Lori Barbero (Babes In Toyland), 38; Mike Bordin (Faith No More), 36; Fiachna O'Braonian (Hothouse Flowers), 33; Al Jackson (Booker T. & the MG's), 1935-1975; and Eddie Rabbitt, 1944-1998.