This month marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of one of the world’s finest blues guitarists. Jimi Hendrix, who was ranked by Rolling Stone as the greatest guitarist of all time, died on September 18, 1970 in Kensington, London. His death sent shockwaves around the music world, as fans of his music wept at losing a true musical genius. Aged just 27, Hendrix had the music industry at his feet, transforming guitar music forever with his pioneering use of wah-wah, fuzz distortion and Uni-Vibe effects to take fans on an instrumental journey.
It all started for Hendrix back in the mid-1960s. He ventured over to the Greenwich Village in New York City and secured a residency playing nightly at the Café Wha? playing alongside Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. It was during his time at Café Wha? that Hendrix was turned down by Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones, who couldn’t see his potential. Fortunately, Chas Chandler, formerly of the Animals, took Hendrix under his wing and invited him over to London to sign a management deal with Chandler and former Animals manager Michael Jeffrey.
The birth of the Jimi Hendrix Experience
It was Chandler’s idea to recruit talented blues and rock musicians to complement Hendrix’ talents on-stage to form what would become the “Jimi Hendrix Experience”. The likes of Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) were snapped up and the trio quickly developed an eye-catching rapport on-stage. One live performance would characterize the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Bag O’Nails rock club. Guests that evening were a veritable “who’s who” of rock stars, with members of The Beatles, The Who and the Rolling Stones all present. Eric Clapton was also there and to this day he cites Hendrix as a major inspiration to his entire back catalog. It was a show that would secure Hendrix his first tabloid interview with the Record Mirror, who labeled him “Mr Phenomenon”.
Debut single “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze” both charted well in the UK and beyond, catapulting Hendrix to stardom. He would tear up the stage at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival – securing a booking on the recommendation of Paul McCartney – and quite literally breaking up his guitar at the end of his set in sheer ecstasy. Studio albums Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland followed their debut Are You Experienced release. Electric Ladyland has been dubbed the Experience’s most successful album, with music author Peter Doggett claiming it as a candidate for “rock’s greatest album” based on its “experimental genius” and “conceptual vision”.
By the eve of the 1970s, Hendrix was considered something of a rock “god”. His unpredictability and ability to go off the radar for months on end helped create that sense of mystique surrounding him, but it also served to irritate band-mates Redding and Mitchell, who grew tired of Hendrix’s erratic behavior in and out of the studio. In 1969, the original band broke up, with Redding and Hendrix parting ways, with the former replaced by Billy Cox. Hendrix would go on to headline 1969’s Woodstock Festival, which is still considered one of the most iconic rock performances of all time, performing under the moniker of the “Band of Gypsys”.
Just a year later, the world woke up to the news of Hendrix’s death. The musician was rushed to an emergency ward in St Mary Abbot’s Hospital in London, having been discovered covered in vomit and red wine, with barbiturates also found in his bloodstream. Australian doctor John Bannister recently recalled to the Sydney Morning Herald of his confusion as to why treating Hendrix was such a big deal, having not heard of his music at the time.
The legacy of Jimi Hendrix
Despite such a short life, Hendrix touched the entertainment industry in ways he may never have imagined. His legacy lives on in today’s entertainment scene in so many ways. His career has been characterized in a video slot by NetEnt. Icons of popular culture are often pedestaled through many slot game representations, including movie-based games. This particular option combines atmospheric music and psychedelic animations as a fitting tribute to Hendrix. The aura surrounding Jimi Hendrix is also likely to be brought to the fore on our television screens too. NME says a new documentary is in production surrounding his 1970 live show in Maui Hawaii and his Rainbow Bridge film. The program, titled Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix in Maui is inspired by the movie Easy Rider and is a concept of Hendrix’s former manager Michael Jeffrey. Visitors to Central London should also partake in the Handel & Hendrix in London exhibition. It just so happened that the German-born composer Handel lived in 25 Brook Street, next door to Hendrix’s Mayfair base at 23 Brook Street. Hendrix’s flat has been lovingly restored, with his lifelong vinyl record collection on display, along with typically psychedelic furnishings. There are classic copies of the TV Times beside the television screen, packed ashtrays and rugs befitting his £30-a-week apartment. The “Hendrix Experience” also returned to our arena stages back in 2017 as the perfect homage.
Hendrix may not have realized it at the time but he was a rock icon and an inspiration for many, with the latest artists to watch in 2020 sure to have been brought up on the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The real tragedy is that he would go on to inspire way more in the years following his death.