A Blog to Keep the Lizards Away. It's about posting and sharing the things I'm into. Hope you enjoy the show!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Jimi Hendrix - Power, Passion, Fragile Genius

James Marshall Hendrix [1942 - 1970]

Jimi Hendrix was born November 27th, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, USA. The first of five children to James "Al" Hendrix. He was part Cherokee Indian and part Afro American. From humble beginnings and a $5 acoustic guitar when he was 15, Jimi Hendrix went on to become the greatest electric guitarist in musical history.

He grew up listening to BB King, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Albert King and Elmore James. His real rock influences came from listening to and playing behind Little Richard. Jimi always said he wanted to, "do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice."

" His official biography says: "Jimi Hendrix was one of the most creative and influential musicians of the 20th century. Innovative style of combining  fuzz, feedback and distortion top create a new musical style."

I believe this description sells Jimi short for it does not take into account his genius as a record producer and his use of the recording studio as an extension of his creative abilities. It does not acknowledge his engineering and manipulating of new sounds, that influenced musicians across a broad genre of music. Jimi was the only musician to be top of the Billboard Chart listings in Jazz, Rock and Blues, all at the same time.

I've been trying to think of another instance where one person completely mastered his instrument or excelled in displaying his talent to the degree Hendrix did. Superlatives do not do justice to the natural ease at which he seemed to demonstrate his art.

After a stint in the Army in 1961, he came back to play in the line-up for Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, the Isley Bros and Little Richard. In 1965, he moved to be part of the developing scene in Greenwich Village and whilst all the bands wanted Jimi behind them, he decided to take his trip to London to get noticed as a solo artist.

He formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. By 1966 he was the talk of the U.K. Every venue he appeared, night after night, some of the biggest rock stars in Britain would pack the Clubs to see what all the fuss was about.

One of the most iconic images in Rock and Roll. Jimi finishes his set at Monterey in 1967.

By the time Jimi went back to the States he was welcomed as a superstar. His first L.P. Are You Experienced was a huge successes but it was not until his incendiary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival that he became of the biggest acts in the world - overnight.

At the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, the Who were booked to close the show, until Pete Townsend realised they had to follow Jimi. Townsend refused and after a stand-off, the promoters insisted Jimi go on last. The Who pulled out all stops, Townsend smashed his guitar, the band wrecked the stage set and the urban myth has it that when Townsend left the stage he said to Jimi, "Beat that ni**er!"

The rest his history. Jimi closed the show playing Wild Thing, poured lighter fluid on his Strat and set it alight. Still vibrating and screaming feedback, Jimi picked up the burning guitar, smashed it and stormed off.

Jimi's signature guitar was a right-handed, white Fender Stratocaster. He played left-handed so he turned the guitar upside down and re-arranged the strings. He also moved the tone and volume controls to the top of the guitar so he could access them easily. Later when he could have what he wanted he chose a black maple-neck and a blonde maple neck Strat.

And strangely for someone with such a good voice, Jimi was always very nervous about his singing. In the studio he recorded his vocals behind a screen

Jimi followed Are you Experienced with Axis Bold as Love in 1968. By 1969 the pressures of touring took their toll and the Experience disbanded.

After experimenting with a new line-up he changed the group's name to Band of Gypsy's. A self-titled compile album followed. And then the double album Electric Ladyland which he recorded in his own Electric Ladyland studios he built in New York.

Jimi plays the Woodstock 3 Day Festival in 1969

The Woodstock Music Festival was staged on a farm at Woodstock, Bethel, NY on August 17th, 1969. It was a fitting climax to the peace, love, dove era of the Sixties.

[After Woodstock, the peace came to a shuddering halt at Altamont, the next big outdoor festival. The headline act was the Rolling Stones who on stage when a fan was stabbed to death by Hells Angels security]

At Woodstock the best bands of the Sixties appeared, including Janis Joplin, Ten Years After, Ritchie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Country Joe, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jerrerson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, Crosby Stills Nash & Young. 40 years later Woodstock still belongs to Jimi Hendrix.

Hendrix assembled a group called Gypsy Suns and Rainbows including the original drummer Mitch Mitchell playing with bassist Billy Cox and guitarist Larry Lee, plus two other percussionists, Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan.

Jimi was booked to close the show but they ran so late that he ended up on stage at 7am on the Monday morning, playing to only a few thousand mud-soaked, die hard fans. Most had already left the night before to get home for the working week. They missed the performance of the decade. A performance that defined the Sixties.

Even though the band was worn out and wired, they played for nearly two hours, one of the longest sets of Jimi's career. The first time he ever played in the morning.

Jimi greeted them with, "You can leave if you want to ... we're just jammin', that's all."

Message to Love, Hear My Train A Comin', Red House, Mastermind, Lover Man, Foxy Lady, Jam Back at the House, Izabella, Gypsy Woman, Fire, Voodoo Chile, Star-Spangled Banner, Purple Haze, Improvised Villanova Junction and Hey Joe as an encore. The only time Jimi played an encore. [During Redhouse he broke a high E-string and played the rest of the song with 5 strings.]

His inspired, improvised performance of the Star-Spangled Banner anthem is the sound of Woodstock.

Watch the vision and the total control with which he creates his wall of sound. Sure there have been master technicians that can play the notes, but still nobody can match the exact sound, let alone create it from scratch.

Great photo - wrong album!

Despite the hundreds of bootleg, live and "lost tapes" versions that are available, during his lifetime, Jimi only ever released three studio albums, The Experience, Axis Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland. There were also two live albums and two compilations and twelve singles from those albums.

Since his death the "official" album releases were Cry of Love, War Heroes, Rainbow Bridge, Crash Landing, Midnight and the latest, Valley of Neptune. Whilst any Hendrix is better than none, I would not waste my time with the others. [If you need a fix just go back and listen to the long version of Voodoo Chile!]

Jimi with Buddy Miles

Jimi Hendrix died in his sleep, in his London flat, September 18, 1970. He was 29 years old.

The autopsy said he died of asphyxiation, choking on his own vomit, which had filled his airways. Earlier that night he attended a party with his friend Monica Dannemann. Getting home at about 3 am he reportedly took up to nine sleeping pills - the recommended dose was one and a half.

Apart from the pills there was not much else in his system, certainly no cocktail of drugs as was commonly thought at the time.

Unless you were there its hard to explain to people the impact his music, his sound, his easy, relaxed style of playing had on the scene as it was back then.

Even now it totally stands the test of time. Nobody has come close.

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