A Long Walk Home

  • Category: Science
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  • Grade: 100
Jimi Hendrix: Rock 'n' Roll Legend

        The extraordinary performances, recording, and lyrics of

James Marshall Hendrix have made him impossible to forget. This

American rock music guitarist made a legendary mark not only in

the history of rock 'n' roll but also on the pop culture as a

whole (Ross 32). With unique techniques never seen before and

blatant sex-related performances on stage, he became one of the

most influential music figures of the 60s (Kamin).

        Hendrix was not born into stardom nor was it given to him by

any means. He strived all throughout his life to be the very

best. Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942 in

Seattle, Washington to Al and Lucille Hendrix, and not until four

years later did his father change his son's name to James

Marshall Hendrix. He certainly did not lead an easy life with

his sporadic schooling and his parents' divorce in 1958. Added

to the building pressures, his mother died just one year later

("Jimi", Rolling 42).

        Hendrix purchased his first guitar in 1958, probably to

relieve tensions as it was the same year his parents divorced.

It was a used acoustic for which he paid only five dollars. At

the age of seventeen with only one year's playing experience, he

joined his first band, the Rocking Kings. It may be hard to

imagine because of his image, but Hendrix was also in the Army

for a brief period of time. He was soon discharged as a result

of "medical unsuitability" after a parachuting accident in which

he landed on his ankle ("Jimi", Rolling 42). He ventured back to

his hometown of Seattle and began playing with Bobby Taylor and

the Vancouvers (Wolters, "Pre-Experience").

He seized the opportunity to go on the road after being

discovered by Little Richard in 1963 but soon regretted the

decision because he felt the tour was degrading, and he was

constrained as being a sideman to Richard. His guitar was used

as little more than a background rhythm instrument, but Hendrix

developed his playing talent and soon discovered how to gain

control and take lead of the music. Unfortunately, he never was

able to get Richard to realize his talents, so he abandoned

Richard's tour in St. Louis (Wolters, "Pre-Experience").

        After aimlessly wandering for awhile, Hendrix found himself

in Atlanta and once again teamed up with Little Richard. The

tour brought them to Los Angeles where he then went in his own

direction. He hooked up with Richard for a third time during the

summer of 1964 to record an album in which he again felt confined

as being only a backup to Little Richard (Wolters,

"Pre-Experience").

        Hendrix later joined the budding musician Arthur Lee, but

the partnership did not last long as he once again set out in

search of his own identity (Wolters, "Pre-Experience"). He

embarked as a traveling musician for various tours backing such

artists as Ike and Tina Turner, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, B.B.

King, Chuck Berry, King Curtis, Solomon Burke, Chuck Jackson,

Jackie Wilson, and several others (Wolters, "Hendrix").

        On his next endeavor, he teamed up with saxophonist Lonnie

Youngblood. The pair was short-lived as Hendrix soon split, and

his adventurous spirit ended him up in New York where he rented a

small, cheap apartment and drifted from job to dead-end job

(Wolters, "Pre-Experience").

        The spring of 1964 brought better luck to Hendrix. Ronnie

Isley of the Isley Brothers hired him on the spot as lead

guitarist after hearing him play for only a short amount of time.

He lived with the group for a few months, and they actually

purchased him his first Fender guitar ("Jimi, Rolling 44). The

band toured in 1964 and also released some albums, but Hendrix

was still dissatisfied with his situation. He grew tired of the

group and left the Isleys to join Curtis Knight and the Squires

(Wolters, "Pre-Experience").

        Not long had the group been playing in the New Jersey area

when Keith Richard, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, caught a

glimpse of the stand-out guitarist and wanted to help the young,

developing musician. He brought Hendrix to the attention of

important music industry people ("Jimi", Facts 425). On October

15, 1965, Hendrix signed his first recording contract with Ed

Chalpin and PPX Productions in which he was paid a single dollar

and promised one percent royalty on all future record sales

(Wolters, "Pre-Experience").

        Surprisingly, he only released five albums while he was

alive. They include, in order, Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold

As Love, Electric Ladyland, Band of Gypsys, and Cry of Love

(Wolters, "Discography").

        He formed his dynamic rock band on October 12, 1966 and

called it the Jimi Hendrix Experience, a name that will never be

forgotten. The peculiar spelling of his name was of his

manager's invention. In the group, Hendrix jammed on lead

guitar; Noel Redding played bass, and Mitch Mitchell played drums

(Wilmer 19). The trio was comprised of three very different

personalities, but Hendrix led them in their eccentric hair and

dress styles, wild stage behavior, and most of all, the

unprecedented music the group delivered to their public (Kamin).

It seemed as if Hendrix, in all his radiance, actually stimulated

the other members of the group when they played on stage together

(Wilmer 20).

        He created sounds new to the rock 'n' roll scene which

included wah-wah, feedback, phasing, fuzz tone, distortion, and

other effects. Hendrix also assimilated different styles of

music such as hard rock, jazz, R & B, blues, funk, and pop to

form music with a new twist (O'Connor 56). He played the guitar

with his hands, feet, legs, and mouth which was definitely

chaotic but also full of expression, emotion, and not to mention

eroticism (Fornatale 21). His music helped rock 'n' roll become

a part of growing up in the 60s generation, even though the

Experience was often criticized for getting too violent on stage

by destroying instruments during performances (Archer 96; Wilmer

20).

        Their first album reached the public in July 1967. It was a

bigger hit in England than in America but spent many weeks on the

charts in both countries. The album was certified platinum, and

the popularity of the band sky-rocketed. Tours were rapidly

booked, and the Experience ended up playing on 108 dates in 1967

alone (Wolters, "Discography"). Along with the gift of fame came

humility as Hendrix's life became an open book publicized by

tabloids and media. Nevertheless, the band played on ("Jimi",

Rolling 44).

        On June 18, 1967 the Experience performed at the Monterey

Pop Festival in California. Hendrix and the other members

received an exceptional welcome home to America after the

grueling nine-month tour in England. Over 50,000 members of the

hippie subculture were in attendance at the sold-out concert.

Hendrix stunned the entire audience with his amazing

guitar-burning finale. He set fire to his most prized

possession, his Fender Stratocaster, as a heartfelt thanksgiving

to his devoted fans ("Jimi", Rolling 44-45). Hendrix proved his

legendary talent at the amazing concert and earned the name "acid

king of the guitar" (Daniel 967).

        The release of the group's second album, Axis: Bold As

Love, came a year later in December 1967 after much hard work.

The original album recording was lost, and deadlines caused the

band to have to remix it in its entirety in just under eleven

hours ("Jimi", Rolling 45). It was certified platinum, and

Hendrix gained even more loyal supporters. He was completely

dedicated to his music and not only slept with his guitar but

also spent his every waking moment playing it (Wolters,

"Discography").

        He had already begun work on Electric Ladyland, the

Experience's third album, in the middle of 1967. The album was a

reflection of his life, and the music was filled with melancholy,

angst, loneliness, and fear ("Jimi", Rolling 45). It took a year

to complete simply because Hendrix was a perfectionist and

strived to get every piece of his music exactly the way he

envisioned it. The hard work paid off as it was the only number

one album for Hendrix. However, the non-stop recording and tour

schedules foreshadowed what each of the members knew would come

soon, the end of the Experience (Wolters, "Discography").

        The band performed almost daily; after spending five months

touring throughout eastern Europe, they came straight to America

on February 1, 1968 with no break in between tours. The final

concert played by the Jimi Hendrix Experience was at the Denver

Pop Festival at the end of a U.S. tour (Wolters, "Discography").

        June 29, 1969 brought the end of the Experience. After

Hendrix's band decided to call it quits, Hendrix made an

appearance on the Tonight Show and was backed by the show's own

house band (Wolters, "Discography").

Next, he emerged with an all-black group, the Band of

Gypsys, with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. Some

people believed he did this as a result of the Black Panthers

urging him to speak out during his time of stardom for the black

power movement and redeem rock 'n' roll as the rightful music of

blacks ("Jimi", Rolling 45). On New Year's Eve of 1969, his

new band made their debut at the Fillmore East in New York. Many

fans feel this was the climax of Hendrix's career, and his set of

performances at the event went down in history as one of the most

remarkable rock concerts ever (Wolters, "Discography").

        The short-lived Band of Gypsys stayed together for five

months and only performed a total of five concerts. Be that as

it may, they seemed to encounter many problems during the brief

period of time they were together. The management disliked the

fact that all the members were black, and Hendrix was in dispute

over several lawsuits concerning recording rights (Wolters,

"Discography"). Their funds disappeared fast, and interviews and

tours seemed to drag them down even further. Even so, the group

pressed on with their desire to achieve greatness ("Jimi",

Rolling 94).

        The Band of Gypsys was hired to headline the Woodstock

Festival, a three day outdoor concert in August of 1969 with over

twenty musical numbers. The event took place on Max Yasgar's

600-acre farm in Bethel, New York near the town of Woodstock.

The three-day festival was delayed six days because the hot

weather was stifling, and the rain refused to quit (Kohut).

Twenty-mile long traffic jams gave Hendrix no choice but to

be airlifted to the stage. His most striking performance at the

event was a psychedelic rock version of the "Star Spangled

Banner" even though he went on stage at 5:00 Monday morning and

the crowd of half a million had died down to only a few thousand.

He was paid $125,000 for the event, and the trio went down in

history as one of the highest-paid rock bands ever (Wolters,

"Discography").

        The Band of Gypsys' self-titled first album was released May

20, 1970 by Capitol Records and certified gold. Although the

perfectionist Hendrix was not really satisfied with the album, he

had no control over it reaching the public because it was part of

a contract he had signed years earlier and was forced to honor

(Wolters, "Discography").

        In February 1970, drummer Mitch Mitchell from the Experience

hooked up with Hendrix and Cox to replace Miles on drums. Not

long after, Hendrix and the band traveled to his hometown of

Seattle, to which he had not returned since his departing to

enlist in the Army at the age of seventeen. He received a warm

welcome and was awarded an honorarium from the school from which

he had failed to graduate, Garfield High, and was presented with

the keys to the city by the mayor. Before he left once again,

Hendrix performed a concert at Sick's Stadium to display his

gratitude (Wolters, "Discography").

        He then disappeared from the eyes of the public until it was

arranged that he and the band play in an event at the Magical

Garden of the Haleakala Crater on the beautiful Hawaiian

island of Maui. Later that month in 1970, without stopping to

rest, the Band of Gypsys traveled back to New York in celebration

of the grand opening of Electric Lady, the studio which Hendrix

had always dreamed of creating. Recorded in this studio was the

very last album before the death of Hendrix, Cry of Love

(Wolters, "Discography"). To finish paying the costs of the

newly opened studio, Hendrix was forced to return to touring

("Jimi", Rolling 94).

        The traveling never seemed to end; from New York, the band

was on their way to Europe where they were to begin yet another

exhausting series of concerts. They were tired, and in England

they faced non-stop rain and an uncontrollable audience. The

tour pressed on and the three members of the group made their way

to Stockholm, Gothenburg, Denmark, Copenhagen, Berlin, and

finally the Isle of Fehmarn in Germany where the concert took

place on September 6, 1970. It turned out to be a disaster

filled with a crowd of angry German bikers. The crowd actually

chanted "go home" to Hendrix (Wolters, "Discography").

        After the tour was dragged out to its end, Hendrix returned

to England to stay with his girlfriend Monika Dannemann. He

tried his best to remain in solitude and missed important

meetings pertaining to his contracts and other career business

(Wolters, "Discography").

        The life of this amazing man ceased to an abrupt and all too

hasty end on September 18, 1970 when he was but twenty-seven

years old. He became ill from a mixture of wine and

quinalbarbitone, a sleeping pill prescribed not to Hendrix but to

his girlfriend (Wolters, "Discography"). When the ambulance was

called, they rushed to his London hotel and dashed him back to

the hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The

attendants had carelessly laid him on his back; as a result of

their ineptitude, he asphyxiated in his own vomit ("Jimi",

Rolling 94).

        Fortunately, the tragic death of this young man came after

rather than before he had contributed so much to the rock 'n'

roll era of the 60s. Not only did he inspire black musicians to

persevere in their careers, but he also influenced the entire pop

culture with his unprecedented music and stunning performances.

In the eyes of many Americans, the legendary rock music guitarist

Jimi Hendrix will live on forever
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