Time has allowed us to get a little perspective on this comet that briefly blazed across the rock and roll firmament. He was one of those musical talents that comes along from time to time and forces you to rethink what you thought you knew about music.
Jimi (born John Allen Hendrix) had a troubled home, and spent much of his childhood with relatives and acquaintances. He dropped out of school and joined the U.S. Army where he trained to be a paratrooper. But an injury led to his discharge, which worked out well because he knew his future lay in music.
After forming the Jimi Hendrix Experience in London, he made his first splash in the U.S. at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in June, 1967. The band’s new album, Are You Experienced? had just been released in the U.S., and Jimi blew the crowd away with his blues-influenced rock. At the end of the set, Jimi set his guitar on fire before smashing it to bits, driving the crowd wild. He made a similar impression later that year at Woodstock, where his performance of the Star Spangled Banner was both revolutionary and riveting.
Hard to believe now, but Jimi’s run lasted only four years. He was a 60s musician, and that meant drugs. Lots and lots and lots of drugs. And in a script that became all too predictable, he died due to complications from an overdose. He was only 27 years old.
I remember where I was when I first heard the Are You Experienced album. I vividly remember thinking, “Wow. This guy is amazing.” Our musical interests diverged after that, though I still love “The Wind Cries Mary” and his version of “All Along the Watchtower.”
Want to feel old? Jimi Hendrix would be 66 if he were alive today. I can’t imagine him on one of those nostalgia revues that PBS airs for fundraisers, can you?