On November 25, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, Johnny Allen Hendrix was born to an enlisted Army soldier and a teenage mother. Four years later, Johnny Allen was renamed James Marshall Hendrix. Because of his mother's fondness for nightclub life and his father's frequent absences, Hendrix was a lonely yet creative child. At school he won several contests for his science fiction-based poetry and visual art. At the age of eight Hendrix, unable to afford a guitar, strummed out rhythms on a broom. Eventually he graduated to a fabricated substitute made from a cigar box, followed by a ukulele, and finally an acoustic guitar that his father had purchased.
By the late 1950s Hendrix began to play in local bands in Seattle. While a teenager he played along with recordings by blues artists like Elmore James and John Lee Hooker. After a twenty-six-month stint (1961-1962) in the 101st Airborne Division, Hendrix played in the Nashville rhythm and blues scene with bassist Billy Cox. For the next three years, Hendrix performed under the name Jimmy James, backing up acts such as Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Ike and Tina Turner, and the Isley Brothers.
In 1964 Hendrix moved to New York City where he performed in various Greenwich Village clubs. While in New York he formed the group Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. After being discovered by producer and manager Chas Chandler, former bassist with the Animals, Hendrix was urged to leave for England. Arriving there in 1966 Hendrix, along with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In 1967, after touring Europe, the trio hit the charts with a cover version of the Leaves's song “Hey Joe.” In the same year, the group released the ground-breaking album Are You Experienced.
In 1968 the Experience recorded Axis: Bold as Love, which led to extensive touring in the United States and Europe. On the Experience's next album, Electric Ladyland, Hendrix sought to expand the group's trio-based sound. A double-record effort Electric Ladyland featured numerous guest artists such as keyboardists Steve Winwood and Al Kooper, saxophonist Freddie Smith, and conga player Larry Faucette. The record also contained “All Along the Watch-tower,” a song written by Hendrix's musical and poetic idol Bob Dylan.
After the Experience broke up in 1969, Hendrix played the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival with the Gypsy Sons and Rainbows, featuring bassist Billy Cox. Along with drummer Buddy Miles, Hendrix and Cox formed the Band of Gyp-sys, and in 1970 the group released an album under the same title. Months later, Mitchell replaced Miles on drums. In August the Mitchell-Cox line-up played behind Hendrix at his last major performance, which was held at England's Isle of Wight Festival. On September 18, 1970, Hendrix died in a hotel room in England.
When Hendrix arrived on the international rock music scene in 1967 he almost single-handedly redefined the sound of the electric guitar. His extraordinary approach has shaped the course of music from jazz fusion to heavy metal.
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