They say he was a god. They say he was a deity like no other. Framed by a halo of long, wiry, black hair, his slender figure was clad in a bright costume that mocked the rainbows of the heavens. Perhaps this wild man and his use of the guitar blessed with an electric soul to make sounds comparable to chickens being strangled was the one who was needed to come around and charge things back up again.
And deep in a chaotic pit of thousands of anxious Woodstockers, with litter adorning the soggy and muddy earth that encompassed their feet, antiwar demonstrators, Vietnam veterans, black militants, white separatists, gays and antigays, government supporters and government protestors, drug users, and drug opponents all waited for the Black Elvis
to rise before them on the stage in which he would entrance them all. For this was the morning of August 18, 1969, and the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was living the last of its Three Days Of Peace And Music
. A long weekend of fun, freedom, and lunacy, drugs and alcohol were prevalent, while food, water, and bathrooms were scarce. But that didn't matter, for the mau mau himself, the closing act to this festival of festivities, was approaching. Somewhere backstage, he was tuning his right-handed guitar, despite his left-handed hands. Or perhaps he was speaking to his guitar, like he did with his first one, of which he named Betty Jean
. Either way, the self-taught guitar god himself, the one who never even learned to read or write musical scores, would rise upon the stage any minute with his beloved instrument of spiritual existence.
And so he came. With a guitar cradled in his broad hands, both of them loosely attached to his thin African-American body with two lengthy arms, he stepped up to the microphone. His fellow group of musician friends, Gypsy Sun
, stood behind him, ready to harmonize with the distortion, feedback, and sheer volume that would soon flow from his electric guitar. Many of those in the mass of Woodstockers identified with the words of Pete Townshend
, guitarist of The Who
, who, in awe, explained, In his presence, and in the presence of that music, you felt small and you realized how far you had to go. He was a tornado. This tornado was Jimi Hendrix
The chaotic crowd quieted, and Jimi
began. Jimi plucked his guitar into the psychedelic intro of his famed song, Purple Haze
, and within half a minute, he lifted the guitar to his face and strummed the strings with his teeth. Then, lifting the guitar above his head, he swung it down with a supernatural force as the plucking transformed into a thundering drone of intensity. The crowd's silence was shattered by wild clapping. The guitar then quieted down, and instantaneously evolved into the unforgettable opening notes of the national anthem of the United States of America. Though, unlike any previous performance of this anthem, Jimi
's version of this war song etched itself into legendary status.
stood there playing the Star-Spangled Banner, epitomizing all the social and political struggles that plagued the consolation of U.S. citizens in the 1960s. The pit of people was bathed in a silence of reverence and wonder as the quiet, soft-spoken, and shy prodigy droned a raw and crude rock presentation of the national anthem (Markel 8). Jimi
lost himself in the overwhelming spirituality exuding from his guitar's thundering brawn.
reminisced how, just eleven years ago, his father had given him his first instrument - a one-stringed ukulele. And this instrument had inspired Jimi
to buy his first guitar, a five-dollar used acoustic, of which allowed Jimi to play in his first group - the Velvetones
. But at last, a year later, Jimi's father bought him his soon-to-be best friend - an electric guitar. And with this electric guitar, Jimi had been able to play in the Rocking Kings. Though, unfortunately, the fellow members of his group had held Jimi back in jealousy and resentment of the applause he received for his unplanned solos on stage. And now, Jimi
strumming the national anthem in front of thousands, Jimi
smiled at his decision to leave them.
had also left something else - high school. Dropping out in his senior year, Jimi
eventually joined the army. He had enlisted as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. It was there where he met bassist Billy Cox
and formed an R&B band called the King Kasuals
. Though, after breaking his ankle after twenty-five successful parachute jumps, Private First Class James Hendrix was honorable discharged at the age of twenty. Jimi
was now free to pursue his aspirations of a career of musical bliss. However, bliss wouldn't accurately describe his journey to rock stardom.
Uneager to find out what his dad would think of him leaving the army with no money or job skills, Jimi
moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Living in destitution, Jimi
would often sleep in the streets, or sell or pawn his guitar. Augmenting to the arduous task of launching a musical career were the multitudes of great guitarists swarming the streets and clubs of Nashville. Leaving Nashville, Jimi
had begun touring with other African-American performers who played their own circuit of clubs, bars, and restaurants throughout the United States. Yet, suffering from the boredom and frustration of playing the same R&B or soul over and over to someone else's lead, Jimi
had decided to move back to Nashville, and then to the district of Harlem in New York City. Though, instead of instantly taking a beneficial bite out of the Big Apple, Jimi at first received nothing more than a sour and feeble worm of irritating stagnancy.
Indigent and unable to play in any paying gigs, Jimi
and a friend by the name of Fay
skipped from one cheap hotel to another with managers in hot pursuit of their rent, slept most of the day, spent hours listening to blues records, and visited clubs nightly. But, finally, a recruiter of the successful R&B and soul group, the Isley Brothers
, hired Jimi to make a record with them and then go on tour. Yet, predictably, Jimi
eventually found himself bound by restlessness again. Leaving them, he joined Little Richard
. Consequently, Jimi found himself leaving yet another band, for Little Richard became jealous and resented Jimi's dazzling but unplanned solos on stage. Apparently, Harlem had nothing to offer Jimi
that would assist him in his ambition of a musical career.
Thus, he left Harlem for Greenwich Village, New York. Playing for a while as backup for Curtis Knight
and the Squires
, Jimi had decided to start his own band - Jimmy James And The Blue Flames
. Life was not easy, as Jimi recalled trying to eat orange peels and tomato paste. Sleeping outside of the tenementsRats running all across your chest, cockroaches stealing your last candy bar. Yet at one gig, Paul Butterfield
, a musician, described the Hendrix sound he heard at a performance as jets taking offnuclear explosions, and buildings collapsingB-bb-bbb-room! He was just mowing me downTalk about burning! Oh!. Evidently, Jimi
was meant for much more than having his candy bars being stolen by cockroaches.
And Linda Keith
, girlfriend of the Rolling Stones guitarist, knew that. After seeing Jimi
perform one night, she walked into Jimi's career and gave it the jump-start Jimi needed. Full of significant musical connections, she was determined to elevate Jimi
to rock stardom. Ignoring the Rolling Stones' producer's comment that Jimi was too wild, Linda urged Chas Chandler
, ex-bassist player for the Animals seeking a new career as a record producer, to come to the a club where Jimi was playing. The night Chas came to see Jimi, Jimi performed Hey Joe
. Chas's response to the spectacle he saw was evident in his fervent description of Jimi's playing: [On] the bottom two strings, he'd be playing [short, melodic pieces]using his thumb. The two middle strings, he'd be playing as a rhythm guitar. The two top strings, he'd be playing lead - all at the same time! Extraordinary command of the guitar!. Obviously, Chas
had found the act he was searching for, and he, to Jimi's approval, asked Jimi to move to Britain to work for him. From that point on, Jimi
would never again have to worry about eating orange peels.
In Britain, Jimi
would have been best described as an instant sensation. Hendrix was instantly adored, and both he and Chas
knew Jimi needed a band. And thus, the Jimi Hendrix Experience
was born. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was the amalgamation of drummer Mitch Mitchell
, bass guitarist Noel Redding
, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix
. Mike Jeffrey
, a chaotic bookkeeper, was chosen by Chas for co-manager. From then on, the Jimi Hendrix Experience
was a phenomenon of massive proportions. Singles escalated to chart-topping positions, and Jimi's wild performances - in which he played the guitar behind his back, between his legs, or, in sexual ecstasy, on the floor - made headlines. With performances of guitar smashing and guitar burning, Jimi's headlining band was advertised with names like The New Weirdo Trio.
was beginning to get tired of being a clown. He became aggravated at his audience's expectations of guitar smashing and burning, as oppose to expectations of quality and complex music. Jimi
began to feel both bored and limited by his popular stage violence. As his shows became more important than his music in the eyes of fans, Jimi
's band steadily went downhill, largely fueled by drugs and constant stress and frustration. Eventually, the Jimi Hendrix Experience
And now, accompanied with his life-long friend and the spectacle of thousands of Woodstockers, Jimi
pulled himself out of the deep reminiscing of all that had gotten him there on stage. Wow, he thought to himself. This simple yet utterly perfect response to these thoughts of past memories was all he could think up when in a state of such wonder. It was his resolute fortitude to never once stumble upon the repulsive thought of relinquishing that slowly, yet steadily, dragged him to fame. And here he was. A stage beneath his feet, and a sky of freedom above his head. Apparently, he could only go up from here.
And so he played. With a single guitar embraced in his veteran hands and electronic wizardry inspiring his resilient mind, he produced on his guitar the national anthem as it was meant to be - a war song. Abandoning the simple notes of the Star-Spangled Banner
, Jimi fired rockets and exploded bombs. He sent airplanes diving, sirens wailing, and engines shrieking - all unsettling reminders of Vietnam and the civil rights battles being fought within America. Hissing and harsh explosions of electric feedback and distortion crackled from the stage. War veterans stiffened at the haunting and evocative thuds of raw explosions. Others could feel the adrenaline pumping within from the vigor of intensifying chaotic strumming. This was the experiences of all Jimi Hendrix
experiences. Never did the rumbling thick guitar buzzes fade away from the memories of the few thousands of Woodstockers who stayed to see the guitar divinity. And it was for this reason that a shortage of bathrooms didn't really seem to matter.
Bubalo, Ante. Bibliography. Jan. 2003. The Jimi Hendrix Music. 20 April 2004. Link.
Jackson, Reuben. What Seems To Be the Fuss? Jimi Hendrix and the Press, 1967-1970. Nov. 1996. Smithsonian Institute. 20 April 2004.
Jimi Hendrix - A Short Biography. 2001. One Stop Jimi Hendrix. 20 April 2004. Link.
Jimi Hendrix. VH1. 20 April 2004.
Markel, Rita J. Jimi Hendrix. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Company, 2001.