Born November 27, 1942, James Marshall Hendrix was born the first born son of James Allen Hendrix (himself born with six fingers on each hand) and Lucille Jeter in Seattle, WA, the same city that later spawned Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Working through a challenging childhood bracketed by poverty, domestic turmoil (sometimes hiding in a closet to avoid his parents fighting, and he had stints in foster care) and not seeing his father until he was three thanks to the World War 2 draft, the man who would come to be known as Jimi Hendrix got his first guitar at age 15, bought for $5 from a friend of his father.
Practicing several hours a day, listening to records, asking for tips from experienced players he encountered and trying to watch others play, Hendrix honed his desire into talent. His first paid performance was in the basement of a synagogue, but played so wildly he was fired in between sets. He never graduated from Seattle's Garfield High School, either for holding hands with a white girl (his story) or for poor grades and attendance (the school's story).
His wild streak ended up bringing Hendrix before a judge, who offered prison or military service, leading one of the world's greatest guitarists to be able to say he served with the 101st Airborne Division (despite being called "subpar" for sleeping on duty, ignoring rules, being a bad shot and always needing supervision). However, he met his friend, bass player Billy Cox while in the military and that association followed him out of the Army. He started building a repetoire of antics — playing with his teeth after seeing Butch Snipes and Alphonso "Baby Boo" Young do it, et cetera — building his reputation on the "chitlin circuit" until he broke through, winning the Apollo Theater amateur contest in February of 1964, which led to a spot playing with the Isley Brothers, then with Little Richard ("I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice"). Things really took off when the girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards took a liking to Hendrix' music and referred him to Animals bassist Chas Chandler. Chandler thought a song called "Hey Joe" could be a hit for the right guy, and gave it to Hendrix, also suggesting to change the spelling of his first name and helping form the band called The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
"Purple Haze" followed, leading to the album Are You Experienced? and the legend was founded. The Experience toured heavily in Europe with Hendrix' extreme showmanship continuing to confound and delight. Paul McCartney told the organizers of the Monterey International Pop Festival that Hendrix would be a good addition, and … well …
Despite international fame, great acclaim and financial success, the Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up after a tear gas incident marred a concert in 1969. Hendrix went on to play Woodstock with a number of old friends supporting him. He went on to play for a staggering two hours at Woodstock …
… in a set that is still spoken of in hushed whispers by many music fans. Hendrix continued to tour and record, playing a session for Eric Burdon's group War just a day before he died, September 18, 1970 after taking nine of his girlfriend's prescription Belgian sleeping pills. Some say that an emergency trachaeotomy by the physician on scene, Dr. John Bannister, could have saved Hendrix from asphyxiating on his own red wine vomit, but that kind of conjecture won't play another note.
A virtual poster child for the idea of being "Komplicated," Hendrix tried to follow his passion to escape his demons and his challenges. He was born sixty nine years ago as of Sunday, and we salute his spirit, his body of work and the legend he formed through sheer force of will. In the words of our ancestors, anedge hirak Jimi Hendrix, and thank you.