Jimi Hendrix Biography
Jimi was not very popular in America at the outset of his musical career, only later gaining recognition after taking a trip to England with the Animals’ Chas Chandler, where he subsequently formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. While the Experience quickly became popular in England, they remained relatively unrecognized outside of the country. It was not until their performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in the States that the Experience became, quite literally overnight, one of the most popular bands of the era.
Hendrix was mostly self-taught on the guitar. He was ambidextrous but chose to play the guitar upside-down and re-strung for playing left-handed, which suggests he was more comfortable left-handed. As a guitarist, he built upon the innovations of blues stylists such as B.B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, T-Bone Walker, and Muddy Waters, as well as those of rhythm and blues and soul music guitarists such as Curtis Mayfield. Hendrix’s music was also influenced by jazz; he often cited Rahsaan Roland Kirk as his favorite musician. In addition, Hendrix extended the tradition of rock guitar: although previous guitarists, such as The Kinks’ Dave Davies, Jeff Beck, and The Who’s Pete Townshend, had employed techniques such as feedback, distortion and other effects as sonic tools, Hendrix was able to exploit them to a previously undreamed-of extent, and made them an integral part of his own private, unique genre, which he called “Red.”
Jimi’s father Al Hendrix is credited as the one who gave Jimi his first real guitar, and (less positively) for claiming posthumous copyright ownership to suppress the publication of, for example, a live collaboration album between Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Buddy Miles, & Johnny Winter. Earlier, the two would have jam sessions with Al on either bass or saxophone. As a record producer, Hendrix was an innovator in using the recording studio as an extension of his musical ideas. Hendrix was notably one of the first to experiment with stereo effects during the recording process. Hendrix was also an accomplished songwriter whose compositions have been performed by countless artists.
The controversial nature of Hendrix’s style is epitomized in the sentiments expressed about his rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner”, a tune he played violently and expressively, simulating sounds of war such as machine guns, bombs and screams, from his guitar. This impressionistic rendition has been described of by some as anti-American mockery and by others as a generation’s statement of the unrest in U.S., oddly symbolic of the beauty, spontaneity, and tragedy that was Hendrix’s life. When taken to task on the Dick Cavett Show of the “unorthodox” nature of his performance, Hendrix replied: “I thought it was beautiful”, greeted by applause from the audience. Rather, it was his latter-career live favorite “Machine Gun” which he intended as a protest song against war. The live rendition from the album “Band of Gypsys” is often considered one of the best guitar solos ever recorded.
The Hendrix sound combined high volume and high power, feedback manipulation, and a range of cutting-edge guitar effects, especially the UniVibe-Octavia combination, which can be heard to full effect on the Band of Gypsys’ live version of “Machine Gun.” He was also known for his trick playing, which included playing with only his right (fretting) hand, using his teeth or playing behind his back, although he soon grew tired of audience demands to perform these tricks.
While he may have dominated loud electric guitar, there was another side to Hendrix’s music. On songs such as Little Wing, Angel, and Castles made of Sand, he showcased his more gentle side with more emotional guitar playing and lyrics.
Another interesting fact is that Jimi Hendrix used Marshall Amps exclusively, bar a very short period during which he experimented with SUNN amps, later switching back. Jimi also modified his amps, having the roadies switch the caps for the High tone setting, which would produce the insane screeching feedback and that trademark Hendrix sound. It is said that Hendrix loved the British Marshall amps, which ran on 220V while the American Versions ran on 110V, which made the sound different. He also on occasion “enhanced” his sound by running his wah-wah pedal in the fully open position.
Jimi Hendrix helped to popularize several effects pedals, several of these being:
1. Fuzz Face Distortion Box (Or the Blackfinger Sustain Pedal when a fuzz face couldn’t be located, typically in England)
2. Univibe (which was used on “Machine Gun) (it was an effect that simulated a Leslie Speaker)
3. Several Wah Wah pedals, most notably the Vox Clyde McCoy model - slightly modded by his equipment tech
Contrary to what has been incorrectly reported, Jimi Hendrix never used an Echoplex during live situations.