Ask any modern day guitarist for a list of influences, and it's a good bet that Jimi Hendrix and his influential psychedelic approach to the electric axe is high among those. Widely acknowledged as one of the most daring and inventive virtuosos in rock history, Hendrix pioneered the electric guitar (he played a right-handed Fender Strat upside-down and left-handed) as an electronic sound source capable of feedback, distortion, and a host of other effects that could be crafted into an articulate and fluid emotional vocabulary.
Born James Marshall Hendrix in 1942, Hendrix taught himself to play the guitar during his schooldays in Seattle, drawing influences from blues greats like B.B. King and Robert Johnson. He left home to enlist in the Army, where he served as a parachute jumper until an injury led to his discharge. Hendrix began working as a session guitarist under the name Jimmy James, supporting such marquee acts as Sam Cooke, Ike and Tina Turner and the Isley Brothers. After gigging extensively with Little Richard in 1964, Hendrix became entangled in a contract dispute with the mercurial artist and left to form his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.
After playing Greenwich Village coffeehouses for the better part of a year, Hendrix met Chas Chandler, of Animals fame, at a New York club. Impressed with his playing, Chandler, who was then looking to switch gears to management, took Hendrix to London in the fall of 1966 and masterminded the creation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Backed by Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, the Experience offered Hendrix the wide-open rock-and-roll format he needed to exercise his dazzling skills as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter.
Hendrix's first single, "Hey, Joe," a cover of a song written by the L.A. band the Leaves, hit the U.K. charts in early 1967, followed in quick succession by "Purple Haze," "The Wind Cries Mary," and the trio's debut album Are You Experienced?, which featured those tracks and the Hendrix staples "Foxy Lady" and "Manic Depression." Are You Experienced? broke through Stateside after a defining moment at the famed Monterey Pop Festival, when the notoriously outlandish frontman created a sensation by coaxing flames from his Strat during the band's performance.
Throughout the next year, Hendrix's electric psychedelia peaked with two albums, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. But the Experience at the top didn't last long, disbanding in 1969.
In the summer of '69, Hendrix played Woodstock with an informal ensemble called the Electric Sky Church, in a performance highlighted by another career-defining moment: a startling, renegade rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." Hendrix subsequently formed the Band of Gypsies, with old army friend Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles (Electric Flag) on drums.
Hendrix brought Mitch Mitchell back into the fold in mid-1970 to begin work on a new double album. Several tracks were recorded for the project, but the sessions were sandwiched between tour dates, and, sadly, the album was left unfinished when Hendrix died September 18, 1970.
In 1994, MCA released three Hendrix thematic compilations, one (Jimi Hendrix: Blues) devoted to blues, one (Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock) to his Woodstock performance, and a third (Voodoo Soup) that represented an attempt to posthumously recreate Hendrix's unfinished studio album. Despite these transgressions against his nearly faultless musical legacy, Hendrix's innovations and soul live on in the playing of every rock-and-roll guitarist.