Jimi Hendrix was an American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Although his mainstream career spanned only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as "arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15. In 1961, he left home and enlisted in the U.S. Army where he trained as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. While stationed at Fort Campbell, Jimi formed The King Casuals with bassist Billy Cox. He was granted an honorable discharge the following year due to an injury he received during a parachute jump. While in Clarksville, he rented a house and began playing gigs with Cox and their band. At the time, there was an active R&B scene here in the area of East Franklin St., and the guys walked to the former Pink Poodle to play. Other locations that he may have played in include the American Legion, The Elks Club and the Trane Union Hall.
While in Clarksville, Hendrix supposedly leased a $90 guitar from Collins Music Store for $10/month. (The guitar was displayed at the Collins store for years. The store itself was destroyed during a 1999 tornado, and our knowledge of the guitar ends at this point.) He ended up returning it when he and Cox moved to Nashville where they had more regular and better-paying gigs.
In Nashville, Hendrix began working as a session guitarist under the name Jimmy James. By the end of 1965, he had played with several marquee acts, including Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers, and Little Richard. Jimmy parted ways with Little Richard to form his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, shedding the role of back-line guitarist for the spotlight of lead guitar.
He moved to England in late 1966 after being discovered by Linda Keith. Within months, Hendrix had earned three UK top ten hits with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: Hey Joe, Purple Haze, and The Wind Cries Mary. He achieved fame in the U.S. after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and in 1968 his third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland, reached number one in the U.S.; it was Hendrix's most commercially successful release and his first and only number one album. The world's highest-paid performer, he headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 before his death on September 18, 1970, at age 27.
Hendrix was inspired musically by American rock and roll and electric blues. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone said: "Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source. Players before him had experimented with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began."
Hendrix was the recipient of several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Rolling Stone ranked the band's three studio albums, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland, among the 100 greatest albums of all time, and they ranked Hendrix as the greatest guitarist and the sixth greatest artist of all time.
Special thanks to Brian Bieniek for information used in this article.
Other Resources: "Becoming Jimi Hendrix, From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, The Untold Story of a Musical Genius" by Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber