As his mainstream career spanned roughly only 4 years, something can be said for the fact that he was the right man at the right time and in the right place in the socio-cultural explosion of the late 1960s.
His early sixties performing career consisted mostly of the chitlin’ circuit between Clarksville and Nashville in Eastern Tennessee, backing start-ups like Little Richard, Curtis Knight, Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke and even an occasional gig with Roy Orbison. Early 1964 he found himself in the New York Village scene, where his girlfriend Faye got him a number of introductions, one of which got him to play with the Isley Brothers Band. His big break however came in a round about way, when he made it over to London, where he bedazzled the blues rock scene led by the then Superstars likes of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page and became an overnight success.
And strange as life’s dominos fall, this London based admiration in turn created a coincidence in 1967, when The Beatles turned down an offer to play Monterey Pop – as they were no longer playing live shows – but all fab four contributed act recommendations as part of the show’s board of directors. George Harrison recommended Ravi Shankar to play the festival, and Paul McCartney suggested they bring on a young, unknown in the U.S. Jimi Hendrix, who was supposed to be pretty good at guitar.
The Monterey Pop Festival put Jimi on the map in America, so much actually that 2 years later he was the highest paid act at the legendary Woodstock Festival.
There is not a lot of new stuff to be said about Jimi Hendrix, but he was arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music. He understood all the techniques, the fretboard and the caging systems and managed to “write” leads that were literally out of this world.
For anyone who has picked up a guitar in their early teens, it is pure wonder how in a timespan of 12 year, this kid learned to play the instrument, and music theory the way he did and become the most heralded and influential rock musician in history.
During his short life Jimi was enigmatic; his mother passed already in 1958 when young Jimi was just 15, that was the year he started playing guitar. On February 1, she was found unconscious in the alley beside the tavern she often went to, and she was taken to a hospital again and died a few hours later from a ruptured spleen. She had been hospitalized twice for cirrhosis of the liver, and was hospitalized again in mid-January of that year with hepatitis. He had four known siblings, two sisters, Pamela and Kathy, both severely handicapped and two brothers who went to foster homes from birth.
During these wild days in London Jimi dated a string of rock and roll socialites such as French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot, Janis Joplin, Linda Keith, Mary Hudson, Monika Dannemann, Pamela Des Barres, Uschi Obermaier, Devon Wilson, Linda McCartney, Kathy Etchingham, Cynthia Plaster, Linda Lewis, and Jo Jo Laine. Even though he was never married as far as records go, it is pretty much proven that he fathered two children, Tamika Laurence James born in 1966 and James Daniel Sundqvist born in 1969. It is also rumored that there is a 3rd child, a daughter, whose identity is kept a secret.
Predicted his own death
Two years before he released his groundbreaking debut album ‘Are You Experienced,’ Jimi Hendrix recorded a self-mythologizing song called ‘The Ballad of Jimi’ that not only elevated the subject of the song (some dude named Jimi) to a sort of heroic status, it also predicted his death.
The slow, bluesy cut — which Hendrix recorded with R&B artist Curtis Knight — never showed up on an album, but fans are more than aware of it, especially since the song is “dedicated to the memory of . . . Jimi.” Lines like ”Many things he would try / For he knew soon he’d die,” ”Now Jimi’s gone, he’s not alone / His memory still lives on” and ”Five years, this he said / He’s not gone, he’s just dead” weirdly predict the legend’s death and legacy five years later.
As to his death. There are too many controversial stories going around, but here is the simple truth about Jimi’s tragic death:
The autopsy showed Jimi’s system contained nine sleeping tablets of Vesparax, small traces of another barbiturate Seconal, and twenty milligrams of amphetamine. Contrary to some popular stories that have evolved since Jimi’s death, no needle marks or other signs of hard drugs were found. In fact, a leading forensic scientist said at the time, that the dose of sleeping pills was too low to be fatal in itself. The official cause of death rendered was “inhalation of vomit due to barbiturate intoxication”. He did not O.D. and there was NO heroin involved. Hendrix left the message ‘I need help bad man’, on his manager’s answering machine earlier that night of his death. Jimi was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Mary Abbot’s Hospital London after choking on his own vomit. It was September 18, 1970. Jimi was 27 years old.