H is for Hendrix

When Jimi Hendrix played a psychedelic version of The Star Spangled Banner at a muddy music festival called Woodstock in 1969 the moment became forever fixed in the imagery of the sixties along with B-52s raining bombs on the paddy fields.

The rendition was interpreted by some as an anti war statement but the guitar guru himself was more cryptic.

We're all Americans. . .it was like 'Go America!'. . .We play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static, see," he said.

Although his fiinale is interpreted as the highlight of Woodstock, the video of the time makes it clear the crowd wasn't large. Hendrix didn't like performing in front of massive crowds and pushed back his performance to early in the morning on day four. Even the effects of LSD can only fortify festival goers from the effects of mud, little food and overflowing toilets for so long. The crowd had thinned from about 400,000 people to a tenth of that number by the time Hendrix took to the stage.

Those who saw him felt they were part of history but still the American bombs and burning napalm fell on an obscure corner of South East Asia. Hendrix himself would be dead in just over a year.

Like Elvis who he idolized for a while, Jimi Hendrix grew up in abject poverty. It's impossible to do justice to him in a short blog posting.

The man who would later be acclaimed as the world's greatest electric guitarist was born in Seattle of African American, European and Native American ancestry. His upbringing in cheap hotels, sprinkled with acts of random violence and abuse reads like a Tennessee Williams play.

Hendrix went on to forge a reputation a as great guitarist and the wild man of the sixties. Hendrix made his name in London where he hobnobbed with the Beatles and the Stones and formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Hendrix made a mark with his distinctive fashion sense and his party piece of smashing up his guitar and setting fire to it at the end of his performances.

Hendrix's death proved that sinister things happen in Notting Hill as well as fop haired idiots who run bookshops falling for humorless American actresses. Jimi Hendrix died in the Notting Hill flat of then girlfriend Monika Dannemann on September 18, 1970.

Although Hendrix was known to take psychedelic drugs it appears he had taken nine of his girlfriend's sleeping pills not realizing they were a very strong Belgian brand. It seems Belgium was to blame for the death of the world's greatest electric guitarist as well as the brutality of the Congo.

Numerous conspiracy theories fly about Hendrix's death. The doctor who attended him was later reprimanded for medical malpractice. He reported the presence of red wine that was inconsistent with the autopsy. Monika Dannemann was accused of failing to treat him and another book said a former manager plotted his death because Hendrix was about to pull out of a contract.

Dannemann committed suicide in the 1990s after she was found guilty of contempt of court for repeating a libel against Kathy Etchingham, who had been a girlfriend of Hendrix in the 1960s.

Sadly the Jimi Hendrix experience did not end up well for anybody, but at least his distinctive sound remains as a legacy to an era that seems so fast moving at times, it was very easy to fall out of it. Hendrix must be one of the few people to have a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and a blue plaque from English Heritage in London.

Curious fact about Jimi Hendrix - his father had six fingers on both hands.


  1. I remember reading a Hendrix bio...wow, probably around twenty years ago. What you said about it being similar to a Tennessee Williams play is right on the money. Of course now that I know that his father had six fingers on each hand, this will probably be one of the factoids about his story that I remember well. :)

  2. He certainly left a name for himself. His influences are boundless.

    Saw some of his clothes at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...I was surprised how small he was.

  3. Nice pick for H. Hendrix is truly a rock n' roll icon.

  4. Great post, David. All these facts about Hendrix I find curious. Nine sleeping pills? I mean, even if taking an ordinary low dose pill, 9 of anything doesn't seem like a very good idea. Poor Jimi.

  5. I learn a lot from these music pieces you have been doing for A to Z, David. You do these very well. Nice post!

  6. I'm not very familiar with his music. I need to change that immediately. This is a great post, David. Perfectly written and fascinating, as always!

  7. I went to see Jimi's grave up in Renton, when I was still living in Washington. It's pretty cool. So are the Hendrix displays at Experience Music Project in Seattle. I share a b-day w/ Jimi.

  8. 1970 - someone put earphones on my head and I heard Jimi's "All Along the Watchtower". I was blown away although I usually only listen to classical music. Just read "Ronnie" (Wood)'s autobiography - great times - and what a surprisingly good artist (painting) he is. Amazing fact: he kept 40 guitars in the US and 40 in Europe for their amazing world tours. Good friend of Hendrix.

  9. lol Tracy - you don't forget the six fingers thing in a hurry. Thought you'd be a fan Scots Lass. That's interesting Vodka - he looks quite large in the vids.

  10. total icon Tim. Now I come to think of it good pont re nine, Jayne. Glad to hear it Daisy.

  11. thax so much Jen - I think you would be interested. Cool Jo Jo - if I ever get to Seattle I am visiting. That;s fiftyodd, great info


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