Guitarist. Composer. Innovator. Areas that any Jimi Hendrix biography should address. All of these words describe Jimi Hendrix, but fail to do justice to his genius. There are few musicians in the 20th century who did as much to help redefine the role of their instrument as did Jimi Hendrix. Born in Seattle in 1942 as Johnny Allen Hendrix, his name was changed at the behest of his father to James Marshall Hendrix, and he would soon be known as Jimmy for the rest of his life (in one form or another).
His love of the the guitar was evident from a young age, with him often carrying a broom to simulate playing guitar. He eventually progressed from broom to ukeulele to acoustic guitar to, finally, electric guitar, his father reluctantly purchasing a 1957 Supro Ozark 1560S as Hendrix's first electric guitar.
When eventually stolen, the Supro would be replaced by a Silvertone Danelectro. And of course, by the mid 60s, Hendrix would adopt the Fender Stratocaster as his main guitar. Until his untimately death, Hendrix would be almost synonymous with the instrument that the left-handed guitarist played flipped upside down, a decision that many tone chasers have argued contributed to his distinctive tone.
Hendrix had played as a supporting artist and as a leader in a number of bands, but when he moved to London, it was the creation of the group that would be known as the Jimi Hendrix Experience that really put Hendrix on the musical map. In a relatively brief time, the group released "Are You Experienced?," "Axis: Bold as Love," and "Electric Ladyland." Hendrix's next group, Band of Gypsies, which would release only one album, the live recording of their performance at the Fillmore East, the eponymous "Band of Gypsies."
Put simply, Jimi Hendrix changed the face of the electric guitar forever. In addition to helping cement the Fender Stratocaster as one of the main choices for rock and blues guitarists and demonstrating its versatility and power, he made the Marshall Stack forever a symbol of the power of rock and roll.
Never afraid to experiment with technology, Hendrix readily embraced the new world of effects pedals, making them an integral part of his sound. Hendrix employed the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, Vox Wah Wah, and Tycobrahe Octavia as tools in his ever-widening sonic pallette.
He also took the sound of the guitar itself to places it had never been, with his jaw-dropping use of the vibrato bar, wild string bends, feedback control, and manipulation of the guitar as a malleable tool, whether it was played with the maestro’s teeth or set ablaze.
Remembered for such tunes as “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Purple Haze,” in this writer’s view, perhaps his most powerful contribution to the world of music as well as pop culture in general was his powerful rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock. Part homage, part irony, Hendrix’s masterful performance demonstrated his control of the instrument at every instance. Given the advances that have taken place in the last 40+ years in guitar and music technology, it’s astonishing to think of what Hendrix would have done had he lived longer than his 27 years.
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