The Hendrix legacy has endured and it could be said it almost eclipses pretty much every guitarist to have come along since. He experimented with feedback and effects which challenged conventional approaches to playing the guitar and his blues inspired riffs led the way for hard rock and heavy metal. Redefining what it is to play the electric guitar itself:
“Musically, Hendrix did much to further the development of the electric guitar’s repertoire, establishing it as a unique sonic source, rather than merely an amplified version of the acoustic guitar. Likewise, his feedback, wah-wah and fuzz-laden soloing moved guitar distortion well beyond mere novelty, incorporating other effects pedals and units specifically designed for him.” – Wikipedia
Often Hendrix’s flashy persona took the limelight, but it must never be forgotten how talented a musician, writer and producer he was:
“His frequent hurricane blasts of noise and dazzling showmanship — he could and would play behind his back and with his teeth and set his guitar on fire — has sometimes obscured his considerable gifts as a songwriter, singer, and master of a gamut of blues, R&B, and rock styles.” – All Music Guide
Born in Seattle in 1942, he had a difficult childhood, often living in the care of relatives and even sometimes acquaintances. His mother, Lucille, only 17-years-old when Hendrix was born had a stormy relationship with his father, Al. Eventually his mother left the family after having two more children with his father. Hendrix only saw his mother occasionally before her death in 1958.
It seems music acted as a sanctuary for Hendrix. He taught himself to play guitar inspired by the blues music of which he was an avid fan. When he was 14, Hendrix saw Elvis Presley perform. Inspired by this he got his first electric guitar the following year. In 1959, Hendrix dropped out of high school. He worked odd jobs while continuing to follow his musical aspirations. Unfortunately after this he came unstuck with the law and wound up doing a stint in the U.S. army to avoid jail. Finally freed from his military obligations after a year, he focused on music full time.
With a renewed focus he tried his luck around Tennessee, playing in the backing bands for many Blues, R & B and Soul stars including Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. Spending all this time in Nashville and in the other cities on the famous “Chitlin’ Circuit” established him and his talents. Then in January 1964 he made the move to New York City, winning a talent contest at the Apollo Theatre within a month. This appeared to be the beak he was looking for and it landed him a gig playing lead guitar for the Isley Brothers and led not only to touring, but work with Little Richard and King Curtis. Hendrix was later quoted as saying “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.”
To be continued in Part 2....