Jimi Hendrix was perhaps the most fluid and fearless electric guitarist of his time and has remained unrivalled since his death in 1970. The skilled stringman shaped rock music from the 1950s and early ’60s rhythm and blues style, pioneered by the likes of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, into his own heavier and psychedelic style. Not only was Hendrix a true virtuoso, but his underrated talent for songwriting was also commendable.
After a difficult childhood living with feuding parents in a poor household, Hendrix joined the US Army for a term before being discharged on medical terms after allegedly breaking his ankle during his 26th parachute jump. However, the Army has never confirmed his medical discharge, and Hendrix’s superior officers are known to have been critical of his passion for the military.
Throughout the early and mid-’60s, Hendrix became a session musician and even managed to secure a few gigs playing alongside Little Richard in his touring band, The Upsetters. While in Los Angeles in February 1965, he even joined Richard in the studio to record ‘I Don’t Know What You Got (But It’s Got Me)’, the only single of Richard’s to which he would ever contribute.
Despite this early exposure, Richard’s career prospects were already waning since his heyday of the ’50s; Hendrix’s career had yet to kick off to any significant degree. His ticket to fame and fortune came when The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards referred him to Chris Chandler, who, at the time, was wrapping things up with The Animals with newfound aspirations of managing and producing for rock groups.
In 1966, impressed with Hendrix’s early reworking of Billy Roberts’s ‘Hey Joe’, Chandler brought Hendrix to London, where he would go on to form his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Having fallen in love with London and the British music scene, Hendrix spent much of his remaining life in the UK before his death in London’s Samarkand Hotel in 1970.
In a revealing 1967 interview with British journalist Steve Barker, Hendrix identified The Who as one of his favourite contemporary acts and was asked for his opinion on the band’s “auto-destruction” habits. “We don’t really break anything onstage,” Hendrix said. “Only a few strings. Actually, we do anything we feel like. If we wanted to break something up, we would do it. There’s a lot of times in the past I have felt like that too.”
“But it isn’t just for show, and I can’t explain the feeling,” he continued. “It’s just like you want to let loose and do exactly what you want if your parents weren’t watching. I dig The Who. I like a lot of their songs!”
Not long after the interview, Hendrix’s performances began to include a great deal more “auto-destruction”, which included setting his guitar on fire on a couple of occasions.
Later in the interview, Hendrix also picked out The Byrds as one of his favourite groups from his homeland. The group, fronted by Roger McGuinn, were famous for their electric and more rock-centric covers of Bob Dylan hits – a footstep Hendrix would follow in 1968 with his rendition of ‘All Along the Watchtower’.
“The Byrds are pretty good too,” Hendrix told Steve Barker. “Though I know you don’t dig them over here [in the UK]. They’re on a different kick. I like them.”
In the late ’60s, Hendrix became well acquainted with McGuinn. The Byrds frontman recalled a jam session between himself, Hendrix and Eric Clapton in a 2016 interview with Classic Rock. “I also had the rare opportunity of jamming with Hendrix and Clapton in a loft in New York,” he revealed. “We were at a club somewhere. Eric came over and said: ‘Hey, I’ve got a loft nearby. Do you guys wanna come over and jam? I’ve got amplifiers up there.’”
Adding: “So the three of us went to Eric’s loft. It was wild. I remember we played all these old blues songs. Not really whole songs but a lot of riffs and licks. There was healthy competition between Clapton and Hendrix.”