I don’t think anyone would protest at the assertion that Jimi Hendrix was one of, if not the best guitarist of all time. He imbued guitar playing with a visceral edge and a swaggering style that remains highly influential today.
Iconoclastic in every sense of the word, Hendrix caught all the established guitarists of his day off guard, and after first seeing him play, everyone from Paul McCartney to Pete Townshend knew they had to step up.
It’s a testament to how pioneering Hendrix was that he managed to raise the level of all of his contemporaries, who also enjoy a revered status.
One of the most compelling things about Hendrix was that he wasn’t classically trained like many of his peers but was self-taught. Ironically, it was this that gave him his unmistakable style.
By proxy, through tearing up the rulebook, Hendrix showed to many that you do not have to follow the established route to musical success and that often, doing things your way is the key. However, hard work and dedication were what really powered Hendrix’s rise to the top. Given that he never learned to read music, he had to practice every day to get his craft to the levels we all love him for today.
As a young boy, it is well known that Hendrix’s home life was tumultuous, to say the least. Quite often, given the struggles of his childhood, Hendrix was required to live with his grandmother. Understandably, witnessing the breakdown of his parent’s marriage deeply affected the budding musician, and it would leave a lasting impact on him. In many ways, this period was the making of Jimi Hendrix.
During the mid-1950s, the young Hendrix would carry around a broom habitually, emulating a guitar. Catching the eye of the school’s social worker, she wrote a letter asking the school to fund their underprivileged children, claiming that Hendrix would endure further psychological damage if he didn’t get a guitar. However, her attempts failed, and Hendrix’s father also refused to buy him one.
Before too long, though, in 1957, Hendrix would finally get his hands on a stringed instrument, just not the one he wanted. In 1957, whilst in his teens, Hendrix was helping his father out with a job, cleaning garbage, and found a ukelele. Noticing Hendrix’s fascination with the tiny instrument, the woman who owned the house asked if he wanted to keep it, although it only had one string.
Hendrix learned his craft on the ukelele. He experimented with the pitch by turning the tuning peg for the singular string. He’d listen to songs by Elvis Presley on the radio and match the notes. Sometime later, aged 15, Hendrix would own his first guitar. He purchased an acoustic for five dollars and would pass the majority of his time by playing it. He’d also watch other veteran guitarists and learn from them, as well as listening to iconic bluesmen such as Muddy Waters and Elmore James.
Hendrix’s story is indicative of one key thing: we all have to start somewhere.