There are few names in rock ‘n’ roll more iconic than Jimi Hendrix. The extraordinarily gifted guitarist shaped rock music from the 1950s and early ’60s rhythm and blues style championed by Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley into his own heavier and unique style. Not only was Jimi a true pioneer, but he is widely viewed as the greatest guitarist of all time.
Hendrix became the greatest guitarist of all time because he stepped outside of convention when teaching himself to play. He grew up under tough circumstances, born when his mother was just 17 years of age. Hendrix’s mother had a turbulent relationship with his father, Al, who eventually left home. Jimi spent more time with his father, Al, after the couple broke up rarely visiting his mother before her death in 1958. Al’s love for blues and rock ‘n’ roll rubbed off on Hendrix as he was encouraged to teach himself to play the guitar by listening to his father’s music and feeling out the notes. Jimi’s first electric guitar was a right-handed Supro Ozark that the natural lefty had to flip upside down to play.
Hendrix taught himself to play without learning to read music or sticking to the conventions of scale theory. This opened up the window for more diverse creativity as he spent hours on end improvising and practising novel riffs and licks. He began performing with his band, the Rocking Kings, in his late teens. In 1959, he dropped out of high school and worked odd jobs while continuing to follow his musical aspirations.
In 1961, Hendrix enlisted in the US Army as his father had done before him. He trained as a paratrooper, yet he still managed to spare some time for music and even formed a band called the King Kasuals. By 1962, Hendrix had been honourably discharged from the army after sustaining an injury following a parachute jump.
Following his short stint with the military, Hendrix began working as a session musician under the name Jimmy James backing the likes of Little Richard, B.B. King, Sam Cooke and the Isley Brothers. But it wasn’t until 1965, when he met The Animals bassist Chas Chandler, that his career truly began to take off. Chandler encouraged Hendrix to travel to London, where he met bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, with whom he formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
While in London, Hendrix built up quite the reputation amongst rock royalty, regularly rubbing shoulders with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. His mesmeric guitar style was unprecedented, and his energetic stage presence soon helped him become the rock icon we cherish.
Hendrix released his first hit single, ‘Hey Joe’, in 1967, marking the beginning of a three-year spell as one of the biggest singular rock stars in the world before his untimely death, aged 27 in 1970. One of the most memorable of his hit songs from an impressive three year run as a recording artist was a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’.
Listen to the classic track below as never before, with only the isolated guitar tracks audible.