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Why Jimi Hendrix loved the United Kingdom

If you’ve ever toiled away trying to learn your scales on a six-string, doubtless you’ve been in utter awe having listened to the unbound virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix. The gifted guitarist took the threads of rhythm and blues musicians of the 1950s and early ’60s and transformed them into his own heavier, overdriven and psychedelic sound. 

In his late teens, the Seattle-born musician began performing with his band, the Rocking Kings. In 1959, Hendrix dropped out of high school and worked odd jobs while continuing to follow his musical aspirations. After being caught twice riding in stolen cars in his late teens, Hendrix was given the choice of prison or joining the US Army. 

Choosing the Army as the logical way out, Hendrix was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Not long after his assignment, Hendrix wrote to his father: “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell. They work you to death, fussing and fighting.”

After passing his basic training, Hendrix was permitted a medical discharge after allegedly breaking his ankle during his 26th parachute jump. However, his medical discharge has never been confirmed by the Army, and his superior officers are known to have been critical of Hendrix’s passion for the Army. 

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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 success came when The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards referred him to Chris Chandler, who, at the time, was wrapping things up with The Animals with a new aspiration to manage and produce for artists. 

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, Hendrix spent much of his remaining life in the UK before his death in London’s Samarkand Hotel in 1970.

In an interview with Mouth Magazine back in 2018, Hendrix’s brother Leon recalled the reason why the late guitarist fell in love with the UK. “He loved England ‘cos it was like Seattle,” Leon opined. “It was like home. It was the same climate, y’know? And this is where all the music was. This is where all of his friends were – Eric Clapton, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, everybody…”

“After people played, they all went and jammed together,” he continued. “Like, when Jimi played a concert that was only the warm-up… After the concert, he was out and about lookin’ for somebody to play with and somebody’s studio to jam at. They’d just be jammin’ all night ’til, like, seven or eight in the morning. It was awesome.”

Watch Paul McCartney recall when Jimi Hendrix covered The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band’ in London during his recent Glastonbury set below.