Sounds of Blackness: Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix is widely considered to be the greatest electric guitarist in history. Before being gifted with a guitar at the age of fifteen, Hendrix used a broom stick in place of the instrument that would later become his most beloved method of communication. Born Johnny Allen Hendrix in November 1942, the guitarist first appeared on "Testify" by the Isley Brothers band. The song didn't gain much traction, and Hendrix ended up parting ways with the act shortly thereafter to tour with Little Richard, one of his biggest influences, before disagreements over tardiness, clothing and Hendrix's wild stage presence brought that stint to an end.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed in 1966 after Linda Keith (girlfriend of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones) introduced him to Chas Chandler, who was winding down his time as the bassist for the Animals. Chandler loved "Hey Joe" and saw great potential in the eccentric Hendrix.

The band became known for performing songs like, "Purple Haze," which contained the line, "'excuse me while I kiss the sky," a line later flipped by Method Man and Redman for their track, "How High." The first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Are You Experienced, was issued on May 12, 1967. The release came on the heels of Hendrix famously setting his guitar on fire onstage during the Walker Brother's Farewell Tour just a few months prior.

The Experience played the Monterey International Pop Festival on the word of Paul McCartney, and it was there that Hendrix essentially reinvented himself with renditions of Howlin Wolf's R&B hit, "Killing Floor" and B.B. Kings, "Rock Me Baby." This performance garnered the band critical acclaim in the United States and resulted in much greater exposure.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience played its last show together as a band at Barry Fey's Denver Pop Festival in June 1969 that culminated in a dust up between fans and police during "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," that ended with the band fleeing to safety. Hendrix played a two-hour set at Woodstock later that year under the new moniker Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, after which he collapsed, reportedly from exhaustion.

Plagued by addiction, legal and female troubles, Hendrix died on September 18, 1970 in London. While his death was shrouded in mystery and vague accounts, one thing is certain: the mark he left on music cannot be denied. Whether through his fashion or his playing, Hendrix had a sizeable effect on the music world. His influenced can be felt today in the spirits of so many artists who followed, blazing their own lanes with innovation and creativity, everybody from Andre 3000 to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the list goes on and on.

February has traditionally been the month when the contributions, traditions, and historical facts about African Americans are celebrated the most. All month here at Backbeat in honor of Black History Month, we'll be celebrating an iconic music figure in the world of black music.

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Ru Johnson
Contact: Ru Johnson

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