Bold as Love
He went from backup musician to groundbreaking rock star in just a few years before tragic death in 1970 at the age of 27. Here, to mark Jimi Hendrix's birthday, are 20 surprising facts about the guitar legend.
His Real Name Is John
He was born John Allen Hendrix, on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, but when he was 4 his parents changed his name to James. It wasn't until 1966 that Hendrix became known as Jimi because his manager thought it sounded more exotic.
He Never Took a Lesson
Hendrix taught himself to play, first on a ukulele and then on a guitar. He couldn't read music. Yet he's No. 1 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 all-time greatest guitarists.
He Preferred to Play Upside-Down
Because he was left-handed, Hendrix played a right-handed guitar upside down. Yes, even after he'd owned guitars that were designed for a lefty.
He Joined the Army at 19
It was either that or go to jail for boosting cars. Jimi became a member of the prestigious Screaming Eagles paratrooper squad of the 101st Airborne Division, but the military wasn't for him. "It is my opinion that Private Hendrix will never come up to the standards required of a soldier," wrote a superior. He was granted an honorable discharge afterless than a year in the service.
His First Band Was in the Army
That's where he met bass player Billy Cox. They jammed together at base clubs on the weekends under the band name the Casuals. Cox went on to play with Jimi professionally. He's the only surviving member of any of Hendrix's bands.
He Worked as a Backup Musician
Hendrix played guitar for Wilson Pickett (seen here), Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers and Little Richard, among others. In 1964, he moved from Tennessee to Harlem to break out on his own. That same year he won first prize at an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater.
The Stones' Manager Rejected Him
In 1966, Keith Richards' girlfriend Linda Keith introduced Hendrix to Andrew Loog Oldham, but the Rolling Stones manager wasn't impressed with him. Linda then brought the American guitarist to Chas Chandler, the original bass player for the Animals. Chandler liked what he heard and signed on as Jimi's manager.
He Jammed With Cream
In 1966, Hendrix and Eric Clapton met at a college theater in London, where the legendary power trio Cream (from left, Jack Bruce, Clapton and Ginger Baker) was about to perform. The band invited Hendrix to join them in a set. Afterward, Clapton said, "He walked off, and my life was never the same again."
He Got "Experienced" in the U.K.
His band the Jimi Hendrix Experience got its start in London in September 1966, and its first two singles, "Hey Joe" and "Purple Haze," were Top 10 hits on the British charts. That led to the band's 1967 debut album, "Are You Experienced." By then, America had taken notice.
Paul McCartney Played a Part in His Breakthrough at Monterey Pop
Blown away by Hendrix's live performance of the title track of "Sgt. Pepper," Paul McCartney approached the organizers of the Monterey Pop Festival and insisted that his band be added to the lineup. At the end of his set, Hendrix lit his guitar on fire, creating one of rock and roll's most iconic moments.
He Opened for the Monkees
Around the time of Monterey Pop, Hendrix agreed to tour with the Monkees to get more exposure, but things went wrong from the start. The young girls who adored the band they knew from TV were baffled by Hendrix, and he didn't get them either. On the eighth of a scheduled 29 tour dates, he threw down his guitar and quit the tour.
He never had a No. 1 hit
That may seem surprising, but Hendrix isn't the only legendary performer who never reached the top the charts. Bob Dylan hasn't had a No. 1 hit either (though "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Rainy Day Women" both made it to No. 2). The same goes for The Who, Led Zeppelin and even Bruce Springsteen.
His Only Top 40 Hit Was a Cover
Hendrix's rendition of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," from the 1968 album "Electric Ladyland," was the guitarist's best-selling single. It peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Dylan later wrote that the song that "ever since [Hendrix] died, I've been doing it [his] way."
He Closed Woodstock—and Was Well Paid for It
The guitar legend performed his famous version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at 8 a.m. on the final day of the 1969 summer music festival. The event had gone long—"Three Days of Peace and Music" was turning into four—and the crowd of nearly 400,000 had dwindled to about a tenth of that. Even so, Hendrix was Woodstock's highest-paid performer, receiving $18,000 for his set.
He Hung Out With Miles Davis
The two would occasionally jam together at Hendrix's apartment in New York. They planned on recording together but never managed to arrange a session, partly because of Davis's demand for advance payment. Interestingly, Jimi and Miles once sent a telegram to Paul McCartney asking him to join them in the studio, but the Beatle was on vacation at the time.
He Had Children
It's almost certain that Hendrix is the father of at least two children from separate relationships. One is James Sundquist, the other Tamika Hendrix. Swedish courts have recognized James as Jimi's son, but Tamika's relationship to Hendrix was never officially confirmed, even though she bears his name.
He Wrote a Screenplay
It's called "Moon Dust." The protagonist, known as the Powerful Sound King, is based on Hendrix himself. Other characters in the screenplay were based on a 1966 Spiderman comic book, "Birth of a Superhero."
He's a Charter Member of the 27 Club
Hendrix was 27 when he died of asphyxia while high on barbiturates in a London hotel in September 1970—the same age as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and a number of other musicians who sadly belong to the "club."
He's on a Stamp
The U.S. Postal Service issued a Jimi Hendrix commemorative stamp in 2014. It was appropriately psychedelic in design and featured Hendrix playing guitar in his trademark military jacket and scarf. A Janis Joplin stamp was issued a few months later.
He Kept Making Money
When he died, Hendrix had an estimated net worth of about $5 million. Today his estate is worth roughly $175 million. Because he had no will, his estate went to his father, Al Hendrix, who died in 2002 and left everything to an adopted daughter.
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