Amplified Genius

A Guitar Hero Is Born – Jimi Hendrix the Early Years

by Tracy Falbe

Jimi Hendrix’s talent emerged from humble beginnings. On November 27, 1942 he was born in Seattle , Washington with the name Johnny Allen Hendrix. When his father, Al Hendrix, returned from World War II, he renamed his son James Marshall Hendrix because he disliked the original name given his son by the mother.

Poverty and the tragic alcoholism and suicide of Jimi Hendrix’s mother defined his early years. His father, although not always able to provide a stable home, was a mostly positive influence on his son. In 1959, Al bought Jimi his first guitar for $5 and he would continue to pay for subsequent guitars until his son achieved success. Hendrix’s father never discouraged his son from playing music. The chronic poverty of the Hendrix family could not look down its nose at a music career as a more successful family might. And Jimi Hendrix’s enthusiasm for music was obvious. He quickly decided that he preferred playing guitar with his left hand and he restrung his $5 guitar to accommodate his future trademark style. With a pile of his father’s blues records as guidance, Jimi listened to the records and taught himself to play the songs.

His creative mind was not limited to just mimicry. During his childhood and adolescence, Jimi Hendrix was attracted to art as well as music. He was known for drawing pictures of planets, stars, and various space scenes as he developed concepts that would later appear on his hit records. Art was the subject that held his attention the most once he was in high school, but he never excelled as a student.

By the time he was a teenager, he started playing in a band called the Rocking Kings. According to Jimi Hendrix, his first gig with the band earned him 35 cents! A tiny beginning for a man who would some day be the top-paid act at Woodstock where he earned $32,000 – three times the amount paid to any other act at Woodstock .

Jimi Hendrix never graduated high school. And shortly after dropping out, although he continued playing with the Rocking Kings that later changed into a band called Thomas and the Tomcats, he started getting into trouble with the law. With his life obviously on a no-good track, Jimi Hendrix chose to join the military. As was common in those days, he volunteered for the military instead of waiting to get drafted so that he could choose his assignment. He had dreamed of becoming a paratrooper and by enlisting he was able to go to jump school.

In May 1961, he started basic training and could not bring his guitar. After basic training, he went to jump school and trained with the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell , Kentucky . As Jimi Hendrix had aspired, he earned a place with the elite paratroop division known as the Screaming Eagles. He did well in the military by all accounts and enjoyed the thrill of parachuting.

On some jumps, Jimi Hendrix took a camera and shot photographs while falling through the air. He would often include these photographs in his letters home.

Although happy with his exciting experiences in jump school, Jimi Hendrix had not abandoned his beloved music. He wrote his father to send his guitar, which Al did in January 1962.

Jimi Hendrix and fellow paratrooper Billy Cox started jamming together, with Hendrix naturally on guitar and Cox on bass. They became close friends and formed a band. The rich musical culture of Kentucky and Tennessee offered Jimi Hendrix new inspirations and an enthusiastic audience.

Letters home from Jimi Hendrix indicate that he was proud of himself for becoming a Screaming Eagle and was willing to serve his country. During his training, however, he injured his back and was honorably discharged in the summer of 1962.

CONTINUE >> Marching To His Own Tune - Jimi Hendrix Gains Experience


Page 1 - A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix

Page 2 - A Guitar Hero Is Born - Jimi Hendrix the Early Years

Page 3 - Marching to His Own Tune - Jimi Hendrix Gains Experience

Page 4 - Rock-and-Roll Adventure - The Jimi Hendrix Experience Intensifies

Page 5 - Jimi Hendrix - Making Love With the Gods

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