“There’s an energy to Jimi Hendrix that you won’t find elsewhere… technical prowess with a grin-and-shrug attitude, a style of cool that infects anyone in range. His fluid sound is admittedly smooth for how much it rolls and crashes like waves. The man was capable of making his guitar conjure up anything.”—Jake Kilroy, Consequence of Sound
Jimi Hendrix doesn’t need much introduction, but here we go anyway. Despite his relatively short career, he’s often considered one of, if not the greatest guitarist of all time. Hendrix thrilled audiences in America and across the pond, offering innovative musicianship that always made him stand out, even when surrounded by other rock gods. Here are 42 electric facts about Jimi Hendrix.
42. Gone Too Soon
Hendrix is a tragic member of the 27 Club, the colloquial name for artists who died when they were 27. Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Brian Jones all died at 27, with each death separated by less than two years.
Hendrix was found dead on Friday, September 18th, 1970, while staying with his girlfriend in London. His death is attributed to a drug called Vesparax, a barbiturate. It’s suspected that Hendrix might have had up to nine pills, instead of the recommended half tablet.
41. Ode to Love
Hendrix wasn’t particularly close to either of his parents. He lived with his father, Al Hendrix in his early years. It’s said that Al cared for his son, but “not greatly.” Meanwhile, he barely got the chance to know his mother, but he loved her all the same. When his parents divorced, his father got custody of Hendrix and his brother, and his mother then passed when Jimi was just fifteen. She is the subject of two of his songs, “Little Wing” and “Angel.”
40. Semper Fi
After police caught Hendrix joyriding twice, he was given a choice—go to prison or join the army. He chose the latter and enlisted on May 31, 1961. Though Hendrix went through eight weeks of training for the 101st Airborne Division, he wasn’t cut out for the army. While he’d later say he received a medical discharge after he broke his ankle, in truth his superiors didn’t think he was military material, and they eventually got him an honorable discharge on the basis of unsuitability.
39. Start of Something Special
Although Hendrix’s father might not have cared that much, Mr. Hendrix was the one to get Jimi his first guitar when he was fifteen, after years of denying his son the instrument. The world thanks you, Mr. Hendrix.
38. Across the Pond
Hendrix initially had a hard time building an audience in the US. His music was heavily inspired by the Delta and Chicago Blues, which were more popular in the UK, with musicians such as Jimmy Paige and Eric Clapton.
Hendrix got a lucky break when Keith Richard’s girlfriend, Linda Keith, persuaded English bassist Chas Chandler to watch Hendrix play at Café Wha? in New York City. Chandler saw Hendrix’s talent, and soon the future rock god was heading to England with Chandler’s band, the Animals.
37. Alternative Facts
When Hendrix first arrived in London with the Animals, he didn’t have a work permit. Tony Garland, who met the band upon their arrival, filled out Hendrix’s custom forms and said that he was a famous American star coming back to get his royalties. Well, that would eventually be true, at least.
36. Light in Darkness
Hendrix didn’t see combat while in the army, but he did meet bassist Billy Cox. Cox would eventually serve as a member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and he was on stage with Hendrix for his final series of concerts.
35. Close Enough
Keith Altham, a member of the Animals’ entourage, alleges that Hendrix’s record deal was hastily written on a napkin. Studio executive Kit Lambert, the Who’s manager, heard Hendrix play at the Bag O’Nails and immediately knew he had to sign the young musician.
Hendrix wasn’t a fan of Led Zeppelin, due to their tendency to use riffs and samples from songs without crediting the original artists—though to be fair, he died before even Led Zeppelin III had been released. However, Hendrix allegedly tried to recruit Zeppelin’s drummer, John Bonham, though his efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful.
33. So Hot Right Now
Hendrix’s band had their first tour as an opening act for Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck. The crew were thinking of ways to one-up the other acts when Altham allegedly said, “It’s a pity you can’t set fire to your guitar.” That night, Hendrix borrowed a lighter and did just that. When a security guard asked him why he was waving the guitar around above his head, Hendrix said it was because “he was trying to put it out.” The act only happened three more times, but it became a Hendrix trademark.
32. Behind Every Great Man…
Hendrix performed with several different guitars, which included Fenders and Gibsons. However, his signature guitar was a white Stratocaster that he bought in the summer of 1966 with the help of his girlfriend—though his favorite was a black Strat that he bought in ’68.
31. Special Delivery
In July 2018, Congressman Adam Smith introduced Bill H.R.6628, which aims to name a post office after Jimi Hendrix. The post office is located on the same street Hendrix grew up on, Northeast 4th Street in Renton, Washington. The bill received unanimous support from all Washington representatives and became law in December 2018.
30. Mi Casa…
Handel House Museum began hosting a Hendrix in London exhibit back in 2010, which features a walkthrough of Hendrix’s London flat at 23 Brook Street.
Hendrix’s original legal name was Johnny Allen Hendrix. Jimi’s father, James “Al” Hendrix, later changed his son’s same to James Marshall Hendrix. It was Animal’s bassist Chas Chandler that gave James the name “Jimi.”
28. Home is Where the Heart Is
According to Tappy Wright, a roadie with the Animals, Hendrix always wanted to be buried in London.
Hendrix was buried in Seattle, but Wright and “plenty of people” argue that Hendrix viewed London as his real home, as all of his success came during the years he spent living in the city.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first single was “Hey Joe,” a song that was first copyrighted by Billy Roberts in 1962 (though the true origins of the tune remain unclear to this day). Hendrix eventually recorded what’s by far the most popular version, and it spent ten weeks on the UK charts.
26. Nap Time
Although Hendrix was given an honorable discharge from the military, he wasn’t a model soldier, at least according to military reports: “Individual is unable to conform to military rules and regulations. Misses bed check: sleeps while supposed to be working: unsatisfactory duty performance.”
25. Close Enough
Hendrix’s dad noticed his son’s love of music early on, since Jimi would pretend his broom was a guitar. When Mr. Hendrix came home to find broom straws all over Jimi’s floor, he soon realized his son was playing the broom. Prior to getting Jimi an acoustic guitar in 1958, Mr. Hendrix got Jimi a one-string ukulele. Hey, it’s a start.
Hendrix was left-handed, but most of his guitars were right-handed. However, while his righty guitars may have looked like they were upside down, he still strung them like left handed-guitars, with the low E string on the top and the high E at the bottom. This unique setup is part of what gave Hendrix a sound that’s completely his own.
Some of Hendrix’s most popular songs were inspired by his dreams. “Purple Haze” came from a dream Hendrix had where he was walking under the sea.
22. Late Bloomer
Hendrix began playing in bands when he was thirteen, but his bandmates didn’t think the teenaged Hendrix would be a big success. The young Jimi was shy and didn’t demonstrate the playing skill or creativity that he would later be known for. Practice makes perfect.
21. Rhythm and Blues
Hendrix cited Muddy Waters as his greatest musical influence. While greats like Buddy Holly and BB King were also inspirations, Waters was the first musician to make Hendrix truly appreciate the guitar. In Hendrix’s own words, Waters scared him, “because I heard all these sounds.”
20. In the Shadow
Prior to making a name for himself as a frontman, Hendrix served as a backup guitarist for a host of musicians, under the name Jimmy James. Hendrix’s resume includes playing for Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Tina Turner, and the Isley Brothers.
Hendrix referred to his music as “electric church,” dubbing it a religion. Hendrix’s belief is honored today at Seattle’s Museum of Popular Culture, where a room is named the Sky Church. The Sky Church is a hall inspired by Hendrix’s idea that people with different backgrounds could be linked through music.
18. Aging Well
2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Electric Ladyland, the album that featured hits such as “All Along the Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child.”
To commemorate, Legacy Records released a deluxe edition that includes acoustic demos for many of the album’s songs.
While Bob Dylan’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” never charted on the Billboard top 100, Hendrix’s version reached number 20 and became Hendrix’s highest charting single in the US. Dylan has praised Hendrix’s work, “it overwhelmed me…such talent.” Hendrix was a big fan of Dylan, with particular respect for Dylan’s writing skills. Hendrix initially thought of covering “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” but changed his mind.
16. Taking a Dip
Hendrix once tried his hand at water-skiing, and according to Jon Roberts’ account in the book American Desperado, it did not go well. Hendrix fell off his skis and ended up thrashing in the water without a life-jacket on, so much so that Roberts recalled: “suddenly I’m wondering if he can even swim.” Roberts didn’t give a lot of detail, but we do at least know that Hendrix survived the ordeal.
15. The Language of Music
One of Hendrix’s most notable party tricks was playing the guitar with his teeth, which is what impressed the Animals when they saw him play in the US. Hendrix learned the trick from watching fellow Seattle musician Butch Snipes.
14. For the Gram
Hendrix never won a Grammy during his career, but he did receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992. About time.
13. Two for One
Part of the reason for Hendrix’s popularity, despite his short career, was his work rate. The Jimi Hendrix Experience only put out three albums, but they released them all in just two years. Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love were released in 1967, and Electric Ladyland was released in 1968.
Hendrix is credited with popularizing the use of pedals for the electric guitar, like the iconic wah-wah and Octavia guitar pedals you can hear in songs such as “Voodoo Child.” According to inventor Roger Mayer, artists like Jimmy Paige were reluctant to embrace the new technology, but Hendrix was eager to give the pedals a go.
11. MC Hendrix
Hendrix’s influence on rock—and metal as a result—is widely recognized, but he contributed to many other genres as well. The song “Are You Experienced” features one of the first instances of a record scratch by a musician, years before it became a staple in hip-hop and electronic music, while “Doriella Du Fontaine,” a thirteen-minute spoken word piece (performed with poet Jalal Mansur Nuriddin) delves into rap stylings, paving the way for later artists.
Hendrix is suspected of having two children, though neither have been confirmed. One child is Swede James Sundquist, whose link to Hendrix was affirmed by Swedish courts in 1975. This declaration came despite the fact that no blood sample was available from Jimi; a more decisive test would require an exhumation of the body. It’s also suspected that Tamika Hendrix is one of Jimi’s children, but no DNA testing has proved her connection to the musician either. US courts have still not recognized any heirs to Hendrix’s estate aside from his father, Al.
Hendrix samples have been used by many R&B and hip-hop artists. Method Man and Redman sampled “Purple Haze” for “How High” and Hendrix’s “Fire” was sampled for a Lupe Fiasco song of the same name. Drake’s first headlining tour, “Light Dreams and Nightmares,” was also influenced by Hendrix’s “music and his vibe…it’s very psychedelic.”
8. Bridging the Gap
The Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed by Animals bassist, Chas Chandler, with two white musicians accompanying Hendrix. Hendrix went through a phase of trying to appeal more to black audiences, since they originally viewed him as making white people’s music. Songs such as “Doriella Du Fontaine” were made in an attempt to appeal to black audiences, but Hendrix eventually returned to his original band and decided to show audiences that “music is universal.” Hendrix got black audiences more interested in rock, bridging the gap from the soul and blues that black audiences typically listened to.
7. Spawn of Satan
Jimi might have excelled as a left-handed guitar player, but his dad wasn’t a big fan. James “Al” Hendrix allegedly viewed left-handednesses as a sign of the devil. Maybe Lucifer would have been fooled by Jimi’s right-handed guitars?
Hendrix traveled light for his first trip to London in 1966—he arrived with his guitar, pink plastic hair curlers, a change of clothes, and Valderma cream for his acne.
5. In Tune
In a 1969 interview, Hendrix did not hesitate to admit he couldn’t read music at all. Hendrix played solely by ear and would often use colors or words to express what he was trying to convey with his music.
4. Shredding in Heaven
Hendrix’s Seattle headstone actually features a depiction of his Fender Stratocaster. However, the artist’s depiction has the guitar right-side up, instead of upside down, as Hendrix played it.
3. Random Ransom
Following a show in Greenwich Village, Hendrix was kidnapped and held hostage in a Manhattan apartment. According to Charles Cross’s Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, Hendrix left with a fan to get some drugs and ended up as a hostage for two days. The kidnappers demanded that Hendrix’s manager, Michael Jeffrey, hand over Jimi’s contract. Instead, Jeffrey hired some people to find Jimi, who found him unharmed. Some theories also claim Jeffrey arranged for Hendrix to be kidnapped in order to end a contract dispute.
2. Hello From the Other Side
When Hendrix died, his friend, Eric Burdon of The Animals and War, quickly scoured Hendrix’s apartment to remove any traces of drugs that the police might find. It was then that he discovered a poem Hendrix had written mere hours before his death, titled “The Story of Life.” Since Burdon had discussed death and suicide with Hendrix before, he assumed that the poem was a suicide note. Not long after, he appeared on the BBC to confirm that Hendrix had committed suicide. He would later recant this statement, saying “I made false statements…I simply didn’t understand what the situation was. I misread the note…I thought it was a goodbye.”
Tappy Wright has stated Hendrix would have lived longer if he had stayed with his previous girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham, who was reportedly the only woman he ever loved. The night before Jimi died, he was partying with Monika Dannemann, a German figure skater and painter. It was she who gave Hendrix the pills that killed him.
Sadly, the tragedy did not end there. Danneman took her own life in 1996 after she was found in contempt of court for repeating false allegations about Etchingham.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23