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Black History Month


Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing a psychedelic symphony

Eight-year-old James Marshall Hendrix wanted so much to play the guitar to set his poems to music that he used a broom to strum out the rhythms in his head until he crafted a cigar box into his own "guitar."

Born in 1942 in Seattle, Wash., to an often-absent enlisted Army soldier and a teen-age mother, the young Hendrix was isolated and lonely but wildly creative.

He graduated from his cigar box guitar to a, ukulele until one day his father bought him a real guitar, an acoustic model.

The teen-age Hendrix taught himself to play by listening to recordings by famous blues and rock musicians. A southpaw, Hendrix simply turned his guitar upside-down to play left-handed. By the late 1950s, Hendrix was playing in local Seattle bands.

In 1959, Hendrix joined the Army, but he was injured in a parachuting accident in 1961. After his discharge, he hired himself out as a pickup guitarist by the name of Jimmy James, playing with musicians like Sam Cooke, B.B. King, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett and Ike and Tina Turner. He moved to New York in 1964 and played the club circuit.

A year later, Hendrix formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Chas Chandler of the Animals heard him play in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse and took Hendrix to London, helping him create a new group, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their first single, "Hey Joe," rose to No. 6 on the U.K. music charts in 1967, followed quickly by "Purple Haze" and a debut album, "Are You Experienced?"

Hendrix quickly became a superstar with his pioneering use of his Fender Stratocaster electric guitar as an electronic sound machine, turning feedback and squeals into a smooth-flowing, controlled, yet psychedelic symphony of sound.

Hendrix died in 1970, the victim of a drug overdose.

— By Emily L. Bell


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