Flashy, Raucous, Sad: The Jimi Hendrix Experience ; by the Age of 27 He Had Revolutionized Rock Music

By Wellington, Darryl Lorenzo | The Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 2005 | Go to article overview

Flashy, Raucous, Sad: The Jimi Hendrix Experience ; by the Age of 27 He Had Revolutionized Rock Music


Wellington, Darryl Lorenzo, The Christian Science Monitor


Fired by Little Richard. Fired by Ike and Tina Turner. Terminated by numerous now forgotten blues and rock bands.

You would think this was the resume of a second-rate back-up guitar player, but it's the precelebrity track record of no less than the late, great Jimi Hendrix.

Often hired and often fired. In the end the reason was always the same: Hendrix's guitar solos that became, as Ike Turner said "so elaborate they overstepped the bounds."

Yet those flashy, raucous, but elegant electric guitar solos would revolutionize rock music. They became Hendrix's trademark: colorful sounds that painted the anarchistic spirit of the late sixties. Hendrix described the sound he was reaching for as "electronic church music."

However, while he was relatively unknown, many fellow musicians described his performances - the sexual gyrations, the gimmicks, such as demolishing his guitar - as "too much."

But Hendrix was a guitar virtuoso. His imagination was boundless, and, for better and for worse, by the late 1960s, nothing anybody could imagine was too much.

Published on the 35th anniversary of Hendrix's death, Charles R. Cross's new biography, "Room Full of Mirrors" does not cover much new material. The general outlines of Hendrix's life have been covered before.

But the true test of a rock 'n roll biography - as Cross should know, having previously written on the life of Kurt Cobain - is the skill with which the writer sorts through lies, rumors, and facts. Few public personalities are as surrounded by myths and exaggerations as rock stars. "Room Full of Mirrors" succeeds as an efficient, straight-ahead biography.

Hendrix was born in poverty in Seattle. He served 14 months in the military, then cut his teeth playing back up for black R&B bands.

He relocated to London to jump-start his solo career. The hottest English guitar heroes of the '60s, names like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Pete Townshend welcomed Hendrix into their fold, recognizing something new. "The difference," remembers English blues musician Brian Auger, "was that you could tell what the influences were in Clapton's and Beck's playing. But Jimi wasn't following anyone - he was playing something new."

The trio he found, The Jimi Hendrix Experience made a splash in America with a dramatic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival where Jimi "sacrificed" his guitar (set it ablaze). He was one of the biggest names in rock music from 1968 to 1970, before his mysterious drug-related death in London, at age 27.

Charles Cross provides the best account yet of Hendrix's childhood. …

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