Who doesn’t know the opening notes? Who can’t recognize the wild, seething energy behind them? Who hasn’t seen his face, wavering with smoke and mystery? We heard him at concerts and celebrations all over the world. We watched and heard those first stark notes at Woodstock. We see him in his bright, colorful outfits. We see him poignantly. A face of a generation, yes; also a face of loss, of danger, a face of the 27 club along with too many others whose music we might still be hearing today. He is a face of a movement, of a generation, and of the Village.
We saw him in the recording booth at his own Electric Lady Studio on West 8th Street, mixing up his magic. We see him now, still, like this. We’re told that after Woodstock Jimi returned to his apartment in a pre-war building at 59 West 12th Street; Jimi’s apartment has since been combined with another apartment in the building, gut renovated and sold for millions. As far as we know, that’s the only lease Jimi signed, though he lived elsewhere and crashed everywhere as he traveled the world touring, playing, making art and friends. John Storyk, a Manhattan architect who helped Hendrix design the recording studio and its acoustics, said he recalled Hendrix living in a cottage at 50 West 8th Street one wall away from Electric Lady Studios.
We celebrate his life today, remembering that Jimi was born on November 27, 1942. This incredible photo of Jimi, taken by Fred W. McDarrah who worked for the Village Voice, is one of 12 photos of Village icons of their time, prints of which are available for special sale on our website. We’re proud to offer this part of Jimi’s and the Village’s history.
He was born Johnny Allen (later changed by his father to James Marshall) in Seattle, Washington, but from a young age was known as Jimi. The hardship of his early and family life are well documented: struggle with war trauma and unemployment on the part of his father, who wasn’t given leave when his wife gave birth and so didn’t meet his child until Jimi was three. There was also alcoholism, housing instability, eventual divorce and separation from his siblings. Jimi enlisted in the Army himself at 19 years old in 1961, which he did to avoid jail when he was caught stealing cars in Seattle. He survived with the help of his guitar, forming a band with a platoon-mate and earning an honorable discharge after apparently breaking an ankle during a parachute jump. From there, Jimi moved to Tennessee where he started his music career playing backup for such performers as Little Richard, B.B. King, Sam Cooke, and the Isley Brothers. In 1965 he also formed a group of his own called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, which played gigs around Greenwich Village, including at Cafe Wha? Before he died, Jimi made three albums, Are You Experienced? (1967), Axis: Bold as Love (1967), and finally Electric Ladyland (1968) as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Electric Ladyland reached number one in the charts in America, and by then Jimi was a household name, a sensation, a pop icon, an innovator who inspired the innovators on the electric guitar.
He was described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.” At the time, he was the world’s highest paid performer. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone Encyclopedia wrote that “Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source. Players before him had experimented with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began.”
Also writing for Rolling Stone, musician John Mayer explored Jimi’s more tender side, writing “So often, he’s portrayed as a loud, psychedelic rock star lighting his guitar on fire. But when I think of Hendrix, I think of some of the most placid, lovely guitar sounds on songs like “One Rainy Wish,” “Little Wing” and “Drifting.” “Little Wing” is painfully short and painfully beautiful. It’s like your grandfather coming back from the dead and hanging out with you for a couple of minutes and then going away. It’s perfect, then it’s gone.”
On September 18, 1970, Hendrix died in London from drug-related complications. He was 27. He continues to live in in our memories, in the Electric Lady Studios on East 8th Street, which have hosted such recording artists as Patti Smith, Adele, Lady Gaga, U2, and countless others. He lives on through his countless posthumous awards and recognitions, which continue and in Rock and Roll Halls of Fame around the world. He lives on in smoke and velvet and in the ethereal, rough, thrilling notes of his songs.