Journey with me through the life of arguably the greatest guitarist of all time, where we’ll uncover surprising Jimi Hendrix facts you never knew!
Renowned for his pioneering and unique electric guitar style, the legendary Jimi Hendrix left an indelible mark on the world of rock music. From his iconic performances to his revolutionary guitar style, he continues to captivate and inspire musicians today.
But how much do you really know about the world’s most famous left handed guitarist?
Throughout this article we’ll explore all of the interesting facts about Jimi Hendrix that I was able to find. I’m sure that i’ll have uncovered a few that you might not have previously known about.
Let’s dive in!
Birth and Name Changes
Jimi Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix at 1015am on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington.
This wouldn’t be his legal name for long, however. His father, Al Hendrix, later renamed him James Marshall Hendrix in 1946, honoring Al’s late brother, Leon Marshall Hendrix.
In his early career, he performed under the alias Jimmy James, sharing the stage with artists such as Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, and Little Richard.
However, it wasn’t until he arrived in London in 1966 that he adopted the stage name Jimi Hendrix. This change was suggested by his manager, Chas Chandler, who believed the unique spelling would help distinguish Jimi from other musicians.
First Guitar (And A Ukulele!)
Before he progressed to guitar, Jimi got his first taste of a stringed instrument in the ukulele. The uke had only a single string, but was still a huge step up from the broomstick that Jimi had previously been playing air-guitar with!
After Jimi’s father couldn’t keep up their mortgage repayments, the pair moved to a boarding house owned by Al’s friend Mrs McKay. She had an old Kay acoustic that Jimi begged Al to buy from her, but he refused the $5 asking price she was looking for.
Luckily, his aunt Ernestine had seen how much of a positive effect the ukulele had on young Jimi and gave him the money to buy the acoustic. Jimi fell in love with the guitar from that point on, practically never putting the instrument down.
He used the Kay acoustic to form his first band (The Velvetones), but quickly realised that he would need an electric guitar in order to be heard over the other instruments. Luckily, this time he was able to talk his father into buying him one – a white Supro Ozark 1560S.
Military Service and Meeting Billy Cox
Hendrix, prior to his ascent to rock legend status, served some time in the US Army. He enlisted in May 1961 after being presented with the choice of serving a prison sentence for joyriding or joining the military.
Jimi completed his military training and joined the 101st Airborne Division as a paratrooper. He was eventually discharged due to his unsatisfactory performance as a soldier.
He later claimed that he was actually let go after breaking his ankle during a parachute jump, however no records have been shown to prove or disprove this.
Although his military career was short-lived, it was during his service in the Army where he met Billy Cox, his future bassist.
Early Career and Influences
As a self-taught musician, he learned to play by ear, as he could not read music. His influences included blues guitarists such as:
- B.B. King
- Robert Johnson
- Muddy Waters
- Albert King
- Howlin’ Wolf
Later on in his career he would cite Rory Gallagher and Billy Gibbons as two of his favorite contemporary guitar players.
During the early stages of his career, Jimi played backup guitar for a variety of acts, such as Ike and Tina Turner, The Isley Brothers, and Little Richard. He also hit the road with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and the Valentinos as part of their touring band.
In 1965 he signed a 3-year contract with record producer Ed Chalpin and his company PPX. The terms stated that Jimi would receive $1 plus 1 percent of the sales of his recordings. However, after leaving the USA and recording new material in London it was found that Jimi was in violation of the terms of his contract.
This led to a series of legal complications that resulted in his royalties being frozen, with Jimi being unable to release new music. As a result, he had a hefty catalogue of unreleased music when he died. It wasn’t until 2002 that these legal issues were finally resolved!
The Journey to London
Despite being born in the USA, it wasn’t until he moved to London in September 1966 that Jimi finally got his big break and became a household name.
After witnessing him playing a gig, The Animals‘ bassist Chas Chandler convinced Jimi to accompany him back to Britain. He was blown away by Hendrix’s unique guitar playing technique and stage presence. When Jimi began playing with his teeth Chas knew that he had found something special.
Hendrix Arrived in the capital city with little more than a change of clothes and a trusty Fender Stratocaster to his name. Chas Chandler would become his manager and facilitated introductions to other influential musicians, such as Eric Clapton.
From July 1968 until March 1969, Jimi resided in an apartment at 23 Brook Street in the exclusive Mayfair district. Jimi’s bedroom and living room have been carefully restored and opened to the public as a museum in order to give fans a chance to view the apartment as it was. If you are visiting London, you can book tickets from Handel Hendrix House.
Earlier, he rented a flat from Ringo Starr at 34 Montagu Square in Marylebone, further connecting him to the world of rock royalty. He shared the apartment with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, as well as Chas Chandler and his girlfriend.
Unbelievably, the rent was a mere £30 for the entire place! He was eventually evicted from the flat after trashing it during a particularly bad acid trip.
Signature Guitar Style
With his signature guitar style, Jimi Hendrix set himself apart from other guitarists at the time. Hendrix played his guitar in a unique way, as he was known for playing a right-handed guitar strung for left-handed play, creating a distinctive sound.
His father reportedly believed that playing guitar left handed was a sign of the Devil, and forced a young Jimi to learn on a right-handed instrument. However, as a natural lefty, Jimi played his guitar upside down when alone, and right-handed when his father was around.
As a result, he could be referred to as being somewhat ambidextrous when it came to the guitar.
Some of his preferred guitars included:
- Fender Stratocaster
- Gibson SG
- Gibson Flying V
- Gibson Les Paul
- Fender Jazzmaster
- Fender Duo-Sonic
His 1968 Fender Stratocaster is currently the 7th most expensive guitar to ever be sold at auction. Named ‘Izabella‘, he famously played this guitar at the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival. It sold for $2 million in 1998!
Although he could clearly afford a proper left-handed instrument, he chose to stick with upside down right-handed guitars for the entirety of his career. Most likely because it had became a part of his signature sound and look.
To help achieve his iconic sound, Jimi would often utilize a row of Marshall Super Lead 100-watt amplifiers played in unison. It is estimated that he owned up to 100 Marshall amps in total!
The Electric Church Philosophy
Jimi Hendrix’s music and ideology are closely tied to his “Electric Church” philosophy. This belief system revolves around his idea of music being a means of spiritual connection and expression.
Jimi often referred to his melodies and lyrics as “electric church,” illustrating his belief that his music would enter people via their souls rather than their ear drums. The hope was that this would awaken something deep within the listener.
Today, the concept of “electric church” can be experienced at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, where one room is designated as the Sky Church.
This immersive experience pays homage to Jimi’s unique perspective on music and spirituality, further solidifying his lasting impact on the music world.
Iconic Performances and Moments
Audiences were often left in awe by Jimi Hendrix’s performances. One such iconic moment occurred at the Monterey Pop Festival, where he symbolically set his guitar on fire. As he would later explain: “I decided to destroy my guitar at the end of a song as a sacrifice. You sacrifice things you love. I love my guitar.”
This act has become one of the most enduring images in rock music. It was also after this performance that his level of fame within the United States began to skyrocket.
He had previously set another guitar on fire at the Astoria in London. Although, this one didn’t quite go to plan as he ended up accidentally burning his hands. That guitar sold at auction for over half-a-million dollars in 2008.
Another unforgettable performance took place at Woodstock, where Jimi delivered a powerful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. His use of distortion, feedback, and sustain to emulate bombs and explosions turned the national anthem into a protest against America’s involvement in Vietnam.
Towards the end of the 1960s Jimi had become the biggest name in rock. In 1969 he was paid $125,000 for a single concert, which was the record for any rock act at the time!
Collaborations and Missed Opportunities
Despite plans for collaborations with artists such as Miles Davis and The Beatles, these opportunities never came to fruition. He came close to recording with Miles, but the deal sadly fell apart at the last minute when Davis demanded $50,000 before he’d head to the studio.
Was he about to transition from rock to jazz? Sadly, we’ll never know!
Regardless of these missed connections, Jimi did collaborate with a variety of top flight musicians throughout his short career, including:
- Eric Clapton
- Stephen Stills
- Lonnie Youngblood
- Johnny Winter
- Curtis Knight and the Squires
- The members of The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Paul McCartney had also wanted Jimi to appear in the Beatles’ television movie “Magical Mystery Tour,” but he was busy burning guitars at Monterey at the time.
Personal Life and Relationships
Further to his musical accomplishments, Jimi Hendrix had personal relationships with several women. This included Kathleen Etchingham, Betty Jean Morgan, and Lithofayne Pridgon (the inspiration behind “Foxy Lady“).
He never married, although he did father a son with Eva Sundquist named James Daniel Sundquist. Jimi met Eva whilst touring in Stockholm in 1968, however, he sadly never managed to meet his son before his death in 1970.
He was described as being shy and softly-spoken, and intelligent with a good sense of humor.
Due to his penchant for late night partying, he earned the nickname ‘The Bat‘ from his friends and colleagues. He would tend to sleep well into the afternoon and would block the windows in order to sleep without being disturbed by the sunlight.
One of the more quirky facts about Jimi Hendrix is that he experienced a brief kidnapping incident after a performance in Greenwich Village. This was dubbed his “lost weekend“, as he was so high on drugs that he wasn’t actually aware that he had been kidnapped!
The kidnappers had demanded Jimi’s contract as opposed to money for his release. Luckily, the identity of the perpetrators was easily found out, leading to Hendrix being released unharmed (and unaware!).
Creative Process and Dream-Inspired Songs
Many of Jimi Hendrix’s songs drew inspiration from his dreams and vivid imagination. His strong connection to his subconscious allowed him to create music that resonated with listeners on a deeper level.
In one of his dreams, Jimi recalled being trapped at the bottom of the ocean in a thick purple fog, unable to escape. After almost succumbing to his watery fate, he was brought back to the surface and rescued by Jesus Christ.
Soon afterwards, his massive hit “Purple Haze” was born, featuring the lyric “purple haze, Jesus saves”.
Legacy and Posthumous Releases
Jimi released just three studio albums and one live record before his tragic death in 1970:
- Are You Experienced
- Axis: Bold As Love
- Electric Ladyland
- Band of Gypsys (Live)
Quick facts about Jimi Hendrix! The jacket that he can be seen wearing on the cover of the ‘Are You Experienced‘ album was designed by Mick Jagger’s brother.
Despite his phenomenal success, only one song (All Along The Watchtower) managed to crack the top 30 in the Billboard Hot 100. Although, he did enjoy greater success in the UK, where Voodoo Chile reached the number one position in the singles charts. His 1968 album Electric Ladyland did reach the number one position in the U.S. album charts, however!
Numerous posthumous releases have allowed fans to continue enjoying his music, including unreleased tracks, live performances, and other rarities. This catalogue contains highly praised albums like “First Rays of the New Sun” and lauded singles such as “South Saturn Delta”.
To date, over 80 albums have been released since his death. This expansive legacy ensures that his music will continue to captivate audiences for generations to come.
Jimi Hendrix Death & Conspiracy Theories
Various conspiracy theories have been sparked by the fact that Jimi Hendrix died at the untimely age of 27. With suggestions that he was murdered by the CIA due to his associated with the Black Panthers, the Mafia, or even his own manager.
The official cause of death was cited as barbiturate intoxication and inhalation of vomit.
After having trouble sleeping, he took 18 times the recommended dose of his girlfriend’s sleeping pills. Tragically, he vomited whilst asleep which asphyxiated him.
He was pronounced dead at 12:45pm on Sempteber 18th 1970.
Extra Jimi Hendrix Facts
Here are a few more fun facts about Jimi Hendrix.
As a kid, Jimi was often referred to as ‘Buster‘. It is thought that this nickname was due to his idolization of Buster Crabbe, an actor that played Flash Gordon in the 1936 serial film.
As a teen, he was a huge fan of Elvis Presley. However, due to growing up poor he was unable to afford a ticket when the artist visited his hometown. As a compromise, the young Hendrix camped out on top of a nearby hill and listened to the concert from a distance.
It is often claimed that Jimi’s lineage can be traced back to the Cherokee Nation, with many sources citing that his grandmother was part Cherokee. The Hendrix family has embraced the claim, however this ancestry has never been proven.
Jimi’s parents both struggled with alcohol and frequently fought when intoxicated. The violence would often result in Jimi hiding in a closet within the family home. His mother died at the age of just 32, with alcohol abuse a determining factor in her death.
As a teenager, he spent a good amount of time sketching. Several of Jimi’s drawings of California football players can be seen at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jimi’s London flat at 23 Brook Street once had a famous neighbour! German-British composer George Frideric Handel stayed at 25 Brook Street from 1723 until his death in 1759.
From his humble beginnings to his meteoric rise to fame, Jimi’s passion for music and unique approach to guitar playing have left an indelible mark on the world of rock music.
Despite the many mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding his life and death, one thing remains clear. His music will continue to inspire and captivate fans for generations to come.
Hope you enjoyed these Jimi Hendrix facts and trivia!
Frequently Asked Questions
What was Jimi Hendrix’s birth name?
Jimi Hendrix was born as Johnny Allen Hendrix.
Did Jimi Hendrix serve in the military?
Yes, Jimi Hendrix served in the military, having enlisted in the US Army in 1961.
Was Jimi Hendrix able to read music?
No, Jimi Hendrix was a self-taught musician and could not read music.
What was Jimi Hendrix’s signature guitar style?
Jimi Hendrix’s signature guitar style was playing a right-handed guitar left-handed, creating a unique and recognizable sound.