John Allen Hendrix was born in Seattle, WA, on November 27th 1942, his mother raised him while his father, James Al Hendrix was fighting in World War II. When his father returned he took custody of John and his younger brother Leon, divorced his wife Lucille Jeter, and later renamed his son James Marshall Hendrix because his mom’s boyfriend was called Johnny. His father encouraged his musical talents, buying James his first $5 acoustic guitar when he was fifteen-years-old, and a year later Al purchased him an electric guitar. James played this guitar for hours each day and he copied the duck walk style of guitarist Chuck Berry. In 1959, teenaged Jimi Hendrix met Detroit guitar legend Billy Davis in Seattle who was on tour with The Midnighters. Davis had worked with musical greats like Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke and the Vandellas and he became a mentor to the future legend, teaching him what he knew about guitar.
James started playing with Ray Charles, and at age 16, he had played all the clubs with his young bands like The Rocking Kings, Velvetones, Luther Rabb and His Stags and Thomas ‘Tom Cat’ and his Tom Cats. After almost a year Jimmy played around the Seattle clubs and became known for his flashy playing. James dropped out of Garfield High School because of poor grades and bad attendance. After getting into some trouble for riding in a stolen car he traded a possible two year jail sentence for enrolment in the U.S army.
In May 1959, James became a member of ‘The Screaming Eagles’ 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as a trainee paratrooper. James enjoyed being part of the 101st airborne division, but he was not a good soldier as he needed constant supervision and lacked motivation. James received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle on his 26th parachute jump. James was playing at the Service Club on the base, when Billy Cox stopped by to get out of a sudden rainstorm. Billy was impressed with the guitar playing that he heard, so he introduced himself, and told Jimi that he played bass, and they were jamming soon after.
They became and remained friends, both leaving the military around the same time going on to play clubs around the area, then finally settling in Nashville. They formed the group King Kasuals, where they played on the Chitlin circuit. Jimmy made a living doing this for 3 years, while also working as a session guitarist under the moniker Jimmy James. By the end of 1965, he had played with several acts, including Ike And Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, Little Richard and Curtis Knight and the Squires. In 1966, Hendrix formed his own band, Jimmy James and The Blue Flames, and he played in the New York music scene.
Linda Keith, girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, noticed him and recommended him to the Rolling Stone’s manager and a major record producer, but they both declined. She then recommended him to ex Animals bassist Chas Chandler, who was looking for new talent to manage and produce. Chandler went to see the up-coming guitarist, Jimmy James play at New York’s Cheetah Club with the Blue Flames and at the Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village. Chas Chandler was especially impressed by Jimmy James’s performance of the Tim Rose song ‘Hey Joe’, that he offered to be his manager and invited him to London. James asked Chandler if he could introduce him to Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and that clinched the deal.
The Animals broke up in September, 1966 and Chandler became one of the most respected and successful managers and producers of the rock age. He discovered Jimmy James and renamed him Jimi Hendrix, and his energy and commitment helped turn a shy young American backing guitarist that found little initial success in America, into a dynamic performer and a rock legend almost overnight. Everything changed for Jimi once he set foot in London on September 24th, 1966 as Hendrix was just a 24-year-old prodigy and a virtual unknown. His brief but important stay in the U.K. would forever alter rock history.
After Hendrix landed, Jimi couldn’t play because he had no work permit, but he jammed that night at the Scotch, and he met Kathy Etchingham, whose middle name was Mary. Chandler helped Hendrix to form his band recruiting a rhythm guitarist from Kent called Noel Redding, who had applied to join the Animals, but now would play bass guitar. Mitch Mitchell, a jazz drummer who was seeking to mould himself in the style of John Coltrane’s great percussionist, Elvin Jones finalized the trio. Hendrix hooked up with Redding on the September 29th, and auditioned Mitchell on October 4th and nine days after Mitchell joined the band. A stroke of genius from their business manager Michael Jeffery allowed him to come up with the only name befitting for this group, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. By mid-October 1966, Hendrix was touring as a supporting act in France. He and the Experience were signed to Track Records which released ‘Hey Joe’ as a single and then they became a headline act in November at the Bag O’Nails in London. Clapton, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and the other members of the Beatles and Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones and Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck crowded into the nightclub, where the collective reaction could best be described as stunned hearing this phenomenon.
Cream with the Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce allowed Jimi to join them onstage for a jam at the Regent Street Polytechnic in central London. Hendrix blew into a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’, playing it at breakneck tempo, and Clapton left in the middle of the song, because he had yet to master this song himself. Clapton told Chas, “You never told me he was that fucking good”, afterwards Clapton quickly befriended Hendrix, emerging as one of his staunchest early advocates. Hendrix was allocated a flat belonging to Ringo Starr, in Montagu Square, in which he lived with Etchingham, Chandler and Chandler’s Swedish girlfriend, Lotta for a time. Hendrix’s relationship with Kathy Etchingham lasted until February 1969 and this flat became a base camp for an initial tour as the opening act for Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck, with the Walker Brothers topping the bill.
When The Experience played with The Walker Brothers at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London, Hendrix and Chandler debated how they could liven up their act. They heard about Pete Townshend smashing up his guitar, and thought that it was a pity Hendrix couldn’t set his on fire. Chas went with the idea and he immediately ordered his roadie Gerry Stickells to get some lighter fuel. Jimi only ever set fire to his guitar three times but it made history. ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ was Jimi Hendrix’s third single, and it originally appeared as a b-side to ‘Purple Haze’ in the US.
In London, Kathy Etchingham worked as a DJ at the Cromwellian Club in Kensington and later at the Scotch of St James, in addition to working as a hairdresser. She knew the up-and-coming musicians of the period including The Animals, The Who, The Kinks, The Moody Blues and many others. Etchingham was 20 when she met Jimi Hendrix in the Scotch of St James nightclub, on the night of his arrival in London on 24 September 1966. They became a couple during the time of his rise to stardom. Etchingham was the inspiration for many of Hendrix’s compositions including ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and ‘Foxy Lady’. Etchingham discovered that Hendrix was an experienced and imaginative lover who could make sex more romantic than she’d ever known it before.
Hendrix performed elements or an early version of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ in the summer of 1966 with his band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames in New York City. Jimi and his brother Leon grew up hungry and they would steal food from grocery stores. Jimi loathed bland English food, but Kathy helped him develop a taste for curry. One evening about six months after they met, Etchingham tried to make mashed potatoes for him and apparently she did not do a very good job of it. Jimi used a fork to taste them and he complained that they were all lumpy. This ended with Kathy screaming and shouting, throwing pots around and all the plates on the floor and then marching out. Etchingham spent the night at a friend’s and Hendrix missed her so much that he sat down to write one of his biggest hits, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’.
Hendrix was too proud to apologize for regarding Kathy as a terrible cook, so he wrote her a song instead. Hendrix would sometimes use Etchingham’s middle name Mary to get to her, when he was upset. She was distinctly underwhelmed when she first heard this song, as she felt it was nice, but sad. They spent a lot of their time together playing board games like Monopoly and Risk and the first line in this song, “After all jacks are in their boxes And the clowns have all gone to bed” probably refers to this. The next line, “You can hear happiness staggering on down the street Footprints dressed in red” is about her abrupt departure after the argument.
“A broom is drearily sweeping Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life” was clearly a comical reference to him having to clean up the mess of broken crockery that she made in the tantrum that she threw after the complaint over the lumpy mashed potatoes. He was not sure if she was coming back, so he wrote, “Somewhere a queen is weeping Somewhere a king has no wife”. Hendrix managed to express his feelings for her saying, “The traffic lights they turn a blue tomorrow And shine their emptiness down on my bed The tiny island sags downstream ‘Cause the life that they lived is dead”, creating this soulful hymn of penitence. “Will the wind ever remember? The names it has blown in the past And with its crutch, its old age and its wisdom It whispers “no, this will be the last”, is an awesome metaphor, where Jimi used his girlfriend Mary to represent the wind. ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ was released in 1967 and featured in the US release of his debut album Are You Experienced. Rolling Stone magazine ranked ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ number 379 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Jimi also wrote ‘Foxy Lady’ for Kathy Etchingham, but the couple split up in 1969.
Hendrix was known for his outrageous guitar techniques, such as playing with his teeth, behind his back, and without touching the strings. Hendrix was left-handed and he played his Fender Stratocaster upside down. Hendrix pushed technology to its limits, and he got help from a man called Roger Mayer who was an acoustician and sonic wave engineer for the Admiralty. Mayer invented various electronic musical devices, including an improved wah-wah pedal and the “Octavia” guitar effect with its unique “doubling” effect. Roger Mayer showed this to Jimmy Page, but he thought it was too far out. Hendrix, however told Mayer that he would like to try that stuff.
Hendrix closed the 1969 Woodstock festival with a version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, and he built the Electric Lady recording studio in Greenwich Village, where he spent only ten weeks recording before his death.
After all jacks are in their boxes
And the clowns have all gone to bed
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
Footprints dressed in red
And the wind whispers Mary
A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary
The traffic lights they turn a blue tomorrow
And shine their emptiness down on my bed
The tiny island sags downstream
‘Cause the life that they lived is dead
And the wind screams Mary
Will the wind ever remember?
The names it has blown in the past
And with its crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers “no, this will be the last”
And the wind cries Mary