His frequent hurricane blasts of noise and dazzling showmanship -- he could and would play behind his back and with his teeth and set his guitar on fire -- has sometimes obscured his considerable gifts as a songwriter, singer, and master of a gamut of blues, R&B, and rock styles.
Although previous guitarists, such as The Kinks’ Dave Davies, Jeff Beck, and The Who’s Pete Townshend, had employed techniques such as feedback, distortion and other effects as sonic tools, Hendrix was able to exploit them to a previously undreamed-of extent, and made them an integral part of his own private, unique genre, which he called “Red”.
Perhaps no other rock-and-roll trailblazer was as original or as influential in such a short span of time as Hendrix. Widely acknowledged as one of the most daring and inventive virtuosos in rock history, Hendrix pioneered the electric guitar as an electronic sound source capable of feedback, distortion, and a host of other effects that could be crafted into an articulate and fluid emotional vocabulary.
In 1967, the trio created arguably the greatest debut in rock history, Are You Experienced? Produced by Chandler at De Lane Lea, their blend of psychedelic rock and blues captivated music fans and critics. Featuring all-time classics such as "Foxy Lady" and "Fire," the disc set an almost unfathomable standard for what rock music should be.
Following his debut, he would release two more groundbreaking studio albums, 1967's Axis: Bold as Love and 1968's Electric Ladyland, both of which boasted a more experimental flair than his first record. Hendrix famously performed at Woodstock in 1969, and would release an explosive live album with a new, short-lived band, the Band of Gypsies, following the Experience's disbandment in 1969.
It was in a New York club that Hendrix was spotted by Animals bassist Chas Chandler. The first lineup of the Animals was about to split, and Chandler, looking to move into management, convinced Hendrix to move to London and record as a solo act in England. There a group was built around Jimi, also featuring Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass, that was dubbed the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Time after time, he was told to stop playing guitar in a style that would revolutionize and redefine the instrument forever. He refused to give in, in the face of racism from whites, the limitations of equipment, and rejection from the black music establishment and startled audiences and bandleaders who could not appreciate his inventiveness.
Hendrix enlisted in the United States Army in 1961. Even as a soldier, Hendrix found time for music, creating a band named The King Casuals. He served in the army until 1965 when he was discharged because of an injury. After leaving the military, Hendrix pursued his music, working as a session musician and playing backup for such performers as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and the Isley Brothers.
Hendrix was mostly self-taught on the guitar. He was ambidextrous but chose to play the guitar upside-down and re-strung for playing left-handed, which suggests that he was more comfortable left-handed. As a guitarist, he built upon the innovations of blues stylists such as B.B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, T-Bone Walker, and Muddy Waters.
Jimi had learned to play the guitar upside down, to play in every style imaginable. He couldn't write music, but he learned the structure of songs with stunning speed. He was afraid to sing, and yet he learned to use his voice to express charm, sexuality, and even despair. He lived through abject poverty, abandonment by his family and by the leaders of the bands in which he played.