Today is the birthday of James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix), U.S. born musician, singer, and songwriter. Despite a relatively brief mainstream career spanning four years, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
I am not going to ramble on too much about his life and career. Chances are if you know that for live performances he first plugged his guitar into a Vox Wah-Wah pedal, then into an Arbiter Fuzz Face, and then into a Uni-Vibe, before connecting to a Marshall amplifier, I don’t need to remind you; and if you don’t, you probably don’t care. So . . . some highlights, a few classic videos, quotes, and a recipe.
There are 3 clear phases in Jimi’s career:
- Backing musician in U.S.
- Breakout in England.
- U.S. and worldwide fame.
Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15. In 1961, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was granted an honorable discharge the following year. Soon afterward, he moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and began playing gigs on the “chitlin circuit,” eventually earning a place in the Isley Brothers’ backing band and later finding work with Little Richard, with whom he continued to play through mid-1965. He then joined Curtis Knight and the Squires.
After being befriended by bassist Chas Chandler of the Animals he moved to England in late 1966.. Within months, Hendrix had earned three U.K. top ten hits with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” No one in the U.S. paid any attention. I am glad to have been part of this era. I was a teenager in England at the time and loved him. I vividly recall the first time I saw him playing the guitar with his teeth. My parents were not amused. Here’s “Purple Haze” – containing the phrase “ ’scuse me while I kiss the sky” which we all misheard as “ ’scuse me while I kiss this guy.”
He immediately had a following of British rock royalty – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton.
He achieved fame in the US after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 when he famously set his guitar on fire.
I still howl with laughter watching the audience reaction – peace and love California hippy wannabees, already horrified watching The Who as Pete Townshend smashed his guitar and Keith Moon exploded his drum kit. They were all relieved when a shell shocked Mamas and Papas came on, but Jimi skyrocketed to fame.
He closed out Woodstock in 1969, playing all day. His rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” is legendary.
Most rock historians think of this performance as a commentary on the Vietnam war, but Hendrix himself said he thought of it as a way of uniting people in the U.S.
In 1970 he headlined the Isle of Wight Festival as the world’s highest-paid performer. On September 18, 1970 he died from barbiturate-related asphyxia, at the age of 27.
Here’s an assortment of quotes from Jimi I like:
It’s funny how most people love the dead, once you’re dead you’re made for life.
The time I burned my guitar it was like a sacrifice. You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar.
I’m gonna put a curse on you, and all your kids will be born completely naked.
I wish they’d had electric guitars in cotton fields back in the good old days. A whole lot of things would’ve been straightened out.
I’ve been imitated so well I’ve heard people copy my mistakes.
I’m the one that has to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life, the way I want to.
And . . . this from Clapton:
Who I am as a guitarist is defined by my failure to become Jimi Hendrix.
For some reason there are quite a few drinks recipes honoring Jimi’s name, such as this one:
1 bottle Jim Beam® bourbon whiskey
1 bottle Jack Daniel’s® Tennessee whiskey
1 bottle Bacardi® white rum
1 bottle Captain Morgan® Original spiced rum
5 bottles A&W® root beer
2 bottles Hawaiian Punch®
Mix all the ingredients together in a huge vat and stir with a big cauldron stick.
Jimi was a pretty mean drunk, however. When stoned out of his pumpkin on acid or weed, he was as mellow as they come. But alcohol made him violent. He had several run-ins with the law because of it. So I don’t feel like celebrating Jimi with a signature drink.
There is this psychedelic steak dish if you are interested, but it has little to do with Jimi’s preferences, I believe:
I found online a copy of a magazine questionnaire that was given to The Experience in 1967 by a teen magazine. For the question “Favorite Food,” Jimi answered “Strawberry shortcake, spaghetti.” Probably a joke. He did not care for English food, and preferred Indian and Chinese restaurants when living there. I don’t blame him. In those days mainstream English food was still suffering from post-war rationing malaise – although I will repeat: English food is WONDERFUL. It just hit a bump during WW II. I ate curries a lot too in those days (along with steak and kidney pies and puddings, and plaice and chips).
I also remember reading that Jimi liked “soul food.” So here is my smothered pork chops and hominy with greens and hush puppies, learnt in coastal North Carolina in 1978 when I was living in a small fishing village doing research. It would border on sacrilege to give a formal recipe; they are passed on by watching and doing, and exist in memory. Cooking comes from the soul.
Smothered Pork Chops and Hominy with Greens and Hush Puppies
Bacon grease is the preferred frying medium. Loads of browned onions piled on a fried pork chop.
You can get canned white hominy, but it is best if you cook it yourself. Boil dried white hominy in plenty of water with chopped onions, garlic, and parsley. It usually takes 2 hours or more for the hominy to soften.
Collards are the iconic greasy greens. Chop them and boil them in a large quantity of water with a slab of salt pork for hours and hours and hours. My landlady started them after breakfast for that day’s dinner. And she cooked them EVERY day.
Hush puppies are simply cornbread batter rolled into balls and deep fried.
Serves: anyone who is around at dinner time.