Jimi Hendrix’s influence on music has arguably changed not just rock as a genre forever, but all other genres including metal and blues. His instrumental work was monumental for the time and essentially revolutionized music.
But, every big star has their start and Jimi Hendrix is no different. He actually came from very humble beginnings, both musically and just in his everyday childhood life. He had a very trying home life to say the least with his household facing severe poverty and sometimes not knowing where their next meal was coming from. After his parents divorced, he was constantly shuffled from place to place.
With all of these inescapable, trying circumstances looming over him, Hendrix’s biography asserts that “music became a sanctuary for Hendrix.’’ I feel that this could be relatable for many who find an escape in what they enjoy, especially their artistic expression.
Starting off with just a broom as a guitar, his father at some point got him a one string ukulele that he practiced diligently. Completely self taught, his skills would continue to flourish.
This potential would, clearly not go unrealized. He would go on to play music despite his trying circumstances or external demands. When he followed in his father’s footsteps and decided to enlist in the military in 1961, he went on to start a band called the King Kasuals.
After being honorably discharged the next year, he displayed his skills in London, creating the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Critics are quoted as saying that even this early in his career he displayed great skill and seemed, at times, to be playing without even touching the guitar.
This effortless guitar playing was a trademark of Hendrix and his work with the electric guitar would change guitar playing forever.
A PBS special done on Hendrix describes his fresh innovation with the guitar. What was so unique about Hendrix was how he managed to combine “fuzz, feedback, and controlled distortion” elements that before now had never been put together in an effective way.
From here Hendrix would drop more and more music that would become more experimental. From “Are you Experienced?” to “The Cry of Love,” released after his death and containing things he was working on, he continuously surprised and stimulated the mind of the public. In 1969, he performed at Woodstock which cemented his legendary impact fairly early on in his career.
I remember the first album I heard of his “Axis: Bold as Love” which was released in 1967. I was immediately hooked on his sound. I’ve yet to really hear an artist who captures the same essence that Hendrix captures, but so many artists in psychedelic rock carry his influence, and it can be heard in their sound.
I personally love to listen to Jimi Hendrix during the summer season. While it’s obviously universal and can be listened to during all conditions, there is definitely something to be said of his sound paired with the smell of summer air and the touch of warm sunlight on your skin.
His impact for Black people in the rock music genre is also notable. Normally rock is viewed as a more White genre of music despite the trailblazing many Black artists did in this genre. So it’s refreshing to see a Black man who constantly defied gender norms step onto the rock scene and make such a huge impact.
Overall, Jimi Hendrix’s story is one of making what you can out of trying circumstances. Beyond that, because I feel too often icons’ stories are overshadowed by their struggle, his story exemplifies how one person can create a huge impact just by taking a chance and creating something new.
It was also entirely possible that the experimental take Hendrix had on music would be received negatively, especially given how he challenged social norms. But, as we can see, he made and arguably continues to make a major impact on the music industry.