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40 Years After, 'The Experience' Legacy Lives On

It was 40 years ago today that guitar legend Jimi Hendrix died in London of an apparent drug overdose. He was 27 years old and died at the peak of his popularity.

A sensuous guitarist, and 1960s sex idol, his explosive and intense live concerts often drifted into fluid, minutes-long solos that electrified the crowds.

An energetic performer, Mr. Hendrix would bend over the guitar and play it with his teeth, or fling the instrument over his shoulders and play it behind his head.

One time, he even lit his guitar on fire, and knelt over it while it burned.

Perhaps his most famous performance was at the August 1969 Woodstock Festival. There, he played a stirring rock rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, wa-wa pedal, distortion and all.

He was born James Marshall Hendrix on Nov. 27, 1942. He dropped out of High School as a teenager and joined the Army where he became a paratrooper.

He taught himself to play the guitar by listening to Muddy Waters records. He started his career as a back-up guitarist to the Isley Brothers and Little Richard.

One time, he told the New York Times, he became bored of being in the background for Little Richard, and decided to wear a flamboyant shirt---a trait that later became part of his signature wardrobe. (Headband included.)

But Little Richard wasn't happy with Mr. Hendrix eccentric style. As Mr. Hendrix told the Times:

"Richard called a meeting, 'I am Little Richard, I am Little Richard,' he said, 'the King, the King of Rock and Rhythm. I am the only one allowed to be pretty. Take off those shirts.' Man, it was all like that. Bad pay, lousing living, and getting burned."

He formed his own group, "The Jimi Hendrix Experience" in 1966 and took off touring in England. He became a tremendous hit and was voted top musician in the world by readers of the British pop music newspaper, "Melody Maker."

In an interview a year before his death, Mr. Hendrix said, "I tell you when I die I'm not having a funeral, I'm going to have a jam session." And noting his previous arrest for drug possession, he added: "And knowing me, I'll probably get busted at my own funeral."

If you have any memories or thoughts about Mr. Hendrix, leave them below. In the meantime, go here to listen to his face melting jams and heart fluttering riffs.

By T. Rees Shapiro  | September 18, 2010; 11:54 AM ET
Categories:  T. Rees Shapiro  | Tags:  Experience, Isley Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard  
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A fascinating brand new book about the years before Hendrix's fame is Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber's "Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, The Untold Story of a Musical Genius." Hendrix was burning his guitar before Monterey, and learning his chops on the Chitlin' Circuit with Little Richard, the Isleys, et al. Hendrix overcame much and gave much.

Posted by: Kiakona | September 18, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

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