Jimi Hendrix:Reflections of the Man Through the Development of His Album
Thomas Bowen
UWC 4, Hampton
November 4, 1996
On November 27, 1942, Jimi Hendrix was born as John Allen Hendrix in Washington at Seattle
General Hospital. His childhood was not a privileged one, however, he did indulge himself in one particular
way: Jimi loved to play the guitar. At first he played an old acoustic, and later a cheap Silvertone electric,
which were both strung for a lefty on a right-handed guitar, one of the defining Hendrix traits (Murray 34-
5) . As a teenager, young Jimi listened to the music which affected his music so greatly later: “‘everyone
from Buddy Holly to Muddy Waters and through Chuck Berry way back to Eddie Cochrane’” (Wilmer
38). He played in a few bands in high school, but then dropped out before his senior year. After working as
a laborer for a few months, Jimi decided that he was not destined for that line of work, so in 1959, he
enlisted into the 101st Airborne (Murray 36). Jimi’s parents were of mixed descent, with Jimi’s family
tree had whites, blacks, and Cherokee Indians. Jimi never denied his ethnic diversity, but rather accepted
his diversity and publicly allowed it to show through in his music. Jimi said it best in “If 6 was 9” on Axis:
Bold As Love when he said “I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.” Hendrix’ first forays into professional
music came after he received his honorable discharge from service in the summer of 1962 (Murray 36).
His background in R&B, a type of music dominated by black artists at that time, led him to play with many
R&B singers from the time, such as Little Richard, King Curtis, Joey Dee and the Starliters, the Isley
Brothers, and many others (Murray 38-42). The development of his own style of music, which would later
be displayed at various stages of its evolution in his four completed studio albums, came from an
amalgamation of his intimate familiarity with the blues, ethnic background, the years he spent as an R&B
sideman, and his exposure to new musical styles and scenes.
The development of Hendrix’ music to our modern perception of it occurred after his move to New
York City and the formation of Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, where a young producer named Chas
Chandler discovered his act, which by then included Hendrix’ famous playing with his teeth and behind his
back. Chandler brought Jimi to London, where blues-based bands such as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers,
The Yardbirds, and Chandler’s old group, The Animals were immensely popular and on the cutting edge.
Hendrix and Chandler auditioned a number of musicians to be in the new band, The Jimi Hendrix
Experience, and decided upon a trio with Hendrix on guitar and vocals, Mitch Mitchell on drums, and Noel
Redding on bass (Fairchild, “Are You Experienced” 3).
The first album was recorded and released as Are You Experienced? on May 12, 1967 in England and
after its initial success there, it was released on August 26, 1967 in the United States (Fairchild, “Are You
Experienced?” 5-6). On Are You Experienced?, Hendrix shows for the first time in a studio album the
heavy bluesy-rock and extraordinary guitar playing that Chandler observed an embryonic form of in
Greenwich Village. However, the album definitely has a commercial feel to it, probably necessitated by
Chandler’s desire to collect on his investment and Jimi’s lack of experience in being the leader of a band.
Of the single “Hey Joe,” which was the first song recorded for Are You Experienced?, Hendrix said: “It’s
a commercial record,...but everyone found that better for the first time. It’s just a phase, it’s only a very
small part of us” (Fairchild, “Are You Experienced?” 7).
On the other hand, another track on the album, “Red House,” represented something else entirely. “Red
House” is a more traditional blues number, written by Jimi Hendrix, which is a perfect example of what
Jimi began his musical experimentation with. Jimi showcases his blues guitar playing and singing on “Red
House.” The lyrics tell the story of a man who loses his woman but who manages to keep his guitar, and if
his woman won’t love him any more, he says “I know her sister