“Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky”
As all lovers of popular music will know, 27 November 2012 is – or would have been – the 70th birthday of James Marshall Hendrix, better known as Jimi.
He sadly isn’t around to celebrate it as he died in London on 18 September 1970. Forty-two years after his death, to many he is still, quite simply, the greatest guitarist of all time.
The basic details of Hendrix’ life can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and, to be honest, it’s the usual rock star story of army, music, drugs and a tragically early death. What really matters is the music, played with his unique upside-down style (Hendrix was left-handed and played a right-handed guitar upside-down). You can find plenty of CDs of his work in stock in Westminster Libraries as well as biographies and musical criticism. For an in-depth critique online as well as a comprehensive discography, videography and bibliography, check out the Encylopaedia of Popular Music, part of Oxford Music Online and for some more serious criticism, have a look at African American Music Reference, from the Alexander Street Press.
For some contemporary accounts of his life, you can check out some of our archive of newspapers and magazines. His tragic death was reported on the front page of the Daily Mirror. Ironically the first time he was mentioned in The Times was in a report of the death of the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, as a concert he was giving was cancelled as a mark of respect. Only three years later, his own obituary was published in the same paper:
“In contrast to the violence and seeming anarchy of his music, Hendrix was a gentle, peaceful man whose only real concern was music. His final public appearance was when he sat in with War, an American band, at Ronnie Scott’s club in London last Wednesday, and it was typical of the man that it was he who felt honoured by being allowed to play.”
Hendrix spent much of his short career in London and anyone who wants to get closer to the man might wish to visit the Handel House Museum in Brook Street, Mayfair. For several months in 1968, Hendrix lived next door – he was thrilled to discover the Handel connection. His flat is now used as the offices of the museum. And when you’ve seen where he lived, you’ll be able to see his most famous gig on the big screen as Hendrix 70 : Live at Woodstock is released in cinemas around the country.