He’s been hailed as “the greatest guitarist in rock history” by Rolling Stone and countless other music publications around the world. Even so, there are loads of little-known facts about this rock legend, and in honor of the 40th anniversary of his death, we present you with 10 things you probably don’t know about Jimi Hendrix.
1. A Man of Many Names
Hendrix’ given names at birth were Johnny Allen, which his father later had legally changed to James Marshall. As a young man, James Marshall Hendrix was called “young Jimmy” and “Buster,” and the unorthodox spelling “Jimi” was the brainchild of Chas Chandler, who became Hendrix’ manager.
2. From Broom to Guitar
In the 1950s, Hendrix began to play “air guitar” using one of his father’s brooms. His father encouraged him by buying him a one-stringed ukulele, then a used acoustic guitar. By 1958, Hendrix had joined his first band, the Velvetones, before his father bought him an electric guitar, marking his move into rock.
3. Military Service
As a young man, Hendrix got into a little bit of legal hot water. After a conviction on a minor car-related crime, Hendrix was given the choice of military service or prison. He chose to join the Army, where he regularly fell asleep on duty and had a pronounced lack of soldiering skills and discipline. He was eventually discharged by his superiors.
4. In Good Company
Hendrix’ first music gigs were as a session guitarist for some of the best-known names in pop music in the early 1960s. He filled in the sounds for musical luminaries including Little Richard, Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers and Tina Turner.
5. London Calling
Following the formation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix moved to London in 1966, where he lived in the city’s ritzy Mayfair district. His flat was next door to a home once occupied by legendary 18th century composer George Frideric Handel.
6. Perfecting His Sound
Part of the originality of Hendrix’ sound was the fact that he played a right-handed guitar even though he was left-handed himself. This created a unique resonance among the lower strings, helping shape his legendary music.
7. Electric Landlady
The U.K. release of the Jimi Hendrix Experience album Electric Ladyland featured a bevy of nude babes, which caused a controversy that Hendrix himself shrugged off. The album itself was almost sent to the print shop with a major spelling error in its title – had Hendrix not noticed before it was sent, the album would have come back called Electric Landlady.
8. Jimi the Bassist
Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding had many famous feuds with Hendrix in the recording studio. In fact, Redding would often take a breather to cool down after charged arguments in the studio, only to return to find that Hendrix himself had re-recorded his bass parts.
9. Kiss This Guy
Hendrix’ hit “Purple Haze” has a famous line in its chorus: “Excuse me while I kiss the sky.” It is one of the most misquoted lyrics in rock, often being mistaken for “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.” As a joke, Hendrix would often point at one of his male bandmates when singing the lyric during live performances, but at Woodstock, he pointed to the sky.
10. Lost Hippie Love
Hendrix’ style of dress was hugely influential during the late 1960s, but his accidental death in 1970 marked for many the unofficial end of the hippie movement. Tie-dyed T-shirts and sweatbands began to trickle out of fashion in the years following Hendrix’ demise.