Long before he became an electric guitar god, Jimi Hendrix made a living – and a name for himself – backing up some of Motown’s and early rock’s biggest names.
James Marshall Hendrix was fresh out of an unimpressive stint in the 101st Airborne when he headed to Tennessee with his guitar, where he played gigs for Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.
But it wasn’t until he headed to Harlem in 1964, winning an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater, that he started gaining more and more attention for his musical abilities – and was soon hired by the Isley Brothers. With his fame growing in prominent music circles, Hendrix ended up in Atlanta as part of a traveling circuit of musicians, and was hired to record and perform with Little Richard.
By the end of 1965, Hendrix had parted ways with Little Richard, supposedly after missing the tour bus. But he continued to be in demand as a session and stage guitarist, rejoining briefly with the Isley Brothers while picking up playing jobs here and there.
But Hendrix was growing, and so was his list of friends. After rubbing elbows with the likes of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Pete Townsend, Hendrix put together the Jimi Hendrix Experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
The band initially got a lukewarm reception in the states, but took off in Europe, where Hendrix toured and gained increasing attention and acclaim.
However, he would not be in obscurity long in the states. The 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival in California turned into something of a coming-out party for Hendrix, who wowed the music world with his performance and guitar-burning antics.
When the Woodstock Music & Art Festival came along two years later, Hendrix was the last performer to take the stage – and the main reason many stayed around at all.
By then, he was miles away from Little Richard, Sam Cooke and his Motown past.
(NOTE: This is part of an occasional Listening Room series I’ll be doing on noted rockers and where they came from. JF)
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