Jimi Hendrix: A Musical Icon

As the biopicis set to be released to movie theaters nationwide today, it's time to reflect on the life of one of popular culture's largest iconic figures.
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As the biopic Jimi: All Is by My Side is set to be released to movie theaters nationwide today, it's time to reflect on the life of one of popular culture's largest iconic figures. Jimi: All Is by My Side was written by Academy Award-winning writer-director John Ridley. It chronicles Jimi Hendrix's life through 1966-1967 as an unknown backup guitarist playing in the infamous New York City Cheetah Club to his triumphant arrival on the musical landscape at Monterey International Pop Music Festival. The role of Hendrix is being played by Andre Benjamin, a superstar entertainer in his own right.

James Marshall Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix in Seattle, Washington in 1942. He became affectionately known to the world as Jimi Hendrix through his mercurial guitar playing skills on Fender Stratocasters and Gibson Flying V's and timeless recordings. Forty-four years after his passing, a multitude of recording artists have come and gone having been inspired by his legendary stature. Contemporary artists across different genres speak on the brilliance of him as an influence, and a pioneer to their own production methodologies.

After his discharge from the army in 1962, Hendrix set out to forge a path to become a musician. Between the years of 1963-1970, Jimi Hendrix left his indelible fingerprints on different genres of music. His first recordings were held with the iconic Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and other coterminous soul, R&B and blues artists as a backing band member on the TOBA circuit of the early 1960s. TOBA was an acronym for Theater Owners' Booking Association, and sarcastically known as "Tough on Black Asses," because the audiences were demanding of the performers. It was also widely known as the Chitlin' Circuit, and the very place where Hendrix enriched his playing style.

In early 1964, he was offered a guitarist position with the nonpareil group, The Isley Brothers, after winning first prize at the Apollo Theater for his playing talents. Later on that same year, he went on to record and perform with the incomparable Little Richard. Lasting through the end of 1965, he performed and recorded off and on alongside The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and other great soul acts of the time period.

His band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience received their big break, when his group was signed to a management and production contract in 1966. They released their first album, Are You Experienced, which featured the singles "Hey Joe" "Stone Free" "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cries Mary."

The singles were all UK Top 10 hits and were also popular internationally including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. During this time, Hendrix's popularity grew instantaneously in Europe,and had yet to be embraced by musical audiences in the United States. It wasn't until Paul McCartney of the Beatles recommended his group to the organizers of the Monterey International Pop Music Festival. It was here where his unsurpassed talent was on full display for many aficionados of pop music.

The group's final two albums, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland, were also well received by the public at large. Axis: Bold as Love embraced the stylistic approach of Are You Experienced, but Electric Ladyland went into a different experimental direction due to the vacancy left by Chas Chandler, Hendrix's studio engineer. Axis: Bold as Love spawned the hit "Little Wing," while Electric Ladyland contained monsters such as "Voodoo Chile" "Crosstown Traffic," and "All Along the Watchtower."

His eclectic fashion sense came from his obsession with Bob Dylan. It was one of the many things that made him stand out from his contemporaries. He was also known for his stage antics by playing the guitar with his teeth and behind his back upside down. His musical voice and guitar style were exemplar, later imitated by others, but never duplicated. He left behind more than 300 unreleased recordings, which exemplify his unparalleled work ethic.

His career and death grouped him with Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones, a group of profound 1960s rock stars who suffered drug-related deaths literally within months of each other between 1969 and 1971. Circumstances around his death remain a mystery to this day. One can only imagine the music they would have blessed the world with, if they lived longer. Drug use and foul play have been the two theories that have reigned supreme over other justifications, but his death still remains unsolved.

To his credit, his creativity did much to further the development of the electric guitar, the hard rock, funk rock and heavy metal genres. His skill set and improvisation took blues and propelled it to even greater heights. His music has also had a great influence on the worlds of funk and hip- hop, with many legends from each genre citing inspiration from his unquestioned genius.

Voted by Rolling Stone, Guitar World and a plethora of other magazines and polls as the best electric guitarist of all time, the icon is currently enshrined in the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame. With eleven studio albums released posthumously, Hendrix ranks 94th on the list of 100 best-selling music artists in US history and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.

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