It is almost hard to believe that the person who I look up to–the person who I have idolized–the person with whose image I fell in love with is dead. September 18, 1970 was the last day of Jimi Hendrix’ life. I wasn’t alive back then, but I think that is because I was born at the wrong time. I often wonder what life and music would be like if Jimi was still alive. It is a well-known fact that Jimi was changing directions in his musical career. This scared the music executives that made a career out of sucking every last bit of money out of him. Some say that Jimi was murdered. Whether he was murdered or died from inhalation of vomit due to an overdose of barbiturates is moot. The artist that I love is dead. I’m amazed–everyday–that one guy could have made such a very big impact on music in just three short years. Fans loved him; his peers feared him, and I grew to appreciate him. He is the reason I picked up the guitar. He is also the reason I gave up the guitar. He was just that good.
On this day, I try to look back to the time when I first experienced Hendrix.
I was 12 years old. I recall walking around the mall and I came across a poster bearing the image of Hendrix. It was the one of him appearing as Medusa with guitar cables replacing his hair. That was it. I was hooked. It was the early eighties, and I didn’t have any money to buy a record or cassette. But anytime someone asked me who my favorite artist was I would say Hendrix. When they would ask me what my favorite song from him is I would say “Foxy Lady” or “Purple Haze”. You see, those were the only two songs that I knew. I never owned a single record from Hendrix. I only knew what I heard that would play on the radio. It wasn’t until three years later that I had the great opportunity to borrow a couple of his cassettes from a friend of mine. I was so excited! Of course, I didn’t have a double-deck cassette recorder. I was bummed out, but I was determined to make it happen. I told all my friends of my problem and I was happy to find that one of my friends, Jim Lorette, had a double-deck cassette recorder that I could use. I rushed to his house after-school and started to record. I feel that was the start of my life. I owned that cassette for well over twenty years. Over the years I have read as much as I can about him. I consider myself somewhat of a historian. I am proud of the fact of having the opportunity of meeting Jimi’s father, Al, back in 1994. I was on a weekend leave from the Navy and my friend from Seattle invited me to hang out with him at his place. I had plans to go to Jimi’s grave and take a picture. I also wanted to check out Jimi’s boyhood home. My friend and I were lost and we decided to stop and ask for directions. It just so happened that the person I asked for directions was none other than Al Hendrix (Jimi’s father). He was sitting on a stoop in front of his house. It didn’t dawn on me first who he was, but as soon as he smiled I knew. We talked for hours. He let me in his house, and he let me look at many of his son’s memorabilia. I held a guitar that he claimed to be Jimi’s. I even held some of his clothes in my hand. The steady stream of tears that were falling from my face were hard to hide. I didn’t care. It was Jimi. A lot has been written about Jimi’s dad. A lot of unflattering things have been written about Jimi’s dad. For some strange reason I felt like he was my dad. I was very happy over this chance encounter.
I don’t know what life would be like if Jimi was still alive today. I don’t know what his music would be like today. For that matter, I don’t know if I would’ve ever got hooked on Hendrix. However, the one thing that I do know is that the music he made in just those three short years are still playing on every classic rock station–on Earth. Somewhere in America there is some young 12-year-old boy (or girl) at a mall staring at a Jimi Hendrix poster and thinking that this is the first day of the rest of their lives.
I love you Jimi. May you rest in peace with all the other great musicians.