Monday, March 20

Jimi Hendrix, beyond the ‘showman’ who played guitar with his teeth

Jimi Hendrix first became interested in music when he was 10 years old. Even then he pretended to play the strings with the broomstick and his father, who knew nothing about chords, decided to buy him a real acoustic guitar. The following year electric power arrived. He never took classes or had anyone close to serve as an instructor. His knowledge was gained by listening to Elmore James records, at religious functions, and by watching guitarists from rhythm and blues passing through his hometown. Even so, he ended up developing a mastery that years later would raise him as one of the great revolutions of rock music in the second half of the 60s.

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But to understand the singer, you first have to understand the language he learned. Is what the book discovers Jimi Hendrix: the savage, originally released just three years after the guitarist’s death, in 1970, and now reissued by La Linterna Sorda to recover what is one of his most complete biographies. Its author is the veteran journalist Jesús Ordovás, responsible for numerous books on some of the most relevant artists in history and director of musical programs on Radio 3 and TVE.

“He was one of the greats, like Bob Dylan or the Beatles. I dedicated myself to looking for all the documentation that could be known about Jimi Hendrix and, with all that material, I began to write a book that ended up having 12 editions”, explains Ordovás in an interview via telephone to

His work begins by telling that Jimi Hendrix was born in a ghetto in Seattle (Washington, USA), on November 27, 1942. His father was a gardener serving white families and his mother died when he was a child. She started going to school, but her father couldn’t pay for her studies and had to drop out at 16 to earn a living. The economic situation in his home was not exactly the best, especially with the arrival of winter and the absence of grass to cut. What he never gave up was his guitar.

“Then he started stealing cars to show off with his guitar and flirt with girls. The police caught him a couple of times and the third time they convicted him, but they allowed him to get out of jail by joining the Army. It was a way that the men had. Americans to get soldiers to go to the Vietnam War, “says the biographer.

His stay in the paratroopers division did not last long and he even pretended to be homosexual to cause his expulsion, but the time there served to strengthen ties with various rock and blues musicians whom he would later join to tour the southern United States. . “He learned how to be on stage so as not to bore people. In addition to doing tricks and playing the guitar very well, he had to be a showman. That is why he did things like playing the guitar with his teeth, crossed behind his back, juggling … “, Ordovás lists.

Hendrix accompanied great personalities from the American music scene, such as the band The Isley Brothers or the mythical Little Richard. But his reception was not the best. “Almost always they threw him out of all the important groups because they did not want him to overshadow them, since everyone noticed him,” observes the writer.

From seedy clubs to stardom

The funny thing is that Hendrix did not achieve stardom in his native country. He had to cross an ocean to get it. “In the United States he played in seedy clubs where, hopefully, 50 people attended. They looked at him and thought: ‘Well, a madman playing the guitar with his teeth,'” Ordovás details. Everything changed when Chas Chandler, original bassist for The Animals and producer, ended up dazzled by the guitarist after seeing him perform in a bar. Thus began his journey in England. The singer only put one condition: that they introduce him to Eric Clapton. And so it was, but it did not turn out as expected.

Clapton himself, laughing, allowed that unknown artist interested in sharing space with some of the best musicians in England integrated in the supergroup Cream, such as Ginger Baker or Jack Bruce, on stage. “Then Hendrix began to play a blues that Clapton himself had tried a million times and had never been able to play because of its difficulty. The British guitarist was so perplexed that he ended up leaving the stage, thinking that he had passed from being the god. from the guitar to being musically dead “, highlights the biographer.

Hendrix also caught the attention of one of his idols: Bob Dylan. This came to define him as “stratospheric” and affirmed that it was he who had made the best versions of his songs, especially Like a Rolling Stone Y All Along The Watchtower. The latter, in fact, would go down in history as one of those covers whose success would overshadow even the original theme.

And from there Hendrix began an unprecedented tour that led him to headlining festivals around the planet, including the land where he was initially seen with strange eyes: the United States. “Above all, he is remembered for his performance at the Woodstock festival, since he was in charge of closing it with the interpretation of the North American anthem covered with electric guitar. That was his worldwide confirmation”, Ordovás considers.

It even came to Spain, specifically to the Sgt. Peppers nightclub in Mallorca. “In his performance, as usual, he would not stand still with the guitar. Then on one occasion he raised it with such force that he made a hole in the plaster ceiling. Unfortunately someone fixed it, but that hole should have remained there for the story just like the shots fired in Congress, “the cultural journalist laughs.

Although the role of showman of Hendrix, before he passed away he had time to show that he was, above all, a great musician. “He had a different personality and fused styles like nobody had ever done before. Nobody in the rock world had been such an exceptional guitarist, with a background of the best American music, blues, rock, funk and that all that was expressed in songs “, recapitulates the biographer. He adds that he is also considered “the first black rock musician to be accepted and to be successful worldwide”, since although Chuck Berry was one of the fathers of the genre “it was not so well received”.

There are different theories about Hendrix’s death. The blues singer Eric Burdon, with whom he gave his last concert, said that some tycoon had ordered to poison him after the guitarist lost interest in touring and rubbing shoulders with record companies, causing them to lose a million dollar business. However, the police version is different. “According to the investigation, it appears that he came home with his last girlfriend, took some pills to fall asleep and went to bed. But he ingested more than he should have and, when he vomited throughout the night, he remained sound asleep. He ended up drowning”, Ordovás culminates with the theory that according to him is more convincing. His days ended in 1970 and at only 27 years old, but leaving behind a musical legacy that remains as unique as he is.