Most of us have experienced the incredible, mood-altering power of music.
- Posted on Sep 17th 2010 12:30PM by Spinner
Dolores L. Hamm
Featuring a host of never-before-published photos, brand new interviews and even FBI files and court documents, 'Becoming Jimi Hendrix' reveals the complexity behind one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Check out an exclusive excerpt of the book below that details Hendrix's youth in the Seattle music scene.
By his late teens, Jimi was playing in local bands. First, it was the Velvetones and the Rocking Kings, followed by Thomas and the Tomcats. He practiced every spare moment he had, even if some of his strings were broken. When he didn't have his guitar with him, he pretended he did.
"One day I was walking down the hall," recalled his Garfield High School classmate Mike Tagawa, "and here was Hendrix coming in the other direction playing air guitar." Tagawa asked Jimi where his books were. "He gave me that nice warm smile of his and said, 'I don't need my books. I've got my guitar.'"
Jimi, introverted, fearful of his future, never able to bring friends over to his house, was bullied by some of boys, who saw him as peculiar and aloof. Once, friends saw Jimi chased across a football field by a boy he would not let hold his guitar. Eventually, Jimi was knocked to the turf, punched, and kicked. He suffered the blows, rather than releasing the guitar and risking damage to it.
In spite of the indignities Jimi faced, his mind craved new musical experiences. He listened to Seattle's two black radio stations, KFKF and KZAM. They played many of the top R&B and soul hits. Jimi's early interest in John Lee Hooker, B.B. and Albert King, and other bluesmen now incorporated rock-and-roll acts such as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
As if an omen of Jimi's musical future, he and Leon one day spotted a shiny Cadillac parked outside the house of their neighbor, Mrs. Penniman, whom they knew through their church, Goodwill Baptist, at 14th and Spring. Richard Penniman, aka Little Richard, was there visiting his mother. He had left show business to preach the gospel and invited the boys to come. Jimi and Leon went both nights. Jimi could never have predicted that in a few short years he would be playing guitar in Little Richard's re-formed band, battling with the singer for the spotlight.
Hendrix's first electric guitar was a white Supro Ozark. After it was stolen at a dance, Jimi got a cheaper, green Danelectro, which his father bought him at Myers Music Store in downtown Seattle. His school friends nicknamed it the "Chiang Kai-shek guitar" because it had been made in China. It was cheap and had a tinny sound, and to compensate for the instrument's limitations, he painted it different colors: red one week, purple another and then back to green.
At dances, Jimi used it to play popular songs such as 'Rockin' Robin,' 'Do You Want to Dance' and 'Yakety Yak.' As his style improved, he composed an original tune in the key of C called 'Jimmy's Blues.'
As Jimi got older, he played a club south of Seattle by the name of the Spanish Castle, which he later reminisced about in a song he titled 'Spanish Castle Magic': "It's very far away/It takes about half a day/To get there If we travel by my, uh, dragonﬂy."
The dragonfly was metaphorically the old, green Plymouth Fury with pronounced wings that one of the bands Jimi sat in with drove, when it wasn't broken down, to gigs. Leon tagged along with Jimi and looked forward to the shows at the Spanish Castle, its external square turrets and neon light cutting through the mist of Pacific Northwest nights. Jimi's little brother also looked forward to a free hot dog and French fries while the band played. On certain late nights, Leon slept under the stage.
But once at Birdland, another local club, the girlfriend of a Rocking Kings band member was very taken by Jimi's quiet, loner persona. During a break, Jimi was invited into the men's room for a band meeting. He exited, his face puffy and slightly bloody, beaten up by his jealous bandmate. Jimi quit the Rocking Kings. The band broke up shortly thereafter. Fred Rollins, the group's leader, was scheduled to join the army.
The next time Jimi saw him, Rollins was on furlough, wearing his paratrooper's uniform. Many of his friends, including Jimi, were impressed by the "Screaming Eagle" patch prominently displayed on Rollins's arm.
Jimi's early bands recognized his brilliance, but in a pattern that would repeat itself, he was unable to contain his need to create new sounds while playing cover songs. He was continually fired for cutting loose with screeching, whirring, fuzzy or wailing sounds that hardly fit the songs being played.
No one understood what he was trying to do, and his compulsion to branch out sonically puzzled his fellow musicians and audiences. Once, an amplifier had been partially busted by Jimi's excessive volume. The metallic sound from the damaged speaker excited Jimi, but when he brought it to another musician's attention, all he got was a strange stare.
Jimi had played Birdland numerous times. Despite Garfield High's ethnic mix of black, white, Asian and Hispanic students, despite Jimi's home at the Yesler Terrace projects -- one of the most ethnically diverse in the United States -- Birdland was the furthest a Negro band could possibly go in the Seattle music scene of 1961. He was trapped in his fragmented family, in the region, in poverty and in the music of the time.
From the book 'Becoming Jimi Hendrix' by Brad Schreiber and Steven Roby. Reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2010.
Brad Schreiber is a Los Angeles journalist, screenwriter, producer, and author of five books. His latest, co-authored with Steve Roby, is 'Becoming Jimi Hendrix : From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius.' Read his blog on Red Room.