FEATURE: Don’t believe the hype about Jimi Hendrix! Historian Corey Washington distinguishes between the mythology and the real life of the guitar legend

March 4, 2016
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Jimi Hendrix deserves a second look by the Black community as a whole. I don’t want the younger generation of young folks to have to discover Jimi well into their early twenties like I did. If it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan playing Jimi’s music as his entrance music, I don’t know how long it would have taken to discover Jimi. I would like to take this time to paint a more rounded portrait of Jimi. You can add this to the already truncated mainstream view of Jimi promoted by Experience Hendrix. Remember, my views on Jimi involve simple arithmetic: It’s all about multiplication and addition, never about division and subtraction.

Jimi Hendrix is a man that is recognized as a supreme innovator. He is often associated with hippies, psychedelic drugs, and hard rock music. He is often recognized as a top 10 in any category in the annals of rock. When it comes to R&B, soul, funk, jazz, or hip-hop, he is rarely mentioned at all. This phenom was the highest paid performer who headlined some of the biggest concerts of the late 60’s. His performances at the Monterrey Pop Festival, Woodstock, Fillmore East, and Isle of Wight are not only legendary, but they set a standard so high, that no one has been able to match it since. I could go on and on, but I’ll just come out and say that the only man who can fit the preceding description is none other than Jimi Hendrix.

Jimi’s image has often been hijacked by the mainstream to paint a picture of an artist that was a pied piper for the LSD induced flower children of the 60’s. This image is forced and not reflective of the complex African-American genius. Let’s paint a more colorful picture shall we:

By Corey Washington*, AFROPUNK contributor

  • Jimi grew up in poverty in Seattle’s black Central District. His childhood was not a privileged one.
  • Although Jimi is mainly known for Rock, this genre only accounted for 3 to 4 years of his life. Jimi was deeply rooted in the blues, R&B, folk, etc.
  • Jimi was a great blues player. His style invoked the deepest origin of the blues, which dates back to the field hollers and groans of a people oppressed, but yearning for some solace through music. These sounds not only emanated from Jimi’s vocal chords, but also the chords of his guitar.
  • Jimi briefly got into experimental jazz, which later was called fusion and made popular by Miles Davis. Jimi was set to work with Miles Davis on a collaboration, but the deal fell through.
  • In Feb. of 1964, Jimi won a $25 first place prize at the famous Amateur Night at the Apollo.
  • At some point at the end of 1968, Jimi ditched his processed hair in favor of a more natural Afro look. He kept this look down to his suspicious death on Sept. 18th, 1970.
  • Jimi often made references to the Black Panthers in 1969-70. Just the mention of the Panthers was controversial, let alone for a man whose core audience was Caucasian. Jimi even went so far as to dedicate one of his songs, Voodoo Child (A Slight Return), to the Black Panthers.
  • Jimi had a big hand in the development of the P-Funk sound with the formation of his all black rock group the Band of Gypsys. This new sound, seamlessly fusing rock and R&B, debuted at the Fillmore East at the beginning of 1970. This sound would later be perfected by George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic.
  • In Nov. of 1969, Jimi had an impromptu session with Buddy Miles and Jalal of the Last Poets, which sounded like an early rap record. The product of this jam, Doriella Du Fontaine, contained elements of spoken word rap, funky break beats, and the overall swagger which would define rap in the years to come.
  • Other than James Brown at the Boston Garden, Jimi Hendrix is the only other legend to play a concert in order to keep the peace during the instability of the MLK assassination aftermath. Jimi’s venue was at the Symphony Hall in Newark, NJ on April 5th, 1968. Jimi even dedicated a song to the memory of MLK and brought tears to everyone who attended that night.
  • After Jimi’s earth shattering performance at Woodstock, he chose a place in Harlem called Frank’s Restaurant on 125th st. to hold a press conference on Sept. 3rd, 1969, to announce his benefit concert for a little known Harlem youth organization called the United Block Association. Just imagine the biggest musician in the world, after his crowning performance, announcing to the world that he is going to play a free concert for a small black organization for free. You can hear the condescending tone of the reporters as they questioned why Jimi would choose this group to help. Jimi performed on 138th st. near Lennox Ave on Sept. 5th, 1969.

These points certainly fly in the face of the well guarded public persona of Jimi Hendrix. The truth be told, Jimi’s sound really changed drastically with his third studio album Electric Ladyland. His music took on a more melodic return to his R&B days. Jimi was the quintessential fusion artist. He drew from every genre of music known to man. Jimi had a longing to have his music accepted by all people. The only people that he felt he wasn’t reaching were the kind of people that he left behind in Harlem. If Jimi had lived through the 70’s and 80’s, he would have fit right in on Soul Train and Yo MTV Raps. Don’t penalize Jimi Hendrix because of what you think you know about him. Learn more about him and judge him on his whole body of work.

For more detailed info on Jimi’s legacy, check out my book Nobody Cages Me.

Corey Washington (M.ED) Author of Plain Talk vol. 1 (Everything you Ever and Never wanted to know about Racism and Stereotypes) and Plain Talk Vol. 2 (Digging a Little Deeper) and the Jimi Hendrix book: Nobody Cages Me