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Jimi Hendrix

He died 26 years ago this week in a London hotel room, with a girlfriend who couldn't make up her mind to call an ambulance. James Marshall Hendrix had ingested nine German sleeping pills, some wine, and a meal of brown rice. He was 27 years old.The British had discovered him -- give them credit there. Like Faulkner and the French, it took another country to recognize this quintessentially American artist. Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix was a mix of African, Cherokee and Irish blood. The product of a broken home, his father had removed him from his teenaged mother's care at age three. Jimi was brought up by relatives when Al was away, and in later life Hendrix was opposed to marriage. More telling he drifted in and out of romantic relationships in a way that fit the mores of the nineteen sixties, but suggested a deeper anxiety. The female figures in his lyrics are either the evasive, angelic wanderers of songs such as Little Wing, or the dangerous temptress' of Dolly Dagger and Foxy Lady. He took up the guitar at thirteen, dropped out of high school at 17, and then joined the 101st Airborne. He became a paratrooper and jumped 26 times before breaking his ankle on his last attempt. It was just as well. An honorable discharge kept him away from Vietnam, and he had quickly come to understand that the army was not a place sympathetic to guitarists. Billy Cox, his friend, bass player and fellow serviceman recalls that his nickname in those years was "Marbles," a tribute to the fact that Hendrix would walk down city streets playing an unplugged electric guitar. He was honing his chops; steeping himself in the native music of the south. The blues became his backbone, at a time when slicker and more popular Motown productions were winning over the country.Hendrix scratched out a living playing the "chitlin circuit," a string of southern roadhouses where rhythm and blues bands made their living in the fifties and sixties. For brief perio...

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