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Jimi Hendrix: sideman to superstar

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As a sideman in countless acts before hitting it big, guitar god Jimi Hendrix was so unassuming that he could pester blues masters like Albert King about how they bent the guitar strings to produce a certain sound. The stars gladly shared trade secrets, never guessing how fast Hendrix would surpass them.

By his early ’20s, Hendrix was beginning to develop the distinctive sound and style that forced him out of the background … and started getting him fired. Examples:
  • Ike and Tina Turner fired Hendrix from their band because he “overstepped his bounds” with his flashy, complex solos.

  • “Little Richard” Penniman called Hendrix on the carpet one night for performing in a satin shirt instead of his band uniform.

    “I am the king of rock ’n’ roll,” Penniman ranted, “and I am the only one allowed to be pretty. Take that shirt off!”

By the time he’d put in a month with the Isley Brothers in 1965, Hendrix tired of playing backup and began his ascension toward stardom.

Gravitating toward Greenwich Village, Hendrix dazzled the best local guitarists. At last fronting his own band, the Blue Flames, Hendrix perfected his signature sound. He made $10 a night.

Finally, through the doggedness of two admirers and an inventive manager, Hendrix landed in London. He had spent 23 years as an outcast. In virtually 24 hours, he became a star.

—Adapted from Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, Charles R. Cross, Hyperion.

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