Drugs, alcohol, one-time girlfriends and crushing fame: the sudden rise and sudden end of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was one of the stars who played at Woodstock

He was the best guitarist not only of his time, but of all history. Jimi Hendrix in just four years, from 1966 until his untimely death in 1970, showed an enormous talent. His legacy lives on because he had it all: distortion and melody, psychedelia and rock, lyricism and power, rock and blues, sex and spirituality, virtuosity and passion.

He could play his own theme, a cover of a folk song like Hey Joe or the Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem, as at the end of his Woodstock set. The result has always been dazzling and innovative. He varied from plastic to thunderous, as if no record was foreign to him.. In his lifetime, he published three definitive and revolutionary albums. After his arrival, nothing was the same. Every subsequent rock guitarist (as well as most of his contemporaries) is indebted to Hendrix. His music achieves something rare. It is a perfect representative of an era and at the same time maintains the timelessness of the classics.

With Jimmy it happens like with the big cracks in football. However much one may wish to claim the credit of the discovery, his genius was so evident that it was impossible that his time should not come.. The 12-year-old Maradona was much better than the other boys (still a few years older than him) who played football; the same happened to twenty-year-old Hendrix and the other guitarists. Martians exercising (Martian) human activities.

The founding myth says it was brought to England by Chas Chandler, the Animals’ former bassist. Hendrix agreed to travel to Europe but asked to play with him cream, the first supergroup. Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce. cream He was playing music that no one was doing in those years. Clapton was unattainable, the nickname he had been given defined his powers: God. It was unthinkable to share the stage with these monsters. However, Hendricks knew he was up for the challenge. Clapton chose KillingFloor, a very complex song. Hendrix’s performance was stunning. Eric Clapton is said to have left the stage and said to one of his relatives: “No one told me this guy was this good”. That night, Jimi Hendrix began his legend and became a god-slayer. It was the night Hendrix killed God.

Jimi Hendrix in concert at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1969 (Photo by Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images)
Jimi Hendrix in concert at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1969 (Photo by Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images)

Then came the three albums, the trio, the gypsy band, the concerts, the big festivals.

His guitar skills allow him to perform exhibitionist gestures, pirouettes and tricks that displease some purists. Playing behind the head, with teeth, the guitar lit on stage. The latter is an image that makes the metaphor of what happened at the most critical moments of his performances too crude. Jimi Hendrix was a force of nature.

At the end of August 1970, just three weeks before his death, he spent a great night in the middle of New York. Many important musicians went to his house, to his new house. Mick Fleetwood, Johnny Winter and Yoko Ono toasted and strolled through the various environments of Electric Lady Studios, the recording studio Jimmy had built. It was quite a novelty for its time: the first major star to build a major professional studio with his own money (He invested about a million dollars at the time). In addition to allowing other artists to record their albums, it will be the laboratory in which the guitarist will experiment, in which he will look for his new paths and innovations, which at this moment seem inevitable. It’s hard to predict what has never happened, but the artistic pursuits Hendrix has undertaken in recent months (and his innate restlessness) seem to indicate so.

What he had always dreamed of, at one point became his conviction. The pressure of the media, the success, the audience, the shows one after the other. He spent the last three years on a kind of constant tour. In his childhood and adolescence, he dreamed of being a musician. He had succeeded, but he was caught in a web of contracts and demands that undermined him. The same thing happened with glory, sudden, brutal and crushing. “I don’t want to be a rock star anymore, I don’t want to be a clown,” he declared. Hence his search and intention to take his career on a new path. “I’m going to make a big band, not a trio anymore. See where it takes me,” he told an English journalist in August 1970.

After the studio launch party, Hendrix traveled to London. In Europe, performances at several festivals, a Scandinavian tour and shows in London, the city where he became world famous, await him.

His virtuosity with the guitar allows him to play the guitar while doing pirouettes.  He also lit her on stage
His virtuosity with the guitar allows him to play the guitar while doing pirouettes. He also lit her on stage

Hundreds of thousands of people (the number depending on who provides it varies between 300 and 600 thousand) heard it at the Isle of Wight Festival. The cast was impressive: The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Sly and The Family Stone. He played very late – almost a habit of his – and the show had several problems, including the sound.

In Sweden and Denmark he was adored. There he made several presentations. Then another festival. This time in Germany, on the island of Fehmarn. Another delay until dawn. A deluge and delay caused the crowd to boo him and throw things at the stage. Keep in mind that in those mass festivals of the late sixties, every minute an artist was late caused several collapses due to an excess of hallucinogens and other drugs. “If you’re going to boo and boo at me, at least do it in tune,” the guitarist implored sarcastically. Already on stage, already with the music, magic took over the place. It was his last live show.

At midnight on September 18, 1970, he took the stage to accompany war and its leader Eric Burden. He was applauded as always. He drank a lot of alcohol and took drugs, as usual, surrounded by beautiful women. At one point he was saved – or monopolized by Monica Dannemann. She was one of several girlfriends the musician had at the same time. In the morning they went to the hotel where she was staying in the English capital of Samarkand. She made him a tuna sandwich and they talked and drank wine. Despite the fatigue and the hour, Hendrix could not sleep. He told Monica that he would take something to do it. It was already almost 7 am. She fell asleep almost immediately. From there, the facts (or the description of them) become inaccurate.

Monica says that she woke up after three hours and, seeing him sleeping, decided to go downstairs to buy cigarettes. Just as he returned, he noticed that, lying on his back, a thin thread of vomit had slipped past his lips. He tried to wake him up and when he got no response, he asked for help. This is one version of the woman (who died in 1996 when she was 50, probably by suicide). He contradicted himself several times in the following days. At one point she said that when she woke up, she saw the picture that disturbed her and that she was desperate that she couldn’t wake him.

Other versions say that she got scared and called Eric Burden, with whom she had been dating until a few hours ago. He told her to call an ambulance immediately, but she said that was impossible: the press would find out and there were too many drugs in the room. Burden told him to call 911 and flush the drugs down the toilet. The ambulance quickly arrived at the hotel, but stayed there for a long time. More than half an hour. There are several hypotheses: some claim that Monica took several minutes to open them because she eliminated the incriminating substances; Others say that what kept him down was that they did the resuscitation maneuvers right there, but that it all failed; while there are those who believe that at that time they tried to stabilize their vital signs.

He lived on a constant tour.  In Sweden and Denmark he was adored.  In Germany he performed his last live show
He lived on a constant tour. In Sweden and Denmark he was adored. In Germany he performed his last live show

The conflicting accounts continue. There are witnesses who claim that he got into the ambulance alive; others swear he was carried with his head hanging back – making the drowning situation worse. One of the doctors claimed that the guitarist arrived dead, while another claimed that the death occurred in the hospital ward.

The years, instead of providing clarity, only deepened the conflicting versions and doubts. There was talk of accidental death, suicide, and even murder (in this case, suspicion always pointed to Monica, but as a tool of the CIA or FBI because of the connection between Jimmy and the Black Panthers: an unlikely theory). Every one of those who support a theory defends it emphatically.

Hendrix was found to have taken between 8 and 9 Vesperax, a powerful sleeping pill. The usual thing for everyone was to take a pill or half. But between his usual mix of drugs and alcohol and his almost daily use of the drug, one pill had no effect on Hendrix, who wanted to get enough hours of sleep. According to one of the doctors, he had so much wine in his body that “It looked as if a bottle had been poured down his throat.” The final report found the cause of death to be “inhalation of vomit due to barbiturate poisoning“.

The streak that year had started 15 days earlier and would end a month later. On September 3, in the hills behind the house of one of his colleagues, Alan Wilson, the leader of the blues band, was found dead of an overdose. Canned heat: his disappearance was overshadowed by the two that followed. A month and a day later, Janis Joplin died. In their midst, Hendrix. The three, apart from musicians, were 27 years old.

Jimi Hendrix Will Become Famous in One Way or Another for His Extraordinary Talent (Pixabay)
Jimi Hendrix Will Become Famous in One Way or Another for His Extraordinary Talent (Pixabay)

They were wild times, of excesses. But the coincidence of ages made The Club talk of 27, an age that many musical greats failed to overcome. The list is extensive: the pioneer was Robert Johnson, then in 1969 Brian Jones. After the 1970 triad, in the middle of the next year it was Jim Morrison’s turn. And further back in time, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, among others, were added to the sinister list.

After Jimi Hendrix’s death, his recordings continued to surface. Unpublished, discarded, live shows. Over 50 albums of his music have been released. Half a century after his death, his music lives on. A few weeks before he died, he had stated: “The expression to throw your head is valid. But we’re going to give people something that’s going to blow their minds, but while they’re blowing their minds, there’s going to be something that’s going to fill that gap. It’s going to be absolute music.” Time confirms that he succeeded.


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