AUG 25, 2020 | 9781474611497 | RRP $32.99
Once again Philip Norman has crafted a biography that is both mesmerising and eminently readable just as he has done previously, but most notably for me with Slowhand. It’s hard to believe that it has been fifty years since Jimi’s brilliance was extinguished and to write the story of such an icon of both music and the 60s is no easy task let alone so long after his death, yet Norman has done so with both flair and meticulous attention to accurate detail.
James Marshall (born Johnny Allen) Hendrix had what can only be described as a tragic childhood – poverty, neglect, abandonment and pretty much starved of love or even affection. Growing up – or more accurately, surviving – in Seattle, Washington with an indifferent at best father and an absent mother, the man who was to become “the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame always dreamed of rising above his circumstances to great heights. And rise he did, from his first attempts at music with a salvaged one-stringed ukelele through battered second-hand guitars to playing (and burning) sleek Stratocasters, the determined, indeed obsessed, self-taught Jimi became the supreme maestro of his chosen instrument.
His early attempts in the professional music scene were hampered and obstructed through racial prejudice and resistance to his own flamboyant creativity but when he was finally picked up by Chas Chandler (formerly of The Animals) and transported to London, his ascent to the heights was mercurial. Sadly for us all, his reign as the most innovative of musicians was plagued and ultimately cut short by depression, poor management, drugs and alcohol and lasted only a few all-too-short years.
Though troubled by his upbringing and difficulties with relationships (despite a legion of groupies and girlfriends) and often mis-represented by the media as wild, troublesome and a bad influence, all those who knew him well unfailingly describe him as gentle, caring, well-mannered and knowledgeable on a whole range of subjects and topics.
The circumstances of his lonely death have been shrouded in mystery with contradictory versions given by those who were the closest to being eye-witnesses but Norman has doggedly unearthed testimony from as many sources as possible to try to re-construct the tragedy.
I found this compelling reading and realised just how little I knew about this elusive personality who literally revolutionised pop music single-handedly.
Whether you are a Hendrix fan or not, or indeed interested in music history, this is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to you.
RIP Jimi – fifty years later your legendary talent lives on and still influences so many.