The Jimi Hendrix Experience was an English-American rock band that formed in Westminster, London, in October 1966. Composed of eponymous singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jimi Hendrix, bassist and backing vocalist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell, the band was active until June 1969. In this time they released three successful studio albums. After Redding left in mid-1969, Hendrix and Mitchell stayed together through other projects. The Experience reunited in 1970 with Billy Cox, until Hendrix's death in September 1970. Redding died in 2003, and Mitchell became the last original member of the band to die, in November 2008.
Widely recognized as hugely influential on the development of hard rock and heavy metal in the late-1960s and beyond, the Experience was best known for the skill, style and charisma of frontman Hendrix, who has been voted one of the greatest guitarists by various music publications and writers. All three of the band's studio albums, Are You Experienced (1967), Axis: Bold as Love (1967) and Electric Ladyland (1968), were featured in the top 100 of the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, at positions 15, 82 and 54 respectively. In 1992, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jimi Hendrix arrived in England in September 1966 and with his new manager Chas Chandler formed a backing band with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. Mitchell was a seasoned London drummer formerly with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames who brought jazz chops and a lead style of playing to the band. He would prove to be Hendrix's most valuable musical partner. Redding was chosen because Hendrix liked his attitude towards music and hairstyle. It was the first time that he had ever played bass in a band, as he was a guitarist. The name "the Jimi Hendrix Experience" was coined by their business manager Mike Jeffery. The first official appearance of "the Jimi Hendrix Experience" (invited by French singer Johnny Hallyday) was at the Novelty in Évreux, France, on October 13, 1966. Six days later the band played their first UK gig as a private showcase at Scotch of St James.
Though initially conceived as Hendrix's backing band, the Experience soon became much more than that. Following the lead of Cream, they were one of the first groups to popularize the "power trio" format, which stripped a rock band line-up down to guitar, bass and drums. This smaller format also encouraged more extroverted playing from the band members, often at very high volumes. In the case of the Experience, Hendrix combined lead and rhythm guitar duties into one, while also making use of guitar effects such as feedback, and later the wah-wah pedal, to an extent that had never been heard before. Mitchell played hard-hitting jazz-influenced grooves that often served a melodic role as much as they did timekeeping. Redding played deceptively simple bass lines that helped to anchor the band's sound. Visually, they set the trend in psychedelic clothes and, following his band-mates' Bob Dylan 1966-style hairdos, Mitchell got himself a permed copy. On January 11, 1967, the band conquered London when they appeared at The Bag O'Nails nightclub. In attendance that night were John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Brian Epstein, Lulu, the Hollies, Small Faces, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Donovan, Georgie Fame, Denny Laine, Terry Reid, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton, who rarely missed any of Hendrix's London gigs. Townshend admitted, "[Jimi] changed the whole sound of electric guitar and turned the rock world upside down". Clapton agreed: "after Pete Townshend and I went to see him play, I thought that was it, the game was up for all of us, we may as well pack it in." The group came to prominence in the US only after the June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, one of the first major rock music festivals. The band's performance ended with Hendrix famously setting his psychedelically painted Fender Stratocaster on fire. After the festival they were asked to go on tour with the Monkees. They joined the tour on July 8, 1967, in Jacksonville, Florida, the second act on a three-band bill, opened by the Sundowners. Less than two weeks later, and after only a handful of engagements, they left the tour, reportedly frustrated by audience response. The last Hendrix/Monkees concert was performed at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York – Chas Chandler later said that it was all a publicity stunt.
With the Experience, Hendrix recorded his five hit singles "Hey Joe", "Purple Haze", "The Wind Cries Mary", "Burning of the Midnight Lamp" and "All Along the Watchtower", and his three most successful albums, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. By April 1969, however, the band was beginning to splinter. Hendrix's deteriorating relations with Redding were coming to a head, and Hendrix also felt his musical development was hampered by the trio format. Hendrix had also begun to experiment with depressants and psychedelic drugs. He was prone to mood swings, which created conflicts within the band. The original group held together long enough to fulfill their existing engagements, culminating in the Denver Pop Festival on June 29, 1969. From the stage, Hendrix made the infamous announcement: "This is the last gig we'll be playing together". The original Experience was dissolved.
Hendrix experimented with a larger band line-up known as Gypsy Sun and Rainbows for his Woodstock concert in August 1969, but reverted to the trio format with the Band of Gypsys. But by 1970, Hendrix had disbanded the Band of Gypsys – it has been claimed this was due to the desire of Michael Jeffery (now Hendrix's only manager) to reform the original Experience line-up, but as Trixie Sullivan, Jeffery's assistant, testified, Hendrix did exactly as he felt musically and Jeffery just handled the business side, as usual. Also, according to Gypsys bassist Billy Cox, the all-black power trio was mainly a one-off to help Hendrix fulfill an outstanding obligation to Ed Chaplin by recording a one-off live LP. Jeffery called Redding and Mitchell about reforming the Experience. Both agreed to participate in what would seem to be a great money-maker of a tour: Mitchell and Redding could use the cash, and the tour would also get Hendrix out of the financial problems he was in at the time partly due to the building of Electric Lady Studios. Hendrix was open to have Mitchell rejoin, but reluctant to bring Redding back into the fold.
In early February 1970, it seemed as if the original Experience was reformed. Manager Michael Jeffery even set up an interview with Rolling Stone magazine to announce the return of the group, published on 19 March 1970 in Rolling Stone as "J.H.: The End of a Beginning Maybe" (and reprinted in Guitar Player magazine five years after Hendrix's death). While the interview gave the impression that the old wounds were healed and the future seemingly bright for the Experience, it was far from the truth. Redding was waiting for weeks to hear back about rehearsals for the upcoming tour, and when he finally spoke with Mitchell's girlfriend, he learned that he had been replaced by Billy Cox. Before it started, Hendrix "called this tour The Cry of Love, because that's what it is" in an interview; this is the only mention of that name, prior to the posthumous LP of that name (1971), and the group itself was still referred to in all ads, articles, promos, bookings, introductions, etc. as the "Jimi Hendrix Experience" or just "Jimi Hendrix". So after a break of nearly ten months (during which he only played six dates) the "Jimi Hendrix Experience" hit the road for one last tour. Hendrix felt the band should stay in America and record for the next LP, while Mike Jeffery wanted a tour of Europe. The European tour was a bad decision from the start. Hendrix had a cold, was not getting rest, and was still affected by the change of climate. His disdain for the management and his financial situation accumulated stress, and by the European leg it was evident Hendrix was unhappy and unfit to tour. Mitchell reported that Hendrix was not even doing sound checks before the performances.
During this period, before the Isle of Wight festival, Hendrix spoke to his friend Richie Havens about his troubles. Havens recollects, "He was terribly unhappy, extremely depressed, and asked for my help. 'I'm having a real bad time with my managers and lawyers' Jimi said. 'They're killing me; everything is wired against me and it's getting so bad I can't eat or sleep...'". There is an interview with Havens (produced by Will Scally), where Havens discusses this very same meeting with Hendrix. The filmed interview has not as yet been broadcast. Any further information can be obtained from Barry Levene.
During a break in the tour later that year, Hendrix died on September 18, 1970, in controversial circumstances. In 1992, the Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Noel Redding was found dead in his home in Ireland on May 11, 2003. Will Scally produced and directed the DVD The Redding Experience (MNVDISCS), on which Redding discusses the history of the band in detail.
While touring in the US, Mitch Mitchell was found dead on November 12, 2008 in his room at the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He was the last surviving member of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, while Billy Cox remains the only surviving additional member.
- Jimi Hendrix – lead vocals, guitar (1966–1970; died 1970)
- Mitch Mitchell – drums (1966–1970; died 2008)
- Noel Redding – bass guitar, backing vocals (1966–1969; died 2003)
- Billy Cox – bass guitar, backing vocals (1969–1970)
- Are You Experienced (1967)
- Axis: Bold as Love (1967)
- Electric Ladyland (1968)
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Image from Discogs