Jimi Hendrix, Before He Was Experienced

Becoming Jimi Hendrix By Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber Da Capo Press, 274 pp., $17.95.

While the bulk of most Jimi Hendrix bios detail the post-Are You Experienced? album and Monterey Pop performance era, this is the first to concentrate solely on his pre-fame years.

As a result, the authors contribute plenty of valuable and insightful stories about the music, moods, and outlook of perhaps rock's most inventive guitarist. And many are revealed here for the first time via new first-person interviews, court transcripts, private letters, and even FBI files.

Here we meet a young Jimi, devastated by his beloved mother's early death and confused when his father not only did not allow him to attend the funeral, but gave the boy a shot of whiskey instead to deal with the pain.

Not surprisingly, Hendrix would consistently relay on the financial, social and sexual nursing of women throughout his life via shy and soft-spoken behavior, part real and part planned.

In fact, the book argues that without the support and patronage of two of these women - Lithofayne Pridgeon and Linda Keith - he may have never been "discovered" at all.

For Jimi, music became a refuge, even to the point of obsession. While learning to play, Hendrix would often sleep with his guitar clutched tightly to his chest. What is perhaps cute as a teen in the family home is not so much as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army where Jimi - never a dedicated soldier - was written up for masturbating in the barracks.

Most fascinating are the chapters that detail Hendrix's journeyman guitarist years on the "chitlin' circuit" as he backed established acts like the Isley Brothers, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, King Curtis, Ike & Tina Turner and even Joey Dee and the Starlighters.

While his talent was undeniable, these gigs were often short and ended poorly, with Hendrix getting the boot at various times for his attention-getting stage techniques, wild rock solos and sartorial splendor; all aspects that would, ironically, make him a huge star a short while later.

Interestingly, it was the success of Bob Dylan (with whom Hendrix was obsessed with) that proved to him that he need not be the world's greatest crooner to try his hand as a vocalist.

As far as Houston connections go, the book tells of a January 1965 Albert Collins show at Club 500 in the Third Ward that Hendrix and his then-boss Little Richard attended, as well as a recording session the same year with Richard's ex-sax man Grady Gaines, which resulted in the 45 "K.P./Cabbage Greens."

Thus, the Jimi Hendrix in Becoming Jimi Hendrix is not the wild man of rock and roll and ultimate tragic figure that most people think of, but the struggling player so sure of his own musical vision that he couldn't understand why others didn't get it immediately.

That he was able to produce so much once they did - and in such a short time before his death - is something for which classic rock fans will forever be grateful.

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