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Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the…

by Steven Roby

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351531,052 (3.75)None
Becoming Jimi Hendrix traces "Jimmy's" early musical roots, from a harrowing, hand-to-mouth upbringing in a poverty-stricken, broken Seattle home to his early discovery of the blues to his stint as a reluctant recruit of the 101st Airborne who was magnetically drawn to the rhythm and blues scene in Nashville. As a sideman, Hendrix played with the likes of Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner, the Isley Brothers, and Sam & Dave--but none knew what to make of his spotlight-stealing rock guitar experimentation, the likes of which had never been heard before.   From 1962 to 1966, on the rough and tumble club circuit, Hendrix learned to please a crowd, deal with racism, and navigate shady music industry characters, all while evolving his own astonishing style. Finally, in New York's Greenwich Village, two key women helped him survive, and his discovery in a tiny basement club in 1966 led to Hendrix instantly being heralded as a major act in Europe before he returned to America, appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, and entered the pantheon of rock's greatest musicians.   Becoming Jimi Hendrix is based on over one hundred interviews with those who knew Hendrix best during his lean years, more than half of whom have never spoken about him on the record. Utilizing court transcripts, FBI files, private letters, unpublished photos, and U.S. Army documents, this is the story of a young musician who overcame enormous odds, a past that drove him to outbursts of violence, and terrible professional and personal decisions that complicated his life before his untimely demise.… (more)

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The authors put a lot of work into this book, and produced a worthwhile read. Actually, it looks like Roby did the research and interviews, as his acknowledgements make it pretty clear that Schreiber's role was to make the result readable. The result is readable, though often unfocused; the biography's organization is not-quite-relentlessly chronological, with occasional unexpected excursions which are harmless but disorienting.

Becoming Jimi Hendrix mostly explores Jimi's life as a professional sideman, from his 1962 Army stint until his move to London and great fame in late 1966. An introduction covers his life to that point, and an epilogue touches on his career as a bandleader. There are approximately three recurring themes in the book's main section: Jimi's poverty, his contacts with some of the 1960s best popular musicians, and his women. While the poverty's mentioned constantly, the authors don't make it particularly real. In contrast, his musical odyssey is covered very well, with both his experiences as a professional sideman and his (relatively) casual contacts with famous musicians are recorded with some excellence. And there are constant mentions of frequent sexual encounters--though the book also offers fine and sympathetic portraits of the half-dozen or so women with whom he had relatively stable relationships.

Hendrix comes across here as naive, engaging, stubborn, and remarkably intelligent. That nuanced portrait fully justifies the book.

On the other hand, the book is afflicted with unnecessary foreshadowing, occasional catty remarks about the blindness of other musicians to Hendrix' talent, and some unfocused speculation about his death.

One of the book's themes--the unrelenting poverty of the sideman musician--would itself have made a worthwhile book. There are lots of hooks in this text that another author might have built into something differently valuable. I realize this subject was outside the authors' main interest, but it's fascinating enough even in their sketchy presentation. For many fine musicians, that was, and is, their life's prospect.

A good and interesting book. Would the authors were stronger writers.

This review has also been published on a dabbler's journal. ( )
  joeldinda | Jan 10, 2011 |
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Becoming Jimi Hendrix traces "Jimmy's" early musical roots, from a harrowing, hand-to-mouth upbringing in a poverty-stricken, broken Seattle home to his early discovery of the blues to his stint as a reluctant recruit of the 101st Airborne who was magnetically drawn to the rhythm and blues scene in Nashville. As a sideman, Hendrix played with the likes of Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner, the Isley Brothers, and Sam & Dave--but none knew what to make of his spotlight-stealing rock guitar experimentation, the likes of which had never been heard before.   From 1962 to 1966, on the rough and tumble club circuit, Hendrix learned to please a crowd, deal with racism, and navigate shady music industry characters, all while evolving his own astonishing style. Finally, in New York's Greenwich Village, two key women helped him survive, and his discovery in a tiny basement club in 1966 led to Hendrix instantly being heralded as a major act in Europe before he returned to America, appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, and entered the pantheon of rock's greatest musicians.   Becoming Jimi Hendrix is based on over one hundred interviews with those who knew Hendrix best during his lean years, more than half of whom have never spoken about him on the record. Utilizing court transcripts, FBI files, private letters, unpublished photos, and U.S. Army documents, this is the story of a young musician who overcame enormous odds, a past that drove him to outbursts of violence, and terrible professional and personal decisions that complicated his life before his untimely demise.

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