5/16/12 - jimi hendrix gets his first electric guitar

In today's excerpt - living in near penniless poverty with his alcoholic father Al in Seattle, his mother long since having left them both and his brother Leon in foster care, sixteen-year-old Jimi Hendrix got his first electric guitar:

"Jimi turned sixteen [in the fall of 1958], and music became an increasingly important part of his life. He had become proficient on his acoustic gui­tar, but what he most wanted was an electric model. 'He was fascinated with electronics,' Leon recalled. 'He had rewired a stereo and tried to make it electrify his guitar.' [Family friend] Ernestine Benson, seeing Jimi's interest in music grow, hounded Al to buy the boy a proper instrument.

"School continued to be a problem. Even retaking classes he had failed the previous year, Jimi struggled. When he and Al moved again in December to live for a few months with [his niece] Grace and [her husband] Frank Hatcher, it necessitated yet another transfer to Washington Junior High. When the spring term was over, Jimi had again failed math, english, and mechan­ical drawing. He couldn't be held back a second time, so school officials approved him for high school in the fall, hoping, no doubt, that the new environment would improve his grades.

"Father and son spent only a short time living with the Hatchers, who quickly tired of Al's troubles. 'Al was so inconsistent: drinking, gambling, and coming home any old time,' Frank Hatcher recalled. In April 1959, they moved again, this time to an apartment on First Hill. The building was so rodent-infested, Al never bothered to turn the gas stove on or to use the kitchen. Prostitutes worked down the street. The apartment was across from a juvenile detention center, which perhaps served as a reminder to Jimi of where things could lead.

"Despite the degradation around them, it was in that apartment where Jimi found his greatest childhood joy when he received his first electric guitar. Nagged constantly by Ernestine Benson to 'get that boy a guitar,' Al finally relented and bought an instrument on time pay­ments from Myer's Music. He purchased a saxophone at the same time, thinking he would take the instrument up himself. For a brief while, the two Hendrix males jammed together. When the next payment came due, however, Al returned the horn.

"Jimi's guitar was a white Supro Ozark. It was right-handed, but Jimi immediately restrung it leftie; that still meant that the guitar's con­trols were reversed, which would have made it difficult to master. Jimi immediately called [girlfriend] Carmen Goudy and yelled into the phone, 'I've got a guitar!'

'You already have a guitar,' she said.

'No, I mean a real guitar!' he exclaimed. He dashed over to her house. As they walked to Meany Park, Jimi was literally jumping for joy with the guitar in his hands.

'Remember,' Carmen said, 'we were kids who were so poor, we didn't get stuff for Christmas. This was like hav­ing five Christmases all rolled up into one. You couldn't help but feel happy for him. I think it was the happiest day of his life.' "


Charles R. Cross


Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix




Copyright 2005 by Charles R. Cross


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