Castles made of sand, fall in the sea, eventually: “Jimi Hendrix: By Those Who Knew Him Best”

By on November 27, 2017

If Jimi Hendrix were alive today, on what would have been his 75th birthday, we’d like to think he’d be coming out of retirement to celebrate by plugging into a 100-watt Marshall amp and treating us to a few of his classic rock hits.

Alas, Hendrix died in 1970, age 27, but we’re lucky to not only have great recordings he left behind, and film footage to watch, but we also have remembrances from those who knew him best, like those collected in the 2004 documentary Jimi Hendrix: By Those Who Knew Him Best, one of the unique music documentaries you’ll find on Night Flight Plus.

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This hour-long documentary — which contains no original music by Jimi Hendrix — collects exclusive and previously-unseen photos and film footage along with in-depth interviews by family members, childhood friends, and those that worked closely with Hendrix during his career, including a few fellow musicians.

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Sammy Drain

The interviews include his younger brother Leon Hendrix, who tells us of the difficult childhood he and Jimi had growing up in Seattle, Washington; childhood friend Sammy Drain, who played guitars with Hendrix on his family’s porch; Roger Mayer, who invented the Octavia (later Octavio) , a wedge-shaped device Hendrix used on “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” “Little Wing,” and other tracks.

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Roger Mayer, Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix and Noel Redding

We also hear from on-air radio personality Pat O’Day, who co-authored the memoir It Was All Just Rock ‘n’ Roll, who tells us about first meeting Hendrix in 1961 at a Seattle dance club called the Spanish Castle; and, Neville Chesters, who in May of 1968 became the Experience’s road manager for a tour in Italy.

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Roger O’Day and Jimi

Read more about Jimi Hendrix: By Those Who Knew Him Best below.

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Jimi Hendrix was actually born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942, the day after Thanksgiving, at Seattle’s King County Hospital.

His mother, sixteen year old high school student Lucille Jeter, had met Jimi’s father, Al Hendrix (real name: James Allen Ross Hendrix) at a dance a year earlier.

They were married on March 31, 1942, but three days later 23-year old Al Hendrix was on a bus, leaving Seattle to begin his basic training for the U.S. Army.

Hendrix ended up stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he soon learned Lucille was pregnant.

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When Hendrix wasn’t granted the standard military furlough afforded servicemen for childbirth, his commanding officer threw him in the stockade to prevent him from going AWOL.

Hendrix spent two months in the stockade, and he was still locked up when a telegram arrived announcing Lucille had given birth to their son.

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Lucille struggled to raise her child, and eventually Mrs. Champ, a church friend of Lucille’s mother Clarice, offered to raise the boy at her home in Berkeley, California.

When Al Hendrix got an honorable discharge on September 1, 1945, he spent two months looking for Lucille and his son in Seattle before he found Jimmy in Berkeley.

Sometime around 1946, Al renamed his son James Marshall Hendrix, the middle name in honor of his late brother, Leon Marshall.

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Leon Hendrix

Al and Lucille remained legally married for years, although they were often, both struggling with alcohol abuse and unemployment, and verbally and physically fighting each other.

In 2012, Leon — Jimmy’s younger brother, born on January 13, 1948 — told Rolling Stone that “Castles Made of Sand,” was actually about his and Jimmy’s turbulent childhood:

“Down the street you can hear her scream ‘you’re a disgrace’
As she slams the door in his drunken face,
And now he stands outside and all the neighbors start to gossip and drool.

He cries ‘Oh girl, you must be mad,
What happened to the sweet love you and me had?’
Against the door he leans and starts a scene,
And his tears fall and burn the garden green.

And so castles made of sand, fall in the sea, eventually.”

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Leon Hendrix, James “Al” Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix and their adopted sister Janie Hendrix (now executor of the Jimi Hendrix Estate)

Al and Lucille finally divorced on December 17, 1951, the court granting Al custody of Jimmy (9) and Leon (3).

Jimmy would only get to see his mother occasionally before she died 1958, age 34.

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In the documentary, Leon Hendrix tells how they both came to love music, and how Jimmy soon knew every musician around the neighborhood.

In the summer of ’58, Al would buy Jimmy a second-hand $5 acoustic guitar, his first, which he had to turn upside down to play (being a left-hander).

Jimmy bought his first electric guitar, a Supro Ozark 1560S, and then joined a couple of bands, the Rocking Kings, and the Tomcats.

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The Rocking Kings

In 1961, Jimmy enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he became a paratrooper, and while stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he formed the King Casuals with bassist Billy Cox.

He was discharged after he was injured during a parachute jump, and soon began working as a session guitarist, using  the name “Jimmy James.”

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Curtis Knight & the Squires

By the end of 1965, he’d already played with Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and Curtis Knight & the Squires.

Son, he was forming his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames (switching to lead guitar) and playing the club circuit in NYC’s Greenwich Village.

In July ’66, ex-Animals bassist Chas Chandler — now a talent scout, artist manager, and record producer — caught a show at Cafe Wha?, soon signing Hendrix to a management and production contract.

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Chas Chandler and Jimi

He then moved to London that September, forming the Jimi Hendrix Experience with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, and now began using the new spelling of his name: “Jimi.”

Watch Jimi Hendrix: By Those Who Knew Him Best on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.