By Phil Briggs
Jimi Hendrix would have celebrated his 75th birthday this week.
Although everyone knows him as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, Hendrix enlisted with the 101st Airborne Division as an alternative to serving prison time for riding in stolen cars.
My favorite part of his service story is envisioning a young Hendrix reporting for duty to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Imagining his laid back swagger, trying to be contained by an Army Drill Sergeant. Luckily his desire to play guitar was not discouraged by the regimented life of a soldier, and in November 1961, fellow serviceman Billy Cox heard Hendrix playing guitar. According to his biography Cox described Hendrix as, “a combination of John Lee Hooker and Beethoven”.
The two jammed and performed at local clubs as a band called the Casuals.
While he was a visionary and a guitar virtuoso, he was not a good soldier. There are some reports that state he lacked motivation and “required excessive supervision”. It’s interesting to note that during a time when our news cycle has been dominated by stories of celebrities sexual misconduct, Hendrix’s time in Army may have had a similar story. (It’s alleged he once got in trouble for masturbating while on duty).
He was discharged in May of 1962 for “behavioral problems”.
Although he may not be remembered as a great soldier- by putting down the rifle and picking up an axe, he started a revolution that changed rock and roll guitar riffs forever.
Rock on Jimi, rock on.