Hendrix Before Jimi

Hendrix Before Jimi

Or, God Bless Linda Keith

It was likely 1967 when we American listeners first heard the then 24-year-old guitarist called Jimi Hendrix. For some, we’d never heard rock played quite that way. And we would never have believed that we would only have three years before he would leave us.

Like all legends, there was a prequel. This post will try to fill in some of Jimi’s story before he became Jimi.

And many thanks to Philip Norman’s biography of Hendrix: Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix. The book provided an invaluable outline for this post.


James Allen Hendrix, known as Al, met Lucille Jeter. in Seattle. Al and Lucille married on March 31, 1942.  World War II had already begun and three days later Al was shipped off to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for basic training.

Lucille gave birth to a son on November 27, 1942. She named him Johnny Allen Hendrix.  When he returned from the Pacific, Al worried that perhaps Johnny wasn’t his having had received anonymous letters suggesting infidelity on Lucille’s part.

Al  changed Johnny’s name to James Marshall Hendrix, but the youngster later preferred the name Buster. He loved the action movie hero actor Buster Crabbe and wanted that name.

Buster remained Buster until he entered  Washington Middle School (Seattle, WA).  There he became Jimmy.

Hendrix Before Jimi

Early Bands

After years of begging and “playing guitar” on a broom and on a one-stringed ukulele, Dad Al finally bought an actual guitar for his 12-year-old son. Despite the left-handed Buster having to play  the right-handed instrument “upside down,” the guitar (and there were many!) encompassed the rest ofJimmy’s life.

He joined a band called the Velvetones. In 1959 he joined the Rocking Kings; then Thomas and the Tomcats.

In 1948, Ray Charles had moved from Tampa, Florida to Seattle, Washington because he wanted to get as far away from Tampa as possible. It was in Seattle that Charles was “discovered” and he always had a fond spot for the city.

He was performing there in early 1960 and needed some backup players. Jimmy Hendrix was one of those selected.

Hendrix Before Jimi


In October 1960, Jimmy dropped out of high school and shortly afterwards ran into some legal issues and the judge offered him jail-time or the Army. Jimmy chose the Army, specifically the 101st Airborne Division where he found the challenges both exciting and unnecessary. He was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

He eventually had his guitar with him, of course, and also met Billy Cox. Together they formed the Kasuals and performed locally in their free time. Hendrix’s Army time was too limiting for his play time and by July 1962 he was discharged, honorably, basically for being unfit for the Army.

Hendrix Before Jimi

King Kasuals/Marbles

Cox left the Army (on time) a few months later and together they formed the King Kasuals and lived in Clarksville, Tennessee.   They met Larry Lee there.  Of course, the three would later be on stage at Woodstock.

Others saw his dedication to practicing guitar to be more of an obsession and nicknamed him “Marbles” as in, losing his marbles.

Hendrix Before Jimi

First recording session

It was at this time that Hendrix was  first hired as a session musician. Billy Cox was able to arrange a recording job through a friend, DJ and music producer Bill “Hoss” Allen for Clarence “Frogman” Henry.

Cox and Jimmy did the gig, got paid, and went back to being struggling musicians. Nothing was heard about it again until the mid-90s when Allen asked Cox if he knew what had happened to the recordings? Cox said he didn’t, but told Allen who he might contact.

In a 2017 Facebook post, Cox wrote, “Hoss went off to investigate. He later came back and told me, with mournful–regret: “I can’t believe it. I erased all the tracks that Jimi played on and replaced him because I thought Jimi was playing too loud. I erased millions of dollars!….” I could feel his pain….

Hendrix Before Jimi


Nora Rose Moore

Though Jimmy had a limited relationship with his grandmother, Nora Rose Moore, he loved her and loved being with her.

Frustrated with his lack of success, he visited Nora in Vancouver in December 1962. He joined Bobby Taylor and he Vancouvers, though they already had a lead guitarist, a Tommy Chong. Chong would later leave music and become a far better known comedian and nowadays a cannabis entrepreneur. Chong says that Taylor knew Hendrix, but that Hendrix didn’t play in the band. Hendrix Haze.

Hendrix Before Jimi

Chitlin’ Circuit

Hendrix Before Jim

By early 1963, Jimmy was back in the states, Nashville, Tennessee specifically. He rejoined Billy Cox and the King Kasuals, which later included Larry Lee.

That didn’t last long and with some reluctance, Jimmy joined Cox and Lee on the informal Chitlin’ Circuit.  The extreme segregation that existed, Black musicians had to find venues that would allow them to play.

Jimmy was reluctant because although the Circuit could offer steady work, the accommodations, travel conditions, low pay and living conditions far from comfortable.

Their job was with Bob Fisher and the Bonnevilles who were backing the Marvelettes and the Impressions with Curtis Mayfield.

Jimi would later say, ““The best gig was working with Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. Curtis was a really good guitarist…I learned quite a lot in that short time. He probably influenced me more than anyone I’d ever played with up to that time” 

Hendrix Before Jimi

Many Bands

Eventually Lee and Cox left the circuit. Jimmy stayed and played for a number of bands: Chuck JacksonCarla Thomas, Slim Harpo, Tommy Tucker, Jerry Butler, and Marion James.

From the wings, he observed (and learned) such luminaries as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Otis Redding.

Hendrix eventually joined Solomon Burke‘s band, but his tardiness, scene-stealing style, and general lack of cooperation led to repeated dismissals.

Burke traded him to Otis Redding, but Redding tossed him for the same reasons and Jimmy returned to Nashville.

Hendrix Before Jimi

Isley Brothers & 1964

In January 1964, Jimmy left for New York City. Shortly after his arrival, he entered the amatur night at the Apollo and won first prize: $25. It filled an empty wallet.

Though his work ethic didn’t fit with most band’s rules, his reputation guitar prowess was always his saviour, however temporarily.

The Isley Brothers not only hired him, the first bought him a guitar case (for his earlier guitar carrier, think Chuck Berry and his gunny sack) and then a much better guitar.


He entered a recording studio for the second time with the Brothers and played on their 2-sided 6-minute “Testify.” And this recording, we have.

C’mon and Swim

And he played on Bobby Freeman‘s “C’mon and Swim.”

Mercy Mercy

And Don Covay and the Goodtimers “Mercy Mercy.”

Hendrix Before Jimi

Little Richard stint

Meanwhile, Jimmy leaves, quits, or is fired from the Isley Brothers. and tours with Gorgeous George. While the band was in Washington, DC, Jimmy missed the bus and was left. Luckily, Little Richard happened to show up with his Upsetters. Jimmy stretched a story about Seattle that appealed to Richard and Jimmy was an Upsetter.

While in LA with the band, Jimmy met Rosa Lee Brooks. Like most women Jimmy met, he told her that she reminded him of his mother and they were an item.

She recorded Love group Arthur Lee‘s “My Diary” with Jimmy on guitar.

Hendrix Before Jimi

Maurice James

It was 1965 and Jimmy Hendrix decided he would be Maurice James. He quit/was fired from the Upsetters and rejoined the Isley Brothers.

But from the “Can’t live with him, can’t live without him” Department, they fired him and Maurice rejoined Little Richard.

In July 1965, Maurice was on TV for the first time playing behind Buddy and Stacey on “Shotgun. on Nashville’s WLAC Channel 5 television show Night Train.



Now switching between Maurice James, Jimmy James, and Jimmy Jim, Hendric recorded for Mr. Wiggles (aka, Dickie Diamond,  aka  August Moon, aka Alexander  Randolph) on his Homeboy single

How Would You Feel

Next came whatever-his-name was playing for Curtis Knight on a Bob Dylan inspired “How Would You Feel. “

As the Clouds Drift By

And he also backed Jayne Mansfield on her “As the Clouds Drift By,” but the production hides his guitar.

Hendrix Before Jimi

Curtis Knight > Joey Dee

from the Joey Dee site

Toward the end of 1965, Jimmy left Curtis and joined Joey Dee  and the Starlighters on their country-wide tour. He would quit before Christmas. The routine was just too formal and so boring.

Enter Linda Keith

Diane Carpenter

It was January 1966 and Jimmy James was back in New York.  The broke musician sent a postcard to his dad writing:   “everything’s so-so in this big, raggedy city of New York. Everything’s happening bad here.”

He’d met the equally downtrodden 16-year-old Diane Carpenter  and they moved in together. She earned what she could as a sex worker, but became pregnant by Jimmy and moved home to Minneapolis. On February 11, 1967 give birth to a daughter, Tamika Laurice James, today, Tamika Laurice James Hendrix.


In May 1966, Jimmy was back with Curtis Knight again playing some gigs at the Cheetah, a small club on Broadway and West 53rd St.

Linda Keith was a model. Her career had begun in 1964 when she was 18 and delivering mail at Vogue House. Her first assignment was to model for hats for a spread in the ‘Observer’.

Her best friend, Sheila Klein, was dating (and later married) Andrew Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ manager. Through him, she met  Keith Richards. They had a shared interest in music and became romantically involved. She began accompanying the band to their US tours despite Oldham’s rules of no wives or girlfriends on these tours.

The  Stones was about to start their US tour in Lynn, Massachusetts on June 24.  Linda Keith had come on her own and stayed with a well-to-do friend Roberta Goldstein who was living with Mark Hoffman.

They Spent the Night Together

One night Linda and Roberta decided to take a walk and ended up at the Cheetah.  Linda was astounded by Jimmy’s skill and invited him back to Mark’s apartment.  Even after Roberta and Mark retired for the night, Jimmy and Linda talked and played records through the night. She asked him why he didn’t sing? He felt his voice would never measure up to the great singers he’d played with such as Otis Redding.

She asked him if he’d listened to Bob Dylan’s voice and played his “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”  She also asked him if he’d like some acid? Though he’d heard of LSD and didn’t think he’d ever use it. At first, he didn’t even know what she meant by acid.

He did try it and had a so-so experience.

Jimmy James and the Blue Flames

Being a part of the music scene meant Jimmy ran into a lot of fellow musicians. One of them was Richie Havens who recommended Jimmy try getting work at the Cafe Wha?

Manny Roth, its manager hired Jimmy. After the first night, his guitar was stolen. Linda Keith came to the rescue and loaned Jimmy Keith Richards’ white Fender Stratocaster.

To make a band, Jimmy found two other players: 15-year-old Randy Wolf and 18-year-old Jeff Baxter.  Randy would later become Randy California and help found the band Spirit. Baxter played with many bands including Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, as well as Spirit.

The band did many covers such as the Troggs’ Wild Thing, Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour, the McCoys’ Hang On Sloopy, and Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone.

Jimmy also met others such as John Hammond, Jr, Robbie Robertson, became friendly with Bob Dylan, and Pete Kearney of the Fugs who made a fuzz box for Jimmy.

Red House

The always out-of-money Jimmy sometimes stayed at Mark Hoffman’s apartment which Jimmy nicknamed Red House because of its bright red wallpaper.

Hendrix Before Jimi


Roberta Goldstein’s father owned a hotel in the Catskills and during the summer of 1966, she invited Jim (another name adjustment) to visit. He did.

On July 28, the Stones tour ended and the band was in New York to visit. Linda pitched Hendrix to their manager Oldham.  He watched and was impressed. So impressed he was worried. Would having such a talent be toxic to his star band? Brian Jones, the band’s leader and guitarist, didn’t need such a threat. Linda, still Keith’s girlfriend, and Jimmy seemed too close.

Oldham declined.

Seymour Stein of Sire Records listened and watched. He didn’t go for all Jim’s fuzz and distortion.

Hendrix Before Jimi

Enter the Animals

The Animals rode the coattails of the Beatles British invasion with their interpretation of the American blues classic, House of the Rising Sun.

In 1966 they were opening for another British band, Herman’s Hermits. Money disagreements put the band on the verge of breaking up and the tour would be the last of the original group.

Chas Chandler

Hendrix Before Jimi

Chas Chandler was the band’s bassist and he’d decided to pursue production.

On August 2, after the Animals played on Cape Cod , they flew back to New York City. Chandler met Linda Keith  at a club called Ondine‘s. She told him about Hendrix.  The next day, Chandler went to the Cafe Wah? to listen.

Linda took him for a afternoon for two reasons: 1) that Jimmy wouldn’t be distracted, and 2) fewer customers would be there to recognize and distract the well-known Animal bassist.

One of the songs Jimmy played was “Hey Joe,” his “Hey Joe” as the song had been worked and reworked a couple of times by others.

Chandler immediately offered to manage Jimmy and Jimmy, despite some reservations, immediately accepted.


Chandler explained that Jimmy would be coming to the UK alone, not with his Flames. It would be all new territory for Jimmy.

In the meantime, others in New York began to jump on and jump off the Hendrix bandwagon.

Amazing guitarist Mike Bloomfield was thoroughly impressed, but famed producer John Hammond  (already discoverer of Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Mike Bloomfield, Pete Seeger, and later Bruce Springsteen) listened and was not impressed.

Hendrix Before Jimi

September 24, 1966

Chas Chandler knew his skills in management limited and asked Mike Jeffrey, the Animals’ manager and a man with many ties, skills, strengths, and legal shenanigans, to help out.

Jeffrey said yes.

On September 24, 1966 Jimi Hendrix arrived in London  without a work permit, little money, but more skill on the guitar and showmanship with it (as Eric Clapton for example, would soon see) than any of the British rock guitar icons Jimi admired.

Hendrix Before Jimi

Still I’m Gonna’ Miss You

Suspecting fire where there wasn’t even any smoke and still in love, Keith Richards broke up with Linda Keith whose father had already dragged her back to London because of the “black junkie” he’d heard Hendrix was.

Keith, with help from Brian Jones, would wrote an ode to Linda. They recorded it in November. It became the band’s fourth number-one hit in the United States on March 4, 1967.

Ruby Tuesday
She would never say where she came from
Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone
While the sun is bright
Or in the darkest night
No one knows, she comes and goes
Goodbye Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you

Thank you Linda

The 2013 film  All is by My Side, starring OutKast’s André Benjamin as Hendrix and the British actress Imogen Poots as Linda shows Linda’s role in Hendrix’s life, while he was still performing as Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Director John Ridley told the New York Times he had been inspired by an obscure, late-career Hendrix recording called “Send My Love to Linda” and “the emotional velocity” of this pivotal but little-known chapter in Hendrix’s emergence as a rock star. [Guardian article] [NYT article]

screenshot from the trailer for “Jimi Hendrix — Hear My Train a Comin'” film
Hendrix Before Jimi