A Psychological Profile Of Jimi Hendrix21 min read
If ever there was a guitar player who redefined this instrument for anyone who has ever played it before or since, it would be Jimi Hendrix. Jimi’s exceptionally creative, powerful, psychedelic licks helped him reach a musical standard that has never been duplicated, and in his four short years as a recording star he established himself as a musical legend without equal. His performances at the Monterrey Pop Festival which established him as a star, and later at Woodstock were some of the most awe-inspiring in the history of live music, and history will remember Jimi Hendrix as one of the most influential albeit enigmatic and mysterious musicians who ever graced the stage.
Jimi Hendrix was born John Allen Hendrix on November 29, 1942 to James (Al) Hendrix and Lucille Jeter in Seattle, Washington. Jimmy’s father Al, who would be his primary parental force throughout Jimi’s life, was in the Army when Jimi was born. Fearing that Al would go AWOL to go see his newborn son, the army placed Al in the stockade on “general principle” where he stayed for over a month until the army saw fit to release him.
Back in Seattle Jimi’s mother Lucille quickly grew tired of being a single parent and virtually abandoned Jimi during his first few years of life. Jimi, then known as Johnny, first lived with Lucille’s family, but was then placed with a woman named Mrs. Walls who took Johnny in and cared for him.
Al was finally released from the Army in 1945 when Jimi was three years old. Upon arriving back in the United States, Al regained custody of Johnny and promptly named him James after himself. Originally Jimi was known as “Buster” by his family, but at the age of 6 everyone began calling young James “Jimi” which would stick with him for the rest of his short life. Between the ages of 3 and 6 Al raised Jimi with the assistance of Lucille’s Sister Dolores, and Jimi became very close to her children who were being raised in the same home.
When Jimi was 6, his mother briefly came back into Jimi’s life when Al and Lucille attempted a reconciliation. Because there was little work in Seattle at the time, Al joined the Merchant Marines, and while he was away Lucille returned to her old carefree lifestyle, and was kicked out of the housing the Hendrix’s were residing in for having inappropriate male visitors. Upon his return from the Merchant Marines, Al and the family reunited, and Lucille eventually had another son Leon in 1948, who had Asian features and was clearly not Al Hendrix’s son. Lucille eventually had another son Joey by still a different father, and Al eventually divorced Lucille in 1950 as a result of her lack of stability.
Over the next few years Al raised Jimi and Leon with the help of his relatives, and Jimi briefly had another maternal figure “Edna” enter his life, who he grew close to but who was eventually forced to leave the Hendrix home to make room for other relatives. Lucille popped in and out of Jimi’s life during his formative years, and would make extravagant promises to Jimi that she would not follow through on. On February 2, 1958, following many years of hard drinking and frivolity, Lucille passed away at the age of 32 which deeply saddened Jimi.
In his teen years Al Hendrix bought Jimi his first electric guitar which Jimi became so attached to that he slept with it on a nightly basis. Jimi was eventually recruited by a man named James Thomas, and Jimi then became a member of James Thomas and the Tomcats. During this same time frame, Jimi, who had grown disinterested in school, dropped out of Garfield High, and also got in trouble for being in a stolen car. Jimi eventually joined the Army during this period, and decided he wanted to be a paratrooper in the Screaming Eagles like his father before him.
Jimi met Billy Cox while in the Army and the two of them had a great deal in common including musical tastes. While in the army they begin to play a little together, and they formed a friendship and partnership that would later be rekindled when Jimi formed the band Band Of Gypsies.
Following his stint in the Army, Jimi moved down south and began playing the “Chitlin” circuit where he used the stage names “Maurice James” and “Jimmie James” and had some success as a guitar player. Jimi would even play backup on a Supremes record, and in 1964 he played with the Isley Brothers who were also very popular at the time. It was during this period when Jimi met Little Richard, who was a bit of a narcissist, and felt that Jimi’s guitar playing upstaged him and took the focus off him which he felt was a necessary component of the act.
Jimi eventually split with Little Richard and moved to New York City where he at first had little success. After spending some time in Harlem, Jimi settled into the Greenwich Village neighborhood, where he formed a new band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Jimi’s unique improvisational style alienated a number of his fans, while others thought they were witnessing the birth of a genius. One of these people was Chas Chandler, who formerly played base for a band called the Animals who knew when he saw Jimi that he had discovered an amazing new talent. Chas convinced Jimi that he would have more success in England than in the United States, and in 1966 Jimi packed his bags and left the US to live in London.
While in London Jimi met Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, and the three of them formed the band The Jimi Hendrix Experience and begin touring around England. Jimi dazzled the English crowd, who were alternately shocked and amazed by Jimi, and he was described in the English papers as “The Wild Man of Borneo” which was a kind of racial slur against Jimi’s heritage. The group was very successful, and their first album Are You Experienced produced the songs Hey Joe and Purple Haze which were both big hits on the English rock charts.
Jimi’s breakthrough performance came upon his return to the Unites States at the Monterrey Pop Festival where his use of distortion and feedback on the guitar helped him create a sound previously unheard by American audiences. With the crowd already in a frenzy over his performance, Jimi set his guitar on fire at the end of his set, which further electrified the crowd and created a buzz about Jimi Hendrix that would propel him to the top of the music world.
One important ally Jimi made during this time was Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones, who introduced Jimi at Monterrey and was one of Jim’s first important fans in the world of music. Following his performance at Monterrey, Brian introduced to Jimi to a lot of important people in California, which culminated in The Jimi Hendrix Experience being signed to go on tour with the Monkees who were one of the top drawing bands in the world at this time.
Jimi’s wild style and sexually explicit actions on stage were not well suited to the Monkees crowd, and soon this tour dissolved and The Jimi Hendrix Experience began touring on their own. Over the next two years the band became hugely successful, and in addition to Hey Joe and Purple Haze, produced songs such as Castles Made of Sand, and Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which were all big hits for the band. The band eventually produced three hit albums, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland which all were huge successes. The band was not without its difficulties however, as Jimi and Noel Redding had difficulties agreeing on several issues related to the band, and in the summer of 1969 the band broke up despite the fact that they were at the peak of their commercial success.
Some speculated that Jimi broke up The Jimi Hendrix Experience because both of his bandmates were white, and that he was receiving pressure from the Black Panthers to make a statement about Black solidarity. Although Jimi did have an association with the Panthers in the 1960’s, he used the standard “creative differences” approach to explain the band’s breakup. But in any case it was apparent that he was hurt by all of the negative press he received following this incident.
Following the breakup of The Jimi Hendrix Experience Jimi began heavily using drugs, and a major turning point came in his life when he was arrested on May 3, 1969 at the Toronto airport for possession of Heroin and Marijuana. Jimi adamantly claimed the drugs were not his, but was rightfully disturbed at the prospect of facing seven years in prison, and thought a great deal about his legacy following his arrest. Jimi was eventually cleared of these charges, but still faced a great deal of inner turmoil as a result of this experience.
In the summer of that year, Jimi put together a group of musicians to play with him at Woodstock, and his performance there was one that helped cement his legend as one of the truly inspired live performers in the history of music. His Star-Spangled Banner on guitar was a huge hit with the fans, and would later become one of the featured scenes in the Woodstock film recordings that were produced at the festival. Later that year Jimi would also play at England’s answer to Woodstock, called The Isle of White Festival, where he also dazzled and amazed his English fans, many of who had been with him from the beginning.
At the end of his life, Jimi reunited with his old army buddy Billy Cox, and they formed the Band of Gypsies, which would be Jimi’s final group. This group had some success, but Jimi was beginning to become fatigued from years of working almost constantly, his continuing drug use, and the anxiety he felt arising from battles with his management, and earnings in the millions that he could not account for.
In September of that year, as the group was touring Europe, Jimi Hendrix was found dead on his hotel room floor as a result of an overdose of sleeping pills that caused him to choke on his own vomit. Jimi’s death was highly controversial however, as some claim he was mishandled by paramedics which caused him to eventually suffocate on the way to the hospital. Jimi’s death has been thoroughly investigated and researched, and despite all of the claims, a coroner’s report confirms that Jimi had been dead for some time when he was eventually found on the morning of September 18th.
The legacy of Jimi Hendrix endures, and many still consider him to be the most unique guitar player that ever lived. His estate has made millions of dollars following his death, most of which was originally hidden from his father by unscrupulous managers of Jimi’s affairs. Al Hendrix and his family eventually won back Jimi’s legacy with the help of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Allen would eventually go on to build a Jimi Hendrix museum called the Experience Music project, which is a major tourist attraction in Seattle Washington.
Gender Role Preparation perceived through Gender Guiding Lines and Role Models
Though his interactions with his father, Jimi learned the values of hard work and perseverance that would guide him throughout his life and career. Although Jimi was occasionally portrayed as a spaced-out wild man under the influence of LSD, he was in fact an extremely hard worker who produced an amazing amount of material in his short career.
Jimi’s father also instilled in Jimi the value of perseverance. Through all of his struggles with his wife Lucille, job difficulties, prejudice, etc, Al Hendrix continued to soldier on and raise his boy Jimi, and this lesson was not lost on his young son. This value of perseverance was so strong in Jimi that he practiced his guitar so often and so much that he eventually became a virtuoso. With no ability to read music and no real training, Jimi still managed to teach himself to play the guitar with his right hand despite the fact that he was born left-handed. All of these obstacles must have made the guitar very difficult for Jimi to learn, but through watching his father Jimi learned a man never gives up, and he therefore continued to work tirelessly at learning to play his guitar.
Jimi’s female gender guiding line was much more complex. Although Jimi loved his mother, she disappeared often in his life, and Jimi was well aware of her infidelities towards his father. Later in his life Jimi’s interactions with women appeared to be unstable, and his fear of commitment with women may very well have arisen from watching his mother’s irresponsible behavior.
Jimi’s mistrust of women is interesting to consider with regard to one of the women he was the closest to named Devon Wilson. Devon was a former prostitute, heavy drug user, and party girl who had also been romantically linked to Mick Jagger during the late 1960’s. Devon lived with Jimi at his New Your apartment, handled many of Jimi’s affairs, and was even the subject of one of Jimi’s songs called Dolly Dagger. Like Jimi’s mother Lucille, Devon would often disappear for days at a time and then come back when she was done with her extended binge. The fact that, despite Jimi’s access to so many women, he trusted a clearly irresponsible woman like Devon Wilson to get closest to him, seems to suggest that he may have chosen her because her behavior was so much like his mother’s growing up.
Interpersonal Style perceived through Experience of Family Atmosphere
On the subject of Jimi’s mother, she and Al fought often while Jimi was growing up, and the Hendrix household was often filled with storm and strife when Lucille was around. Watching his mother and father fight so often appeared to affect Jimi’s own relationships with women, as he was on several occasions verbally and even physically violent with women during periods of confrontation.
Jimi also lived in a number of different homes and places growing up, and in this capacity learned not to get too close to people as they may abandon you at any time. One poignant story Jimi himself related involved meeting his father for the first time at the age of three and taking the train from Berkeley to Seattle. Jimi recalled how much he wanted to return to the only “family” he had ever really known, and how odd it was to be taken on a train by some strange man he had never met. This sense of instability was reinforced often throughout Jimi’s life, as a number of people would be significant in his life for a couple of years and then simply disappear, and this appears to have affected Jimi’s ability to trust and get close to people.
Because Jimi was unable to achieve a sense of stability, he developed a shy and introverted personality that caused him a great deal of loneliness. Jimi dealt with painful feelings through artistic expression, and the ultimate capacity of his talent may have been a reflection of the intensity of his painful feelings.
Personal Code of Conduct Perceived through Acceptance / Rejection of Family Values
The family values in the Hendrix household involved obedience to authority and a healthy respect for one’s elders, and although Jimi had respect for his father, he came to distrust authority in his own life. There are many different versions of Jimi’s life with Al Hendrix, many of which paint a picture of a very unhappy home life where Al constantly reminded his children of the sacrifices he had to make for his children. In Al’s own autobiography My Son Jimmy (1999) he talked about how Jimi used to escape responsibility for his actions by blaming misdeeds on an imaginary friend named “Sessy” who Jimmy would evoke when he felt he had disappointed Al. It certainly must have been difficult for Al to raise Jimi by himself, and given the economic climate in Seattle at that time, there’s no doubt that Al must have had to make some great sacrifices for Jimi. Perhaps Jimi’s creation of an imaginary friend was a psychological defense against Al’s disappointment, which seemed to be yet another factor in Jimi’s unhappy childhood.
Another family value that Jimi seemed to reject concerned the family’s views on religion. Although Jimi was raised by a church-going family who believed in worship, Jimi came to believe that his music was a form of great spiritual expression. Jimi rejected the stifling versions of Christianity he learned as a young man, and instead felt music was the way he could connect to the mystical and spiritual side of life.
Music also offered an escape for Jimi from his problems, and was certainly a positive adaptation for him to an unhappy childhood. Jimi often described how music would compose itself in his head, and his unparalleled talent in music may have been a result of this intense desire to escape his emotionally painful cognitions.
Perspective on the World perceived through Experience of Psychological Birth Order
As the first born son in the Hendrix household and the only son sired by his father Al, Jimi developed a sense that he was particularly special when he was a young man. Although Jimi’s younger brother Leon spent a great deal of time with Jimi and his father growing up, he was also often shipped to another family during difficult times. The fact that Jimi was always the one that remained with his father must have made him feel like the “chosen” one much of the time, and he appeared to develop a sense that he was something special. This is not an uncommon reaction from a first born child, as they often receive more attention than their siblings do when they are born, as they become literally the center of their parent’s universe.
For Jimi this situation did not unfold exactly like this, as his first three years were filled with a great deal of moving around that must have confused and frightened him at such a fragile age. The two women that adopted Jimi in these years both referred to his “specialness” however, so one can assume this was something he felt that was further reinforced when Al eventually came and got him following his release from the Army.
Jimi’s biographers (Hendrix 1999) discuss how it was clear to Jimi that his younger brother Leon had a different father than him, and although Al certainly loved and cared for Leon, he must have felt some resentment from having to raise another man’s child. Jimi therefore was the “favorite” growing up, and developed a sense of his own uniqueness that instilled in him a great deal of confidence in his abilities. This confidence was especially relevant in the early stages of Jimi’s career, where audiences often disliked and were unable to understand his unique style of music. Although many artists would have become discouraged in this situation, Jimi was convinced of his own talent, and much of this resolve appears to have its roots in Jimi’s early childhood experiences.
Self Assessment Perceived through Genetic Possibilities
Jimi Hendrix came from a talented family with a long history of performing in front of groups. Jimi’s grandmother was an entertainer who traveled and worked as a singer and performer before her son Al was born, and even prior to this generation music was a strong part of the Hendrix tradition. Jimi’s father Al and his uncle Leon both showed musical talent at a very young age, and both of them could play the piano, sing, and also dance at a young age, and often did so growing up. Jimi therefore appeared to have a predisposition to music that was inherited from the talented Hendrix family.
Jimi developed a stutter at a young age however, and was not confident as a singer and a dancer like the rest of his family. Therefore when Jimi did find a musical instrument to play, it appears that he compensated for his stutter by practicing a great deal on the guitar in an attempt to belong with his otherwise musical family.
Jimi also felt a strong identification with his family’s Cherokee heritage. The extent of Jimi’s Indian blood has been misrepresented often in several biographies that mention the subject. Jimi’s father Al (Hendrix 1999) eventually clarified that Jimi’s great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, but Jimi did feel a strong identification with this portion of his ancestry. Al Hendrix explained that when Jimi and the other children played games like Cowboys and Indians when Jimi was a kid, Jimi always wanted to be the Indian as it helped link him with a part of his Heritage. Jimi created a great deal of art as a child that depicted the Indians conquering the cavalry, and he even discussed later as an adult how he felt a sense of power that came from his Indian blood.
In considering this idea it is fascinating to examine the lyrics from one of Jimi’s big hits, Castles Made of Sand-
“A little Indian brave who before he was ten, played war games in The woods with his Indian friends, and he built a dream that when he Grew up, he would be a fearless warrior Indian Chief. Many moons passed and more the dream grew strong, until tomorrow He would sing his first war song,
And fight his first battle, but something went wrong,
Surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night”
Reading the lyrics to this song which Jimi wrote, one can’t help but wonder how much it reflected both Jimi’s dreams as well as his disappointments. In many ways this song demonstrated the conditions of Jimi’s life, as, despite having “conquered” the music world, he still was very anxious about his life circumstances as a result of his arrest and also the large amounts of money he was missing. Much like the little Indian in the story, Jimi had been blindsided by events in his life, and this song seems to reveal the depths of his unhappiness.
Openings for Advancement perceived through Environmental Opportunities
One important adaptation Jimi made as a young man concerned the first guitar he ever received which Al purchased for Jimi for the price of 5 dollars. Jimi, who was born left-handed but learned to do most things right-handed, changed the strings around on this right-handed guitar and instead played it left-handed which was an adaptation that would eventually have a direct impact on his future musical genius. Jimi learned that by manipulating the instrument like this he could get different sounds out of it, and later as an adult he played his guitars both upside down and backwards which helped him carve out his own unique sound that no one else was readily able to replicate. Because Jimi made this adaptation at such a young age and practiced so excessively, his technique became something that was uniquely his.
Another early experience that shaped the young Jimi Hendrix was seeing an Elvis Presley concert while he was growing up in Seattle. Jimi became fascinated by Elvis’s showmanship, and much of his early artwork produced flattering pictures of the King. Although Jimi was somewhat shy throughout his life, on stage he truly had no inhibitions, and at least some of this he learned from watching Elvis when he was a young man. The impact of seeing Elvis live seemed to awaken in Jimi a sense of the heights a person could reach through playing music, and this rare opportunity was for Jimi a tipping point that helped give birth to his eventual persona as a stage performer.
Range of Social Interest perceived through Other Particularities
One barometer of a person’s mental health can be observed by examining their relationships and interest in the welfare of other human beings. Jimi Hendrix, who appeared to have abandonment issues related to his childhood, and who had also been betrayed by several business associates, therefore seemed to have trouble developing a profound sense of social interest. Although Jimi was often approached about social causes, he seemed to be most comfortable letting his music do his talking for him, and didn’t feel as comfortable as an advocate and leader to promote social change as many of his 60’s counterparts.
In this capacity it is interesting to consider Jimi’s relationship with the Black Panthers as well as the larger issue of racism in the life of Jimi Hendrix. Growing up Jimi watched his father experience a great deal of racism related to finding jobs, etc. and this must have affected the young Jimi a great deal, as a lot of his early artwork depicts struggles for equality and justice. Jimi also experienced racism following his release from the Army when he went to play the “Chitlin” circuit in the Southern United States, where there was clearly different treatment for white and black musicians.
Jimi was eventually discovered a white man Chas Chandler, and found fame and acceptance with two white musicians who were of course Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. Although Jimi found success in the UK with these two men, he was still mocked by the British papers as “the wild man of Borneo” and with other racial epitaphs that appeared to alternatively mock and praise Jimi. Jimi eventually became known for playing “white” music by some of the more extremist black national groups in the United States, and many speculate it was the Black Panthers who pushed Jimi into eventually disbanding the Jimi Hendrix experience to form an all-Black band. Although there are widely varying accounts as to Jimi’s relationship with the Panthers, it seems clear that Jimi was heavily conflicted about the issue of race.
In terms of social interest, Jimi’s use of escapism through music is also interesting to examine. Music appeared to be the one thing that let him escape painful thoughts and feelings, and it was only when he had to quit playing and deal with other human beings when he seemed to be unhappy. People certainly took terrible advantage of Jimi throughout his life, as he died with only 21,000 thousand dollars in his banking account as a result of people pilfering millions from him over the course of his career. Jimi’s lack of social interest therefore appeared to be based on very real experiences with people in the world, as his early home life and professional career were filled with repeated abandonment, disappointments, and betrayals from those that he thought he could depend on.
Jimi also had a great deal of narcissism, much of which contributed to the development of his music, which was also a defining characteristic of his personality. Many people who had experienced the kind of rejection Jimi had at the beginning of his career would have simply returned to playing mainstream music, but Jimi truly believed that his music was something special despite the negative reinforcement he had received from the New York crowds. A narcissist will often believe his or her own way is not only special and unique, but also better than the way anyone else is doing it, and this was very much demonstrated by Jimi’s creation of his own music.
Although narcissism is often malignant, many exceptionally talented people demonstrate high levels of this trait in their dealings with others, which was certainly true in the case of Jimi Hendrix. When someone disagrees with or challenges someone who is malignantly narcissistic, their reaction may be extreme irritation, and Jimi’s interpersonal relationships seemed to represent this idea. His habitually abusive behavior towards women showed Jimi had a very low tolerance for frustration, and when others, and particularly women disagreed with him, his response to this frustration was very often physical violence.
Jimi’s violence towards women may have also arisen in part from his interactions with his mother Lucille, as Jimi never seemed to develop a healthy respect for women throughout his life. His lack of a consistent feminine presence and maternal gender guiding line growing up must have created some anger in Jimi, and hearing his father’s descriptions of his mother’s life may have also contributed to this dynamic.
Jimi’s life was therefore empty of the kind of social interest in others that many felt was a larger part of the idealism of the 1960’s. Although Jimi participated in some of the causes and issues of his times, his involvement was often at the recommendation of those around him. Jimi’s lack of trust in other people, which had its roots in childhood patterns, was reinforced often throughout his life, and Jimi overcompensated for his lack of interest in others by developing a truly awe-striking ability that allowed him to escape from the world. Although this talent was extraordinary, it seemed to be in part created through the sublimation of his personal pain, and this left Jimi without a path other than music in which to actively experience joy in his life. Jimi’s gift of music to the world was and is a lasting contribution that influenced thousands of musicians both before and after him, but was also in many ways a reaction to a troubled history, and this was the sadness and irony of this truly unique musician.