Boomers Knew Jimi

On September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in London of what was disputed to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills mixed with amphetamines, alcohol and cannabis. That’s right, boomers, it’s been FIFTY YEARS since Jimi left us.

We all know the basics of Jimi’s meteoric rise to stardom in the rock world. We know the route he took — through London’s music scene — before he gained immense popularity in the U.S. after Paul McCartney recommended Jimi to the Monterey International Pop Festival promoters. We know he pioneered what his official legacy website describes as, “fuzz, feedback and distortion.” We know the guitar was more than a tool to make music, it was an extension of his being.

We also all know how we felt about Jimi and his music. He was hard to dismiss, as a musician and entertainer, and also his persona created through a distinct style he made his own. Every boomer was aware of more than one of the songs Jimi left us, whether it’s his rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock or the recordings of Hey Joe, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Crosstown Traffic or one Mister B’s favorites, Jimi’s cover of Bob Dylan’s, All Along the Watchtower.

So what else is there to be said about another boomer-era icon who left us far too soon? Boomers lost three within a year, all considered giants in their day and legendary icons since: Janis Joplin a month after Jimi, and Jim Morrison of The Doors followed on July 3, 1971.

Here are a few tidbits you may have already have read about Jimi, but they were new to Mister Boomer. He is relating them here in case you, like he, somehow missed out on this info.

  • A high school dropout, James Marshal Hendrix lived with his father after his parents divorced. He was arrested at age 19 on suspicion of auto theft, and given a choice of jail or the army. Rather than submit to being jailed, Jimi enlisted for a three-year contract. He entered the army on May 31, 1961.
    After basic training, James was assigned to the famed 101st Airborne Division. He did not distinguish himself to his superior officers, performing what they said was the minimum requirements of his duties. It was noted that he was more interested in playing his guitar than being in the army, and had accumulated multiple instances of returning late to the base on weekends. A report was filed that described James as not army material, and recommended that he be discharged. When James injured an ankle in a parachute jump — his twenty-fifth jump — army brass used it as the excuse to discharge him on the grounds of “unsuitability under honorable conditions.” James did not contest the discharge and left the army July 2, 1962.
  • With his army days behind him, he became a session musician under the name, Jimmy James. From 1962 to 1965, he appeared on recordings of Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ike and Tina Turner and the Isley Brothers.
  • In 1965, he left session work and played smaller venues in New York City with his newly-formed band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. It was at one these gigs that Jimmy met Chas Chandler, the bassist for the Animals. Chas was looking to transition to music management, and became Jimmy’s manager.
  • After convincing Jimmy to move to London, Chas further convinced Jimmy James to change his stage name to Jimi Hendrix.
  • It was Paul McCartney who recommended Jimi to Monterey International Pop Festival promoters. Jimi blew the minds of the audience members with his rendition of Wild Thing and became an instant sensation stateside.
  • His fashion sense evolved through the years in similar ways to the Beatles and Rolling Stones. In the early days of the 1960s, he performed in a black suit and tie, like most musicians. Once he was living in London in 1966, friends and fellow musicians razzed him for his mode of dress since he constantly wore his army jacket. It was then he started shopping at vintage clothing shops in London to develop his own style of layering soft fabrics and contrasting textures and prints with vests, fringe and scarves.
  • Jimi and manager Chas bought a New York City night club in 1968 with the hope of adding a small recording studio inside it. Instead, Eddie Kramer, a longtime friend and sound engineer, told Jimi it was a bad idea for a musician in his twenties to own a night club. He suggested Jimi turn it into the best recording studio in the world. Jimi agreed and commissioned Kramer and architect John Storyk to construct the studio. Jimi named it Electric Lady Studios, and it became the first artist-owned recording studio. Its inaugural opening party was August 26, 1970. Three weeks later, Jimi was dead.

Mister B was introduced to Jimi’s sound the way he was to most music of the time; through sharing a bedroom with his brother, who brought records home and dropped them on the spindle of the record player in their room. In this case, it was the Are You Experienced? album. They were both in high school at the time.

How about you, boomers? Did you see Jimi play live? Do you remember the first Jimi recording you heard, either on the radio or played by a friend?

Boomers Learned a New Definition for “Fob”

Fifty years ago, if someone told us our car would unlock itself as we approached it, and could start itself up at the same time, we would have thought we were living in an episode of The Jetsons. Cars were a marvel of engineering to us in our boomer years, and the key to harnessing its power was just that — a key.

Most boomers recall the elation of getting their first car; the thrill of personal freedom rang out the second you were handed the keys. In the 1950s and ’60s, cars had two keys: one that unlocked the doors, and that also fit the ignition switch to start the vehicle; and another to open the trunk. In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, cars began to feature a pull switch installed in the interior of the car to pop open the trunk, which precipitated the shift to a single key for all locks on the car.

Mister Boomer remembers a car key story that happened when he was walking home from school one day. He was all of eight or nine years old when he saw a 1955 Chevy parked in a driveway with it its trunk wide open, keys dangling from the slot in the middle. He knew the car model because his uncle had one just like it. Thinking the owner forgot the keys, Mister B pulled them from the trunk as he closed it, and walked up to the front door of the house. He knocked and a man quickly answered. Mister B held out the keys and said, “You forgot your keys in the trunk lock.” The man was perturbed and responded that he did not forget them at all, and admonished Mister B to mind his own business and put them back where he found them. He walked down the steps to the car and, slipping the keys back in the lock, he unlocked the trunk. Once it swung up to its maximum height, he could hear the house door slam shut. Mister B resumed his walk home, a little dumbfounded at the exchange. Mister B thought he was being a good Samaritan. The man thought this kid should have kept walking. There was certainly an attitude about keys — especially car keys — that existed in our day. Many people left their cars and houses unlocked. By the mid-60s, boomer households became less trusting.

Fast forward fifty years, and Mister B found himself renting a car while visiting his home state. He was handed what he learned was a “key fob,” a palm-sized device that actually held no keys at all. It is also referred to as a car remote, echoing the name of another invention boomers learned about in their early years, the TV remote. He had heard of a watch fob (a chain that secured the watch to a pocket or belt loop), because his grandfather had one attached to the pocket watch that he carried with him. But a key fob, while not entirely new, seemed to advance in the intervening time between Mister B’s car rentals. If you don’t own a current model vehicle, and rent a car while on vacation, then you know what he means.

Once upon a time not so long ago, people had a small plastic case attached to their car keychain. It usually held two or three buttons to unlock the car, open the trunk, and activate the car alarm. Some had the ability to start the car, a welcome addition for colder climates. These days, however, the key fob is an electronic brick. It sends a signal to the vehicle as you approach it, automatically deactivating the alarm system and unlocking the doors. Some even start the car when you open the door. There is no longer any need for inserting a key into an ignition switch! If the car didn’t start on its own, you’ll find a start button on the steering wheel column where the ignition switch used to be located. We have achieved the push-button world envisioned in 1950s and ’60s futuristic prognostications.

Mister Boomer had to admit, sitting behind the wheel of one of those new models, he was panic-stricken. Ultimately, he swallowed his pride and went back to the car rental counter for some help. One advantage to being older is people don’t expect us to understand new technology, though Mister Boomer has used a computer at work every day since 1986. Nonetheless, as the rental assistant walked him back to the car, the key fob in Mister B’s hand unlocked the doors when they approached. As the agent swung open the door, a perplexed Mister B pointed to the digital dashboard and asked, “How the hell do I turn on the headlights? How do I turn on the windshield wipers if I need them?” The man didn’t even chuckle. He just patiently showed Mister B what to do, as if this were a regular occurrence. Feeling ancient, Mister B imagined the agent saw a blinking 12 o’clock reflected in Mister Boomer’s eyes. Easy to operate switches, dials and hand-crank windows were all Mister B ever had in the cars he has owned. It’s a brave new world, boomers.

How about you? Have you embraced car technology or long for the days when turning a key started a car and “programming” a car radio meant pulling out a button and pushing it back in?