Review: Becoming Jimi Hendrix by Steven Roby and Brad Schrieber

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Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius by Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber. Publisher: Da Capo Press, Cambridge: 2010, 185 pages plus an extensive bibliography, recommended listening list, comprehensive sessionography/discography, list of television appearances, chronology of tours and events and an index.

Certain names in twentieth century music will always ring as champions. Born a little too late, I’ve never paid much attention to Jimi Hendrix’s music so when I stumbled across his biography, I decided to correct this wrong.

Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius by Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber intrigued me. Every artist has his/her “becoming,” and this adventure traces Hendrix through such exotic locations as the “southern crossroads” and “psychedelic London,” with the end result of genius. All I could think was, “Yes, please.”

Actual descriptions of Hendrix – his background, life and personality – are minimal. We discover that he taught himself to play guitar, played by ear and learned by emulating musicians he respected, but never the exact method he followed. Nor do the authors discuss his techniques on the guitar. The book, in adequate words, provides a path from gig to gig in the early days of Hendrix’s career. It focuses on the music that influenced Hendrix in his early professional career, the musicians that surrounded him and the occasional anecdote or direct quote to tell us something of the frustration Hendrix felt and the defeat his band-mates felt to be upstaged by this young musician.

The story spans the time from when Hendrix left Seattle to when he arrived in London, including his relationship with model Linda Keith and his experiences with LSD that touch upon how Hendrix’s fascination with guitar amplifiers and drug trips later factored into his music.

The authors show how Hendrix borrowed from other artists, experimented in other bands, refused to work non-music jobs, and spent most of his life playing guitar 24/7 in order to find himself as a musician. If the authors suggested listening to his performances with these ideas in mind, it might be more effective.

It’s not a bad book, but to really appreciate the richness of what the authors have researched and compiled, you need a background in basic Jimi Hendrix lore that I don’t have.

Who should read it: those interested in the musical trajectory of Jimi Hendrix who have a familiarity with his music

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Angel Ackerman is a recovering journalist having spent the first 15 years of her career as a reporter and editor. Thanks to her experience in weekly and daily newspapers, she can write about anything from prostate cancer to concrete houses with school board and municipal meetings in the mix. She serves as the president of her local public library’s board of trustees and on the board of Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, where she has twice served as president. She holds a bachelors degree in English and French from Moravian College and will complete a bachelors in International Affairs from Lafayette College in spring 2013. For fun, she writes paranormal fiction set in the Paris high fashion world. Her family includes one sweet and gorgeous little girl, her creative but absent-minded husband, three cats and a tortoise, who also thinks she is a cat. Occasionally she runs away from home to exotic locations like Paris, or Tunis, Tunisia, thanks to a friend with frequent flier miles. Yet, if you’re looking for her, you can probably find her in the local Target café where she’s worked since she got sick [literally] of professional employment.

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