Jimi Hendrix grew up in Seattle in the 1950s, learning the Twelve-bar blues as a teenager. Whilst in the army he came under the influence of the electric blues of artists such as Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King and Muddy Waters. After he was discharged in 1962 he became involved in the chitlin' circuit, playing with figures such as Little Richard.
Former Animals member, Eric Burdon, says Hendrix could not get off the ground in the US because black blues was not popular there. Meanwhile, the English music scene was learning to play the blues from the US records they bought, with bands forming like The Rolling Stones, who began by copying American blues numbers. When they started to write their own songs they gave them a sexual swagger and a new direction. Whites playing the blues made it more acceptable to the white US audience reintroducing the style to America. When Hendrix moved to New York he came under the influence of British blues music, especially that of Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds and Eric Clapton, who had become famous with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. While living in Harlem he also came under the influence of Bob Dylan, whose "Like a Rolling Stone" revolutionised rock. For Hendrix this inspired him to begin singing, having previously been self-conscious about his voice. Another English band, The Who, inspired him most. With a roughness and a high octane sound, they created the modern stage presence with the theatrics of destroying their equipment, such as playing the guitar by ramming it against the floor and speakers.
Jimi Hendrix came to London in late 1966 after having been discovered and invited by his future manager Chas Chandler of The Animals, on the sole condition that he would be introduced to his guitar heroes. He arrived at the height of swinging London with Cream being the most important band around. At one of their concerts, Hendrix asked if he could join in a jam. That was already audacious, playing with 'God', but then he blew Clapton away, who went back stage and had a hard time lighting a cigarette because his hands were shaking too much. Stealing Cream's thunder, Chandler put together The Jimi Hendrix Experience, who became famous faster than almost any other rock band.
However, despite his UK success, Hendrix was still largely ignored in his home country. This was to change when he played the Monterey Pop Festival at the height of The Summer of Love. The Who played first, with an aggression never before seen in the U.S.A. Hendrix stunned the crowds further with his explosive sound and showmanship culminating in setting fire to his guitar.
In 1966, The Beatles had taken refuge in the studio, transforming themselves from a pop band to psychedelic pioneers. When Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in 1967, Hendrix covered it on one of the experience's next shows. Having seen the power of the studio album he went on to create Electric Ladyland. However, it led to Hendrix becoming more deeply involved in drugs and Chas Chandler leaving as manager.
By 1968, America and Europe were being torn apart by conflict at home and abroad. The Rolling Stones tapped into these feelings with a new creative zeal. However, their performance at Altamont became one of the most violent days in rock history, after a member of Hells Angels killed Meredith Hunter, a drugged member of the audience, who drew a revolver from his jacket during the Stones' set. The Altamont festival was meant to mirror the Woodstock Festival, where Hendrix delivered a searing version of the Star-Spangled Banner, which many saw as a political statement against the Vietnam War. However, Hendrix began to tire of stage performance and at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 he gave a lacklustre performance. In September he died of an accidental overdose. Along with the deaths of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin and the breaking up of The Beatles, this brought this age of rock to a close.