It’s always fun to think about various “what ifs?” in both pop culture and history. What if The Beatles didn’t break up? What if someone went back to 1931 Germany and killed Hitler? What if…
In an ode to Chuck Klosterman’s “What If Kurt Cobain Didn’t Die?” piece I am inclined to offer a timeline of events (mostly musical) that would have occurred if Jimi Hendrix didn’t die in 1970.
After the release of Cry of Love, in which Hendrix tried his best to fuse the Band of Gypsies with The Experience, Jimi’s manager Chas Chandler is contacted by Miles Davis. The two schedule a summer jam session at Electric Ladyland in New York City. The recording is never officially released but becomes a popular bootleg that shows Jimi moving into more toned down, yet improvisational-based funk style of playing guitar. There are talks of future sessions that would include Sly Stone, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Eddie Hazel.
Jimi officially declares the end of The Experience after forgoing the release of First Rays of the New Rising Sun in favor of releasing an album and touring with Miles Davis. The album, Onyx, reaches #8 on the charts with a sound that Robert Christgau reported as, “a perfect blend of each virtuoso’s best elements: Jimi’s raw yet fluent guitar playing mixed with Mile’s sparse and moody tones.” Their back up band, consisting of Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, and Stevie Winwood, tour America with Sly & The Family Stone as the opening act. Their single, “Broken Windows,” reaches the top ten in both America and England.
After a 9-month tour with Miles Davis, Jimi checks himself into a Seattle rehab center. Rumors of his various addictions spread throughout the music industry and though he was peaking as a musician at the time his personal life had been filled with turmoil, drug abuse, divorces, and band break ups. A live album of his tour with Miles, Live Onyx, is released and reaches #5 on the charts. Various musicians, including Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, The Allman Brothers, and Buddy Miles, contact Jimi’s management to see if he is interested in recording with them once he is ready.
After declining to record a solo album with Alan Parsons, Jimi spends two weeks in the studio recording with Buddy Miles and George Clinton. Hendrix is infatuated with funk and is determined to open up his music to the African-American community that had been hesitant in the past. The sessions are marred by technical difficulties, drugs, and lack of direction.
Jimi visits Jamaica and jams with Bob Marley and the Wailers. Jimi and Bob become extremely close as Bob’s “No Woman, No Cry” becomes a breakout hit in America. They record one song together, “The Call of Love.” With its reggae beats and soaring lead solo by Jimi, the track becomes widely popular and is still requested at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals alike. Plans to record an entire album are discussed but never brought to fruition.
JANUARY 1975 – DECEMBER 1977
In early 1975, Jimi checks himself into an undisclosed rehab facility after the overdose death of his girlfriend in Los Angeles. He spends six months at the center and after his release purchases a ranch house in upstate New York and retreats from the spotlight. Jimi spends most of 1976 at his ranch, recording numerous tracks in his home studio which would later be released under the name Before The Storms after his death in 2004. In the summer of 1977, he is contacted by Quincy Jones and asked to play guitar on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall but declines.
Sued for royalties by The Experience, Jimi finds himself locked in a court battle with his ex band mates. Jimi moves back to New York City and envelopes himself into the night club scene. He is spotted at various punk shows and discos around the city and is treated like rock royalty wherever he goes. He spends almost no time recording during this period.
JANUARY 1979 – MARCH 1980
In 1979 Jimi records an album with famed producer Quincy Jones entitled Nightvisions. This marks Jimi’s first foray into electronic-based dance music. Jones is coming off the highly successful Off The Wall release and Hendrix’s career had been weaning. Jones influences Hendrix to use drum machines and synthesizers. Hendrix–always wanting his music to appeal more to a black audience–was more than willing to follow Jone’s lead in the studio. The album has guest appearances by Chaka Kahn, Kathy Sledge, and Sly Stone. It was a crossover hit and opened Jimi up to an entirely new audience while alienating some of his long time fans. The album reaches #9 on the charts.
DECEMBER 1981 – SEPTEMBER 1983
Jimi spends the beginning of the MTV Years recording with various artists including David Bowie, Michael Jackson, and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” with Paul McCartney. He releases a song and video with Donald Fagen, “Rainbow Woman,” which critics and fans pan as his worst music to date. A video is released of Jimi performing at the Royal Albert Hall with Elton John and INXS. Many of Hendrix’s older fans have lost faith in his new radio-friendly direction while he is gaining a new popularity amongst the younger MTV Generation.
With the popularity of heavy metal and guitar virtuoso’s, Jimi releases an all instrumental album, Coming of Age, with a hard rock tinge. He covers Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Van Halen’s “Unchained,” and brings a young metal band, Metallica, to the forefront with his cover of “Creeping Death.”
The original Jimi Hendrix Experience headline Live Aid at Wembley Stadium. They perform only four songs: “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “Fire,” and “Little Wing,” for which they are joined on stage by Hendrix mentor Buddy Guy and George Harrison and Bob Geldof.
AUGUST 1985 – JANUARY 1987
Jimi reforms The Experience but with Billy Cox on bass instead of Noel Redding. They do a hugely successful world tour with co-headlining act The Who. The highlight of the tour is the final night in Germany when Hendrix is joined onstage by Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Eddie Van Halen for a rendition of “Voodoo Chile.”
JUNE 1988 – JULY 1989
After taking a break from recording and touring, Jimi checks himself into an Ithaca hospital after fainting at his New York ranch. He is diagnosed with liver disease and is treated for anemia and fatigue. He spends over a year recovering from the attack.
Jimi records a Clive Davis produced blues standards record with special guests Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, BB King, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. The album, Vintage Rider, reaches #17 on the charts and is considered by many critics and fans alike to be a return to Hendrix’s original blues roots. David Fricke calls it, “Hendrix’s best work since Live Onyx.”
The Grateful Dead ask Jimi to play six shows with them on the west coast. Sloppy and unenthusiastic performances leave fans and critics less than excited and the band is forced to leave after four shows. Jimi’s camp reports to the press that Jimi is suffering from fatigue and the bands opening slot is taken by Blues Traveler.
Experience Hendrix, LLC sues Capitol Records and the Beastie Boys for using various Hendrix samples on the song “Jimmy James” from the Check Your Head album. Though Jimi himself claims to have nothing to do with the lawsuit he takes a hard beating from the music press and fans.
MAY 1991 – APRIL 1993
Jimi starts a headlining slot at Lollapalooza and receives a mixed response. The younger Gen X crowd responds with chants of “dinosaur” and “hippie” while The Experience slag through renditions of “Fire”, “Crosstown Traffic” and “Voodoo Chile.” In 1992 he enters the studio with producer Bob Rock and releases a solo album entitled Mystery Man that is met with discourse. The music is a mix of poppy hard rock and faux-psychedelic sounds. However, Rolling Stone gives it 4 stars and features him in a cover piece in which Jimi declares in an interview that he has slept with men, some famous. Speculation begins to arise that, for a brief time in 1978, Jimi slept with David Bowie and/or Lou Reed. The rumors follow the men for the rest of their careers. Each deny the story.
Jimi plays Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit show in San Francisco and is joined on stage by Neil and Pearl Jam for covers of “All Along the Watchtower” and “Rockin In The Free World.”
At the MTV Music Awards Jimi joins Prince onstage. The two rip through “Little Red Corvette” and a cover of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain.” There are rumors the two will record an album together but it never pans out.
JANUARY 1996 – JANUARY 1997
A newly revamped Experience line up that includes Dave Grohl on drums and John Paul Jones on bass headlines both Lollapalooza and The Horde Festival in back-to-back years. Jimi is declared by Spin magazine as the comeback musician of the year, with Neil Young coming in a close second. They record an album together under the name Secret Agent Man which includes a cover of The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop.” The album is a huge success on the alt rock charts, where is reaches #3. Many fans and critics are pleased that Jimi has moved back into the hard rock and guitar-based music that made him famous.
FEBRUARY 1997 – JANUARY 1998
In early 1997, rumors begin to spread that Jimi had contracted the AIDS virus. His management team sets up a press conference to dispel the rumors and Jimi becomes more defensive and apprehensive about appearing in public. Very discreetly, Jimi checks himself into a rehab facility after openly admitting in a Village Voice interview that he had a relapse with heroin. Adding to the mystery and rumors are Jimi’s eradict behavior and rambling interviews. In a one-on-one with Kurt Loder of MTV, Jimi claims he “can speak to the souls of Miles Davis, Winston Churchill, and Kurt Cobain” and appears disoriented and confused.
Hendrix appears on Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill while also recording guitar tracks on a reworking of “Voodoo Chile” with Sean “Puffy” Combs. Over the course of the next year, Hendrix’s playing and music would be sampled by numerous hip hop acts including Tupac Shakur, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang Clan, De La Soul, Gangstarr, and The Fugees. In an interview with Vibe magazine, Hendrix declares hip hop to be “the music of the new generation of black artists, where they can take a little bit of everything we did before them and blend it together with a live and upbeat sound from the streets.” In the same interview, Hendrix startles some of his fans with his admission for the preference to playing with black musicians.
SEPTEMBER 1999 – MARCH 2000
At his upstate New York ranch Jimi collapses after a recording session in his basement studio. He is rushed to the hospital where it is reported that he has developed hepatic cancer. False reports of his death flood the industry until Jimi appears in January of 2000 on MTV with Kurt Loder. Looking ill, he is asked if he plans to do any recording in the near future, to which Hendrix responds, “I have been recording and playing music for over 40 years, man. I think my body is trying to tell me it needs a break.”
Jimi appears onstage at two shows with Phish at Radio City Music Hall. They cover the Motown classic “Take Me To The River” and Nirvana’s “In Bloom.”
Rumors spread around Seattle about a benefit show featuring a super group of local musicians including Hendrix, Nancy Wilson, Chris Cornell, Jerry Cantrell, Dale Crover, Ben Shepherd, and Eddie Vedder. On July 22 the band takes the stage at a small club and tears through a set of songs covering each of the artists catalogues. The crowd erupts during a blazing rendition of Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” that includes a four-minute guitar solo by Hendrix followed by Cornell and Vedder bowing before Jimi in awe.
Hendrix’s cancer has metastasized and he is forced to undergo chemotherapy treatments at his upstate ranch. His wife, Julia, releases a press statement asking for Jimi’s privacy due to the immense about of media attention his health has received. Rumors had been around for years that Hendrix had contracted the AIDS virus in the 1980’s and was using his cancer as a cover up. His management goes as far as to release copies of a blood test to MTV, which causes a controversy in its own right.
Experience Hendrix, LLC and Capitol Records settle the Beastie Boy’s sampling lawsuit out of court. Hendrix is in recovery from his cancer treatments at his ranch and starts planning the recording of a new album. He is contacted by Clive Davis and asked if he would be interested recording a song with Carlos Santana for his follow-up to Supernatural.
Jimi Hendrix is recording an album at Electric Ladyland studios in New York City when the Twin Towers are attacked. Though not in the studio during the time of the attacks, it would be months before he would be able to return to gather the tapes. His cancer has made him weak and thin but he continues to be valiant about wanting to continue making music. The recordings are leaked online and become one of the most downloaded items on Napster.
JULY 2001 – AUGUST 2002
Track Records releases numerous box sets and collections of Jimi’s music, saturating the market with his iconic imagery. Songs like “Foxy Lady” and “Crosstown Traffic” are used in shampoo and car commercials. Hot Topic releases a line of “HendrixWare” clothing co-designed by Jimi himself. The hip retro look starts a new trend in fashion. Jimi’s music is heard in movies, television shows, and in July of 2002 he does a guest appearance on HBO’s The Soprano‘s where he plays a high level gambler at a mob poker game.
DECEMBER 2002 – NOVEMBER 2003
Jimi’s illness forces him to cancel appearances at various concerts and awards shows. In September 2003, MTV gives him a lifetime’s achievement award which he accepts via satellite from his New York home. He appears frail and sick but in good spirits. The crowd of industry insiders, musicians, actors, comedians, and suits, give him a 5-minute standing ovation.
FEBRUARY 16, 2004
At his home in upstate New York Jimi Hendrix passes away from complications due to liver cancer. He is surrounded by his family and close friends. Bob Dylan calls it, “the saddest day in music history.” Keith Richards declares Hendrix, “the greatest mother fucker to ever lay his hands on the guitar.” Carlos Santana gives the eulogy at his funeral. After the service there is a performance that includes: BB King, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Robert Cray, Paul McCartney, Stevie Winwood, Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, John Mayer, Jack White, Kirk Hammett, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, and Neil Young. The group plays a 25-minute version of “Little Wing.”