The birth of Johnny Allen Hendrix, November 27, 1942, in Seattle, signaled only a tiny ping in the big world. Lucille Jeter Hendrix took her baby home. Her husband, Al Hendrix, was on Army duty in Alabama. His commanding officer not only refused Al the customary leave for the birth of a child, but stuck the young solider in the stockade, to prevent him from going AWOL. The father was allowed to receive a telegram, announcing his son’s birth. He did not set eyes on his baby until 1945.
Seventy-five years later, Johnny Allen Hendrix, better known as Jimi Hendrix, has a whole day devoted to the man many consider rock's greatest guitarist's life, work, and legacy, complete with artifacts, films, and enough birthday cake “to feed 150 people,” according to Jacob McMurray, Senior Curator at or the Museum of Pop Culture (aka MoPOP, formerly the Experience Music Project). Of course, Jimi won’t be on hand—he died in 1970. Still, this birthday celebration, held on November 25, 10 am to 7 pm at MoPOP, hopes to both toast and reveal his brief yet eventful life.
“His home was wherever he was at the moment,” explains the curator. “Through our serial Hendrix exhibitions, MoPOP has become another home for Hendrix, in his hometown. We’re putting on display some really cool artifacts for this occasion, including the most iconic guitar in rock ’n’ roll—the white Stratocaster that Hendrix played at Woodstock. We’ll also be displaying the blue kimono and pants that Hendrix wore at the Newport Pop Festival and Dick Cavett Show, both in 1969. He wore the blue velvet pants at Woodstock, as well.
“Additionally, we’ll be displaying the original Karl Ferris-designed artwork for the US version of [Hendrix’s debut album] Are You Experienced? Finally, we’ve been able to borrow from the Hendrix Estate an ornate necklace that Hendrix is shown wearing the first time that he returned to Seattle after becoming a superstar, in February 1968.”
The event will also exhibit a diary Hendrix kept, featuring 13 entries from 1968. “It’s interesting material, from Jimi talking about recording Joni Mitchell in Ottawa on his new tape recorder, to playing New Orleans on August 1 and commenting that, ‘Everybody’s on fire, but a groovy fire. We could change America. Not from white to black but from old to young.’ For a guy that doesn’t often talk politics, some really insightful and interesting comments.”
Asked about a personal favorite piece of the celebration, McMurray picked another piece of paper, separate from the diary. MoPOP has “a large photo-enlargement of the back side of the lyrics to ‘Love or Confusion,’ one of Hendrix’s early Experience songs…. We don’t often show these lyrics because they are written in red ink, and red fades significantly over time. But on the back of this lyric sheet is a detailed illustration done by Jimi and his girlfriend at the time, Kathy Etchingham. This is what we’ve blown up. It shows Hendrix, most likely in spring of 1967, wearing his military jacket, crazy hair, Iron Cross necklace and requisite Stratocaster. It shows Hendrix as a giant, dominating the scene… Eric Clapton hanging himself with a note saying, ‘Goodbye Cruel World, signed Eric Clapton and the Sour Cream.’
McMurray concludes, “It really paints a picture of how Hendrix landed like an atomic bomb on London in September 1966 and quickly became a superstar.”