Remembering Jimi Hendrix

Stephen Andrews
18 Sep 2022

Psychedelic drugs and pot were popular among rock stars in the 1960s. Along with his inherent talent, Jimi Hendrix is also known for his affinity for substance use. "Al" Hendrix, the father of the rock legend, accounted for his son's habits, among others. "Jimi said, 'Oh no, I don't do all that heavy stuff. I might have smoked a little pot sometimes, but those needles and cocaine—no way!' Jimi did tell me that he had tried some LSD. I knew a lot of the guys were doing it. I said, 'I hope you don't let that stuff overrule you," Al wrote in his book "My Son Jimi."

Al Hendrix believed that one of the most common misconceptions about his son was that he abused drugs. "People enhance it like he [Jimi] was way-out, a wild man taking drugs all the time, which he wasn't... It's an exaggeration to connect Jimi to drug abuse. He would talk against drugs, because I asked him about them sometimes," Al wrote, according to High Times magazine. 

But whatever Al said did not change much about how Jimi Hendrix's story had been conveyed among journalists. There are some pretty wild stories out there. Like that time he allegedly injected liquid acid into his eyes or into his penis, depends which version you are listening to. Truth is, Jimi's use of substances was no different than other rock stars of his day. 

Has psychedelics influenced his songwriting? Perhaps. But that's also debatable. According to writer Peter Relic, Jimi's songs were more influenced by sci-fi literature rather than drugs or anything else. The rock star regularly discussed sci-fi books with his mentor and manager, Chas Chandler at his London apartment. "I had dozens of science-fiction books at home. Jimi started reading through them all. That's where 'Third Stone from the Sun' and 'Up from the Skies' came from," Chandler told Relic. 

Relic also claims that "Purple Haze," the song billed as Jimi Hendrix's "drug anthem," borrowed at least some of its poetic quality from Philp Jose Farmer's sci-fi novel Night of Light. Furthermore, Arthur C. Clark's title, The Sands of Mars, and especially the line "The eastern sky was aglow with the first light of the rising sun," would have inspired the track First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Tunes like "Astro Man" or "South Saturn Delta" were, in turn, influenced by George R. Stewart's Earth Abides, reports the High Times.

"If I were to take LSD, then [it's] only for my own personal entertainment, for fun, or just because it pleases me," Hendrix said in one interview in 1967.

One composition that still may have happened because of psychedelics is "Burning of the Midnight Lamp," however. 

The most frustrating thing about the death of Jimi Hendrix, which took place on this day, 18 September 1970, is all the drug talk hunting it. The original coroner's inquest decision proves that the accepted explanation for Jimi's death is "barbiturate overdose," however, this is not the official explanation. 

Hendrix's German girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, who was with him the night before he died, claimed that while drugs may have played a role in Jimi's death, it was not overdose. Dannemann was the one to find his body in their hotel room in the morning. 

A medical examination ruled out external injuries such as needle marks on Hendrix's body. The medical report concluded that his death occurred "due to inhalation of vomit following barbiturate intoxication." However, this did not quite answer whether the case is drug fatality. 

Accounts suggest that Hendrix took some speed at the party he went to the night before he died. He also smoked weed and had some wine. One postulation is that he overdid with the speed and needed to calm down a bit. Upon his return to the hotel, he took barbitone. His girlfriend Danneman reportedly took the recommended dosage of half a tablet, but Jimi initially took two pills. He took five more pills later that faithful evening and his body's reaction to the total combination proved fatal.

The alcohol or the pills or both, caused Hendrix to vomit in his sleep. Because of the downers he took, his gag reflex was compromised to such an extent that the discharge that collected in his throat caused him to choke to death. The chunk of the story that remains a mystery is why he took so many sedatives.

It may not have been a glorious signing-off from this world, but the name and the legend of Jimi Hendrix remain with us. A true global icon, Hendrix redefined American blues, jazz, rock, and soul. In the mere four years of active career and playing, he redefined the sound of electric guitar and created a precedent for many more artists to come. 

Stephen Andrews