Jimi Hendrix died in September 1970, at the young age of 27. He packed quite a legacy into those 27 years, becoming perhaps the greatest guitar player in American history. Before he was the legendary musician we knew him to be, Hendrix served a short stint in the military. The reason why his time in the service was so short has long been in contention.
Hendrix had a troubled upbringing
Hendrix was born to James Allen “Al” Hendrix, a US Army veteran who’d served during World War II. At the time of Hendrix’s birth, he was stationed in Alabama and barred by his commanding officer from visiting his wife and newborn son. In fact, he was locked up in a stockade for two months – without trial – to prevent him from going AWOL.
It wasn’t until he was honorably discharged in September 1945 that the elder Hendrix was able to finally meet his son.
Hendrix grew up relatively poor in the Seattle area. While it was clear from a young age that he had a talent for music, the youth got into plenty of trouble. At the age of 19, after being caught twice riding in stolen cars, Hendrix was given the choice to either join the Army or go to prison. Not wanting to be jailed, he enlisted in May 1961.
Not a natural soldier
Hendrix did not enjoy his time in the service. He completed eight weeks of basic training at Fort Ord, California, after which he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. It was around this time that he wrote to his father, expressing his distaste for the Army, “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school… You get hell. They work you to death, fussing and fighting.”
In a later letter, Hendrix pleaded with his father to send him his guitar. Receiving the instrument helped him relax during his downtime and allowed him to bond with his fellow comrades. Another soldier named Billy Cox was impressed with his skills and acquired a bass guitar. Before long, the two were playing at the base club on the weekends, along with a few others.
Rumors of misconduct
One thing is for sure, Hendrix did not serve his full three years in the Army. Many have speculated as to why. Some say he was discharged for “displaying homosexual tendencies” or that he was caught masturbating in the latrine. The latter seems to be true, as there is evidence of him being written up for this behavior.
There were issues regarding Hendrix’s suitability as a soldier. He performed very poorly on all of his physical training tests, and there were a number of incidents where he missed bed check. He was also a poor shot, displayed terrible marksmanship and reportedly napped while on duty.
According to a report written by James C. Spears, Hendrix’s platoon sergeant, he had “no interest whatsoever in the Army… It is my opinion that Private Hendrix will never come up to the standards required of a soldier. I feel that the military service will benefit if he is discharged as soon as possible.”
In general, Hendrix did not like being in the Army and was destined to do something different with his life.
A accident opens the door – did it actually happen?
Thanks to his apathy and discipline issues, Hendrix was not longed for the military. An apparent injury suffered during parachuting practice opened the door for both the guitarist and his superiors – at least, that’s what he claimed. Speaking about his time in the Army, Hendrix claimed an ankle injury led to him being medically discharged. However, no records have been found to indicate he was discharged for any injuries or medical issues.
As it turns out, the end of Hendrix’s career was due to a variety of factors – and it didn’t take long for him to take advantage of the opportunity. Less than two years later, he had his first song appear on the Billboard charts and the rest, as they say, is history!