IN SEPTEMBER 1964, AGED 21, Jimi Hendrix (pictured, above, as an infant) joined Little Richard’s touring band The Upsetters, and further developed the unique guitar style that would shortly electrify the world. But this was not the first time that Hendrix had met the Georgia-born rock’n’roll star. According to Jimi’s younger brother, Leon, the budding guitarist initially encountered Richard in their home town of Seattle at the age of 12.
“Me and Jimi met Little Richard in 1959 because his mom and sister lived in Seattle,” recalls the surviving Hendrix brother, speaking to MOJO. “I took a bunch of greens over to a neighbour’s house, Mrs Penniman, saw this black limo and Little Richard. I ran home to get Jimi, we rode bikes up there and sat there in awe at him preaching at the Goodwill Baptist Church.”
Speaking in the same interview, published in the latest MOJO magazine, Leon recalls the tumultuous home life that haunted the brothers as they grew up and explains how Jimi – whom he called Buster - used music to escape what was an increasingly fractured domestic situation. “When he got that ukulele with one string on it, everything took off. He got free,” says Leon.
For Jimi Hendrix, his graduation from ukulele to the six-string was to be the making of him. He left Seattle in 1961, initially enlisting in the US Army before becoming a sought-after guitarist. “He was the best guitar player so everyone wanted to hire him,” reflects Leon.
By the time he’d joined Little Richard’s band, Hendrix had already played with Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers, Chuck Jackson and Sam Cooke. While he knew his role as a sideman, his flamboyance was evident and appears to have caused clashes with Richard.
Nevertheless, he stayed long enough to record one single with Richard – the smouldering, begging-and-pleading I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me) in early 1965, released on Vee-Jay – and he also made his first TV appearance while a member of Richard’s band, backing soul duo Buddy And Stacy as they covered Junior Walker And The All Stars’ Shotgun on Night Train, filmed in Nashville in the summer of ’65.
The clip shows Hendrix resplendent in his dinner suit and bow tie, digging to the horn-powered groove. Less than 18 months later, Jimi landed in London and his meteoric rise had begun…
Read a full interview with Jimi Hendrix’s brother Leon in the new issue of MOJO magazine – on sale now.