October 1st marked forty-seven years since James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (1942-1970) died in the flat of Monika Danneman in the Kensington section of London at the age of twenty-seven. Today his music is still revered and Hendrix is considered one of the greatest electric guitar players in music history. In fact, there are those who believe that we was the greatest to ever live. The collection of music he left behind continues to be discovered by younger generations and maintains a place in my own collection. His cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower and the classic Hey Joe are among my favorites and some of Hendrix’s best works.
Sharon Lawrence started her career working for the United Press International’s Los Angeles bureau and was introduced to Hendrix by a mutual acquaintance. Not only did she go on to witness key events in his life but she became of his closest friends all the way up until the time of his death. In this intimate account of a friend’s memories of another, she takes us behind the scenes into the personal life of a rock legend. And what she reveals about the life of the first child of Al and Lucille Hendrix, is a star with a rare gift that died far too young in a life on the fast track and filled with nefarious characters, unfortunate events and a family history that had long-lasting effects. But most importantly, she clears up long-running misconceptions about Hendrix’s death and the fabrications that he died from a drug overdose. In fact, savvy readers familiar with Hendrix’s story will already know this and the story of the mysterious Danneman (1945-1996), whose actions after Hendrix’s death are beyond bizarre. Her suicide on April 5, 1996 only served to raise more questions about her life and her relationship with the late star. Lawrence sheds light on her interactions with Danneman as well adding even more puzzling questions to the unsolved puzzle.
The book is a biography in some regards and Lawrence explores the family lineage in detail setting the stage for the future inner turmoil that would plague Hendrix throughout his life. And like most other musicians of that era, controversy followed him serving as a threat to his increasing fame. His life would be affected in one way or another by record executives such as Mike Jeffrey (1933-1973), groupies like Devon Wilson (1943-1971) and miscellaneous characters that sought out Hendrix to serve their own self-interests. And sadly at the time of his death, none of them would be there in his time of need. Lawrence however, served as confidant throughout Hendrix’s career and their interactions throughout the book are significant for they shed light on what really went through his mind as he navigated his way through an industry filled with predators. Incredibly, not one person interviewed for the book had a negative word to say about Hendrix. From all accounts, he was a gentle person that perhaps cared and loved too much, not only about music but about his family members and relatives. His relationship with his father is eerily similar to the tragic story of Marvin Gaye, Sr. and Marvin Gaye, Jr. Part of what truly makes Lawrence’s account a fascinating read is that she does not shy away from Hendrix’s indiscretions most notably the two children he fathered out-of-wedlock and the issue of narcotics, prevalent throughout the film and music industries.
The story of Hendrix’s death has been retold many times but what is brought to light here is the fallout with his estate following that tragic night of September 18, 1970. Like wolves circling their prey, next of kin and aspiring entrepreneurs all made a claim for their stake in his estate to control his legacy. Litigation became the tool of the trade as Hendrix’s father Al, his brother Leon and step-sister Janie engaged in a legal tug of war that severed what remained of family ties and earned Hendrix’s name more money in death than in life. Today his image is found on t-shirts and posters, purchased by adoring fans and those who discovering him for the first time. And like many of the other greats of his time such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison his death before the age of thirty, is both tragic and cruel. In later years, Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur joined the list of musicians whose works earned staggering amounts following their deaths. But for older fans who saw him play, purchased his records as they were released or knew him at some point in their lives, no poster of t-shirt could ever take the place of the Jimi they knew and this includes my father who played Hendrix’s song all throughout my childhood and is the reason why I love his music to this day.
If you are a fan of Jimi Hendrix and want to know more about the life of a true legend, Sharon Lawrence honors her friend the right way in this memoir about one of rock’s greatest performers. And after you have finished this book, you may find yourself singing The Wind Cries Mary, Purple Haze or maybe even Voodoo Chile. Whichever you choose, Hendrix will surely be smiling from wherever he is at, content that his music has continued to inspire.