It’s Army Time For Jimi Hendrix on 27 Club

By Diana Brown

February 20, 2020


27 Club, hosted by Disgraceland’s Jake Brennan, takes a deep dive into the lives and legacies of some of the iconic musicians who died at the age of 27, including Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and others. The first season is dedicated to the incredibly talented Jimi Hendrix, covering not only his legendary guitar playing but his early life, his family relationships, his first experiments with drugs, his brushes with the Mafia, and so much more, with Jake’s signature storytelling rhythm and embroidered details that put you right in the middle of the scene. On this episode, Jake gets into Jimi’s time in jail for stealing cars, how he got out of fighting in the Vietnam War, and how meeting Little Richard changed his life.

After Jimi flunked out of high school and was busted twice in one week riding around in stolen cars, “it was army time for Jimi Hendrix.” He joined the 101st Airborne in the spring of 1961. His father sent him his guitar, and Jimi played it whenever he got a chance, plugging into the speakers at the club on the base and imagining it full of screaming fans. One day as he was jamming, another serviceman, a bassist named Billy Cox, stopped to listen. He described what he heard as “Beethoven meets John Lee Hooker.” Billy would become “a constant in Jimi’s life...a true brother-in-arms,” playing in his first real band. But despite the friendships he made along the way, Jimi knew army life wasn’t for him. He had to figure out a way to wriggle out of his three-year commitment, something creative that wouldn’t earn him a dishonorable discharge, but would be outrageous enough that the army would decide he was too much trouble to hang onto. 

Fortunately, creativity was no problem for Jimi. He had a plan: get caught masturbating, right out in the open, by a superior officer. The army wasn’t going to kick him out for that, but they did send him to the army psychiatrist, where Jimi delivered the killing blow: “I think I’m a homosexual,” he told the doctor. Homosexuality didn’t bother Jimi, Jake tells us, but he knew the army wouldn’t like it, and he was right: They decided he “wasn’t army material” and discharged him in May of 1962. Now it was time to focus on what Jimi really loved: playing the guitar. Listen to the episode to hear about how Jimi pestered Billy Davis from Hank Ballard & The Midnighters into tutoring him, his trip to church to hear Little Richard preach, and much more, only on 27 Club.

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