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Jimi Hendrix's Letters to His Dad

Jimi Hendrix reading 'Blonde on Blonde' by Bob Dylan before performing at the Astoria, London in 1967. © Colin N. Purvor

When it comes to musical icons like Jimi Hendrix it can be difficult to separate the person from the all-consuming myth that has built up around them. But, along with his music and the stories about him, there also exists some more personal artefacts in the form of his letters.

Like a lot of letters from famous artists, musicians, or writers, it’s a chance to peek behind the legend and see these icons as not just the rock gods or goddesses they were on stage, but as, say, struggling artists, open to all the human foibles, emotions, insecurities, and self-doubts that the rest of us have.

That’s especially true of a letter that Jimi Hendrix wrote to his father, sent before he became a superstar rock god, in 1965. Hendrix’s father’s name was James Allen Hendrix, but he was known as Al. He grew up in Vancouver in British Columbia and moved to Seattle in 1940. He then met and married Lucille Jetter, Hendrix’s mother, in 1942 and she fell pregnant.

Al was then conscripted and went off to fight in the Second World War and missed the birth of his son, Jimmy. By the time he came back, after Lucille had experienced some problems and baby Jimmy had been left with another family, he filed for divorce and raised Jimi as a single parent working odd jobs to make ends meet.

Jimi Hendrix restrings his guitar before a performance at the Marquee Club, London in March 1967. © Ray Stevenson

In around 1957 it was Al who bought Jimi his first electric guitar. Eight years after that, in August 1965, Jimi sent his dad the letter below. It comes via the New York Times, and also appears in the book Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro.  

As the New York Times notes, at the time Hendrix was in New York City “between gigs as a sideman for bands like the Isley Brothers and Joey Dee and the Starliters”:

Dear Dad,

I still have my guitar and amp and as long as I have that, no fool can keep me from living. There's a few record companies I visited that I probably can record for. I think I'll start working toward that line because actually when you're playing behind other people you're still not making a big name for yourself as you would if you were working for yourself. But I went on the road with other people to get exposed to the public and see how business is taken care of. And mainly just to see what's what, and after I put a record out, there'll be a few people who know me already and who can help with the sale of the record.

Nowadays people don't want you to sing good. They want you to sing sloppy and have a good beat to your songs. That's what angle I'm going to shoot for. That's where the money is. So just in case about three or four months from now you might hear a record by me which sounds terrible, don't feel ashamed, just wait until the money rolls in because every day people are singing worse and worse on purpose and the public buys more and more records.

I just wanted to let you know I'm still here, trying to make it. Although I don't eat every day, everything's going all right for me. It could be worse than this, but I'm going to keep hustling and scuffling until I get things to happening like they're supposed to for me.

Tell everyone I said hello. Leon, Grandma, Ben, Ernie, Frank, Mary, Barbara and so forth. Please write soon. It's pretty lonely out here by myself. Best luck and happiness in the future.

Love, your son, Jimmy

The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding) during a sound check at the Marquee Club in 1967. © Ray Stevenson

It’s not the only known letter publicly published from Hendrix to his dad either. A postcard reprinted on website Letters of Note was sent to Al from Jimi just over a year later, in October 1966.

By this time Hendrix now had his own band in The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but he still hadn’t made it to the big time—yet. All that was coming though, looming on the horizon. Because the postcard was sent a couple of months prior to the band releasing their single “Hey Joe,” the song that would help propel Jimi to superstar status and go on to become an absolute classic. The letter would also have been around the time the band were recording their debut album Are You Experienced?

With hindsight, it’s quite amusing to read the way Jimi signs off the letter, as it’s somewhat of an understatement—he obviously didn’t think his career was going to take off in quite the stratospheric way it did. The letter was sent when Jimi was in Munich to his dad who was in Seattle.

Dear Dad –

Well...Although I lost the address, I feel I must write before I get too far away – We're in Munich, Germany now – We just left Paris and Nancy France – We're playing around london now. That's where I'm staying these days. I have my own group and will have a record out about 2 months named "Hey Joe" By the Jimi Hendrix EXPERIENCE

I hope you get this card – I'll write a decent letter – I think things are getting a little Better –

Your loving son Jimi

Jimi Hendrix supporting The Walker Brothers at the Royal Albert Hall, London 1967. © Colin N. Purvor

For further insight into Al and Jimi’s relationship, you can check out an interview with Al Hendrix from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, below. In it Al talks about Jimi’s first interest in the guitar and also the first time he heard Are You Experienced?

It happened to be when some hippies who were neighbours were playing it and he heard the music through the walls of his house. “Well that sounds like Jimi.” his dad says. Noting he’d never heard him sing before. He even makes reference to the letter above when Jimi told him he was going to start singing.

The story ends with Al’s then wife knocking on the neighbours’ door and telling them who Al was. The hippies, pretty shocked, end up giving him the album. "Of course I wore it out.” notes his dad.

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer all these iconic Jimi Hendrix images, along with many others, as limited edition photographic prints which you can buy here.