Half a century after his big brother arrived in London to begin his short career, Leon Hendrix reflects on Jimi’s life and music
Leon is slender, intense, and enjoys the inevitable conversation about his brother rather than himself, in the room which Jimi called “the first real home of my own”.
Everyone knows the Hendrix childhood was hardly that of a model family – a mother who left, and a father who drank more than he cared. “But Jimi looked after me,” recalls Leon. “For some reason, I never missed a meal. He looked out for me like an elder-brother-father; he made me what you English call ‘tea’ and made sure I was OK. And sometimes, we used to sneak off to Mom’s for dinner.”
But where did the music come from? “It’s called inspiration,” says Leon, almost scolding. “As in ‘spirit’, as in ‘in-spirit-ation’. It’s in the wind. I was there when Jimi was a boy, and he’d play with a broom, his first guitar. And Pa would come home and see the straw and shit from the broom on the floor, because Jimi’d been doing acrobatics with his his broom-guitar, and Jimi’d get a whuppin’.”
According to Leon’s book, Jimi Hendrix: A Brother’s Story, Jimi’s first real instrument was a ukulele the boys found while cleaning out a neighbour’s garage. When he finally got a guitar, Jimi, says Leon, “used to take gold tassels from his Pa’s empty Seagrams 7 bottles and tie them to it.
“But the music came from nowhere,” he says. “Music has no body, and I remember when Jimi was playing, he’d try to conjure up the sound with his fingers – where is it?” Once, “when we were little, Jimi took a radio apart, trying to find the music inside it. We lost the screwdriver behind the sofa and couldn’t put it back together, and that was another whuppin’.”
Leon says, poignantly, of Hendrix’s soft vocal timbre: “It came from always being told to shut up as a kid. Jimi went inside with his music, and when he got on stage, that was his time”.
There is genetic lineage, it turns out, as Leon imparts some new information “My mother’s grandfather was a musician. He was black, but looked so white he was allowed to play, down in Louisiana. He played orchestral music in the 1800s.” However, “my own children want nothing to do with music, they’ve seen what it did to us. My daughter’s in Mexico and my son wants to be a scientist, or a doctor. But I’ve got these grandchildren – and they’re mighty interested. ‘Hey, grandpa, play us that music by uncle Jimi!’ [Read More]