Following a medical discharge from the 101st Airborne (from a back injury from a parachute jump), Hendrix, who had been playing guitar since a child, initially made his living supporting touring soul and blues musicians, including Curtis Knight, B. B. King and Little Richard. By 1966 he had his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames and a residency at the Cafe Wha? in New York City. Whilst with the Blue Flames, he was discovered by Chas Chandler, of British rock group The Animals, who brought him to England, where Chandler helped Hendrix form a new band, "The Jimi Hendrix Experience" with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
After a few concerts, the band started to gain a reputation amongst their contemporaries, impressing Eric Clapton and members of The Beatles and The Who. This promise was born out in their first single, a cover of "Hey Joe", a blues song of unknown origin. Further success came to the follow-up, the incendiary "Purple Haze", whose heavily distorted guitar sound would be highly influential for the next 20 years. 1967 also saw the release of the groups first album, "Are You Experienced", whose mix of melodic ballads ("Remember"), pop-rock ("Fire"), psychedelia ("Third Stone From The Sun") and traditional blues ("Red House") would prove the template for much of their later work.
At the instigation of Paul McCartney the band were booked for the Monterey Pop Festival, and the concert, immortalised by filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker was seen as a triumphant homecoming, while back in England Hendrix's wild-man image and musical gimmickry (e.g. appearing to play guitar with his teeth) continued to garner him publicity. 1968 saw the release of two further Experience albums. The first, "Axis: Bold as Love", was in the vein of the "Are You Experienced", with tracks such as "Little Wing" and "If 6 Was 9" showing his continuing master of all facets of his instrument. The second, the double album "Electric Ladyland", was more eclectic and experimental, featuring a lengthy blues jam ("Voodoo Chile"), the jazz inflected "Still Raining, Still Dreaming" and what is probably the definitive version of Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower". The recording of the album was extremely problematic, with Hendrix's work habits becoming erratic and a studio filled with his hangers-on caused longtime producer Chandler to quit. Despite this, many of the album tracks show Hendrix's expansion beyond the scope of the original trio (it is said that the sound of this record would help inspire Miles Davis' sound on Bitches Brew). Due to this expansion of horizons, and a deterioration in his relationship with his bandmates (and particularly Redding), the Experience split.
By August of 1969, however, Hendrix had formed a new band in order to play the Woodstock festival. The set, while notably under-rehearsed, ragged, and played out to a slowly emptying field of revellers, featured an improvised instrumental version of The Star Spangled Banner, distorted almost beyond recognition, clearly symbolic of the unrest in US society over both civil rights issues and the Vietnam War.
The Woodstock band was short lived, and Hendrix formed a new trio, The Band Of Gypsies comprising Billy Cox, an old army buddy, on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, for two concerts around New Year 1969/70. The rest of that year was spent recording sporadically, often with Mitchell, and attempting to carry out the "Rainbow Bridge" project, an ambitious combination of film/album/concert set in Hawaii. In August he played at the Isle of Wight festival with Mitchell and Cox, expressing disappointment onstage in his fans clamour to hear his old hits rather than his new ideas. He remained in England, and on September 18th took a large quantity of barbituates, either recreationally or to help sleep, and suffocated on his own vomit.