Stella Douglas, Jimi Hendrix & Artist Mati Klarwein in 1970, New York City (Photo: Caterine Milinaire)
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by Rick Landers
“It’s all about tones. You hear the sound in your head or your heart, and you send a message to your fingers.” Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix: The Intimate Story of a Betrayed Musical Legend by Sharon Lawrence
To Hendrix, it was all about tones. Tones that come from deep inner truths that surface as creatively shaped moments to be shared with the world. His tones are formidable and his artistic presence and influence remain with us over thirty-five years later.
Sharon Lawrence understands tones.
Her book, Jimi Hendrix: The Intimate Story of a Betrayed Musical Legend is a memoir that could have easily been her cash cow after his death. But while others cashed in on their Jimi Hendrix experiences, Sharon remained quiet, protective and reflective. Her new paperback reflects the quiet mourning of a friend coupled with the need to introduce the world to Jimi Hendrix the artist, the man, and her friend. It is not only an intimate journey, but one that runs full throttle with the rock 'n' roll circus of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a story of a young man who wrestled with his own demons and the greed and avarice that surrounded him as fame took its heavy toll.
It has been over thirty-five years since the guitarist died in a flat in London. A day wrapped in mystery to some, but one that Lawrence suggests may have been more a fatal gamble, if not purposeful.
Today, the name Jimi Hendrix consistently tops “Best Guitarist” lists that credit his monumental influence on guitar playing.
Sharon takes us along the road Jimi traveled from boyhood, riding the chitlin’ circuit, his shows in England, his rise to fame in America, and to the guitarist's final hours in London. We learn that he was born Johnny Allen Hendrix and his father later legally changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix. His family life was full of strife and conflict, but also included pockets of enough love to nurture the young boy.
This tribute to Hendrix is filled with personal conversations between Jimi and the author in a voice that carries you “there” with them, like when he tells her, “I want to play my guitar forever,” then adds “Forever.”
It should be made clear that Sharon was not one of Jimi’s many girlfriends, but a friend and confidante in their truest sense. When they met she was an ambitious and career focused young UPI entertainment journalist. She had a serious job and the many musicians she hung out with recognized and respected her because she had a real grownup job. She moved in the same circles of friends as the rock stars of the day, that had her once accepting an invitation from Mick Jagger to join the Rolling Stones on tour as their press liaison.
As a journalist, Lawrence needed to keep records and bits and pieces of information about the music world she covered and those in it. They’re part of the stock and trade. Her book is based on notes, recordings, and conversations she had with Jimi, as well as with over 250 others who shared their Jimi Hendrix stories with her.
Sharon’s telling of Jimi’s big break in London and his experiences with the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, The Who captures the moments in all their glory. Beck and Clapton with their mouths wide open watching Hendrix as he unleashes staggering colorful sounds from his Stratocaster while playing
“Killing Floor”, “Hey Joe” and “Wild Thing”.
She recalls Jimi’s manager, ex-Animal Chas Chandler saying, “Eric actually turned pale, he was so overwhelmed by Jimi’s talent. He could hardly talk.”
Sharon’s voice throughout the book is not always as tender as when she speaks of her friend. Her protective spirit cuts clean to the bone when she dissects the unscrupulous machinations of some of Jimi’s managers, family and associates and the twisted contract provisions that bled him. For all the millions of dollars Jimi must have earned while alive, she tells us that Jimi died with a paltry $20,000 to his name.
The author's attention to the details gives her voice authority and fans who read her account of Jimi’s life will seethe in frustration that they couldn’t have been there to help protect him from his business and personal entanglements. And as Lawrence presents later, business intrigue and entanglements that in her opinion continue to exploit as much as build the Hendrix legacy today.
Sharon Lawrence offers us an insightful, poignant, sad and oftentimes exciting account of the life of the legendary rock star. It is a life full of roadblocks, betrayal and abundant promise. She says that Jimi wanted to be remembered honestly and for people to know the real Jimi Hendrix.
Lawrence can rest assured that she has honored Jimi's interests and talents with her book. Her level of research is formidable and her ability to convey all in an interesting and riveting manner is a tribute to her reporting skills, as much as it is to her levels of compassion and passion.
Jimi Hendrix: The Intimate Story of a Betrayed Musical Legend is the most definitive book around on Hendrix, as it's the most up close and personal account of his life written to date. It's the "go to" Jimi Hendrix life story and a must read for researchers, fans, musicians, and anyone else who wants to meet Jimi Hendrix the man and the musical legend. Read it.
Sharon Lawrence has done us all a favor by offering the world a book that moves us in many ways, one that should have Jimi smiling, and in the end leads us all back to our Hendrix albums or CDs reminding us to move over and “Let Jimi take over!”
HarperCollins Publishers – 2006
Cover Design: Gregg Kulick
Front cover photograph: Barrie Wentzell