The ‘extraordinary’ Jimi Hendrix with the Experience at Olympia, London, on 22 December 1967. Photograph: Ray Stevenson/Rex Features
On the morning of 21 September 1966, a Pan Am airliner from New York landed at Heathrow, carrying among its passengers a black American musician from a poor home. Barely known in his own country and a complete stranger to England, he had just flown first class for the first time in his life. His name was James Marshall Hendrix.
On 18 September 1970, four years later, I picked up a copy of London’s Evening Standard on my way home from school, something I never usually did. There was a story of extreme urgency on the front page and a picture of Hendrix playing at a concert – still ringing in my ears – at the Isle of Wight festival, only 18 days earlier. The text reported how Hendrix had died that morning in a hotel in the street, Lansdowne Crescent in Notting Hill, in which I had been born, and a block away from where I now lived.
During those three years and 362 days living in London, Hendrix had conjured – with his vision and sense of sound, his personality and genius – the most extraordinary guitar music ever played, the most remarkable sound-scape ever created; of that there is little argument. Opinion varies only over the effect his music has on people: elation, fear, sexual stimulation, sublimation, disgust – all or none of these – but always drop-jawed amazement.
The 40th anniversary of Hendrix’s death next month will be marked by the opening of an exhibition of curios and memorabilia at the only place he ever called home – a flat diagonally above that once occupied by the composer George Frideric Handel, on Brook Street in central London, in the double building now known as Handel House. The flat will be opened to the public for 12 days in September and there is talk about plans for a joint museum, adding Hendrix’s presence to that already established in the museum devoted to Handel. Involved in the discussions is the woman with whom Hendrix furnished the top flat of 23 Brook St, and with whom he lived: the only woman he ever really loved, Kathy Etchingham.