BOOK REVIEW: Biographic Hendrix By Liz Flavell

BOOK REVIEW: Biographic Hendrix By Liz Flavell 1

Ammonite Press has released a biographic series of books telling the stories of famous musicians using infographics. Infographics use icons to represent the subject matter. The idea is there is an instant recognition of “how completely that artist and their work has entered our culture and consciousness”. There is no doubt that Jimi Hendrix has not only entered, but pleasantly entrenched popular culture and consciousness; so the life and legacy of Hendrix could be an ideal icon to be told via infographics. With Biographic Hendrix being written by Liz Flavell, a former music journalist who has written biographies on artists such as John Lennon and Elvis Presley; a new and interesting take on the man voted best guitarist in the world can be expected.

Biographic Hendrix consists of four main sections: Hendrix’s life; the world, work and legacy. Whilst Jimi’s connection to England does not have its own section; it is a theme that runs throughout the biographic and sacrosanct to anyone attempting to decode Hendrix. There is a map of London included with all the places Jimi visited, played and lived. Everything required for a Hendrix walking tour of London is contained within this book.

In London, Jimi lived next door to the former home of classical musician George Frederick Handel where Hendrix spent many an hour listening to classical music. It was after coming to London by the invitation of Chas Chandler (The Animals) that The Jimi Hendrix Experience band was formed. The UK was Jimi’s second most toured country. He played his last ever UK performance at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London just two days before his death (which also took place in the UK). Beyond London, let’s not forget his legendary Isle of Wight Festival appearance where seven hundred thousand people turned up to a festival in a place which only had one hundred thousand residents.

As well as superb graphic art used to tell stories and deliver facts; Flavell does something that statisticians and accounts struggle to do with numbers; make then exciting and hone in the reader. For example, a guitar that Hendrix set fire to at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 later sold for $380,000. Jimi had six strings for his signature chord E7 (#9) which he used for “Purple Haze” that has no connection whatsoever with any East London postcode.

Jimi Hendrix

Numbers show how Hendrix went from strength to strength from earning just 35 cents for his first gig in 1960 to The Jimi Hendrix Experience band earning $105,000 in 1968 when they played Madison Square Gardens. Jimi was also the highest-paid artist for playing live at Woodstock. Numbers also tell the tragedy that Jimi died at just twenty-seven years old and joined the twenty-seven club with its founder Robert Johnson and others who followed Hendrix such as Kurt Cobain (both of whom XS Noize has reviewed graphic novels about their life’s and legacy).

The innovative use of infographics come into play to demonstrate the growth of Hendrix’s career after 1966 using bullet points over an escalating rollercoaster. Infographics reach their zenith in analysing Jimi’s personality with the use of dials on amps. For instance, we learn that Jimi often lacked confidence and was shy; hence his confidence is given just three out of ten. However, Hendrix’s humour and his desire to seek escapism are turned all the way up to full volume at ten (not eleven!).

We also learn that Jimi was originally named Johnny Allen. The first instrument he played was not the guitar but the harmonica. He eventually ditched hats in favour of bandanas. Despite being left-handed, he learned to play right-handed because his father believed that being left-handed was” the sign of the devil”. He suffered from a stammer as well as acne. He was applauded by so many great musicians such as Pete Townsend who revered him as a “magician” as well as number two guitarist in the world according to Rolling Stone: Eric Clapton.  The irony is despite being covered by a plethora of artists including the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Cure; his biggest selling single was a Bob Dylan cover: “All Along the Watchtower”.

Jimi Hendrix

Biographic Hendrix is a concise and relevant biography of not only Hendrix himself, but of the people in his life: his band members; mangers; family; friends and lovers. The use of infographics allows all the information to be absorbed easily, providing good conversation openers and gap fillers, a pub quiz aid and for those bold enough: Mastermind. Whether you are looking for a great read or a point of reference; the Biographic series from Ammonite Press has a lot to offer.

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