Jimi Hendrix

Evan Hart
external image jimi-hendrix.jpg


Jimi Hendrix, less commonly known by his given name Johnny Allen Hendrix, was an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter who lived from 1942 to 1970. He was born on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington to his father James Allen Hendrix and his mother Lucille Hendrix. Johnny’s name was changed to James in 1945 when his father was discharged from the army. Hendrix faced many difficulties growing up. His mother who drank heavily died of cirrhosis of the liver when he was 16. Because of the unstable household and financial problems faced by the family, Jimi was sometimes sent to Vancouver, British Columbia to live with his grandmother.
Hendrix acquired his first guitar from a friend of his father at the age of 15. He then honed his skills through watching others, listening to records, asking for tips from more experienced players, and through frequent practicing. Much of Jimi’s musical influences came from musicians who were popular at the time, particularly Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King. Hendrix played his first gig in the basement of a synagogue in Seattle. The first formal band Hendrix played in was called The Velvetones, and he later joined a band called the Rocking Kings.
Hendrix had two separate encounters with the law for riding in stolen cars, so he was given a choice between prison or enlistment in the Army for two years. He chose the Army, and he was enlisted on May 31, 1961. Hendrix was reported by his commanding officers to be a very poor soldier, so he was discharged after only a year of service.
Hendrix’s break came after he was discharged from the military and living in New York when befriended Linda Keith, then girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. Through her, Hendrix was referred to Chas Chandler, who was a bassist in The Animals and was looking for talent to manage and produce. Chandler helped Hendrix form a new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which later gained fame throughout the United Kingdom and United States. The first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Are You Experienced, was released in the United Kingdom on May 12, 1967 and shortly thereafter internationally, outside of USA and Canada. At this time, the Jimi Hendrix Experience rigorously toured the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, leading to widespread popularity.
Up until this point in time, the band was not popular in America. Their chance came when Paul McCartney recommended the group to the organizers of the Monterey International Pop Festival. This was a great opportunity due to the large amount of press covering the event. The band’s second album, Axis: Bold as Love, was released in 1967. In 1968, the group was in Sweden for a tour, and Hendrix ended up destroying his hotel room after drinking. Hendrix’s third recording, Electric Ladyland, was released in 1968 to more commercial success. The Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up and played their last show on June 29, 1969 at Barry Fey’s Denver pop festival. Hendrix unenthusiastically finished his last tour in Europe, playing his last concert performance on September 6, 1970 at the Isle of Fehmarn Festival in Germany.
Hendrix died on September 18, 1970. The original doctor who attended to him cited the cause of death as asphyxiation from his own vomit, but there has been a great deal of controversy regarding Hendrix’s death. There have been mentions of foul play and that Hendrix was possibly murdered, but nothing has shown any significant evidence.

Psychoanalytic Approach

The Psychoanalytic approach was first introduced in the writings of Sigmund Freud. This approach emphasizes the unconscious processes of the mind. Freud believed that people had an id, ego, and superego that all balanced each other. The id operates on the pleasure principle and contains primitive drives and emotions. The ego operates on the reality principle and balances the id, superego, and reality. The superego operates on the morality principle and contains internalized social norms. Freud also believed in stages of psychosexual development and defense mechanisms.
Freud might have believed that Jimi Hendrix was stuck in the oral stage of psychosexual development, which is characterized by the drive to satisfy hunger and thirst and a fixation on oral acquisition. The idea that Hendrix is stuck in the oral stage could be based on numerous things, including the fact that he frequently played his guitar with his teeth to impress audiences. Hendrix was also a frequent user of cannabis, which is most typically consumed by smoking through the mouth. A common effect of using the drug is hunger. It could be hypothesized that Jimi Hendrix enjoyed smoking and eating because of his being stuck in the oral stage of psychosexual development. Jimi's being stuck in the oral stage could also have been the cause of his death. He died from asphyxiation from his own vomit, presumably caused by drinking too much. Drinking too much could be a sign of being fixated on oral pleasure and satisfying one's thirst.
Freud might also have believed that Jimi Hendrix was employing defense mechanisms. Freud believed that defense mechanisms are ego processes that distort reality to protect the individual from anxiety. Freud would have said that Hendrix employed sublimation, which occurs when threatening primitive and sexual urges are transformed into positive, socially meaningful motivations. This is offered as an explanation for artistic creativity and community leadership. Hendrix’s strong desire to practice, play guitar, perform for audiences, and write music could be seen simply as sublimation. They are his primitive aggressive and sexual urges transformed into his artistic skill that many people appreciated.
Another defense mechanism that was possibly used by Hendrix is denial. When he was arrested for possessing small amounts of heroin and hashish, he denied that they were his and claimed they were slipped into his bag without him knowing by a fan. Also, the night he went on a rampage and destroyed his hotel room in Sweden he claimed his drink was spiked. Both of these cases could be examples of denial. Hendrix was refusing to acknowledge that he was possibly a drug addict or alcoholic.

Biological Approach

The biological approach to personality focuses on how biology affects behavior. That is, our genes and underlying physiological processes affect personality. One might say that Jimi Hendrix's genes could have played a role in his exceptional guitar skill. He had the genes to be coordinated, have fast fingers, and might have had a larger auditory cortex which would all help develop his musical abilities.
In addition, the drugs Hendrix was famous for using may also have had a profound effect on his personality. Hendrix was know for using many psychedelics, especially LSD. LSD is known for its ability to alter one's consciousness, often causing distortion of reality, altered thinking processes, open and closed eye visuals, ego death, and spiritual experiences. It could be assumed that chronic use of this drug would often change the way a person thinks about the world, leading to distinct changes in personality.
Hendrix is also reported to have used amphetamine while on tour. Chronic amphetamine use has been associated with persistent structural modifications in nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex neurons in rats. It might be possible that these changes in neuronal function could be accompanied by behavioral changes as well. In addition, chronic use of dopaminergic drugs has been shown to be correlated with an increase in schizophrenic symptoms. All of these drugs could have had a profound effect on Hendrix's sometimes reckless behavior. For example, he might not have been arrested for riding in stolen cars or destroyed a hotel room if it were not for his drug use.


Overall, I believe that the psychoanalytic and biological approaches to personality provide an accurate assessment of Jimi Hendrix. However, I believe that some of Freud's ideas might be thinking too much into things. The stages of psychosexual development are somewhat arbitrary and can be applied to many different situations if one thinks hard enough. On the other hand, I believe defense mechanisms are a very accurate explanation of many behaviors. Many people use them on a day to day basis. The biological approach also has potential problems. Biology and genetics definitely do play a role in who people are, but the environment one is in also plays a major role in development. Also, it can not be ruled out that Hendrix was reckless because of a certain aspect of his personality that already existed and that is the reason he used drugs, not that drugs made him reckless.


Friedman, H.S., & Schustack, M.W. (2009). Personality classic theories and modern research. Boston, MA: Pearson.
"Jimi Hendrix - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia." Main Page - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Sun. 11 Apr. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_hendrix>.
"Dopamine - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia." Main Page - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 11 Apr. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine>.
Robinson, Terry, and Bryan Kolb. "Persistent Structural Modifications in Nucleus Accumbens and Prefrontal Cortex Neurons Produced by Previous Experience with Amphetamine." Journal of Neuroscience 17.21 (1997): 8491-497. Web.