Jimi Hendrix, one of rock's greatest guitar players, served a brief thirteen-month stint with the famed U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division — nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles" — just a few years before his meteoric rise to rock stardom in the late 60s.
On May 13, 1961, James Marshall Hendrix swore to support and defend the Constitution as a member of the U.S. Army — it was the alternative to serving time in jail on a stolen car charge.
Jimi Hendrix at the amusement park Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden, May 24, 1967. (Original photographer unknown)
Hendrix wanted to enlist as a musician but had no formal music training, so he opted for the 101st Airborne Division.
"Well Dad, here I am exactly where I wanted to go in the 101st Airborne," Hendrix wrote home.
As we know, base life can often be a drag, and Hendrix was homesick for his guitar.
"P.S. Please send my guitar as soon as you can. I really need it now," he requested of his father, Al Hendrix.
Months after joining the Screaming Eagles, life as a paratrooper began to wear on Hendrix's morale. He was constantly getting reprimanded for dereliction of duties.
Jimi just wanted to play his guitar. His days as a paratrooper came to an end on his 26th jump when he broke his ankle.
Pvt. James Marshall Hendrix and unknown drummer. (Source unknown)
Hendrix began exploring the Fort Campbell area nightlife. He played at places like the Pink Poodle with a group called The Bonnevilles.
Hendrix then ventured down to nearby Nashville where he began jamming with local bluesman at places like The Del Morocco on Jefferson Street and venues along Printer's Alley.
It was in that vibrant music scene where he met fellow servicemember and bassist Billy Cox. In September 1963, after Cox was discharged from the Army, Hendrix and Cox formed a band called the King Kasuals.
Hendrix and Cox played around Nashville and continued to hone their music. There's a rare video from a local TV station of Hendrix playing guitar for Little Richard's ensemble act, Buddy & Stacy, on Nashville's WLAC Channel 5 television show, Night Train.
In addition to playing in his own band, Hendrix performed as a backing musician for various soul, R&B, and blues musicians including Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, and Jackie Wilson.
It wasn't until Hendrix ventured up to New York City that he caught the big break that would take him over to England, where he soon became the rock star he is remembered as today.
Jimi Hendrix Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California.
Many think his sonic rendition of our national anthem at Woodstock was an indictment of the Vietnam War.
"We're all Americans...it was like 'Go America!' We play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static, see..." Hendrix explained of his interpretation several weeks after Woodstock.
(Kylegood101 | Youtube)
In 2011, the editors of Guitar World placed his rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock at number one in their list of his 100 greatest performances.
One can only wonder if Hendrix hadn't joined the Screaming Eagles, would rock music be the same?