From the first notes he played during his London debut at a trendy nightspot early in 1967, Jimi Hendrix was a sensation. His appearance had a lot to do with it: blues-dazzled Brits lionized black American musicians, and when one showed up, as Hendrix did, in an outfit even wilder than those being marketed on Carnaby Street, that alone was enough to turn heads. Then there was the music, and here he was even more of an oddity: a left-handed virtuoso who held his guitar upside-down. And when he played it, he had no equal and quite probably never will.

As a young UPI journalist, Sharon Lawrence witnessed Hendrix's ascension. More than that, she befriended and came to know him as shy and quiet offstage, emotionally fragile, willing to trust people who seemed in a hurry to betray him. This picture darkens throughout her narrative in <b>Jimi Hendrix: The Man, the Magic, the Truth</b>, as groupies, drug suppliers, attorneys and dollar-hungry relatives cast their shadows against it.

Lawrence doesn't overplay her role: the more Hendrix fell under the sway of unscrupulous associates, the less often her path crossed his. When it did, though, she was stunned by his transformation: cynicism and depression replaced Hendrix's gentle, somewhat goofy humor, and in one encounter he lashed at her with an outburst of four-letter words behavior that would have been unimaginable just a year or so before.

Inevitably Lawrence comes to Hendrix's death at age 27 and then recounts the lawsuits, recriminations, finger-pointing and two suicides that came in its wake. Much of the ugliness continues to this day and may well stretch into the lives of generations unborn before Hendrix's demise. Yet Lawrence uses this grim denouement to illuminate the impression that lingers of her friend, as a dove, perhaps, rising finally beyond the reach of the vultures he has left behind.

 

<i>Robert L. Doerschuk's investigative piece, "What Really Happened: The Last Days of Jimi Hendrix," ran in the February 1996 issue of</i> Musician <i>magazine.</i>

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