Jimi was supernaturally transformed too, he sang about it in Voodoo Chile. But according to Eddie Kirkland, Jimi had an initiation in the South. In the early '50s Kirkland played guitar for John Lee Hooker, and he remembers meeting Hendrix in '56. "I didn't see Jimi in the sixties," insists Kirkland. "I met him when he was thirteen years old, nothin' but a kid, a youngster, you understand? See, he had kin people in Macon, Georgia, some people there up on Fort Hill. He came down there in the summer, down to a place called Sawyer's Lake. On Sunday kids could come in. At the time that I met Jimi, he was trying to learn how to play the bass."
Jimi on bass
"As a very young boy," Jimi concurred, "I started my musical career playin' drums and bass."
"We had bought one of those Sears Roebuck guitars," remembers Eddie, "and he started playing that. Then I had to go away, I left there, but there was another guitarist there named Johnny Jenkins."
Jenkins was older than Jimi. He later teamed up with Otis Redding and become Macon's flashiest player. Percy Welch was another well known Macon musician who met Hendrix. "Jimi was hanging around Johnny Jenkins, mostly learning from Johnny," observed Percy. "Both of them were left handed guitar players. At that time, Johnny Jenkins was a better player than Jimi, 'cause Jimi was just starting out, he couldn't play well. I remember he had a little ol' green and white guitar. He was the quiet type, didn't have a whole lot to say. Every now and then I'd see him with Eddie around Cooper Hall down on broadway."
"Malarkey," says Al Hendrix, Jimi's dad, "not when he was thirteen."
Could Jimi have travelled to Georgia without Al's knowledge?
Jimi once explained, "My brother and I used to go to different homes, because dad and mother used to break up all the time. I ran away a couple of times because I was so miserable. When my dad found out I'd gone he went pretty mad with worry. He hit me on the face and I ran away." Jimi's parents, Al and Lucille, were divorced in 1951. The boys stayed with Al. "Dad was never home," said Leon. "Me and Jimi were like Gypsies, going from auntie to neighbor." In 1956 Leon was eight and staying with a foster family. Did Jimi run away with Lucille for a private road trip to the South, maybe with a man Al didn't like?
I walk on up to your rebel roadside/the one that rambles on for a million miles/I walk down this road searchin' for your love and my soul too/when I find you I ain't gonna let go. I remember the first time I saw you/the tears in your eyes looked like they were trying to say/oh little boy you know I could love you/but first I must make my getaway/two strange men fightin' to the death over me today/I'll try to meet ya by the old highway. - "Gypsy Eyes" - Jimi
Lucille's sister, Dolores Hall, confirms that Lucille spoke to her about the Georgia trip, but fear of Al's wrath would prevent Jimi from ever disclosing the details to anyone. Paul Caruso knew Jimi well in 1966 and observed, "He was very well raised by his father, a very obedient son. It was his nature to get things done by being obedient, compliant." Both Jimi and Al have said that Jimi got into guitar at the age of thirteen. That's the age of the boy Eddie Kirkland met at Sawyer's Lake, the boy from Fort Hill who was transformed:
Well, the night I was born, the moon turned a fire red/my poor mother cried out the Gypsy was right, and I seen her fell down right dead/Well mountain lions found me there and set me on an eagle's wing/he took me past the outskirts of infinity/and when he brought me back he gave me Venus witch's ring/and he said fly on, fly on, 'cause I'm a Voodoo Chile...
A Macon initiation. The rite of passage ritual. Death of the mothered boychild, rebirth as Voodoo Chile bluesman. A shaman is born. As was his habit, Jimi cloaked what he couldn't say with a metaphor, in the form of a dream, a dream about Lucille going on a far away trip, "She was saying, 'I won't be seeing you too much any more, so I'll see ya,' and I said, 'Yeah? Where're you going?', and then about two years after that, she died...I always will remember that one, I never did forget, there's some dreams you never forget."
"Two years after" that 1956 trip to Macon, Lucille died.