February 21st, 2015

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I first heard Jimi Hendrix on WABX FM radio here in Detroit in the early sixties after I was discharged from a two year stint in the army. I was out of work for two weeks and then got a job playing guitar six nights a week with a local band. I was really impressed by what I heard. I bought some of his albums and “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze” really knocked me out. He was an amazing innovative guitarist! His playing was the main reason I bought a Wah Wah pedal and fuzz tone and learned how to use them with my guitar on gigs and recording sessions at Motown. When I was playing in clubs with organist Lyman Woodard and drummer Melvin Davis, we opened up for the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. I liked the way Jimi made guitar effects part of his sound. I did the same and was the guitar effects guy at Motown who helped producer Norman Whitfield bring Psychedelic Soul to The Funk Brothers.

I found it interesting that Jimi and I were both members of the 101st Airborne Division during the years of 1959 – 1961 and were both stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I volunteered for the draft and Jimi had to join the army or go to prison for stealing cars at the age of 19. When he arrived at Fort Campbell he wrote to his father: “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell. They work you to death, fussing and fighting.” In his next letter home, Hendrix asked his father to send him his guitar as soon as possible, stating: “I really need it now.” His father obliged and sent the red Silvertone Danelectro to Fort Campbell. His apparent obsession with the instrument contributed to his neglect of his duties, which led to verbal taunting and physical abuse from his peers, who at least once hid the guitar from him until he had begged for its return.

I received my paratrooper wings and had my orange Chet Atkins model Gretch guitar and Fender Bassman amp sent to me at Fort Campbell because I missed it and needed to play. I played jobs in halls and clubs in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. My buddy Bob played rhythm guitar and sang. He played a Fender Strat like Jimi but no one would ever think of hiding our guitars. Bob had cut someone real bad with a broken beer bottle in a bar fight in Colorado and like Jimi had to join the army or go to prison. Bob and I were playing our guitars late one night in the barracks when everyone was in town and one corporal decided to tell us to stop playing. Bob put his guitar on the bed and knocked the guy out with one punch.

Dennis Coffey as a teenager

Dennis Coffey and his Gretch guitar

Jimi Hendrix in Concert

Jimi Hendrix and his Fender Stratocaster guitar

Dennis Coffey as a paratrooper

Dennis Coffey in 101st Airborne Division

Hendrix in uniform

Jimi Hendrix in the Army










One morning after playing late in a club, I came back to the base and my entire company was in a convoy in front of the barracks preparing to go out for maneuvers in the field. When I got out of my taxi wearing my chivies with my guitar and amp, I was booed by the entire company and almost got a Summary Court Martial.
Jimi was right about jump school. It was hard in your face training. I have a lot of respect for the guys I met there. We had Navy Seals and Army Rangers in jump school with us. I learned a lot in the 101 that certainly helped me survive the rough and tumble music and bar business in Detroit.



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Dennis Coffey