There's a conspiracy-oriented book in progress by Dave McGowan that can be read online, called Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation. According to McGowan's worldview, some sort of ill-defined CIA/Pentagon/mob conspiracy is behind the scenes of the careers of Laurel Canyon-based musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Canned Heat, Flying Burrito Brothers, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, Mamas & The Papas, The Turtles, Jan & Dean, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, and even The Monkees. It sounds ludicrous on the face of it, but it's actually fairly gripping reading. There's a lot of smoke there, but there's some fire.
In particular, I was stunned to learn that Jimi Hendrix served in the military and was stationed in Kentucky's super-spooky Fort Campbell. From McGowan's book:
Though he rarely spoke of it, Jimi had served a stint in the U.S. Army with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. His official records indicate that he was forced into the service by the courts and then released after just one year when he purportedly proved to be a poor soldier. One wonders, though, why he was assigned to such an elite division if he was indeed such a failure. One also wonders why he wasn’t subjected to disciplinary measures rather than being handed a free pass out of his ostensibly court-ordered service. In any event, Jimi himself once told reporters that he was given a medical discharge after breaking an ankle during a parachute jump.
These are indeed interesting questions, and it's also interesting to note, in this vaguely ominous context of nebulous conspiracy theory, that Fort Campbell is also home to the Black Helicopters of the 160th Spec-Ops "Night Stalkers".
I had never heard anything about Hendrix having been in the military, let alone in Kentucky of all places, but sure enough, the story checks out. Hendrix was arrested on stolen-car charges, and was indeed given the choice between prison and the Army by a judge. During his 13 months at Fort Campbell, he met bass player Billy Cox, and together they formed a band called The King Kasuals. They played mostly roadhouse saloons along the Kentucky-Tennessee border during this time, then became the backup band for an R&B singer named Johnny Jones. With Jones, they played prestigious gigs in Nashville, including appearances with Little Richard on the Night Train TV show. Surviving 1965 Night Train footage is currently the oldest video known of Hendrix performing, backing a R&B duo called Buddy & Stacey.
The Smoking Gun website has copies of documents pertaining to Jimi Hendrix's military period, which you can view here.
The borderline-kooky idea that Hendrix was murdered by the CIA has been floating around for years now - supposedly the high concept is that U.S. Government secret agents were fighting a "covert war against rock", trying to get rid of the counter-culture's heroes and destabilize the hippie movement. While I find that idea to be pure baloney (the hippie movement was already pretty much deflated by the time Jimi died in September 1970), I find it slightly less baloney-istic to consider the remote possibility that there's some sort of connection between MK-ULTRA, Hendrix's time spent at Fort Campbell, and Hendrix's death.
And that's where Hendrix's manager, one Michael Jeffery, comes in. Jeffery, believed to have been connected to both the British and the U.S. intelligence communities, has long been a source of suspicion and speculation. Just three weeks ago, the London Telegraph reported that Hendrix's ER doctor believes it is plausible that foul play may have been involved. And Tappy Wright, in his new book Rock Roadie, states that Michael Jeffery drunkenly confessed to killing Jimi Hendrix by force-feeding him pills and wine. Jeffery stood to collect millions of dollars on the star's life insurance policy, says Wright.
Dave McGowan again:
On March 5, 1973, a shadowy character named Michael Jeffery, who had managed both Hendrix and [Eric] Burden, was killed in a mid-air plane collision. Jeffery was known to openly boast of having organized crime connections and of working for the CIA. After Jimi’s death, it was discovered that Jeffery had been funneling most of Hendrix’s gross earnings into offshore accounts in the Bahamas linked to international drug trafficking.
I dunno. After awhile, this kind of stuff turns my mind to mush and I have to go lay down. Next thing you know, someone'll be saying that the CIA brought down Buddy Holly's plane. (Oh wait, someone already has.)