Would “Purple Haze” or “Hey Joe” have the same impact if the performer’s name was “Johnny Hendrix”? Well, probably…Jimi Hendrix was simply a transcendent guitar player, regardless of his name. But it’s an amusing “What if?” game to just think about how you’d view the man had his name been Johnny.
In fact, that was his real name: Jimi was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942, and it was on September 11, 1946 that his father Al Hendrix had him renamed James Marshall Hendrix. According to the book Jimi Hendrix: A Brother’s Story by Leon Hendrix, Jimi didn’t like his new name, which is pretty understandable given he’d lived the first four years of his life as Johnny. He’d shout “That’s not my name! My name’s Johnny!”
As for the reasons behind Al’s decision to give his son a new name, he’s been quoted as saying he simply “didn’t care for ‘Johnny'”. Having been in WWII when Jimi was born, Al wasn’t consulted about his son’s name, so it’s possible that he really just didn’t like the name – but there’s probably a darker reason behind that.
According to the book Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy, Jimi’s mother Lucille Jeter had a history with another man named John Williams (the book notes that “Williams” was not his real surname). She had a fling with Williams during her marriage with Al, and it continued even after Al went to fight in WWII. According to Electric Gypsy, Williams confronted Al and Lucille at times, which would be greeted with a punch to the face.
Jimi’s aunt also alluded to his mother’s relationship with another man, but she said his name was Johnny Page. Whatever the guy’s last name was, it appears he had a first name that Al had good reason to despise. While Al himself never confirmed his true reasoning for changing his son’s name, it can be assumed that this was it.
Had Al not felt strongly enough to change his son’s name, Jimi would have been known forever as “Johnny Allen Hendrix” or perhaps just “Johnny Hendrix”. Safe to say he still would have become a legend, due to his outstanding artistic abilities he displayed from an early age.