Jimi Sounds Like A Rainbow: Hendrix For Kids The guitarist's story is know to many adult fans. But now, the story of young Jimi Hendrix's is now told in a new children's book by author Gary Golio and illustrator Javaka Steptoe, called "Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix."

Jimi Sounds Like A Rainbow: Hendrix For Kids

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In 1956, 14-year-old James Marshall Hendrix was in his Seattle home, listening to a thunderstorm raging outside. For a moment, he thought he heard a woman's name being blown in the wind.

(Soundbite of song "The Wind Cries Mary")

Mr. JIMI HENDRIX (Guitarist, Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) Somewhere, a king has no wife. And the wind, it cries Mary.

HANSEN: Ten years later, James changed his name to Jimi Hendrix and formed a band, The Experience. When they debuted at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, Hendrix set his guitar on fire and began a new chapter in the history of rock. Hendrix died three years later of an accidental drug overdose.

The guitarist's story is known to many adult fans. But now, the story of the young Jimi Hendrix is told in a new children's book called "Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix."

(Soundbite of song "The Wind Cries Mary")

Mr. HENDRIX: (Singing) The traffic lights they turn up blue tomorrow, and shine their emptiness down on my bed.

HANSEN: The author, Gary Golio, and illustrator, Javaka Steptoe, join us in our New York Bureau.

Both of you, welcome to the show.

Mr. GARY GOLIO (Author, "Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow"): Thank you.

Mr. JAVAKA STEPTOE (Illustrator, "Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow"): Thank you.

HANSEN: Gary Golio, I want to add that you are actually a therapist and you work with troubled kids. What is the value in telling Hendrix's story to kids?

Mr. GOLIO: Many of the kids I see, if I say to them: So, you know, what do you want to be when you get out of high school, when you grow up? And a lot of them will tell me, I don't know. And I say, oh, come on. There must be something you've always fantasized about. And often they'll say, no, there isn't. And if you don't have a goal as a young person, you're really adrift.

And Jimi had nothing, materially. He was quite poor. But, you know, in his imagination, inside of himself, he had a - he lived a very rich inner life. And if you looked - if you sort of pass through the mythology about him, his childhood reflects all the values that we want to teach our children about: persistence and loving what you do and having goals, positive goals, and investing yourself in them. So, you know, that's the way I approached it.

HANSEN: Did you listen to certain songs when you worked on the book?

Mr. GOLIO: I love "Foxy Lady." I love "Purple Haze." I love a lot of the more hard, rocky kind of songs he did. But his mother died when he was 15, and that was - made a very, very deep and lasting impression on him. And he always felt she was watching over him. And he wrote two other songs, one called "Little Wing" and another one called "Angel," which will bring tears to your eyes. I mean, they're so sweet and they're all about yearning and desire.

And there're many songs like that, that, you know, aren't you're typical Hendrix songs that people know and play, but they have a lot of childlike feeling to them.

HANSEN: Well, let's hear "Little Wing."

(Soundbite of song "Little Wing")

Mr. HENDRIX: (Singing) Well, she's walking through the clouds with a circus mind that's running 'round. Butterflies and zebras and moonbeams and fairy tales, that's all she ever thinks about. Riding with the wind...

HANSEN: And like any great children's book, the illustrations are as engaging as the words in this.

Javaka, tell us about how you constructed these images. I mean, there's such rich, dense colors. They're layered, and you painted on plywood. And...

Mr. STEPTOE: I painted on plywood. I collaged. I kind of just figured out a way to collage with paint. And I used silkscreen and, you know, just all sorts of stuff.

HANSEN: Do you have a book with you?

Mr. STEPTOE: Yes, I do.

HANSEN: Would you both open it up? It's almost the centerfold. It's the picture that you have to, you know, turn so that the book is actually vertical.

Mr. GOLIO: Mm-hmm.


HANSEN: And, Gary, first of all, could you read just the words on this page that starts with: Sometimes Jimi and his friends...

Mr. GOLIO: Sure.

(Reading) Sometimes Jimi and his friends bicycle down to the lake, that magical place of deep, green leaves and dark, purple shadows. They'd throw rocks in the water, listening to them plop and gurgle as they sank. All around, there were birds singing, bees buzzing and breezes whistling through trees. Above the clouds, airplane engines droned and whirred. With every sound, a color glowed in Jimi's mind. Blue was the whoosh of cool water splashing over rocks, orange and red, the crackling of a campfire, green, the rustle of a thousand leaves.

HANSEN: Javaka, talk about the artwork on this page.

Mr. STEPTOE: I actually had to go out to Seattle, so that was kind of exciting for me. And I went down to his old neighborhood and I hung out at Lake Washington. I took a bunch of photographs, and I used a particular photograph as reference. And I have just Jimi and his friends, Potato Chip and Terry, and they're skipping rocks on the lake. And I just thought about, you know, how magical that experience is - having the circles, the concentric circles kind of spiral out, thinking about, you know, the famous lyric: Excuse me while I kiss the sky, in "Purple Haze."

HANSEN: And there's an impressionistic Mount Rainer that's done in a white and, you know, we see those concentric circles. We see the two - the three boys, the bicycles in, you know, red - and all of the flowers are all just purple - beautiful, beautiful purple flowers, and a robin singing in the lower left-hand corner.

It is almost a psychedelic image of...

Mr. STEPTOE: Yeah.

HANSEN: ...you know, an actual photograph. How much did you know about his story before you started working on the book?

Mr. STEPTOE: Not much. Not much. I got to be a detective on this one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEPTOE: And, like, I never knew that Jimi played with the Isley Brothers. And I just never knew all of the different places where he got his influence.

HANSEN: Gary Golio, you were a detective, as well. I mean, to be able to come up with the little tidbit that he used to play air guitar with a broom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLIO: Well, that's one of the most common stories, actually.


Mr. GOLIO: But some of the other things about Jimi and his friends, at a very early age, trying to recreate the sounds of rushing water that they heard at Lake Washington - with their guitars. I mean, how many kids do something like that? He was fascinated by science fiction stories and movies.

He was always thinking about what life might be like if this world were different. And he was a friend of Martin Luther King. He donated several times to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s causes. He did sit-ins with the members of The Experience.

So, you know, Jimi developed this concept of electric church, which was the ability - the using of electric guitars and sound to go into a human being kind of vibrationally and change them and make them more peaceful, and make people kind of more harmonious on the planet, you know.

HANSEN: Hmm. I notice in the page you read: With every sound, a color glowed in Jimi's mind.

Mr. GOLIO: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: Did he hear colors, do you think?

Mr. GOLIO: You know, I happen to think that it is true, and that some people do feel sound or see flavors, or something like that. And Jimi always said that -he would say things like: I don't play notes. I play colors and I play emotions. So I think that a very early age, he had an unusual connection in his own physical body and his mind, and maybe his spirit, too, between the things -you know, his different senses, and certainly what he heard and what he saw. And I think a lot of that is melded in his songs.

HANSEN: This is tough, though, but I'm going to ask you both: Which Hendrix song would you like us to go out on?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: You have to come to an agreement here, because we can only do one.

Mr. STEPTOE: What do you think, Gary?

Mr. GOLIO: How about "All Along the Watchtower"?

HANSEN: That's my favorite.

Mr. GOLIO: Aw, look at that.

Mr. STEPTOE: Aw, OK. OK. We can do that.

Mr. GOLIO: Is that OK with you? Is that all right?

Mr. STEPTOE: That's fine.


(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower." It was written by Bob Dylan, but it's a very, very famous rendition.

Gary Golio is the author, Javaka Steptoe is illustrator of the new kids' book "Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix," and they joined us from New York.

Thank you both.

Mr. STEPTOE: Thank you.

Mr. GOLIO: It's been a pleasure. Thank you, Liane.

(Soundbite of song "All Along the Watchtower")

Mr. HENDRIX: (Singing) There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine. Ploughmen dig my earth.

HANSEN: You can read an excerpt of the book at our website: NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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