Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Before Jimi Hendrix was a living icon, knocking out psychedelic guitar riffs and counterculture ballads that remained relevant after his untimely death on Sept. 18, 1970 — 47 years ago — he was a soldier in the U.S. Army. The man who once set his left-handed Stratocaster ablaze after playing it with his teeth wore olive-drab fatigues and a military cover before swapping them in for tie-dye shirts and headbands. But the way he left the service was as epic as any of his guitar licks.
In the summer of 1969, 400,000 hippies, bohemians, artists, and revolutionaries of all stripes descended on a small dairy farm in Bethel, New York for Woodstock, an event celebrating peace, youthful rebellion, and a general disregard for personal hygiene. The Woodstock Music and Art Fair was widely regarded as a watershed moment in the counterculture movement and in modern musical history. But by the time the party officially kicked off 48 years ago on Aug. 15, disaster was poised to strike, and it would have if not for the intervention of an unlikely ally: the U.S. Army.