THE pre-publication fanfare to this latest biography of Jimi Hendrix, perhaps the most spectacular guitarist of the 1960s, was a dramatic riff on the circumstances of his death.

Hendrix was found in the bowels of a Notting Hill flat on September 18, 1970, covered in vomit, soaked with red wine and with an almost empty packet of sleeping tablets nearby. It was a tawdry, dismal end to a genuinely fresh and wondrous talent but it was depressingly predictable.

Philip Norman, in a brisk and efficient accounting of a brief life, explores the theories that accompanied the death of someone who stood apart, not just in terms of his obvious talents but in his ability to seek to fuse rock with jazz and even funk, and who had the divine touch of infecting others’ songs (All Along the Watchtower, The Star Spangled Banner) with something both personal and spectacular.

The theories for the death of Hendrix include murder: was he killed by a desperate manager or even the Mafia, who traditionally had strong links to the music industry? Was he administered strong sleeping tablets with the assurance they were just his normal “downers”?

Was he simply the victim of the fecklessness of his companions, notably a girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, who left him to die by choking on his own vomit? Was there a role played in his death by the FBI, who were concerned by the rise of the Black Panthers, a militant group with whom Hendrix had strong sympathy?

The allegations have been persistent and more lurid over the years. The awful, dispiriting verdict, however, is that Hendrix was condemned to die young. Norman, with the proper responsibility of the assiduous biographer, goes over the fateful day and talks of the “what ifs” and the “maybes”. But there was a weary inevitability to the death of the guitarist.

Weeks before he had to be rescued from the sea after falling, stoned, from his skis. There were a series of concerts were he was clearly pitifully affected by LSD, cocaine, alcohol, heroin, all of these, or even more. Hendrix, of course, is part of the 27 club – that benighted cadre who died at that age and includes Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse.

The more intriguing question may be not how he died but how he lived. The answer to the latter provides more than just a clue to the former. Norman is a practised biographer of rock legends with books on Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Elton John. The major flaw of the Hendrix book, however, is that his investigations do not include a judicious or informed examination of the Hendrix psychology.

This was a damaged human being. His early life was brutal and traumatic. A physically abusive father was complemented by a mother who died early, destroyed by alcohol and drugs and the mental illness of which they were a symptom.

Hendrix thus had to make his early steps with no encouragement from parents and in a world where his undoubted virtuoso playing was self-taught on the cheapest, most rudimentary of guitars. This lack of support and this struggle to survive made him desperate for approval and in need of the fleeting comfort that a hyperactive sex life and cornucopia of drugs could provide.

There are moments of genuine interest and, indeed, intrigue in Norman’s biography. It is wonderful to be reminded of how small was that world of popular entertainment in the USA. Hendrix shared his high school with Quincy Jones, who was just a couple of years ahead. The guitarist was also a jobbing musician who moved from Little Richard, though Ray Charles and Sam Cooke to the Isley Brothers. He was, then, obviously accomplished even though he only began playing as a teenager. The Jimi Hendrix Experience also played as support for the Monkees, so he was conspicuously flexible in accepting the realities of making it in the commercial world. He is remembered by some for his long solos and propensity to set fire on stage to his guitar.

This is all covered meticulously but there was a darkness and Norman seems reluctant to step towards it. There are two incidents in the book of homosexual behaviour. There is a claim that Hendrix had an affair with Little Richard and made sexual advances to a bandmate that were robustly spurned. Norman suggests that the latter incident was made under the influence of alcohol, specifically whisky. One accepts this might be true as alcohol diminishes inhibitions but surely has no effect on changing sexual orientation.

The point, of course, is not to “out” Hendrix or condemn him for his sexuality. But there is a possibility that his confusion about his sexual preferences might not just have contributed to his gargantuan, unsatiated appetite for women but also to an internal turmoil that, frankly, destroyed him.

Norman also blames whisky for Hendrix’s attacks on women. Again, whisky was obviously involved but there was something in his psyche that made him prone to awful assaults on women.

There is always a reluctance to analyse others without the benefit of proper training. But surely Hendrix suffered from deep, disturbing insecurity and never recovered from the absence of his mother.

There has been much said of the speed of Hendrix’s descent from the top of the world to the depths of despair. But, as the 27 club shows, it is a familiar, almost stereotypical, path for those of a particular disposition. Hendrix plummeted with a speed that outpaced most, though.

Four years on from his expectant arrival in London, he was carried, probably already dead, in an ambulance to hospital. As Norman astutely points out, the distance between those two points may be brief in time but it was huge in terms of his contribution to popular music. Hendrix had captivated fans, entranced his peers and placed a strong imprint on the most revolutionary art form of its time.

He produced two classic albums (Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland), electrified both the Woodstock and Monterrey festivals and came to embody a style that was flamboyant yet deeply significant in that he pushed what was acceptable or traditional even in rock music. He was poised to develop his work with Miles Davis in what would have been, at least, a fascinating collaboration.

But everything stopped on a dank September day. Norman has clarified much but there is a mass of substance that still lies unscrutinised amid the blare of feedback, the incontinent mayhem of fame and the smoke of a burning guitar.