In mid-1958, at age 15, Hendrix acquired his first acoustic guitar, for $5. He earnestly applied himself, playing the instrument for several hours daily, watching others and getting tips from more experienced guitarists, and listening to blues artists such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, and Robert Johnson. The first tune Hendrix learned how to play was "Peter Gunn", the theme from the television series of the same name. Around that time, Hendrix jammed with boyhood friend Sammy Drain and his keyboard playing brother. In 1959, while attending a concert by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters in Seattle, Hendrix met the group's guitarist Billy Davis. Davis showed him some guitar licks and later got him a short gig with the Midnighters. The two remained friends until Hendrix's death in 1970.
Soon after he acquired the acoustic guitar, Hendrix formed his first band, the Velvetones. Without an electric guitar, he could barely be heard over the sound of the group. After about three months, he realized that he needed an electric guitar in order to continue. In mid-1959, his father relented and bought him a white Supro Ozark. Hendrix's first gig was with an unnamed band in the Jaffe Room of Seattle's Temple De Hirsch Sinai, but after he did too much showing off, the band fired him between sets. He later joined the Rocking Kings, which played professionally at venues such as the Birdland club. When someone stole his guitar after he left it backstage overnight, Al bought him a red Silvertone Danelectro.
Before Hendrix was 19 years old, law enforcement authorities had twice caught him riding in stolen cars. When given a choice between spending time in prison or joining the Army, he chose the latter and enlisted on May 31, 1961. After completing eight weeks of basic training at Fort Ord, California, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.