An article about the impact of Jimi Hendrix in London, 1967. For eye-witness testimonies I interviewed various people who knew him in that year, including Screaming Lord Sutch, Kathy Etchingham, Noel Redding, Bert Jansch, Steve Howe, Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce. It’s sad to realise how many from that list are no longer with us.
It was originally published in Mojo, October 1995.
Jimi Hendrix arrived in London with little but a journeyman’s reputation and the clothes he stood up in. A year later he was a worldwide psychedelic supernova. Paul Du Noyertalks to the stars who witnessed his rise from Soho’s drinking holes and the fleapits of provincial Britain to out-Godding Eric and out-humping Engelbert.
So much happened, so very quickly, in pop music in the mid-1960s. But in live performance the year of ’67 was a watershed. It’s ironic that pop’s leaders The Beatles abandoned touring in 1966 – they would play no part in the great changes that followed. The Rolling Stones’ commitment to the road would assist their rise to utter pre-eminence by the decade’s end. Yet it’s in the career of Jimi Hendrix that the revolution is most apparent.
In early 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, fuelled by the success of their debut single Hey Joe, toured the world as part of a pop “package”. Their co-stars were Cat Stevens, The Walker Brothers and Engelbert Humperdinck – a combination that to later generations looks bizarre. Both Cat Stevens and Scott Walker would in time acquire reputations as heavyweight artists, but at this stage they still operated under hit parade rules. Engelbert had just won his own sort of immortality with the million-selling Release Me, and he remains in our minds as far from Jimi Hendrix, artistically, as it is possible to get. Anyone could see in ’67 that the audience for pop had swollen and sub-divided – whether into teenybopper, underground or MOR – and the days of old style package shows were numbered.
In the same year, as well as playing at Monterey, Hendrix toured America with The Monkees, perhaps the most famous mis-match in rock’n’roll folklore. But that bad billing was a PR opportunity. Jimi’s manager Chas Chandler made gleeful play of a myth that the Experience were “banned” after protests by conservative body the Daughters of The American Revolution. More typical, as ’67 progressed, were the Sunday evening shows at Brian Epstein’s Saville Theatre in London where the stage was shared with comrades in the new psychedelia such as Procol Harum or Steve Howe’s early band Tomorrow.
Other UK dates featured Traffic, Bert Jansch and The Cream, as a new rock audience arose and defined itself. There was a second British tour, this time with The Move and Pink Floyd among its attractions. In fact the Experience, while somehow finding time to release their incandescent first two LPs (Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold As love) maintained an almost unbroken schedule of live work, which Jimi would augment by jamming informally with other musicians.
Over the same period, Britain’s live circuit changed entirely. Those worthy staples of the beat boom – provincial cinemas, small town halls and social institutes – were giving way to the bigger theatres, college venues and self-consciously “alternative” clubs. Amplification moved on dramatically, as did the back-up a band would need to transport, install and run it. (Enter that new race of men, the roadies.) Meanwhile, disappearing were old fixtures of tour life: foggy A-roads, “theatrical landladies” and show business impresarios. In their place came motorways, bland hotel chains and hip entrepreneurs. Vanishing likewise were the “jobsworths” – officious, moustachioed little men with peaked caps and war medals (think of Deryck Guyler in Please Sir!) – their jurisdiction usurped by youths in T-shirts that said “Security”.
These are the testimonies of some people who were close to Jimi in that remarkable year.
Screaming Lord Sutch
When he arrived on the scene, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Ritchie Blackmore were all aware. They had a meeting and said, “This is the guy. This is the way it’s going to go on in music.” He put the fear of Christ up everyone.
I used to go in the limousines with him and Mitch and Noel. It was funny, they’d go to top hotels but none of them had any money. Everything was on account, but when it came to clubbing they had no money. When I asked for money the subject was changed, I had to buy their drinks. Mitch and Noel had both come out of the Savages [Sutch’s band] so that’s how I knew them. I met Jimi when Noel first got the job. Once I met him in the dressing room, I had all my loony gear on, my leopard-skin outfit, top hat and everything. He said, “Christ, oh man, I’m too high to handle that outfit.” It was too way out with what he was on. Ha ha! I had the wild man image with long hair, 18 inches – way before the Stones – two foot at one stage, running around with leopard-skins and a club, the Alice Cooper when Alice Cooper was still in nappies. But when I met Hendrix he was wild, mean and moody. He had this charisma, spoke in a whisper, very polite, but he still had this aura of greatness about him.
Jimi’s girlfriend from 1966 to 1969
I met Jimi at the Scotch of St James. I went down to the basement and everyone was silent – there was just this guy playing in the corner. There was an atmosphere almost like shock, and Chas was sitting there with a grin on his face. He came from out of the blue. Nobody had ever heard a thing about him. Chas had found him in New York via Linda Keith, who was Keith Richard’s girlfriend. Jimi was playing clubs in New York and he met Linda when The Rolling Stones were on tour – and they became “good friends”, as they euphemistically say. Then she bumped into Chas and said, “Hey, you’ve got to hear this guy.” He went down to the Café Wha? to listen, and said, “Great, do you want to come back to England?”
The word got around very quickly. It was a small scene, not like now. Everything was rather incestuous, one girlfriend moved from one person to the next. It was word of mouth, but more to do with the way he looked than his music. The big shock came when they actually heard him and they nearly died. Chas relates a tale about him playing at the London Polytechnic, Chas went up to the stage and said to Eric [Clapton], “Can Jimi play?” Eric said yes and so he played. Then Eric said to Chas Chandler, “Jesus Christ! I’m finished! Does he do more than one song?” Chas was very proud of his find.
Jimi was especially good in those early days because he was fresh, he hadn’t been exploited and worked into the ground. Not everybody felt bad about Jimi coming along and being better than them. I can’t remember Jeff Beck ever being resentful – in fact I remember them jamming together at the Speakeasy. But the atmosphere was not good between him and Eric Clapton, no matter what Eric might say. We went round to Eric’s one night in the early days, at the top of Gloucester Road, and I remember the conversation was so difficult and strained. They had nothing to talk about, they just talked a bit about guitars and who they liked, and when we walked out in the early hours of the morning, Jimi said to me, “That was hard work!” Jimi was quite gregarious and chatty, but he didn’t want to talk about guitars all the time. He had other interests in life, girls being one of them. I’ve read accounts that say: “Strange looks came across his face, and he sat down and wrote songs with great intensity.” He didn’t. He used to scribble them on the back of serviettes and things. They’d get stuck in the cupboard. Then he’d find them a month later and add a few lines.
But he did write The Wind Cries Mary overnight. Because that was the result of one of the rows we had. All the incidents in it were what happened: I smashed plates on the floor, he swept them up, and I had red hair and was in a red dress. I went back after I’d cooled down and he’d already written it. It was one hell of a barney.
He’d tour around working men’s clubs. We ended up in a place in Darlington, nobody took a blind bit of notice of him. I think there was bingo before and after. And when we got outside the bloody van had broken down, we had to push it in the snow. Another time on tour he heard Wild Thing, we were in the blue van and it came over the radio and Jimi said, “Wow! I gotta do that! The Troggs? Ha ha, what a name!” In the group’s van, Jimi and I got places of honour in the front seat and Mitch and Noel used to have to sit on the equipment at the back.
He was at his peak in 1967, at his most creative. In the early days he had a lot of fun, but towards the end of his life the mind boggles at the deterioration. The freeloaders were part of his downfall, the girls chasing after him. He had no peace, nowhere to hide. Yet he was essentially lonely. He needed company but all he had were these hanger-on types. When we lived in Brook Street he was quite safe from those people because I controlled things, I wouldn’t let them in. There was no bell on the door, we were three floors up and in a busy street like Brook Street you couldn’t shout up because of the noise of the traffic. I used to take the phone off the hook. At least that way people couldn’t get to him. He had time to recuperate. He was vulnerable because of his affability, he didn’t know how to tell them to sod off.
Bassist with the Jimi Hendrix Experience
They used to be called theatre tours. It was strange because you did two shows a night but only played for 35 minutes. There was some mixing on that first tour. The Walker Brothers were stars and kept themselves to themselves. Humperdinck’s guitar player left after the first night so I played guitar for him on that tour, behind the curtain. I’d play bass with Hendrix then walk across the stage and there would be a guitar and a chair for me. I knew Engelbert from earlier, I used to do demos with him when I was signed to his manager Gordon Mills. We were a bit more extrovert than they were, but they were stars. And Cat Stevens – Steve – was very good, on the bus he tried to keep up with our “intake” on various situations – and he couldn’t! Ha ha!
There was no PA system, you’d just go and play. There was no fiddling about like these days – soundchecks, whatever that means. We’d turn up, Hendrix and I would go to the pub, we’d do the set, sit around, do the second set. All this paraphernalia around rock bands is stupid. We had no sound-man, just a road manager, normal house lighting, very basic but very nice. On that first package tour they said that Hendrix was too “explicit” in his actions, but it was all PR. He was told to cool it.
The hotels in Britain in ’67 weren’t too bad. We liked to travel ahead. We didn’t want to hang out in Bolton so we got a train to Blackpool. But we weren’t allowed into that hotel. They said, and this happened a lot to us, “You aren’t booked here. Clear off.” This is three in the morning. I vividly remember wandering around Blackpool with Mitch [Mitchell]. We’d lost Jimi. We checked into this B&B. Same thing happened to everyone on the tour, because of our appearance.
We were always kept busy. We didn’t go to sleep for about two years! The schedule was terrible. You’d get out of bed for a photo call then Hendrix or I might do an interview, then drive to Manchester to do a gig, and sometimes drive back that night to go into the studio and work for a couple of hours. Then next day the same thing. I think we worked too hard. It’s probably what destroyed the group in the end.
I met Jimi at somebody’s house before I saw him play. After that we’d run into each other a lot, we’d share bills and I became good friends with him and the band. First time I saw him was probably in Birmingham, in a small club like the Whiskey A Go Go.
I did package tours with Spencer Davis. We did one with The Who, we did a theatre tour with the Stones in ’65, I think. Odeons and things like that. The equipment was primitive. I tend to bang on to young musicians about this. We didn’t mike the drums. The moment they started to mike the drums it changed the whole way, economically, that playing music worked. We’d used guitar amplifiers and microphones to actually get the voice and guitars up to the level of the drums, that was the original idea of guitar amplification. We played all these theatres, as did the Stones and The Beatles, to possibly 2 or 3,000 people and the drums were never miked. And now you go into a room above a pub and everyone’s got monitors and all the drums are miked. So then what happens is the band have to have three or four crew to set all that up and it prices them out of the market. It alters the whole economic balance of live playing. When we did early stuff we didn’t have any crew. Eventually we had one man, he’d drive and we’d help him set everything up.
To stay in overnight there were places like George’s in Newcastle, which was a theatrical digs, and a lot of old-fashioned British Railways hotels – which were lovely, actually, but they’ve all gone. And often little out of the way country hotels. Cheap, not smart. And the promoters? To tell the truth, I never had much to do with them!
Jimi never played at Traffic’s cottage, but we had a flat in the corner of Cromwell Road and Earl’s Court Road and he would come up there and jam. But mostly I played when he called us and asked us to come down. Whenever he asked it was always to officially play – it was jamming, but tape machines were rolling, which was the difference, rather than just hanging out.
Playing with him was tremendous. Instantaneous. He asked me to play organ on Voodoo Chile on Electric Ladyland. There were four or five other guitarists out in the hall – the great jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, Jack Casady played bass. We did two takes of Voodoo Chile, I think take 2 was on the record. There wasn’t a lot of rehearsing, it was all about interaction. He was not at all egotistical. I never sensed that about him, except perhaps when I saw him on talk shows, when he seemed a bit different. But I think he just didn’t want to conform to what their idea of a rock star should be. But his playing was receptive.
Backstage at the Saville Theatre one night I witnessed his reckless guitar throwing. I knew one of his road managers and he used to stand behind the stacks of Marshalls and wait, and literally this white Strat would come over the amps. Of course, the idea was that he caught it. And usually he did.
Tomorrow used to play at the UFO quite regularly, and in the mayhem of one of the guitar/sitar jams, droning away, Twink was thundering along on the drums, Keith [West] was waiting to start singing again, and the bass player laid his bass on the floor to do some erotic dancing with a girl. Suddenly Jimi Hendrix walked up on stage, picked up the bass and I don’t know what happened for 10 minutes – it was too uncanny to remember. I carried on jamming and he broke into a freak-out bass part. Then he walked off, we were knocked out. As a human being he was amicable, reachable. He smiled.
At the Royal Festival Hall there were classical players and Paco Peña and Jimi and myself. It was like a guitar showcase. I thought he was great. It really opened my ears up to the electric guitar, which I’d never had any interest in until Jimi came along. He had a bank of speakers at the back, Marshalls or whatever, and for his soundcheck he came in and plugged into a couple of pedals on the floor, turned his guitar up full volume and smashed the guitar – one chord – and then unplugged it. That was the soundcheck! His band came on a while after that and did a proper soundcheck, but it was dramatic to watch him in an empty hall; we were just sitting there.
Prior to that I’d been doing that famous number of his, Hey Joe – but it had been on the folk scene for quite some time. I’d actually worked out a version of it long before I’d heard of him. When I met him he was very nice, didn’t say much, but that was his style. I shook his hand and I’m very proud that I did.
The first time he played in public was with us, The Cream. Might have been St Martin’s School of Art. I was in a pub in Charing Cross Road and this guy came up to me and said, “Hi, my name’s Jimi Hendrix, I wanna sit in with your band.” Which was practically unheard of to us. So I said, “Yeah, it’s all right with me if it’s all right with the other guys.” We walked over to the gig and he did sit in and played incredibly, playing with his teeth and everything, and really blew us all away. We’d heard of him, we knew that he existed because a friend of Eric’s had first mentioned him to Chas Chandler. She’d told us about this amazing player.
We did some mini festivals; he’d open one and we’d open the other, sharing the billing. It was always interesting to watch his facility, the fact that he was really playing the electric guitar more than anybody had at that time. My impression was that he was in the tradition of Delta blues people like Skip James, who was recognised as the technician taking the guitar in a new direction. Toward the end he was developing in a more jazz direction – Tony Williams and myself talked to Jimi about putting a band together when he died. He was very supportive of me. When we were recording in New York, for instance, he came down to the sessions at Atlantic and was very encouraging about White Room, saying “Oh, I wish I could write something like that!” He was certainly not egotistical. He was really the opposite of his stage persona, as everybody has always said, but it happens to be true. Very quiet, a bit of a raver on the quiet, but a very gentle person. He didn’t go around setting fire to things a lot! Not like, say, Ginger Baker, who’d play paradiddles on everything, including your head.