From the Vaults: Hendrix lives on
Newsflash: I am no longer mad at Jimi Hendrix for dying the week before my 17th birthday. I am also no longer concerned that so many young rock stars flamed out at age 27, which by sheer coincidence happens to be the number of the day I was born. I can say that when I actually turned 27 myself in 1980, I no longer saw anything but a sad happenstance of numbers. I am not sure why, but for some reason this confluence of bad things happening around my birthday number bothered me for most of my senior year in high school. Maybe I just needed something to worry about. I had a pretty good senior year with my band The Twig to keep me occupied so perhaps I was still doing what my dad called “the worry-wart thing”.
When the ‘new’ posthumous Hendrix recordings began appearing on vinyl (and later CD), I judged it to be a money grab by anyone who could lay claim to the Hendrix name. I can now say with flat out certainty that I no longer feel that way. I was wrong. A recent Classic Rock magazine interview with John McDermott changed my mind. Who is John McDermott? For the past twenty years, McDermott has been the official archivist of the Experience Hendrix Foundation. In short, he is the man whose job is to keep the Hendrix legacy alive and if he worried at all about over saturating the market with all things Hendrix, it was Hendrix’s father Al who put it all in perspective for him. McDermott recounts Al Hendrix telling him, “Share this music with the people . . . because that’s what’s gonna keep the memory of my son alive.”
I get it now. My generation grew up with Jimi, but we don’t hold exclusive rights to his music. Hendrix was someone I admired when I was first getting involved in music. He had talent, he was innovative, and he had a rhythm section that was a lot of fun to listen to. Drummer Mitch Mitchell was a great teacher for someone learning to play the drums. Some years ago, former Ontonagon band director Bob Lundquist called and said ‘I have a kid who really wants to learn how to play rock and roll drums, what would you suggest?” I made him a cassette of some pretty straight forward songs starting with straight 4/4 time signatures and then variations of other typical rock beats. I wrote Bob a note when I sent him the cassette and said, “Have your student play along with side one of this tape until he can do it in his sleep. Then let him listen to and start playing along with side two.” Side two was a heavy dose of Mitch Mitchell’s work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, John Densmore with The Doors, and Ginger Baker’s drumming with Cream. I kept the Keith Moon stuff from The Who at a minimum because his unorthodox style doesn’t fit a patterns that most drummers can replicate. If side one of the cassette was “Rock drumming 101”, side two was certainly the master’s program.
Forty five years after his passing, people are still fascinated with what kind of music Hendrix might be making if we was still around. His final recording sessions at his Electric Lady studio in New York gave us some glimpses of what was to come, but sadly, we only hear the beginning of his next phase. He had tired of the theatrical aspect of performing and wanted to be seen as a serious musician. According to his last bass player, Billy Cox, “The music would have been wonderful. He had this concept of the Sky Church and Electric Church and had planned for this full manifestation. I saw his vision. He was global before the rest of the world became global. He was a future man.” He had Mitchell, Cox, and a studio at his disposal but most important of all, he had creative control of his future.
As legendary as Hendrix is, I am finding out that he was much deeper than the wild performer that we see in the videos. He was quiet, respectful, and had a wicked sense of humor that wasn’t always apparent because he was basically a shy person, at least until he got on stage. He made a big impression in England before he started making waves in the States and everyone from The Beatles to Clapton to Beck came to check him out. As a student, Brian May of Queen booked Hendrix to play at a multi-band ball at Imperial College in West London in May of 1967. His most vivid memory of Hendrix playing was that it made one either want to give up playing guitar or try that much harder. May concluded, “I looked at his equipment and looked at him, and thought: ‘Well, he’s just a man, and that’s just a guitar, and those are just amps.’ But when he started up it was like an earthquake. That doesn’t even describe it, It was like a cross between an earthquake, and orchestra, and a whirlwind of sound. And it was apparently magical.”
Another early admirer of Hendrix was crooner Engelbert Humperdinck. Humperdinck, The Walker Brothers and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were part of a package tour in 1967, and one night, Englebert’s guitar player didn’t show up for the gig. Hendrix offered to play for that part of the show, but it was decided that it would be less strange for the audience if he played from backstage. Humperdinck recounted, “He went behind the curtain at the side of the stage and played, It felt as though there were three guitars behind me that night. That’s how great he sounded. He was so solid and made everything sound massive, Afterwards, I said to the audience: ‘I don’t think you people realize, but the great Jimi Hendrix has just been playing guitar for me.’ He saved my show.”
There is another revival of the Hendrix story taking place right now. There is a new DVD out on the Sony/Legacy label called Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Church and it features his fabled set at the second (and final) Atlanta Pop Festival from July 4, 1970. Although his performances at both Woodstock and the Isle of Wight festivals have been available for years, it has taken a lot longer for this festival performance to surface. Unlike his Woodstock performance (which took place at 9 am on the last day of the festival when only half of the crowd remained), Atlanta Pop put him on stage at prime time in front of the largest concert crowd ever assembled (between 400 and 500,000). I am looking forward to picking it up soon because all the reviews I have read claim that it is one of his best shows on film and it includes glimpses of his past and his future. The future part ended ten weeks later with his tragic death, but releases like Electric Church and the Experience Hendrix Tours that have taken place over the past several years will keep his memory alive. Al Hendrix wouldn’t want it any other way.
As of this past week, I was able to pick up the CD of Machine Gun which includes the entire first show of the two night, 4 concert series Hendrix recorded with Cox and drummer Buddy Miles at the Fillmore East on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. A six song album by the Band of Gypsys was rushed out in April of 1970 to fulfill the last album Hendrix had to make for his label before he could be free to chart a new course. The entire first set has never been released and on first listen, it confirms what people have been saying since his passing: Jimi knew where he wanted to go but he just ran out of time to get there. Tune in to hear this amazing set over the next few weeks.
Top Piece Video – here is a rehearsal clip for the opening track of MACHINE GUN called Power of Soul