Rekindling the magic as Hendrix's fire still burns
The legend lives on as fans experience fresh tracks from the guitar hero, writes Barry Egan
Published 04/04/2010 | 05:00
The New York Times, March 1968: "'Will he burn it tonight?' asked a neat blonde of her boyfriend, squashed in beside her on the packed floor of the Fillmore auditorium. 'He did at Monterey,' the boyfriend said, recalling the Pop Festival at which the guitarist, in a moment of elation, actually put a match to his guitar. The blonde and her boyfriend went on watching the stage, crammed with huge silver-fronted Fender amps, a double drum set, and whispering stage hands. Mitch Mitchell, the drummer, came on first, sat down, smiled, and adjusted his cymbals. Then came bassist Noel Redding, gold glasses glinting on his fair, delicate face, and plugged into his amp.
"'There he is,' said the blonde, and yes, said the applause, there he was. Jimi Hendrix, a cigarette slouched in his mouth, dressed in tight black pants draped with a silver belt and a pale rainbow shirt half hidden by a black leather vest.
"'Dig this, baby,' he mumbled into the mike. His left hand swung high over his frizz-bouffant hair making a shadow on the exploding sun lightshow, then down onto his guitar, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience roared into 'Red House'."
There was more to Jimi Hendrix and his music than lying on his back playing a flaming guitar with his teeth. Some said he was the black Elvis. Others said that his virtuoso electric guitar playing, his artistry and his understanding of the nature of the blues marked him out as another Robert Johnson with a hellhound on his tail.
Either way, when he played his guitar he was like someone from another planet. Little Jimi used to pretend that the household broom was a guitar and told his father he was "learning how to play it".
James Marshall Hendrix went to Garfield High School, Seattle. He left when he was 16. He claimed that he been thrown out for "holding a white girl's hand in class".
Hendrix said in one of the final interviews before his death: "With the music we will paint pictures of earth and space so that the listener can be taken somewhere."
Hendrix did that unforgettably with his music -- with 'Hey Joe', 'Voodoo Chile', 'Cross Town Traffic', 'Stone Free', 'Purple Haze' and 'Love Or Confusion' among the songs that came forth from the Seattle-born magician of music.
Listen to the Are You Experienced album from 1967 or the Axis: Bold As Love from 1968 -- with Mitch Mitchell on skins and our own Noel Redding on bass -- and tell me that Jimi didn't transmit magic. He made what could have been described as deep space sci-fi rock. He pushed the boundaries.
"Although Cream were forerunners of the three-man virtuoso rock group and pioneers of what degenerated into so called 'heavy' music, the Jimi Hendrix Experience stole a lot of their thunder and gained much quicker acceptance. Their music was more spectacular, less predictable and it splashed into the rainbow colours of 1967 psychedelia with gay abandon," wrote Melody Maker's Chris Welch in 1973.
There is new excitement on the Hendrix front as some new work has been unearthed.
Among the new tracks are The Band of Gypsys's off-kilter nine-minute funk maelstrom 'Burning Desire', which he recorded in New York on January 16, 1970. There is also a new, never-released instrumental of 'Castles Made Of Sand' and a different version of 'May This Be Love'. These three tracks will be issued later in the year in a three-disc anthropology of unheard and obscure Hendrix stuff, including early rarities like 'My Diary', the 1964 single he made with Rosa Lee Brooks, and demos Hendrix was working on before his premature and tragic death.
The troubled genius died on Friday, September 18, 1970, after he had collapsed at his girlfriend Monika Danneman's basement apartment in London. The pathologist stated the cause of death was an inhalation of vomit due to barbiturate intoxication -- ie he choked to death in his sleep by dint of being out of his skull on drugs. There has been much myth and confusion around his death and final days.
Depending on what book you read (Tony Brown's biography Jim Hendrix: The Final Days or Sharon Lawrence's memoir Jim Hendrix: The Man, The Magic, The Truth), there is a very real sense that Hendrix was "unravelling under an unprecedented amount of personal and professional stress and was particularly vulnerable to negative elements during these two weeks in London".
There are stories that he spoke of suicide and death frequently during that time, and he was "surrounded by sharks and sycophants and had no real support network to help him through this rough time in his life".
There is a rumour, recounted in Brown's book, that on the night of his death, Hendrix had a unholy row with his girlfriend and he took a deliberate lethal overdose of extremely powerful sleeping tablets. Someone called an ambulance. The ambulance men said they found the flat empty "except for Hendrix lying in a mess on the bed already dead with a scarf or some other article of clothing knotted around his neck".
It was reported that the "inside of Hendrix's mouth and the mucus membranes were black because he had been dead for some time".
Rumours aside, in the June before he died, Hendrix, recorded an instrumental 'All God's Children' with Mitchell and a pal from the army, Billy Cox, on bass. He jammed with Traffic's Steve Winwood on 'Valleys of Neptune', which is being released in a different form on a new album of unearthed Hendrix recordings of the same name. Kramer, Hendrix's studio engineer since Are You Experienced, says he noticed a change in the man. He was more serious about his work. He was excited.
Doubtless Jimi's lighting up heaven right now, Stratocaster on fire between his legs and, as the New York Times of 1968 put it: "propelling it out of his groin with a nimble grind of his hips".