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Hendrix on Hendrix
Interviews and Encounters with Jimi Hendrix
By Steven Roby
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2012 Steven Roby
All rights reserved.
December 1966 to May 1967
JIMI HENDRIX'S FIRST-CLASS FLIGHT landed at London's Heathrow Airport at 9:00 AM on September 24, 1966. His Stratocaster guitar in its case, a change of clothes, and acne cream were the only things he brought to conquer England. By the end of the day, he had a jam at the Scotch of St. James club lined up and a new girlfriend in his bed. Anything seemed possible.
Within days, Chas Chandler acquired a work permit and set up auditions for the new group, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Guitarist Noel Redding, originally hoping to fill in the lead-guitarist position for the New Animals, was hired partly because of his willingness to learn bass — and because Hendrix liked his wild, bushy hair. By early October, the talented Mitch Mitchell was selected as the drummer.
Hendrix's sound quickly gained popularity. "Hey Joe," the debut single, received rave reviews and reached number twelve on the R&B chart and number thirty-eight in the national singles chart by year's end.
Hendrix was encouraged to write his own material, and the resulting album, Are You Experienced, became part of the psychedelic soundtrack for most of 1967. The next hurdle was Hendrix's homeland, America.
PETER JONES | From RECORD MIRROR, December 10, 1966.
On November 25, 1966, the newly formed Jimi Hendrix Experience held a press reception and concert at the Bag O' Nails Club in London. Hendrix arrived in England only two months prior, but he had already jammed with Cream, toured France and Germany, and recorded his first single, "Hey Joe." Within two days of this reception, he'd celebrate his twenty-fourth birthday.
RECORD MIRROR reporter Peter Jones had the honor of capturing Hendrix in his first interview with the English music press. The JHE played their first UK club date the following day.
Now hear this — and kindly hear it good! Are you one of the fans who think there's nothing much new happening on the pop scene? Right ... then we want to bring your attention to a new artist, a new star-in-the-making, who we predict is going to whirl round the business like a tornado.
Name: Jimi Hendrix. Occupation: Guitarist-singer-composer-showman-dervish-original. His group, just three-strong: The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Bill Harry and I dropped in at the Bag O' Nails Club in Kingley Street recently to hear the trio working out for the benefit of Press and bookers. An astonished Harry muttered: "Is that full, big, blasting, swinging sound really being created by only three people?" It was, with the aid of a mountain of amplification equipment.
Jimi was in full flight. Whirling like a demon, swirling his guitar every which way, this 20-year-old [sic] (looking rather like James Brown) was quite amazing. Visually he grabs the eyeballs with his techniques of playing the guitar with his teeth, his elbow, rubbing it across the stage ... but he also pleasurably hammers the eardrums with his expert playing. An astonishing technique ... especially considering he started playing only five or six years ago.
Sweatily exhausted, Jimi said afterwards: "I've only been in London three months — but Britain is really groovy. Just been working in Paris and Munich."
In the trio: drummer Mitch Mitchell, a jazz fan, and rock 'n' roll addict Noel Redding on bass. "We don't want to be classed in any category," said Jimi, "If it must have a tag, I'd like it to be called 'Free feeling.' It's a mixture of rock, freak-out, blues, and rave music."
Guiding Jimi's career here (discs have been cut; release information soon) are Chas Chandler, ex-Animal, and Mike Jeffery. Said Chas: "I first heard Jimi play in Greenwich Village, a friend of mine, an English girl, suggested I called to see him. I was knocked out by his technique and his showmanship. He'd only just started singing, though he'd had a lot of experience with top American groups.
"Anyway, I suggested we get together — and he agreed. So we brought him over, auditioned to find the right musicians to follow his style — and gave the three of them the chance to find their feet on the Continent. Now we're waiting on a full work permit....
"He really does play incredibly good guitar. You can watch him seven nights on the trot and he changes individual items each time. You just can't get bored with him. It's the first time I've seen such a brilliant musician who can put on such a good visual performance. He has this unique stage appeal. And this mastery of the instrument.
"We want to stick with just two musicians working with him. Noel and Mitch can follow his every mood — if we got even one more in, it could spoil the understanding. Make it slower. Now we hope to get Jimi working the R and B clubs, building up a following."
Believe us, Jimi really is something positively new. We think he'll become a sensational success.
About that thing of playing the guitar with his teeth: he says it doesn't worry him. He doesn't feel anything. "But I do have to brush my teeth three times a day!"
"JIMI HENDRIX TALKS TO STEVE BARKER"
STEVE BARKER | From UNIT, January 1967.
On October 1, 1966, Steve Barker, an eighteen-year-old journalism student, witnessed Jimi Hendrix sit in with Cream at London's Regent Street Polytechnic College. The amazing guitar duel between Hendrix and Clapton was motivation enough for Barker to contact Hendrix's management about scheduling an interview. They agreed, and an appointment was set up at Jimi's flat on Montague Square for early January 1967.
By the time the interview took place, the Jimi Hendrix Experience had recorded "Hey Joe" and made their British TV debut on READY, STEADY, Go!, and Hendrix had penned a draft of "Purple Haze."
Even though the interview was not for a major publication, Hendrix was generous with his time and open with his responses — especially about his true feelings for the Monkees.
Late last year the Cream appeared at the Poly, bringing a lost looking young Negro guitarist to appear for the first time in Britain. The guitarist with the medusan hair was Jimi Hendrix, who during the first few months of 1967 established his group, the Experience, in the avant-garde of the pop world.
I spoke to Jimi at his flat, where he apologized for keeping me from lectures by playing his collection of blues records and tracks from his new single and L.P. to be released in late March.
Modesty and thoughtfulness are not qualities normally possessed by a pop star, but then Jimi Hendrix was different.
Steve Barker: What are the main influences in your music?
Jimi Hendrix: Well, I don't have any right now. I used to like Elmore James and early Muddy Waters and stuff like that — Robert Johnson and all those old cats.
SB: Do you feel any heritage from the old bluesmen?
JH: No, 'cause I can't even sing! When I first started playing guitar it was way up in the Northwest, in Seattle, Washington. They don't have too many of the real blues singers up there. When I really learned to play was down South. Then I went into the Army for about nine months, but I found a way to get out of that. When I came out I went down South and all the cats down there were playing blues, and this is when I really began to get interested in the scene.
SB: What's the scene like now on the West Coast?
JH: Well, I haven't been on the West Coast for a long time. But when I was on the East Coast the scene was pretty groovy. I'd just lay around and play for about two dollars a night, and then I'd try and find a place to stay at night after I finished playing. You had to chat somebody up real quick before you had a place to stay.
SB: What do you think the scene is like over there, compared to Britain?
JH: Well, I never had a chance to get on the scene over there, but from what I've seen [in England] it's pretty good. I thought it could be a whole lot of cats who could play it but not really feel it. But I was surprised, especially when I heard Eric Clapton, man. It was ridiculous. I thought, "God!" And every time we get together, that's all we talk about — playing music. I used to like Spencer Davis, but I heard that old Stevie's [Winwood] left them, and I think it's official about two days ago, or it was yesterday.
SB: What about the Beatles and the things they're doing now?
JH: Oh, yes, I think it's good. They're one group that you can't really put down because they're just too much. And it's so embarrassing, man, when America is sending over the Monkees — oh, God, that kills me! I'm so embarrassed that America could be so stupid as to make somebody like that. They could have at least done it with a group that has something to offer. They got groups in the States starving to death trying to get breaks and then these fairies come up.
SB: Did you ever meet Bob Dylan in the States?
JH: I saw him one time, but both of us were stoned out of our minds. I remember it vaguely. It was at this place called The Kettle of Fish in the Village. We were both stoned there, and we just hung around laughing — yeah, we just laughed. People have always got to put him down. I really dig him, though. I like that Highway 61 Revisited album and especially "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"! He doesn't inspire me actually, because I could never write the kind of words he does. But he's helped me out in trying to write about two or three words 'cause I got a thousand songs that will never be finished. I just lie around and write about two or three words, but now I have a little more confidence in trying to finish one. When I was down in the Village, Dylan was starving down there. I hear he used to have a pad with him all the time to put down what he sees around him. But he doesn't have to be stoned when he writes, although he probably is a cat like that — he just doesn't have to be.
SB: How does the Experience get such fusion when you're basically a bluesman, Noel's a rock man, and Mitch a jazzman?
JH: I don't know! Actually, this is more like a free-style thing. We know what song we're gonna play and what key it's in and the chord sequences, and we just take it from there. And so far it hasn't bugged me in any way like saying, "Oh, no! There he goes playing that rock and roll bass pattern again." Everybody's doing pretty cool.
SB: Are you just experimenting in your music or moving towards an end?
JH: I guess it is experimenting just now. Maybe in about six or seven months, or when our next album comes out, we'll know more what we're doing. All the tracks on our first LP are going to be originals, but we might play Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" on it.
SB: What do you think of the auto-destruction and the things The Who are doing?
JH: We don't really break anything onstage — only a few strings. Actually, we do anything we feel like. If we wanted to break something up, we would do it. There's a lot of times in the past I have felt like that, too. But it isn't just for show, and I can't explain the feeling. It's just like you want to let loose and do exactly what you want if your parents weren't watching. I dig The Who. I like a lot of their songs! The Byrds are pretty good, too, though I know you don't dig them over here. They're on a different kick. I like them.
SB: How about free expression in jazz?
JH: I'd have to be in a certain mood if I could sit up and listen to it all day. I like Charles Mingus and this other cat who plays all the horns, Roland Kirk. I like very different jazz, not all this regular stuff. Most of it is blowing blues, and that's why I like freeform jazz — the groovy stuff instead of the old-time hits like they get up there and play "How High Is the Moon" for hours and hours. It gets to be a drag.
SB: How do you feel onstage?
JH: I get a kick out of playing. It's the best part of this whole thing, and recording, too. I wrote a song called "I Don't Live Today," and we got the music together in the studio. It's a freak-out tune. I might as well say that, 'cause everyone else is going to anyway. Do you want to know the real meaning of that? Now, all right, I'll tell you this — don't think anything bad, okay? This is what they used to say in California ages ago: "Guess what — I seen in a car down on Sunset Strip. I seen Gladys with Pete and they were freakin' out." That's what it means — sexual perverting. Now they get freakin' off and out in all these songs, so it's got nothing at all to do with sex now, I guess. Anyway, that's what it used to mean — perversion, like you might see a beautiful girl and say she's a beautiful "freak," you know. [Laughs.] I'm being frank — that's all, so I guess I'll get deported soon.
SB: What about noses?
JH: Well, if you didn't have a nose you'd probably have to breathe out your ears, man. Then you'd have to clean your ears and blow them.
SB: Do you ever read the International Times?
JH: Oh, yeah! I think that's kind of groovy. They get almost too wrapped up with something, but it's really nice what they're doing. They have a paper like that in the Village, the East Village Other. The Village's Fugs are real crazy; they do things arranged from William Burroughs, songs about lesbians, and things like "Freakin' Out with a Barrel of Tomatoes," squashing them all between your armpits — euughh! You'd never believe it, man — those cats are downright vulgar. They tell these nasty, beautiful poems! The nastiest ones you could think of. Here's one thing I hate, man: When these cats say, "Look at the band — they're playing psychedelic music!" and all they're really doing is flashing lights on them and playing "Johnny B. Goode" with the wrong chords — it's terrible.
SB: What do you think of this psychedelic bit?
JH: There's this cat smashing a car when he might be singing a song about "I love you, baby." Now what does that have to do with it? Now, if he was saying the car is evil and the music is in the background and he's out there reading poetry with his little green and gold robe on that might have some meaning. Singing "Love Is Strange" while smashing an M.G. up is just stupid.
Excerpted from Hendrix on Hendrix by Steven Roby. Copyright © 2012 Steven Roby. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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