Rock and Roll Saturday – Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix - Monterey Pop Festival - June 18, 1967

It’s been 44 years since Jimi Hendrix took a can of lighter fluid and set his Stratocaster ablaze. He began to squirm and writhe like a pagan priest in front of some demonic alter. He may have been conjuring up a complete shift in the couterculture. And on that Monterey Pop stage The Jimi Hendrix Experience was born.

The song — Wild Thing as only Hendrix could perform it… loud, wild and wicked.

If you’re a fan of rock and roll and have ever batted around the question, “Who’s the best guitarist ever?”, my vote was always Hendrix. In return I would typically get a nod, an affirmation, a raised glass and a simple “Hendrix,” in return. Rolling Stones magazine agrees, placing the Seattle guitarist firmly on top of its “Top 100 Guitarists of All Time” list.

And if you happen to say Clapton, just know that Eric Clapton agrees with me. They often played together in various New York night spots. In his autobiography Clapton wrote, “What I found refreshing about him was his intensely self-critical attitude toward his music. He had this enormous gift and a fantastic technique, like that of someone who spent all day playing and practicing, yet he didn’t seem that aware of it. I also got to see the playboy in him. He loved to spend all night hanging out, getting drunk or stoned, and when he did pick up the guitar, it was very throwaway to him, as if he didn’t take himself too seriously.”

Clapton found a white stratocaster in a London pawn shop and purchased it for his friend. He took the guitar to a Sly and the Family Stone concert at The Lyceum that night. He was going to give the guitar to Hendrix that night, but he never showed up.

“The next day, I heard that he had died,” Clapton writes. “He had passed out, stoned on a mixture of booze and drugs, and choked on his own vomit. It was the first time the death of another musician really affected me. We had all felt obliterated when Buddy Holly died, but this was much more personal. I was incredibly upset and very angry, and was filled with a feeling of terrible loneliness.”

In a meteoric rise to the top and an equally swift demise, Jimi Hendrix was very much an enigma. At times, tortured by his own success and fueled by alcohol, he would drift into moments of full blown rage at whoever was closest at the time. His violent back stage explosions were epic.

I consider myself very fortunate to have seen Hendrix just two months shy of his death. I watched him on-stage at the 2nd Atlanta Pops Festival in Byron, Ga., play the Star Spangled Banner at midnight, July 4, 1970. This concert is available on DVD, if you can find it.

Hendrix died on September 18, 1970, at a Notting Hill hotel, a victim of his own excesses.

He has received many posthumous awards including his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Hendrix got a star on the Hollywood walk of fame in 1994. He was the first to be inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

What became of the rest of his Jimi Hendrix Experience bandmates?

Bassist Noel Redding went on to do some sessions work with Thin Lizzy and Traffic. Redding died on May 11, 2003, of complications of cirrhosis of the liver. He was 57.

Drummer Mitch Mitchell languished in mediocracy following his “Experienced” days. He audtioned for several top draw acts including Emerson, Lake and Palmer (Had he got the job would they have become ELM?), and Paul McCartney’s Wings. In later years he found work in a few Hendrix retrospective projects including the 2008 Experience Hendrix Tour which included artists  Billy CoxBuddy GuyJonny LangKenny Wayne ShepherdEric JohnsonCesar RosasDavid HidalgoAerosmith‘s Brad WhitfordHubert Sumlin, Chris Layton as well as Eric Gales and Mato Nanji. Five days after the tour ended Mitchell was found dead at about 3am on November 12, in his room at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland. According to the Medical Examiner, the Experienced drummer died of natural causes. He was to leave for his England home the next day. Mitchell was buried in Seattle.

Billy Cox, friend and early Hendrix collaborator lives in Nashville and can be seen occasionally around town on his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle.

In 1971 songwriter/singer Don McClean penned American Pie, a homage to the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.), in a 1959 airplance crash. McClean called it the “Day The Music Died.”

I think of that day as September 18, 1970.

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