We watched the coolest fucking video today in my music class. It was all about Hendrix. Typically with these types of videos, the producers will interlace the performance sections with the interviewees talking about the artist or performance. But not here. When they decided to show a Hendrix performance, they showed it in its entirety. Who the hell wants to have a Jimi Hendrix live song interrupted by Little Richard or Mick Jagger, just so they can tell us how good he was? We bloody know already! This video chronicled Jimi’s rise from playing backup in small bands in the USA to the ever-growing pressure he faced as a huge music star.
What was really interesting was how America didn’t really embrace him at first. Like I said, he played a whole bunch of back-up guitar, for lots of bands. He said how he didn’t like it though; they wouldn’t let him do what he wanted. No feedback, playing with teeth or behind the back, no flicking his tongue at girls, no smashing anything, and NO hallucinogens. He tired of this quickly. Eventually he said “fuck it”, and moved to England.
In England, he still came up through the scene slowly. But he actually made progress. One night in London Eric Clapton was playing with the house band for the weekend. Sort of a “featuring” type of deal. They played some of Clapton’s stuff (from Cream, Yardbirds, solo stuff, etc.), along with covers. Sounds a bit like Scott with some Chicago house bands. Anyways, one night they were having a lot of fun, and the crowd was loving it, and nobody was really taking it seriously. Now, Hendrix hadn’t ever met Clapton at this point. The band took a little break, and Jimi, who was in attendance that night, walked right up to Eric Clapton and asked him if he could sit in for him. Ballsy to say the least.
Jimi took over. He must’ve been just craving to play in England, where his craziness hadn’t yet been told off. He played with his teeth that night. He threw the guitar all over the floor; practically beating the noise out of the guitar. All over the stage. He dug his big shoes into the wammy and bridge, inciting all sorts of bizarre squeals and pitches. He threw his body, along with the guitar (which had become one at this point), into the stage left amp and PA speaker. When the song ended, the entire place erupted. He got off stage and was so embarrassed at how he treated Eric Clapton’s guitar; he quickly found Eric before Eric returned to the stage and apologized to him graciously. Clapton laughed it off saying: “No worries. Someone will buy me another.”
Another little story told of the first time Pete Townsend heard of Hendrix. At the pub one night, a friend came up to Pete and asked him if he knew who Jimi Hendrix was. Townsend had heard of him at that point; but never met him, never heard him play, never seen him live. Townsend’s friend told him that this Hendrix guy had been emulating him, in a way. He told Pete about a club where Jimi had been playing quite a bit at the time and one night the two came down to see the show. At this point, Jimi had JUST met Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. Their whole sound was still in its infancy stage. And apparently none of them really knew what was going to happen in any given night. Well, I should rephrase; Noel and Mitch never really knew what the hell Jimi was going to do.
So Pete and his buddy come down to see the band play, and they absolutely blew Townsend’s head off. Especially Jimi. Townsend said in this video that he disagreed with his friend at the time; that Jimi wasn’t ripping him off or anything like that. Hendrix was simply taking this energy that a lot of the later British invasion bands had. The Animals, The Who, etc; the angrier British music of the 60s. Pete said he was taking that energy, and sort of bridging the gap from that to the folk revival and ever growing American hippie movement. He wasn’t ripping anyone off; simply using all these growing movements, and pulling everything together with a carefree flare.
We looked at some back and forth footage of early Hendrix shows (in UK clubs, and on UK TV) with later Hendrix shows (arena and outdoor gigs, including Woodstock). As the movement became bigger, and as the pressure mounted on him, he took more drugs. Almost any show after the year 1968, he was at least taking one hit of acid pre-show. As a result, his guitar playing is even MORE carefree in his latter days. Sloppy and reckless. But awesome. He actually got better with age (and drugs).
In an interview barely before his death, he talks about the audience expectations he faces almost every night. What eventually started happening is about half the crowd would only be at the show to see Jimi smash his guitar, or play with his teeth. This pissed him off to no end. The ONE thing this laid back gypsy couldn’t fucking handle. Eventually he starts just simply standing on stage and not moving at all. Forcing people to listen to his band, and his guitar playing, with zero distractions. Of course, some fans didn’t like this. He get booed occasionally, or people would walk out in those later days. But he never stopped becoming a better guitar player.
Which is the BIGGEST reason why his death sucked so much. Jim Morrison was AWESOME, don’t get me wrong; but I think somebody like Jim Morrison, or even Janis, had already hit their peak. Not that they would’ve gotten worse, rather stayed the same. But Jimi was continuously improving. If he were alive today, I guarantee there would be NO debate about the best guitar player of all time. Its him anyways. But Guitar World wouldn’t be asking the question: “Is Malmsteen better than Hendrix?” every year.
In a rare acoustic performance, Jimi plays an original blues song with a 12-String by himself. This was almost right before he died. And, it is SO beautiful. He takes him time, but the embellishments don’t suffer. No, they’re still there. The window into this guy becomes so much more clear through his playing; this way, with an acoustic. No tricks, no trippiness, no frills. Just him, sitting on a stool, playing Jimi’s version of the blues. The sound that originally inspired him to play. Mmm.
Its too bad what happened with Noel and Mitch. One of them, I think Mitch, didn’t like being part of a three piece where the guitarist’s name was directly in the band’s name. Mitch, maybe out of jealousy, left the band on the terms of becoming a lead guitar player himself. Noel stuck around for some time. But when Jimi started bringing his army buddies back into the mix, and Band of Gypsies started to form, the pressure was too much for Noel; he eventually parts from Jimi, but on good terms. He’d even see one of the few Band of Gypsies performances about a year later. Before Jimi died, he only started to understand what his band meant to him.
With Noel and Mitch, they recorded with Jimi, and were essentially told what to play by the band’s producer. This applied to their live shows as well. They’d play exactly what they had been playing during the recordings. Jimi liked Noel and Mitch, but started to imagine a larger group, where everyone played what and when they wanted. A band that meshed together from a sort of unspoken accord. I suppose that’s what everyone wants, that’s what I want. This is what led to the creation of Band of Gypsies. Only one BofG show was ever taped, and we watched this last. This group would’ve headed places. Wow. I’ve never seen such a socialistic approach to live music. Everyone knew everyone else’s personality. It wasn’t as if they’d predict what the person next to them was gonna do next, but they knew where to push a song at certain times. If Band of Gypsies would’ve survived, I honestly think they’d have replaced Grateful Dead as the greatest jam-band ever. We miss you Jimi. Guitarists need you today more than ever.