top of page

EXCUSE ME WHILE I KISS THE SKY - JIMI HENDRIX (part one): THE EARLY DAYS

Due to the disappointing sales of my first book “Within In, You Without You” an examination of British music and culture, I decided to abandon my part completed follow-up which moved to the other side of the Atlantic to look at history, culture and music in the U.S. (Part of this has been published as “Liberty” on Amazon Kindle). It seemed a pity to waste the years of work that went into the projected second book, so I am leaving it here. The Frank Zappa/ Mothers of Invention three-part story was also part of the abandoned project.


JIMI HENDRIX – EARLY DAYS IN BRITAIN


On Saturday, 24th September, 1966 at approximately 9.00 in the morning, James Marshall Hendrix (christened Johnny Allen Hendrix) set foot on English soil for the very first time following a flight from JFK International Airport, New York to Heathrow, London. He had forty dollars in his pocket. Within 24 hours, he had acquired a girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham, who had already dated Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and Keith Moon of The Who.


A friend Hendrix had left behind in New York, Linda Keith (Keith Richards’ girlfriend at the time), had touted Hendrix as a possible recording artist to ANDREW LOOG OLDHAM, the Rolling Stones’ manager, who was unimpressed. “He was trouble,” said Oldham, “and I had enough trouble already with The Stones.” Seymour Stein of Sire Records was not won over either. When Linda Keith contacted him, he did agree to attend a gig only to see Hendrix smash his guitar in frustration- to make matters worse the guitar belonged to Keith Richards! The lack of original material at that stage was probably another reason for Stein not following up his interest.


Enter stage left the towering figure of BRYAN ‘CHAS’ CHANDLER, bass player of The Animals. Looking to get into record production after The Animals’ 1966 tour of the US had concluded, Chandler had spotted the potential of the Tim Rose’s song Hey, Joe. The runes were cast when Chandler witnessed Hendrix playing Hey, Joe with his Blue Flames group in the Wha club in New York, in the company of Linda Keith. In ‘A Film About Jimi Hendrix’, Chandler recalled his reaction, “I thought immediately he was the best guitarist I’d ever seen.” He also thought there had to be a ‘catch’ to explain how an artist so talented could possibly be unsigned. Hendrix continued to play in Greenwich Village while Chandler completed the Animals’ tour.


Meanwhile, word of Hendrix’s talent was spreading and JOHN HAMMOND JUNIOR (whose father had signed Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen for CBS Records) added Hendrix to his own band in a two-week residency at the Café Au Go Go. Nothing much changed for Hendrix. He was now reduced once again to the role of a backup guitarist with the benevolent concession of a solo spot during the shows. The amazing thing was that, thus far, the Hammond dynasty became the third party to pass on Jimi Hendrix (the arrangement with Chandler was a ‘gentleman’s agreement’).


Chandler took four days to find Hendrix on returning to New York at the end of The Animals’ tour. The Animals’ manager MICHAEL JEFFREY, Chandler’s business partner in managing his newly discovered artist, paid the $ it cost to buy back Hendrix’s contract at Sue Records and pulled some strings to ensure that Hendrix had the paperwork to enter the UK. As for Hendrix’s band, Randy California was only 15 at the time, and could not get a passport and his rhythm section, Billy Cox and Danny Taylor politely declined. Hendrix deliberated but eventually struck a deal with Chandler: part of the deal was “If you can guarantee that you’ll introduce me to (Eric) Clapton, I’ll come to London.”


JIMI’S EARLY LIFE IN THE U.S.A.


Born in Seattle, Washington State on 27th November 1942, Hendrix was from a broken home with father Al often absent on army duty and mother Lucille taking off with another man. He was cared for by friends and relatives. Things were so bad that, on 30th March 1955, Al and Lucille Hendrix signed away their parental rights to Al’s brothers and sisters, Alfred, Joe, Kathy and Pamela. The description of life for young Jimmy at this time was harrowing, with dirt, degradation and despair, as he wandered the neighbourhood unsupervised picking up on whatever music was playing from neighbouring houses on his itinerant wanderings.


In the summer of 1955, the welfare department threatened court action to bring Jimi into foster care. The situation was resolved when Al agreed to Jimi living with his brother Frank, who lived nearby. This relatively affluent environment offered Jimi care and security but it was his Dad’s boarder (now working as a landscaper), Ernestine Benson, who ignited Jimi’s interest in music, an interest that had first flourished during his neighbourhood wanderings. It was through Ernestine that Hendrix heard, for the first time, 78 rpm records by the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Later on, in 1958, Ernestine would take Jimi to a local record store called ‘World of Music’ to pick a record.


On 1st September 1957, a historic musical event occurred that left an indelible imprint on young Jimi’s mind when he watched ELVIS PRESLEY perform at Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium from a hilltop vantage as he couldn’t afford the price of a ticket. By the time he saw Elvis from a distance, Jimi, one of the first exponents of ‘air guitar’, at last, had a real guitar to experiment with bought for him by the same Ernestine Benson who had introduced him to blues records on his gramophone. The young Jimi was very keen on experimenting with the guitar to try to coax every possible sound from it. Finally, Ernesto persuaded Al to buy Jimi a proper guitar, a white Supro Ozark which was right-handed but to which left-handed Jimi quickly adapted. Early influences on the development of Jimi’s playing included Elmore James, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Duane Eddy. He was in groups called The Velvetones, The Rocking Kings and The Tom Cats, and graduated to a Danelectro Silvertone guitar, also white.


The next significant event in Jimi’s life was his arrival at Fort Ord, California to join the 101st Airborne. (Hendrix completed twenty-six parachute jumps during his army career). Eventually, he became a supply clerk based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky and it was there he had a fateful meeting with bass player BILLY COX with whom he formed a five piece called The Kasuals, who got weekend gigs in Nashville, and, further away, in military bases as far as North Carolina. He was discharged from the army on a fabrication engineered by Hendrix himself (‘homosexual tendencies’) with $400, which he managed to squander in a jazz club in Clarksville, and ended up homeless with not enough money for the bus fare to Seattle, having to clandestinely sleep in his old army bunk. He did manage to rescue his guitar ‘Billy Jean’ which he’d slept with every night during his time in the army and ended up being pawned. Betty Jean Morgan was Hendrix’s fiancé at the time, although on his discharge from the army, he changed his mind about returning to Seattle, settling down and getting married. Hendrix’s determination not to ‘get hooked’ became a recurring theme in songs like Stone Free (his ‘ode to promiscuity’) and 51st Anniversary. Armed with a new guitar, an Epiphone Wilshire, Hendrix hooked up with Cox once he was discharged, and formed The King Kasuals with singer Harry Bachelor and rhythm guitarist Alphonso Young, who could play the guitar with his teeth.


PRE- JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE RECORDINGS: NB What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive list, merely a mention of some important artists that Hendrix recorded and played with.


JIMI HENDRIX AS A SESSION MAN: Purely as a performer, Hendrix stated on at least two separate occasions that he played with IKE AND TINA TURNER (and LITTLE RICHARD) in 1963 or 1964; he was not specific about which year). The liner notes to the UK pressing of his ‘Are You Experienced?’ album also refer to Jimi playing with Ike and Tina Turner ‘on the west coast’. Ike Turner himself claimed that he sacked Hendrix because “he was wild” and used too much wah-wah and distortion. (The reason for Hendrix’s sacking from Little Richard’s band was apparently being late for the bus and flirting with girls!)


Jimi’s earliest recordings date back to 1964. (NB The star ratings were for the purposes of the proposed book, but I can assure you that I have listened to each of these songs). Opinions differ but the first may have been on a ‘45’ by DON COVAY AND THE GOODTIMERS called Mercy, Mercy ****/ Can’t Stay Away*** (the latter is predominated by piano) released on the Rosemart Records label (distributed by Atlantic) in 1964. Hendrix also played on Covay’s 1964 LP MERCY. Also in 1964, Hendrix played some nice guitar fills and some short solos on THE ISLEY BROTHERSTestify parts 1 and 2 ****, an early example of psychedelic soul, released on the group’s T-Neck label. It is also thought that Hendrix played on the group’s Atlantic singles Simon Says and Move Over and Let Me Dance in 1965 (and others). He first met the brothers on 9th February, 1964 and it is documented that he watched The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show with them. Hendrix was part of LITTLE RICHARD’s backing band Upsetters on and off, from late 1964 until the summer of 1965, but the only recording I can confirm he played on was a Don Covay bluesy lament, I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me) *** in two parts on the Vee Jay label in November, 1965. (It is also widely reported that Hendrix played on Dancing A Go Go (Dancing All Around the World)). In Little Richard’s band, Hendrix was allowed the same leeway as The Isley Brothers on stage to open his box of guitar tricks like playing the guitar with his teeth and behind his back.


An LP called GET THAT FEELING **½ was released on Capitol Records, only as a contractual obligation at the instigation of record executive, Ed Chalpin, in 1967 (It was released in 1968 in the UK but originated from 1965-66), to cash in on Hendrix’s success with Experience. Although Curtis Knight (real name Mont Curtis McNear from the Harlem R&B scene) wrote the material and handled the vocals, frequently partly spoken, on the album, it is Hendrix’s name that appears in larger capitals than Knight’s on an album marketed as JIMI HENDRIX and CURTIS KNIGHT. It is Jimi’s photograph playing at the Monterey Pop Festival and a drawing of him that appear on each side of the sleeve. Some of it sounded rough and unfinished, and tracks like the lacklustre 12-bar Gotta Have a New Dress were poorly recorded and mixed. The 10-minute title track was easily classifiable as soul music, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin all being name checked, a little made to go a long way on this one, although the groove is undeniably infectious. The lack of originality in the material is illustrated by an obvious re-write of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, as How Would You Feel? There is a race angle in the partly spoken lyrics and this would qualify as one of the earliest black protest ‘popular music’ songs. The record will be of minimal interest to fans of Hendrix’s later works (and he himself disowned it), although it was influential to a certain extent on what came later. Curtis invites Jimi by name to ‘play that thing’ but there is little virtuosity on display. Hendrix’s love affair with his wah-wah pedal may be traced to tracks like Hush Now. Strange Things had a ‘Hammer horror movie’ guitar bit at its start, a Bo Diddley beat and a psychedelic feel, largely due to the cheesy organ, one of the better tracks, the guitar work hinting at what was to come. Mostly though, the young Jimi was playing in a conventional style which all changed when he fronted his own band.


An album more in the blues genre, FLASHING ***, was released in the US in 1968, also on Capitol, consisting mostly of Knight’s songs once more. Gloomy Monday was actually by Curtis Knight and the Squires but the album was marketed as ‘Jimi Hendrix Plays and Curtis Knight Sings’. Hornet’s Nest was an instrumental, co-written by Hendrix, sounding just like the title, a buzzing 12-bar variation with organ and guitar used to good effect and some frantic drumming. There was also a cover of Day Tripper. In the UK there was a variation, also released in 1968, on the London label called STRANGE THINGS *** with a similar sleeve that included Get That Feeling, Gloomy Monday, dance number Simon Says, a Hendrix co-write, apparently, although not credited called Love, Love which was pretty good, and Strange Things, of course. Things were getting a bit out of hand when yet another album appeared in 1968, a compilation, DAY TRIPPER on the Quality label, produced again by Ed Chalpin. There were singles as well, plenty of them including Hush Now/ Flashing on London (1967) and Day Tripper/ Love, Love, a Netherlands London mono release in a picture sleeve in the same year.

The years of litigation following Jimi’s signing of a one year, one dollar contract with Chalpin in 1965 for PPX Records, mistakenly thinking he was signing a release form to allow him to perform as a session musician, were finally brought to an end in 2003 when Jimi’s sister, Janie, the President and CEO of Experience Hendrix and her team (‘the family’) finally resolved the issue. Jimi’s engineer Eddie Kramer was called in to clean up the Curtis Knight tapes involving, in Kramer’s own words, an “archaeological sound dig”. Finally, on 24th March, 2015, a CD and LP were released entitled, YOU CAN’T USE MY NAME- THE RSVP/ PPX SESSIONS. The CD track listing was as follows: How Would You Feel? /Gotta Have a New Dress/ Don’t Accuse Me/Fool for You, Baby/No Such Animal/Welcome Home/ Knock Yourself Out (Flying on Instruments)/ Simon Says/ Station Break/ Strange Things/ Hornet’s Nest/ You Don’t Want Me/ You Can’t Use My Name/ Gloomy Monday.


An LP was eventually released in 1971 of recordings made quite a few years before, JIMI HENDRIX AND LONNIE YOUNGBLOOD- TWO GREAT EXPERIENCES TOGETHER (Maple Records) ** months after Youngblood’s death. This was a collaboration of convenience between a hard gigging guitarist looking for a future direction and a songwriter saxophonist singer looking for that elusive two-minute R&B dance floor hit although you wouldn’t think so listening to the first few tracks on the album, the three-part mostly instrumental ‘sweat’ trilogy. A warning though, that a sound-alike Hendrix guitarist added some guitar to the original recordings (not the first time this would happen), presumably to assist sales. They needn’t have bothered. There is a three-part slow blues as well but it all gets pretty tedious. The cobbled together LP was not much more than 25 minutes long. As for the dancefloor hit, All I Want nearly got there but the performance was too plodding. Go Go Shoes/ Go Go Place, a 1966 single on Fairmount Records was a better effort in that respect, the same tune repeated again on the B-side on which Youngblood exclaims, “Pappa’s got a brand new bag, listen to the guitar player, baby!” Soul Food (That’s A What I Like) was a funky Booker T and The MGs like single released in 1967 that didn’t make it either but was the best attempt at a hit, although Hendrix’s presence is barely noticed. Sean Egan in his ‘Before the Experience’ section of his ‘Not Necessarily Stoned but Beautiful’ book picks out the number She’s A Fox “which evinces the fatness and larger-than-life sound of The Experience in some places” (The song Little Wing on the ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ album in particular). TO BE CONTINUED

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Kommentare


bottom of page