Friday, September 18, 2015

Jimi Hendrix: Remembrances


I was in college in the mid and late 1960s. College for me was mostly about getting high-- on drugs, liberation politics and music. As chairman of Stony Brook's Student Activities Board, I got to do all three. I invited Timothy Leary to come give a lecture, and he gave me some very pure LSD when I picked him up at the airport. I used it for my first acid trip. Recently I wrote about the experience of having Julian Bond and Strom Thurmond come out to the school as part of the same lecture series. 

As for music... I've written about it many times here at DWT over the years. I was lucky enough to book concerts by The Doors, The Who, Pink Floyd, Otis Redding, Joni Mitchell, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Byrds, The Temptations, Ravi Shankar, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne and Jimi Hendrix. Each one is a story in itself.

I'm not sure if I've ever told my favorite Jimi Hendrix story. Today is the anniversary of his death, in 1970, so I'm going to give it a shot, beyond what I included in a give-away for a Jimi platinum award of behalf of Alan Grayson last year.

I met Jimi Hendrix in 1967, before he went off to England and formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I watched him-- he was Jimmy James then-- play guitar at a John Hammond Jr. show at a tiny NYC club, the Cafe Au Go Go. And yes, he played guitar with his teeth. I asked him to come play at my college. He said he was leaving the next day for England, and introduced me to Chas Chandler of The Animals, who had come to watch the show, and said that he'd play my school when he got back.

The following March he was back-- on his first U.S. tour as the Jimi Hendrix Experience-- and he remembered and played at Stony Brook, one of his first shows. Later I spent some time with him in a relatively remote part of Morocco near Essaouira, and then saw him-- or thought I did-- for the last time at the Isle of Wight Festival. Ironically, much later, after he died so young (age 27) and so tragically, I became president of his record label, Reprise Records.

So that's the short version. It's late Friday night; ready for the details?

The first time I met Jimi wasn't that night, just as school was starting up again, when he and his band, the Night Hawks (aka the Screaming Night Hawkes, and also the Blue Flames), were backing John Hammond at the Cafe Au Go Go on Bleecker Street, where I was kind of interning for Howard Solomon, the owner.

Just a month or two earlier I was kicking around Manhattan in the afternoon, probably waiting to pick up some marijuana in the evening and take it back to campus, when I decided to go pay a visit to another music biz entrepreneur pal, Brad Pierce, who had recently opened a new club in the basement of One Sheridan Square, The Salvation. (I knew him because I went to every night of a residency he put on a year earlier for the then-unknown Doors-- in New York recording their debut album-- at a club he ran called Ondine, on East 59th Street, under the 59th Street Bridge.)

I walked into Brad's office, and we were chatting when in comes a depressed Jimmy James, very down in the dumps. Brad introduced us. Jimi was broke and needed money. I had the impression it was for drugs, but that was just an impression. He left his guitar with Brad for collateral, and Brad gave him some cash. Later Jimi and I got plastered on some pot and hash I had, and he was really grateful, and a lot more expressive than I ever found later. Soon after, he played at The Salvation-- a few days before he played at the Cafe Au Go Go.

Jimmy left for England with The Animals a day or two after the Hammond gigs, and I didn't necessarily expect to ever see him again. But he remembered the promise to come play at Stony Brook, and he did-- on March 9, 1968. He wasn't well-known yet, and most students were too square to understand the opportunity they were getting, but the gym filled up with the students who did understand, and with people from all over Long Island and as far away as NYC. (Students free, non-students $5 or $10.)

Before the show Hendrix seemed taciturn and brooding, definitely not chatty or especially friendly or outgoing. He was very much in his head the whole night. He kept to himself backstage, not even with his bandmates or crew. But after the show he came along to my house off-campus for a party. I was busy hosting the party and hooking up with my new girlfriend, and didn't spend much time with him.

I went to my room around midnight. I got up a few hours later-- maybe around 3-- to check if the party was still going on and if the house was still there. I opened the door and peered down the hall, and there was Hendrix chatting away amicably and passing a joint back and forth with... my mother, who had driven out to Long Island from Brooklyn to see the show. I know for sure that I didn't dream this. I had never seen her smoke a doobie before in public, just with her girlfriends when they played mahjong. But there she was, toking with Jimi Hendrix! God knows what they could have been talking about!

I went back to bed.

The next time I saw Jimi was almost exactly a year later. He was already pretty famous by then, a star. I was in Morocco with my girlfriend Martha, and we ran into him in Essaouira. He was living down the road at the Hotel des Iles, the fancy place where years later I stayed in a dozen times, but on this trip Martha and I were staying in my VW van. There were rumors that Jimi was actually in a small town, Diabat, nearly adjacent to Essaouira, but it wasn't true. We met him in the Essaouira marketplace, and he told me they were selling homemade yogurt that was amazing. I had never tasted yogurt and had some on his suggestion. I've loved it ever since-- the homemade variety, that is.

There were some hippies who died-- maybe were shot?-- in Diabat as we were getting ready to head north, and people said they were part of Jimi's party. But I don't think he had ever even been there, and I know he wasn't hanging out with a colony of European hippies. The police went in and either arrested or chased away all the hippies, but by then Martha and I were driving toward Tangier and Jimi was flying back to Paris.

I never saw him again, although as I alluded to earlier, I've been sure for years that I saw him at the Isle of Wight Festival a few weeks later. I know I was there, and I saw Bob Dylan and The Who and some singers I knew from New York, Richie Havens and Tom Paxton, but Jimi-- who had played Woodstock two weeks earlier, on August 18-- didn't play the Isle of Wight until 1970, when I was already living in India. So maybe I saw him in the VIP area, where I ran into a bunch of Stones, Eric Clapton and Syd Barrett and saw some Beatles walking around. However, there's no record of him having been there, so maybe not.

Jimi played the Isle of Wight Festival on August 31, 1970, and then went to London. He overdosed on barbiturates (sleeping pills) in an apartment at the Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill on September 18. Luckily, his music is very much still alive, vibrantly so.



At 10:37 PM, Anonymous wjbill49 said...

I like it.

At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Bil said...


At 9:41 AM, Blogger Kevin Hayden said...

Great memories: thanks.

Wish you asked your Mum what they chatted about.

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Mom smoked a joint with Hendrix. What the hell else is there to say?

At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this story! Especially about your mom toking up with Jimi - what an "experience" (as in Are You Experienced?)


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