BOOK EXCERPT: Jimi Hendrix – The Illustrated Story, by Gillian G. Gaar

Early last month Voyageur Press published Hendrix: The Illustrated History, the latest book by Northwest-based journalist (and longtime BLURT contributor) Gillian G. Gaar, who has penned volumes on Elvis, Nirvana, the Doors, and more. The handsomely appointed, 224-page hardcover is far more than just an “illustrated” history, although the wealth of images that pepper the book’s gorgeous layout certainly tell the Hendrix tale in vivid fashion, from photos both iconic and rare to reproductions of records both key and obscure (Hendrix collectors are particularly well-served by all the overseas singles pictures sleeves here).

Gaar also submits the kind of detailed, insider’s-view story that makes H:TIH different that most coffee table music books. It’s broken into seven lengthy chapters, each wrapping up a specific period in the late guitarist’s life, literally from birth to death to aftermath—both man and legend are outlined with painstaking precision. Below you’ll read the first section of Chapter 6, “The Wink of an Eye,” which picks up at the dawn of the Seventies—January 1, 1970, to be exact, as Hendrix and his recently-assembled Band of Gypsys are onstage at the Fillmore East.

An essential read for even the most thoroughly schooled Hendrix devotee, Hendrix: The Illustrated History hits all the right notes from cover to cover. And speaking of that cover: The day-glo front is textured with black velvet, giving it a decisive, and literal, ‘60s artifact feel. Nice touch, that. —Ed.

The following excerpt is from Chapter 6 (pp.155-159), “The Wink Of An Eye”. (Text and images used with the kind permission of the author, and Voyageur Press/Quarto Group.)

January 1, 1970, found the Band of Gypsys back on stage for their second night at the Fillmore East. The engagement was well received—promoter Bill Graham called Jimi’s work “the most brilliant, emotional display of virtuoso electric guitar playing I have ever heard.” “It appears Hendrix is finding where he should be at, and he might well emerge as the greatest of the new blues guitarists,” DownBeat magazine’s critic wrote. “I can only hope that he learns that it is not necessary to amplify to or past the point of distortion.” And Jimi had more plans for the Band of

Gypsys. After the final show, he told Al Aronowitz of the of the New York Post that he wanted to take the band “back to the blues” and have Buddy Miles do more of the singing.

But by the end of the month, the Band of Gypsys was no more. In late January, Jimi got into a fierce argument with his manager when Jeffery wanted to fire Buddy Miles and reunite the Experience. When Jimi refused, Jeffery threatened to tear up their contract. Jimi backed down; as much as he complained about his manager and talked about leaving him, he never took any serious steps to do so. He also undoubtedly felt conflicted, as he wasn’t entirely happy with Buddy’s presence in the band himself. Buddy was used to being the leader of his own group, and Jimi didn’t like being challenged. “Jimi truly loved Buddy,” Billy Cox said, “but he was the star. He was the boss.”

In this fraught atmosphere, the Band of Gypsys came together to play what would be its final show, an appearance at the Winter Festival for Peace at Madison Square Garden on January 28. Despite his dislike of the group, Jeffery had nonetheless arranged for the performance to be filmed for a possible TV special. When Jimi showed up backstage, he seemed unwell. “When I saw him, it gave me the chills,” Johnny Winter later told Guitar Player. “It was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen . . . it was like he was already dead.” He watched as Jimi made his way to a couch and put his head in his hands: “He didn’t move until it was time for the show.”

Buddy Miles would swear that Jeffery had given Jimi LSD to deliberately sabotage the show and the band, but that hardly seems likely given that Jeffery had put up $6,000 to film the performance. Jimi himself said that it was Devon Wilson who had dosed him. Nor was there any shortage of intoxicants backstage, and Jimi was becoming increasingly reckless in his drug use. “Drugs were not only screwing him up, they were destroying the environment he needed to create,” said Electric Lady Studios manager Jim Marron. “Hendrix sat through many paternal lectures about his drug use from all of us, but I doubt it had any long-term effect.”

The show ran late, and the band didn’t take the stage until 3:00 a.m. Following another argument with Jeffery, Jimi sent out one of the crew to get lighter fluid so he could burn his guitar, but the delivery was intercepted by Gerry Stickells. It was a wise decision, as Jimi was so intoxicated that he ran the risk of setting himself on fire. Billy and Buddy weren’t sure Jimi would even make it through the set, and their fears were confirmed as the band staggered through the opening song, “Who Knows.” The band then played “Earth Blues,” only for Jimi to abruptly stop playing and announce, “That’s what happens when earth fucks with space. Never forget that.” He then stopped playing and sat on the drum riser until he was helped offstage.

After this debacle, Jeffery fired Buddy—an action Buddy always believed was solely Jeffery’s doing. Certainly there was no love lost between the two, but those who worked for Jeffery insisted that his focus remained on business and that he would not have fired a musician without Jimi’s tacit approval, which, given Jimi’s disinclination to be the bearer of bad news, seemed likely. In any case, it was a dispiriting end to the band, and Billy Cox soon returned to Nashville.

Now Jeffery could get underway with what he’d wanted to do all along: reunite the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Noel and Mitch were agreeable, a press release was sent out, and the three musicians came together for an interview with Rolling Stone on February 4 in New York City. Jimi called the Winter Festival for Peace concert “like the end of a big long fairy tale” and explained his performance by saying he was “very tired.” But he also didn’t sound completely committed to the reunion, saying that he still wanted to “have time on the side to play with friends. That’s why I’ll probably be jamming with Buddy and Billy; probably be recording, too, on the side, and they’ll be doing the same.”

The interview turned out to be the full extent of the Experience’s “reunion.” On reflection, Jimi decided he had no wish to play with Noel again and persuaded Billy to return to New York. Sadly, no one thought to inform Noel of this decision, and he also returned to New York in March to wait for rehearsals to start. He finally learned he’d been kicked out of the band when he contacted Mitch at his hotel after days of waiting for a call, only to be told that Mitch was off rehearsing with Jimi. Jimi never apologized, but he did drop by sessions for Noel’s solo album Nervous Breakdown, playing on the track “My Friend.” The song, and Noel’s album, remain unreleased.

Jimi was also working with Eddie Kramer in preparing the Band of Gypsys album, and work was completed on February 19. Jimi hoped it would resolve the ongoing legal situation with Ed Chalpin. Then, in March, he learned some news that stunned him: Kathy Etchingham had gotten married.

Since Jimi now spent most of his time in New York City, he’d fallen out of touch with his one-time girlfriend. Kathy knew he saw other women, which bothered her less than the sycophantic hangers-on that surrounded him. She had no wish to be a part of such an entourage, and as she hadn’t heard from Jimi in months, she assumed their relationship had run its course.

Now, he called not only to ask if it was true she had married, but that he was also returning to London to see her. Kathy met him at the airport and was surprised when he took her hand on the ride into town and asked, “This is just a spur of the moment thing, isn’t it. It’s not serious, is it?” Kathy was taken aback at how “completely devastated” he was by the news. Jimi had expected her to be “waiting for him, the good little woman keeping the home fires burning. . . . I realized that in his mind I had let him down just like his mum and dad had before me.”

Jimi tried to persuade her to come back to New York with him, assuring her, “All those people I was hanging out with have gone.” But Kathy refused, not wanting to get caught up again in the “mayhem and madness” of Jimi’s life. To her relief, he eventually seemed to accept her decision.

Jimi found time for a little session work as well, coming by Island Studios on March 15, where Stephen Stills was recording his self-titled debut album (released in November 1970). Jimi played lead guitar on “Old Times, Good Times” and played on two other tracks that as of this writing have yet to be released. On March 17, he joined Arthur Lee at Olympic Studios, where Lee was working on Love’s False Start album. Jimi played guitar on the track “The Everlasting First”; the album was released in December. He then returned to New York.

March also saw the US release of Band of Gypsys, which reached No. 5. The UK release followed in June, with the album reaching No. 6. The US album cover was straightforward, featuring a color-tinted shot of Jimi in performance; the UK version was decidedly odd, featuring puppets created by artist Saskia de Boer—there was a Jimi Hendrix puppet, a Brian Jones puppet, a Bob Dylan puppet, and a puppet of British DJ John Peel. The cover drew numerous complaints, resulting in Track reissuing the album with a new cover, though the new design was just as odd in its own way—it was a picture of Jimi performing at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, not a Band of Gypsys show. In the United States, the single “Stepping Stone” was released to accompany the album in April, but it failed to chart.

The Woodstock film also had its debut in March, running just over three hours and featuring three songs from Jimi’s set: “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Purple Haze,” and “Villanova Junction.” With a $600,000 budget, the film went on to gross over $50 million, making it a remarkable success. The soundtrack, which featured the same three songs, was released on May 27 in the United States, topping the chart, while in the UK, the album was released in June and reached No. 35.

Work on Electric Lady Studios was continuing. Michael Jeffery secured a loan from Warner Bros. to help finance the project, which would eventually top $1 million. Jimi went back on the road to keep money coming in but mostly did shows on the weekends, sometimes including a Thursday or a Monday, which gave him a little breathing room. Mitch Mitchell was back, and Billy Cox was persuaded to return as well. Even Buddy Miles was around; the Buddy Miles Express opened for Jimi at the Los Angeles Forum on April 25 and at Cal Expo in Sacramento on April 26.

The band wasn’t officially the Jimi Hendrix Experience, though they were sometimes billed that way. Jimi seemed relieved to put the group behind him. “I’m not sure how I feel about the Experience now,” he told Keith Altham in April. “Maybe we could have gone on but what would have been the point of that— what would it have been good for? It’s a ghost now—it’s dead—like back pages in a diary. I’m into new things and I want to think about tomorrow, not yesterday.”

The group was booked into stadiums and other large halls but returned to a smaller venue for one night, the Village Gate, on May 4. The occasion was a benefit concert for Timothy Leary, who’d been convicted of marijuana possession. Noel Redding was also on the bill, and it was the last time Jimi shared a stage with his former bandmate.

 

 

Leave a Reply