An ode to Jimi Hendrix on his would-be 70th birthday
Jimi Hendrix would be 70 today were he still around to have birthdays. And I am sure that if he were still around he would not be opening his concerts with “Purple Haze”.
A70-year-old Hendrix would not be playing anything like the virtuoso pop he was trying to escape at the time of his death.
The Rolling Stones this week opened the first concert of their - probably the last - tour with “I Want to be Your Man”, the debut record which Lennon/McCartney wrote for them in 1963 -19-flippin-63, about 50 years ago
It wasn’t particularly good then and it still isn’t, except as a piece of music archeology which is probably what the Stones have become.
Fifty years ago Hendrix was playing in the Isly Brothers band and it is hugely unlikely he would open a concert today with “Testify”, the first recording on which he appeared. (Cue up Jimi’s song ``51st Anniversary’’ on the turntable).
Radio today is playing Hendrix songs to salute his birth and this small taste gives an idea of how he had revolutionised music in a way the Rolling Stones couldn’t. And in a way which is still influential.
Hendrix died in September, 1970, after taking nine of his girlfriend’s sleeping pills instead of the half a tablet her doctor had prescribed.
He drowned in red wine, which he had vomited until it choked his lungs. His death confirmed the creation of the 27 Club made up of music greats who died at that age. Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse are others on the list.
In those 27 years he became household name. Well, in some households. Around 1990 Kevin Rudd was listening in on a discussion among Queensland colleagues.
“During some music banter, the cultural icon and guitar-playing Hendrix was mentioned, which drew a complete blank from a 33-year-old Rudd: ‘Who’s he?’,’’ reported Dennis Atkins in 2009.
Clearly there were still audiences for Jimi to conqueror.
It’s fair to speculate that had Hendrix not encountered overdoses and other dumb and fatal aspects of his rock’n'roll lifestyle he would still be playing. His brother-in-law Guitar Shorty, like Jimi a career musician, was born three years before him and is still performing.
Hendrix’s first recording with the Experience was “Are You Experienced’‘, which included “Purple Haze”, and the fourth and last he released before his death was the live “Band of Gypsys’‘. A lot happened to his music in the four years between “Are You Experienced’ and “Band of Gypsys”.
Hendrix was talking about collaborations with Miles Davis and he and Buddy Miles were heading into more jazz fusion. He was moving deeper into the new territories being pioneered by African American musicians.
It was a period of great change in music. In late 1969 the Rolling Stones release “Let it Bleed” which includes the brilliance of “Gimme Shelter’‘, “Love in Vain”, “Midnight Rambler” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want’‘. It also was Brian Jones last appearance on a record.
But in 1968 Hendrix had pushed boundaries further than the Stones could contemplate with the hugely advanced and highly self-indulgent “Electric Ladyland”, a stunning production which influenced a wide range of musicians.
The notion Hendrix would today return to “Are You Experienced’’ in a concert today is like imagining John Lennon would open a show with “She Loves You Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’‘. The Stones were admirers of Hendrix when he was London based but took a while to rate him.
In early 1966 a former girlfriend of Keith Richards, Linda Keith, saw Hendrix at a New York club and introduced him to LSD. She also urged the Stones’ management to take him on.
The idea was rejected.
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