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October 8, 2015

Jimi Hendrix Hits London: How Nine Months in London Made Him a Star

Born in 1942, James Marshall Hendrix grew up in Seattle and honed his craft as a guitar slinger in the South and New York City, but he became star in London.

In 1966 Hendrix was playing in Greenwich Village and struggling to find an audience with his group Jimmy James and the Blue Flames when ex-Animals bassist Chas Chandler saw him perform. Chandler promised he could make Hendrix a star if he moved to England. Hendrix agreed, on one condition: that Chandler introduce him to British guitar gods Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.

Within a week of arriving in London, Hendrix and Chandler assembled bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell to create the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the group quickly jumped into the Swinging London scene. Over the next nine months the trio toured endlessly, released three hit singles and a chart-topping debut album, and became darlings of the British music press.

For much of his time in the public eye, Hendrix called London home. Without the city, his musical gifts may never have reached a worldwide audience. Hendrix had the talent, the showmanship, and the ambition, while Chas Chandler had the clout and the connections. But Swinging London had the fashion, the music, and the unique culture that proved vital to Hendrix’s success.

Curator of 'Hear My Train A Comin' – Hendrix Hits London' and Hendrix fanatic Jacob McMurray guides James Lachno through the celebrated US musician's explosive first trip to London and how it made him a star. Hendrix died in an ambulance on the way to hospital, apparently suffering from a drug overdose, on September 18 1970.

Jimi Hendrix at the Saville Theatre, London, 1967 (Picture: Bill Nitopi)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix and Noel Redding, promotional photograph (Picture: EMP Museum)
"In summer 1965, Hendrix quit Little Richard’s band for the second time and moved to New York. The story goes that Linda Keith – at the time Keith Richards’s girlfriend – saw Hendrix at CafĂ© Wha? in Greenwich Village with 'Jimmy James and the Blue Flames'. She was impressed and told her friend Chas Chandler, who was doing his last tour as the bassist of The Animals. Chandler saw the band and thought Hendrix was amazing, so he brought him to London. From the first week, Jimi was jamming with Cream, and he met Andy Summers, pre-Police, on the first day. The Jimi Hendrix Experience formed about a week later, with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell."

Early lyrics to 'Love or Confusion', penned while staying at Hyde Park Towers hotel, October-November 1966 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"Chandler set Hendrix up at the Hyde Park Towers Hotel. All indications suggest he wrote these lyrics to Love and Confusion in November 1966 while at the hotel, and supposedly he also wrote Stone Free early on in London. Maybe he had these songs in some form in New York, but his music there had been so different – it was rock and soul, R’n’B, blues covers. These new compositions were rave-ups, beat songs. They pushed the boundaries, but were essentially pop songs."

Acetate recording of “Hey Joe” / “Stone Free”, from November 1966 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"The band played its first gig in Evreux, France, on October 13, 1966, on a big package tour headlined by Johnny Hallyday. They recorded the Hey Joe/Stone Free single on October 23, not even a month after getting to London. Hey Joe was a popular song to cover in the US – The Leaves, Love, and Frank Zappa had covered the fast version, but Hendrix was one of the first to do it slow, from a version by folk singer Tim Rose."

Howlin’ Wolf, More Real Folk Blues, Chess Records, 1967, part of Hendrix's personal record collection (Picture: EMP Museum)
"Hendrix owned dozens of records in London, and was heavily influenced by the blues. There’s a story about when Hendrix sat in with Cream within a week of getting to London, and started playing Howling Wolf’s Killing Floor with them. It’s meant to be an incredibly difficult song to just start jamming with other people on. Jack Bruce said everyone was raising their eyebrows, thinking 'wow'."

Melody Maker, 4 February 1967, with cover star Jimi Hendrix, 'the newest name in pop excitement!' (Picture: EMP Museum)
"The music press were excited about Hendrix. He was getting his first interviews in very late 1966, and climbing the charts by the beginning of 1967. There was controversy about him – for one, he was black and in a pop band. Some of the comments on him were questionable: a lot of people said he reminded them of the ‘Wild Man of Borneo’ – they were saying he looked like a crazy savage. He was a showman, playing very suggestively, humping his guitar, playing with his teeth."

Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix at the Track Records launch party, the Speakeasy, London, March 16, 1967 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"People like Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck were looking at Hendrix through a different lens, as the most amazing guitar player they’d ever seen. Most of the people in that scene were enamoured with US R’n’B and blues, and here was a guy that had helped sell those records. He was seen as the authentic deal."

Track Records poster for 'Purple Haze', 1967 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"Purple Haze came out in March, the first single to be released on Track records, a label launched by The Who's managers Chris Stamp and Kim Lambert. It immediately hit the top 10, and stayed there for 14 weeks, so by then Hendrix was riding on a big hit."

Letter to Elizabeth, a fan, 1967 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"This letter is to a fan, written in some time in 1967. I love it where he writes 'I’d love to meet you in the flesh, I mean in person'. This is playing up the sexual innuendo that definitely surrounded his whole act. By this point the band was getting much bigger, and I’m sure there was a lot of temptation with the ladies. It’s highly likely Hendrix indulged. In an early interview he was asked about getting married and he said something like, 'no way in hell will I ever get married'."

Poster for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Astoria Theatre, Finsbury Park, London, March 31, 1967 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"In the nine month period, Hendrix played over 150 shows. His big break came at the end of March when he played on the Walker Brothers tour. Engelbert Humpedinck was also on the tour and those fans hated him, but it was excellent exposure. The Astoria show was the debut night, and was supposedly the first time Hendrix lit his guitar on fire."

Jimi Hendrix's jacket, made by London tailors Dandie Fashions, and worn from April-May 1967 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"Hendrix brought his personality with him to London, and had always spoken about his style and fashion in the media – he had hated playing in the US with backing bands in matching suits. Like many people in Swinging London at that time he adopted the fashions of the time, riffing off British military designs."

Debut album 'Are You Experienced?', released on Track Records on 12 May 1967. This later US copy is from Jimi Hendrix's personal record collection. (Picture: EMP Museum)
"Are You Experienced?, the band's debut album, came out on Track records in May, and pretty quickly rose up the chart, and was then only kept off No1 by Sgt. Pepper's, which came out 1 June. Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary, another top-10 single, were still in the charts at this point."

Jimi Hendrix and The Experience's bassist Noel Redding, backstage at the Saville Theatre, London, 4 June 1967 (Picture: John Sullivan)
"A week before he left London, Hendrix played two shows in a day at the Saville Theatre, owned by Beatles manager Brian Epstein. It was his farewell to London. Half the Beatles were there in attendance, and he opened up with a cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had only been released three days earlier. It was an homage to the band that, in a way, had started it all."

Fender Stratocaster fragments, from the guitar smashed at the Saville on June 4, 1967 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"Hendrix smashed this guitar at the end of the second set at the Saville. On the guitar he had painted lyrics similar to Love or Confusion, then “my darling guitar, please rest in peace, June 4, 1967, Saville, London”. It was meant as a sacrifice to London, and a goodbye. He had to leave London because of his work visa, and he would have been sad to go."

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967 (Picture: EMP Museum)
"The exhibition is called 'Hendrix hits London', but it could be called 'London hits Hendrix' – London affected him in a profound way. He went from nowhere to everyone freakin' loving him. It couldn’t have happened in another city. After he left, it’s interesting to see how quickly the hippie flower-power scene entered London and the rise full-on psychedelia took hold. Hendrix didn’t really go back to London properly until 1969, and when he did there was a totally different thing going on."

(via Telegraph)


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