Hendrix: The End Of A Beginning, Maybe

Resuming the Experience and working things out

Jimi Hendrix
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Jimi Hendrix
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It was a New York winter day, frozen and gray and violently blustery. Indoors, out of the fearful cold, people seemed somehow gentler toward one another – strange in New York City – as if it was enough to battle the elements, no need to battle each other.

Inside his manager's neo-turn-of-the-century apartment, on a sofa near the radiant fireplace, sat Jimi Hendrix, in a gentle, almost reticent frame of mind. The light snow had begun to fall. You could see that through the narrow slits where the curtain allowed the merest sliver of daylight and streetscene to penetrate into the gloomy dark room.

On the same sofa, and on a richly upholstered chair next to it, sat the members of Jimi Hendrix's new band. He had broken up the old Experience (Noel Redding on bass, Mitch Mitchell, drums) at some indeterminate point during the Fall. He had been living and jamming with an all-purpose crew of musicians – everything from older black gentlemen from the South who played blues guitar, to a band of avant garde jazz/space musicians under the general leadership of a flute player named Juma – and talking about coming up with something new.

That avant garde/blues/rock and roll experiment faltered at some point along the way, and Hendrix announced a new band with the same instrumentation as the old Experience: it would have Hendrix singing and guitaring, Buddy Miles on drums and vocals, and Billy Cox, an old Army buddy of Jimi's, on bass. The new band was called the Band of Gypsies.

By various accounts, they sounded pretty tough. The sound was not much different from the Experience; and, yes, they were still working up their repertoire; and there were early complaints about Buddy Miles' lengthy stretches of singing. But when they played Fillmore East, they dazzled everybody, including Bill Graham, who said he thought they had played perhaps the best set he had ever heard in his hall.

Off to a great start – and then, just like that, Hendrix dropped the Band of Gypsies. Or shelved them, anyway.

Now he had a new band to which he was going to devote his principal energies, as his number one thing. He had decided, through his publicity agent, that the time had come to rap about changes he was going through, about his new band, and about anything else that came up.

First, the news: the other two cats in his band are Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, from the original Experience. The Experience is back together again, and everybody's pals, and no hard feelings. Considering the attrition rate among rock and roll bands during the past year, this has approximately the news value of a trial separation between Dick & Liz. But this was the big news Hendrix' press agent was eager to Get Across, so this is what we started on, as Michael Jeffreys, Jimi's manager, brought on wine and booze.

The original plan (as described) was a rap with Hendrix. The actual circumstances brought together half a dozen people to rap in the flicker of a fireplace, on a day when Hendrix seemed just happy to listen to the others.

Then, too, there's the matter of Jimi's own personal terms of communication. To some question – precisely what it was cannot be recalled – Hendrix answered: "Start with a shovel, wind up with a spoon." A beautiful punch line. Does anybody know the joke?

Conversation went slowly at first – throughout, for that matter – and to goose it, I brought up the issue of the Black Panthers. One thing that's been written of Hendrix over recent months is that he's forming closer ties with black militant groups, possibly the Black Panthers . . .

That was about as far as I got before Hendrix laughed aloud. "I heard about that too. In Rolling Stone. Tell me all about it." He opened his eyes wide and grinned.

We thought the reporter who wrote our story had gotten his information straight from Hendrix.

"The thing is," said Mitch Mitchell, in his precise British accent, "we got the White Tigers."

All three of the Experience laughed privately among themselves. It was a private joke.

So it's not true about Jimi and the Panthers?

"No, man," he said. "Listen: Everybody has wars within themselves. We form different things and it comes out to be war against other people and so forth and so on."

Jimi Hendrix does not aim for one color or groups. He digs all colors and all peoples. He wants that known.

Does that mean he doesn't relate personally to the Panthers?

"It isn't that I don't relate to them . . . " he said, and then trailed off in contemplation.

Did he mean he doesn't feel part of what they're doing?

"I naturally feel part of what they're doing. In certain respects. But everybody has their own way of doing things. They get justified as they justify others, in their attempts to get personal freedom. That's all it is."

Hendrix is with them, then?

"Yeah. But not the aggression or violence or whatever you want to call it. I'm not for guerrilla warfare."

Mitchell hunched up his shoulders monkey-like and said, "Gor-illas?"

Hendrix, grinning and looking at the floor: "I got a pet monkey called Charlie Chan." They all fell out laughing, the Panther issue forgotten. Hendrix grabbed his knees, leaning low to gaze at the burning logs.

Otis Redding, according to black business associates, had been planning an all-black recording enterprise. Studios and production and publicity and distribution. The whole thing, from the songwriter to the customer. Otis had been heavily involved in the planning at the time of his death. One of his goals was to bring older stars who'd slipped some back onto the charts. Men like Fats Domino and Chuck Berry and others. But Otis had died and nobody had picked up his plan. Did this sound appealing to Hendrix? He is one of the most likely black musicians to front such an organization, in terms of income and prestige.

Jimi objected to the idea on the grounds that it was restricted to one race. "It's the same thing as being Catholic or something," he began, then dropped it.

When Hendrix had been in court recently in Toronto on a dope bust that had taken place months earlier, he had told the court that he had "outgrown dope." What a perfect thing to say! That's what all the good-guy reformed "dope abusers" who come around lecturing high school kids and women's clubs always say. They saw the light. They saw that dope was wasting their precious talents. They saw that they didn't need dope. They outgrew it. Hendrix told the court he had outgrown dope, and immediately, on the strength of years of brainwashing, they reevaluated him. If he'd outgrown dope – this young fellow with his hair neatly cut, attired in sports jacket and slacks – then he must be a decent chap. Hendrix was acquitted.

Now he sat, crosslegged, in the quiet old splendor of this Manhattan living-room, wearing all the familiar Jimi Hendrix costumery, a v-neck satin shirt of green, monumental wristwatch, jewelled pendant at his neck, violet bell-bottoms and pink boots.

Had this familiar visage turned his head away from dope? Outgrown it?

"At least," laughed Hendrix softly, "stop it from growing."

General mirth, accompanied by side-of-the-mouth muttering among all three of the Experience. More mirth. Laughter. Snickers.

Had he outgrown it?

Long pause, deep look on Jimi's face. "I don't know. I'm too . . . " He has said this seriously. All of a sudden he flashed his little-boy grin. "I'm too . . . wrecked right now . . . " This was Hendrix the comedian. This side of Jimi is the one people love. He does it all with slip-second timing, a shrug, an eye cast downward, a slightly over-accented word. It's the essence of his charm, and figures, in many ways, in the way he makes music. "I'll have to check into it," he added, getting serious again. About dope. "Oh yes, it's true, it's true. I don't take as much. That's what I was trying to tell them."

He didn't know much – nothing, in fact – about John and Yoko's peace festival in Toronto, but said he'd feel comfortable going back up there now, despite the bust. And anyway, he doesn't like to worry about things that happened in the past. "My hangup is getting hung up with things that happened in the past. I try not to."

Life has gotten less hectic for Hendrix during the winter. He'd moved away from the house with all those musicians. "I was trying to save more time for myself," he explained. "Where I could do more writing."

What kind of writing?

"Mostly it's cartoon-type material. I make up this one cat who's funny. He goes through these strange scenes, you know. You put it in music, I guess. Just like you put blues in music."

Was this something like writing long compositions?

"Pieces. I guess that's what you call it. Yeah, like pieces behind each other. Like movements, whatever you call it. I been writing some of those."

It would be simpler for Jimi if he knew how to write music, instead of having to remember it as it comes to him. He's been meaning to learn how to read music for a long time now. He needs it to express the larger concepts he's carrying in his head.

"Yeah. I was into writing cartoons, basically. You listen to it and you get such funny flashbacks." This dialogue comes through a lot better in Jimi's own gauzed and sinewy voice, with all the hesitation and musical jangles that come through in his speech, just like when he sings. "The music goes along with the story. Just like 'Foxy Lady.' I mean, something like that. The music and the words go together."

How does he write his music? What methods does he follow?

"Most of the time I can't get it on the guitar, you know? Most of the time I'm just laying around day-dreaming and hearing all this music. And you can't, if you go to the guitar and try to play it, it spoils the whole thing, you know? – I just can't play guitar that well, to get all this music together."

He repeated his desire to learn to write music for all the different instruments. He's thinking about getting down something big, that's for sure. Some day.

One result of his informal education in music is that most of the Experience's songs have taken shape inside the recording studio. "Foxy Lady" did. Hendrix came in with the lyrics, and among the three of them, they developed the musical line and the bottom and drum parts and the whole structure of it. This partly explained why Hendrix was back with the Experience – because they could really work together that way – despite the rumors of bad, bad feelings within the group. (Noel Redding had said, some while back, that he would never be part of a Hendrix group again. Now that was forgotten. He and Mitchell said there had only been two major fights in the three years of the Experience, and all they came to was a lot of shouting.)

Redding: "Actually, the reason we work everything out in the studio is so everything will get as live and as actual as possible."

Hendrix: "It's like 'Voodoo Child.' Somebody was filming us as we were doing that. It was basically for the filming, we thought. We weren't thinking about what we were playing. We did it like three times."

Mitchell: "There's like a riff and we were just doing that . . . "

Hendrix: "Yeah, right, as they were filming us . . . "

Mitchell: "We were just doing it for the camera."

Hendrix: "It was like. 'Okay, boys, look like you're recording.' It was in the studio and they were recording it, you know, really. So it was one-two-three and then we went into 'Voodoo Child.' "

Hendrix invented the words as he went along, and the whole thing was improvised on the spot. It stuck. That's one of the versions on the album.

If there are any definite plans concerning the release of the next Hendrix LP, nobody was prepared to describe them. Hundreds of hours of studio time have yielded hundreds of hours of music which could possibly be included. On top of that, there are dozens of tapes of live performances by the Experience, by the Band of Gypsies, and by the Experience augmented with Juma and his avant garde ensemble (the latter taken at Woodstock). Hendrix is inclined to think that he would not include stuff by both the Gypsies and the Experience on the same LP. His immediate thought seems focused on two different singles. One would be by the Gypsies, entitled "Sky Blues Today."

The LP, however, will not consist of individual tracks like singles, but will be one continuous, sustained work. All three, Redding, Mitchell and Hendrix, absolutely do not want singles released "out of context" from the LP, the way "Crosstown Traffic" was pulled out of Electric Ladyland for release. They all feel this was a mistake on Reprise's part. A musical mistake; its sales are beside the point.

For the new album, they're planning on releasing a sort of "introductory" single, which might have one of the album's songs for its basic line, plus references to a lot of other things on the larger work. They're working, as usual, with engineer Eddie Kramer and longtime Hendrix associate Chas. Chandler as producer.

On Electric Ladyland, Hendrix was listed as producer. What did that mean, exactly? What had his role been?

"I don't know, really," Hendrix said, quite directly. "I haven't found out yet. 'Cause I heard it, and I think it's cloudy. The sound is very, you know, dusty."

Then that hazy, cloudy sound was unintentional?

"It got lost," he explained briefly, "in the cutting. Because we went on tour right before it was finished."

It was reported that Hendrix had been rehearsing the Band of Gypsies up to 18 hours a day. He laughed when asked about this. They did play 12 and 14 hours some days, he admitted, but it wasn't rehearsal, it was jamming for fun. They were grooving behind it. He still digs playing with Cox and Miles, and they're still friends. Hendrix repeated this a number of times.

What had happened to the Gypsies was that Hendrix had walked offstage, right at the start of a major appearance, and hadn't appeared with them since. This was at the January Moratorium benefit at Madison Square Garden. They had barely begun when he stopped, dropped his axe, said into the microphone, "We're not quite getting it together," and walked off. This was precisely one month after Bill Graham had given them his ultimate accolade. I asked Jimi what had happened to blow the Gypsies apart.

"Maybe," he began, "I just started noticing the guitar for a change. It's like the end of a beginning maybe or something. I figure that Madison Square Garden is like the end of a big long fairy tale. Which is great. I think it's like the best ending I could possibly have come up with.

"The Band of Gypsies was outasite as far as I'm concerned. It was just . . . going through head changes is what it was, I really couldn't tell – I don't know: I was very tired. You know, sometimes there's a lot of things that add up in your head about this and that and they might hit you at a very peculiar time, which happened to be at the peace rally, you know? And here I'd been fighting the biggest war I ever fought. In my life. Inside, you know? And like that wasn't the place to do it."

But anyway, what came of it is that the Experience was going to be his main concern.

"We're in the process of, you know, getting our own thing together now again. Like we'll have time scheduled in a way so there'll be time on the side to play with your friends. That's why like I'll be jamming with Billy and Buddy and probably recording, too, on the side."

Would there be any new musical direction for the re-constituted Experience?

"Well," Hendrix grinned at Mitchell and Redding, "I'll try to make it more of an up." They all nodded. "We're going to go out somewhere into the hills and woodshed or whatever you call it, to get some new songs and arrangements and stuff together. So we'll have something new to offer, whether it's different or not."

Their first gig will be in mid-April at the Forum in Los Angeles. In mid-March they'll sequester themselves somewhere in England for that one-month workout.

Precisely how Hendrix and his management managed to patch up the bad feelings that reportedly undid the Experience in the first place was not mine to discover. But Mitchell and Redding said they were quite happy with the new schedule, which allows them time for themselves and their own projects. Redding is presently completing his second LP with Fat Mattress and may record further with them. But he'll not take them on the road again. At present, Mitchell is touring with Jack Bruce, Larry Coryell, and Mike Kandel, a sort of super-jam band. He'll do a lot of this playing in the future.

Mitchell was talking about other musicians he digs. He is particularly captivated by Tony Williams' drumming because it's so entirely original to Williams.

But when you ask the Experience about their influences, they're all quick to say they got where they are without picking up much from anybody. They grant major similarities between the way avant garde jazzmen like Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler play and the sound of the Experience in full flight. To Jimi, it has a lot to do with the drumming. "That's where it all comes from, is the drumming," he says.

Mitchell: "Actually, in this group, the drummer and the bass player's roles are very much reversed. Because Noel is like such a good timekeeper that I don't have to be there with the drums. The bass and drum roles can be switched around at any particular time, at any particular moment."

Again, the undeniable parallel with contemporary jazz.

It's revealing to hear Hendrix talk about jamming in London last year with Roland Kirk, jazz's amazing blind multihorn player. Jimi was in awe of Roland, afraid that he would play something that would get in Roland's way. You can tell, by the way he speaks of Kirk, that Hendrix regards him as some kind of Master Musician. As it worked out, Jimi played what he normally plays, Roland played what he normally plays, and they fit like hand in glove. As Hendrix tells it. "Boy – that Roland Kirk!" says Jimi, pursing his lips. It is a fond memory.

A fond hope for Hendrix is that one day he'll form a band with Steve Winwood. Simplest might be for Winwood to join the Experience. But any way at all, Hendrix would love to be performing with him on a regular basis.

Interestingly, while Hendrix retains his fondness for Dylan – including Nashville Skyline, from which Jimi intends to record "that one about the drifter" – none of the Experience are especially admiring of the Band. Hendrix allowed as how the Band definitely have it together enough to take you on their trip, if that's where you want to go. Mitch Mitchell asked with a small smile if the Band didn't all have pipes and mustaches.

Afterward, Hendrix stood out on East 37th, shivering as the night and the ice descended. The chill air had picked him up. This was not like part of the formal interview trip, so he could just rap. He had been amazed to see the stuff written about him and the Panthers, he said, because that wasn't where he was at at all.

A younger black cat stepped up and said, "Hiya, Jimi!"

Hendrix shook his hand and said, "How are you, man?"

It was not certain whether this was an acquaintance of Jimi,'s, but the other cat plunged right into it. "I saw your picture in the Voice, man," he said. "With Devon."

"At the Moratorium." said Hendrix.

"That was far-out."

"Yeah." said Hendrix. His long black limousine pulled up to the curb.

"How's it going with the band, man?"

"That's what we were just talking about. It's going to be groovy."

"You got any records coming out soon?"

"Yeah, I think pretty soon. That's where we're going now. Gonna listen to some tapes and do some mixing."

"Far-out."

He gave Hendrix another handshake and a slap alongside the shoulder and told him that the next time he played the city, man, he'd be there, and he'd dig talking again. Then he turned and walked down the sidewalk puffing great clouds of breath/steam into the darkening five-degree air.

Hendrix smiled wistfully, dropped the last reassurance that it was going to be "the best arrangement for all of us, I guess, you know?" The comeback of the Experience.

Another smile, another handshake, and he disappeared into the limousine, behind the steamed-over car windows. The limousine expelled a huge cloud of exhaust. No one was willing to let the long car break into traffic, and it was still waiting to get away from the curb, in the same place, when I turned the corner, walking.

*     *     *

Two and half weeks later, I received a phone call from Hendrix' publicity person, suggesting that Jimi had a lot more to say. Too late, too late. The story as written was already laid out in the newspaper. But was there any important news? Well, yes, there was. As it turned out, Noel Redding decided to take a tour with Jeff Beck, so Hendrix would be using Billy Cox – his bassist with the Band of Gypsies – in his place. Otherwise, everything was pretty much the same. Redding would likely return to the group later. So it was still actually the Experience, and could I adjust the story I'd written accordingly?

This story is from the March 19th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 54: March 19, 1970