Monterey was where Jimi introduced his guitar-burning bit, and by now he was finding it necessary to explain: "At the Monterey Festival, I decided to destroy my guitar at the end of the song. It was a painted guitar. I'd just finished painting it that day and was really into it. I had my little bag on stage. I had my rawhide bag on stage, carried everything in it including kerosene for my lighter which was given to me by Chas at Christmas. I destroyed my guitar again in Washington, D.C. It was accidental.
"I think of people who say that setting your guitar on fire has nothing to do with the music as cellophane, bags and bags of cellophane. Of cellophane but in bags of cellophane. Have you ever thought of lighting cellophane on fire? There's no need to."
The British pop magazine Disc voted him Musician of the Year for 1967, as did the pop newspaper Melody Maker. In 1968 – by which time each of his first three albums were gold – he was named Performer of the Year by Rolling Stone.
When Jimi made his triumphant return to Seattle early in 1968, he received a key to the city and an honorary diploma from Garfield High. His father was floored when he saw Jimi in purple velvet cape and rainbow shirt. Not only did the elder Hendrix not realize how big a star Jimi had become, but he remembered his son as a conservative dresser with a subdued, reserved personality.
But if Hendrix was a brash dresser, if his stage act was pure mayhem, he also had a distinct ambivalence toward being a rock and roll star. Onstage, he was what every mother feared when she expressed doubts about rock and roll's effect on her daughter. Offstage, he remained the same quiet, boyish, seemingly vulnerable Jimi Hendrix as always.
The ambivalence became more noticeable in 1969, his most unproductive year. Hendrix became more uncommunicative, more withdrawn, and the Experience broke up. Noel Redding had his own group, Fat Mattress, and Jimi was saying little to anyone.
In May, he was up for his first, and only, dope bust. It came as he was crossing the border into Canada; the charge was possession of heroin and hashish. Hendrix claimed he didn't know what was in the bag, that a fan had given it to him a few days earlier, and he had packed it without looking to see what it was.
At his trial last December, he said he had tried just about everything from grass to cocaine – but never heroin – a few times, and that he had "outgrown" dope of any kind. The trial lasted three days, and the jury found him innocent of both charges.
Still, through most of last summer, he kept himself out of the public eye. Billy Cox, an old Army buddy, was announced as his new bass player, and Mitchell stayed on. Jimi spent most of the summer with an "electric family" of musicians – everyone from old bluesmen to avant garde classical composers – in upstate New York. He questioned whether he was taken seriously by other musicians. He said the new "family" was going to do what he called, for lack of a better term, "sky church music" and that the group would have other singers and songwriters.
"I don't want to be a clown anymore," Jimi told one interviewer. "I don't want to be a rock and roll star."
But the musical family didn't work out, and when Hendrix surfaced again, it was New Year's Eve at the Fillmore East and he was playing with Cox and old friend Buddy Miles on drums. This was A Band of Gypsys. Bill Graham danced in the stage wings during their set, then personally went up to the dressing room to tell Hendrix it was the best music he'd ever heard in his hall.
Although all but the Curtis Knight albums were on Warner-Reprise, Jimi still owed Capitol one album through an old contract deal. He gave them the Band of Gypsys album, although in later interviews he revealed he wasn't completely satisfied with the performance because his guitar was out of tune. Stylistically, the music was close to the "Purple Haze" days, and Hendrix had merely stood on stage and casually played his guitar, with none of the old gyrations.
Just a couple weeks later, at the Moratorium concert in Madison Square Garden, he put down his guitar in the middle of the second song, said "We're not quite getting it together," and walked off the stage. He was depressed about the new group. The music just wasn't right, and soon he was back with the original Experience.
In an interview given at that time, Jimi explained what had happened to the Gypsys: "Maybe 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 Gypsys 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 a 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."
Supposedly, things were to be better than ever with the Experience together again, but that didn't turn out to be true. Relationships between the three weren't entirely patched up, and for the rest of this year he played with Mitchell and either Cox or Redding.
One of the last interviews Jimi Hendrix gave was to Melody Maker, the British pop newspaper, around the time of the Isle of Wight. Jimi told reporter Roy Hollingworth about his fear that Europeans didn't regard him as they used to.
"While I was doing my vanishing act in the States I got this feeling that I was completely blown out of England. I thought they had forgotten me over here. I'd given them everything I'd got, I thought maybe they didn't want me anymore, because they had a nice set of bands. Maybe they were saying, oh, we've had Hendrix, yeah, he was okay. I really thought I was completely through here," he said.
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