Jimi Hendrix Busted in Toronto

Near the end of his US and Canada tour, Hendrix faces drug possession and possible trafficking, border transporting charges

jimi hendrix rolling stone cover
Franz Maier
Jimi Hendrix on the cover of Rolling Stone.
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TORONTO — Jimi Hendrix is now experienced, in the worst way. He was busted May 3rd at Toronto International Airport for allegedly "illegally possessing narcotics."

The bust, made by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, reportedly uncovered several ounces of a chemical substance in a flight bag being carried by Hendrix.

One Toronto radio station (CFRB) reported that the chemical was in fact heroin – but even the Mounties do not yet make that claim. At last report, their laboratory was still at work analyzing the alleged stash.

The singer/guitarist, now in the fifth week of a two-month concert tour of the US and Canada with his Jimi Hendrix Experience, would say nothing to the press beyond "no comment. I'm innocent and my lawyers will prove it."

Hendrix and his troupe – drummer Mitch Mitchell, guitarist Noel Redding, and five other men – were going through the customs check when an inspector found six small packages inside a glass bottle at the top of Hendrix' bag.

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According to sources at the scene, the Mounties – who were waiting for Hendrix to step off his plane from Detroit – were at first unable to make any positive identification of the substance; nevertheless, they kept the stunned Hendrix detained while they called a mobile police laboratory unit to the airport. After a delay of nearly four hours (the bust took place around 1:30 P.M.) the Mounties took him downtown to police headquarters. Hendrix was finally released on $10,000 bail posted by a Toronto attorney.

At his arraignment before Magistrate Fred Hayes two days later, a June 19 date was set for a preliminary hearing. Youthful Hendrix admirers filled the staid old courtroom as Hendrix entered wearing a pink shirt open to the waist, an Apache-style headband, a multi-colored scarf around his neck, and beads. His manner was dead serious. When the magistrate called his name – James Marshall Hendrix of New York – he rose and leveled a venomous look at the bench, his lips slightly pursed, which said, without need for words, fuck off.

There was no demand for a guilty/not guilty plea. A few words were exchanged, the hearing date set, and in three minutes, Hendrix was on his way out the door.

He is continuing his tour. Hendrix went directly from police headquarters to the Maple Leaf Gardens to appear before a full house of 12,000 in this Lake Ontario port city – just after the bust and questioning.

He walked onstage and said: "I want you to forget what happened yesterday and tomorrow and today. Tonight we're going to create a whole new world." This may be part of his usual rap, but the arrest gave it special impact. Unfortunately – understandably – however, it was not one of Hendrix' best evenings.

He played well, but it never quite got off the ground. The effect was rather like watching a bullfighter who's so good that no bull really challenges him, and therefore there is no danger, and therefore no suspense. Hendrix was just too cool.

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The next night, in concert at Syracuse, New York, Hendrix improvised a verse or two of new lyrics for a new song. The words came out something like " . . . and I was in this room/full of light and a thousand mirrors . . . "

Those hours of interrogation by the Mounties had apparently taken their toll.

His June hearing date will also allow him to appear, as scheduled, at a Vancouver, B.C., concert on May 22nd. The Jimi Hendrix Experience is also slated for performances at the Northern California Folk Rock Festival in Santa Clara, Calif., on May 24-25th, and a stop in Hawaii before he returns to fight the dope charge.

Hendrix is being represented by the Toronto lawyer as well as by his own attorney, Steve Weiss. There is talk that the defense – logically – will claim Hendrix to be the victim of a plant.

Louis Goldblatt, who operates Celebrity Limousine Service and drove Hendrix around Toronto during his stay, says the singer was obviously surprised when customs inspectors found the purported stash. He describes how Hendrix stepped back, leaned against the railing and shook his head in amazement as if he couldn't believe it. Goldblatt naturally enough will not divulge conversations that took place later as he chauffered Hendrix around, but does recount that Hendrix' attitude was holy jesus, how did this happen?

"He was," in Goldblatt's words, "genuinely dumbfounded by the whole affair."

Goldblatt met Hendrix just as he deplaned, and he witnessed the entire incident. He – and other observers – note that the Royal Canadian Mounties behaved unusually throughout. For one thing, the Mounties (who wear regular blue police uniforms these days, incidentally, and are the chief enforcers of narcotics laws in Canada) customarily do not wait at the airport to make dope busts, as they did in Hendrix' case.

Another item is that all the inquiry and searching at the airport was done right out in the open at the customs gate. The more usual procedure is for officers and those being detained to retire from public view, in respect for the privacy of the accused. But Hendrix and company were forced to stand for hours under the gaze of scores of onlookers at the cake-shaped airport building – rent-a-car girls, cigar stand operators, porters, cab drivers and travelers – while the feds poked through their belongings.

The whole business seemed a bit too pat to Goldblatt, who's seen many (similar) cases. "You should see some of the things that have been left behind in my car for pop people," Goldblatt says. "It's really incredible."

This is most often done as a token of love, but sometimes for spite. And if somebody was out to "get" Hendrix by laying a surprise stash on him – in his suitcase, more precisely, then phoning ahead to tip off the Mounties – there was plenty of time that this might have been accomplished, from the time he left off the suitcase at Detroit to when it arrived back in his hands at Toronto.

Whatever the case, the Mounties do not typically lie in wait at the airport, ready to pounce. Toronto authorities have been getting tough on the free-living hippie community of Yorkeville, more or less Toronto's version of the Haight-Ashbury, in recent months, and there is the possibility that Hendrix may have been caught in the squeeze.

The populace of Toronto are a very conservative lot, and tend to look with suspicion upon anybody who looks and dresses a little different from themselves. Hendrix looks a lot different. Make an example of this freaky, frizzy-haired psychedelic spade (if you go by this reasoning) and maybe you can scare the freaks out of Yorkeville.

The 26-year-old Hendrix has no previous police record and his traveled extensively on concert tours in recent years throughout Europe, Canada, and the U.S. without incident.

He was named Performer of the Year by this publication for "creativity, electricity and balls above and beyond the call of duty" in 1968. His Electric Ladyland was named American and British Rock and Roll Album of the Year, as well. He was chosen Best Performer because: "Blues players, jazz players, rock players – all were agreed that Hendrix' improvizations transcended category and constituted music as imaginative and alive as rock and roll has known. Jimi, more than any other player, has extended the voice of amplified guitar to an incredible new range of emotive sounds."

With Hendrix at the airport, besides Redding and Mitchell, were Jerry Stickles, tour manager; Arthur Johnson, New York-based accountant; Abe Jacob, San Francisco sound engineer; Ron Terry and Red Ruffino, promoters, and Burt McCann, merchandiser of concert programs.

If the substance in question does turn out to be heroin and Hendrix is found guilty, it's a mandatory jail sentence with possibility of getting off by paying a fine or getting a suspended sentence. In Canada, the minimum dope stretch is a year's suspended sentence – and this for possession of grass. Dealing grass or holding anything stronger is punishable by at least a few months in the slammer.

There is the added possibility that by the time of Hendrix' June 19th hearing, the Canadian feds will have tacked charges of trafficking and transporting across the border onto the possession rap. And if he's convicted on all three of these charges, the penalties could be that much stiffer.

The best guess is that a conviction would put Hendrix behind bars for from two to seven years. Canadian courts don't screw around. A dealer was convicted of bringing $250,000 worth of grass in from Africa just the week before Hendrix was busted, and sentenced to 14 years.

In the face of this kind of justice, the likelihood that Hendrix would lose his right to travel outside the United States would be an incidental consideration.

The only light note in any of this has to do with the head of the judge who will hear Hendrix' case. It will be topped by an English-style 17th-century powdered wig.

This story is from the May 31st, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 34: May 31, 1969
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