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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
Jimi Hendrix on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Franz Maier

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.

Photos: Jimi Hendrix Through the Years

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.

The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Jimi Hendrix

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.

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