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Jimi Hendrix Busted in Toronto

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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.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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