Rock bottom, for Hendrix, came on January 28th, 1970, in a disastrous appearance with Band of Gypsys at Madison Square Garden. They went on at 3 a.m., stumbled through two songs and left. Hendrix immediately broke up the group.
"He was in a bad mood when Buddy and I walked into the dressing room," Cox says. According to some accounts, Hendrix took too much acid or got spiked by someone else. Cox's version: "Michael Jeffrey was sitting next to him, and they had some confrontation prior to us arriving." A week later, Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding were interviewed for a Rolling Stone story announcing the reunion of the Experience. They broke up again before the issue was printed.
It was easy to see why, in the story as it appeared in March 1970: Hendrix sounded desperate, even defeated. "Most of the time I can't get it on the guitar, you know?" he said about songwriting. "Most of the time I'm just laying around daydreaming and hearing all this music ... If you go to the guitar and try to play it, it spoils the whole thing ... I just can't play the guitar that well, to get all this music together."
But he was a reborn man that summer at Electric Lady. "He was thrilled to have a place where his gear was set up, ready to go when he walked in," says Kramer. At the console, "Jimi always had a large legal pad with him. He would sketch things out, where they were supposed to go." In Studio A, with Cox and Mitchell, "if we hit a brick wall, Jimi would already have another song in mind. He would start playing the riff, and Billy and Mitch would be right with him, knowing where he was going."
On August 14th, 1970, at Electric Lady, Hendrix wrote a memo headlined "Songs for the LP Straight Ahead" – one of a couple of provisional titles for his next album – and listed 24 songs, including "Ezy Ryder," the racing identity crisis "Room Full of Mirrors," the waterfall-guitar ballad "Angel" and a version of "Valleys of Neptune." At one point, he made another list; the double LP became a triple album, People, Hell and Angels.
On August 22nd, Hendrix and Kramer prepared a different running order – a double album again – with the survivor's blues "In From the Storm" and the new-morning hymn "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)." Hendrix also recorded a new song, "Belly Button Window," a playful boogie with vocal, guitar and overdubbed wah-wah. It was the last song he ever recorded, inspired by the baby growing inside Mitchell's pregnant wife, Lynn.
In London for that last European tour, Hendrix talked about his latest music, in the Melody Maker interview, like it was ready for the world, with an assurance that the world would be different afterward: "The term 'blowing someone's mind' is valid ... But we are going to give them something that will blow their mind, and while it's blown, there will be something to fill the gap. It's going to be a complete form of music."
Hendrix was back in London after the European shows when he called Kramer in New York. "We had mixed four songs for the new record," Kramer says. "The album was almost complete. He wanted me to bring the tapes to London. I said, 'We're in the middle of stuff here. We've just built this studio.' He said, 'Yeah, I know. Don't worry about it. I'll see you in a week.'
"That was the last thing I heard from him."
This story is from the April 1st, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.
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