I‘d like to introduce a very good friend, a fellow countryman of yours,” said Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival on the California coast. “He’s the most exciting performer I’ve ever heard – the Jimi Hendrix Experience.” Hendrix needed the big intro. Despite success in England – where Are You Experienced? was a big hit – he was unknown in his native America.
He took the stage in a gypsy vest, a headband and a blazing-orange ruffled shirt, and launched into torrid renditions of “Killing Floor” and “Foxy Lady.” Possibly feeling the two hits of purple acid he had taken earlier in the day, Hendrix babbled nervously to the crowd as he played the intro to the next song. “I’d like to dedicate this next song to anyone with any kind a hearts and ears. . . . Right now we’d like to do a little thing by Bob Dylan.” A crashing, bluesy cover of “Like a Rolling Stone” came next, and the crowd belonged to him.
“The Who and Jimi had the loudest amps I’d ever been close to,” said Monterey Pop documentarian D.A. Pennebaker. “I was in a state of shock – I was getting brain damage.” To one-up the Who, who had already smashed their equipment during “My Generation,” Hendrix pulled out all the stops. He plucked strings with his teeth, and, during the closing “Wild Thing,” humped the amps and ejaculated lighter fluid all over his guitar, which he then set ablaze. “I decided to destroy my guitar at the end of the song – I’d just finished painting it that day,” Hendrix said.
Otis Redding also had a breakout performance at Monterey. A soul singer from Georgia who had found success mostly on the chitlin circuit, “Redding had never really played before anything other than a black audience [in the U.S.],” says director John Landis, who was in the crowd. Redding’s intensely yearning ballad “Try a Little Tenderness” and rockers such as the Stones’ “Satisfaction” electrified the audience. “Otis blew the whole place apart,” said former Capitol Records president Joe Smith. “When you talk about the one moment when everybody leapt up, it was Otis Redding.”
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Years later, when Landis directed The Blues Brothers, he worked with Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, who were in Redding’s band. “I kept telling them it was so exciting to see Otis,” says Landis. “They said, “You thought it was exciting? You should’ve been onstage.'”
This story is from the June 24th, 2004 issue of Rolling Stone.