Despite Jimi Hendrix's
groundbreaking appearances with A
Band Of Gypsys on New Year's Eve 1969/70, a die was
already cast within some journalistic circles: 1970 was to be the year
when it would become fashionable to think of Jimi
as on the skids, over the hill, and burnt out. With hindsight, it
should've been expected.
As a centerpiece of egalitarian
hippie culture, Jimi invoked the wrath of many brothers and sisters
when word spread in 1969 that he was earning record-breaking pay for
his gigs. Then the break-up of the Experience left him even more
vulnerable. No matter what he did, surely nothing
could measure up to the novel excitement of the original Experience, or
so it seemed.
Hendrix concert grossed around $35,000 of YOUR bread!...who's the
villian here? That's right kiddies, our HEROES are screwing us!...The
worst of it is yet to come, Love Brothers. At the upcoming Newport Pop
Festival [June 1969], the Doors are getting $75,000 for Morrison to get
his rocks off, and Hendrix is getting ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!
I've declared all-out war on these hypocrites...they are taking
advantage of the fact we dig their music...Hendrix and others have
copped-out to the American standard of happiness and success...when he
starts shitting on the people that helped him get to the mythical 'top'
I have to open fire."
Diego Door - June 5, 1969
In a review of 1969, Rolling Stone
gave Jimi the "No News Is Big News" award, reporting, "Jimi Hendrix had
a big year. A pretty neat trick for a musician who made no music." Did
it matter that 1969 kicked of with an outrageous Hendrix appearance on
BBC-TV, followed by a 25-city tour of Europe? Or that two sold-out
shows were filmed in London's Albert Hall in February? In March, Jimi
appeared with Delaney & Bonnie for a benefit gig at the
Palladium in L.A., and in April the JHE began a 10-week record-breaking
tour of America. In June, the Smash Hits LP came
out and went gold. Then, in July, Jimi did The Tonight Show
and The Dick Cavett Show. Woodstock followed in
August. In September his new band played a Harlem benefit festival,
returned to The Dick Cavett Show, and showcased at
the Salvation Club in New York.
During 1969, Jimi wrote and recorded more than a
dozen new songs. In the autumn, he put together A
Band Of Gypsys. Still, all this was just "no news"
to rock journalists primed to push the Golden Calf off his pedestal.
A Band Of Gypsys was their
first target. A typical review of Jimi's new sound concluded, "One is
left with the lingering feeling that he has failed to grow…" Then Rolling
Stone proclaimed that most of the new songs "sounded like Purple
To Love - Band Of Gypsys
New Year 1969-1970
by far the best version of this song - studio or live
Melody Maker chimed in by
describing the Gypsys' futuristic funk as "old
fashioned" (!!) before urging Jimi to "find himself and take a more
active role in the business of rock than he has since the days of the
These views aren't mere critical hallucinations.
They give us a sense of what Hendrix was up against. But what still
gets under the skin of Billy Cox, the bassist for A Band Of Gypsys, are
accusations that Jimi "finally succumbed to the pressure to form an
all-black band." (Let It Rock). Describing the real
pressure his friend was under, Cox says, "Jimi had a financial problem,
so A Band Of Gypsys got together to help bail him
Then, fanning the flames of his detractors, Jimi
walked off the stage at his first major appearance of the new decade.
Johnny Winter said of this January 1970 Madison Square Garden set, "He
just couldn't play. When I saw him, it gave me the chills. It was the
most horrible thing I'd ever seen...it was like he was already
dead...It was just completely uninspired... he just took his guitar
off, sat on the stage and told the audience, 'I'm sorry, we just can't
get it together.' One of his people said he was sick, and led him
off...It didn't have anything to do with the group - he had already
Ten other acts shared the bill before a sold-out
house that night. The occasion was a benefit concert for the Vietnam
Moratorium Committee. After several months of sponsoring nationwide
rallies, a benefit "peace festival" was staged to
raise funds for a $50,000 Moratorium
Committee deficit. During the preceding
year, nearly 10,000 American soldiers had
died in Vietnam. The root of the
Moratorium was a bummer, and Jimi
played the soundtrack. Even his "illness"
fit the occasion. A recording proves the
music isn't "bad"; for most of his quick set Jimi is very low key, a
subdued mood befitting a really somber occasion, when you think about
U. Philadelphia, May 1970
But this isolated incident aside, the
notion that Hendrix had "already died"
during his last year is common in dozens
of articles, and even Hendrix biographies.
Shortly after Jimi's real death, Steve
Miller told Record Mirror, "I played a
show with Hendrix at Temple University
in Philadelphia, and at that time the cat's
scene was so far gone that he walked by
me and smelled like he was dying...his
band couldn't play...I'm sorry that the
audience encourages people to burn
themselves up and I'm sorry that he
didn't have any more sense than he had,
'cause he was dead a long time ago."
with Feather in Headband
Years after I read this, I found a
recording of Jimi's Philadelphia (5/16/70)
set. Even on hand-held-recorder cassettes, his riffs sizzle
fingers slithering atop the strings.
Philadelphia freaks whimper and scream.
An 8mm film reveals Jimi's star-spangled
outfit. He's playing for the Temple
University audience on the day following
an ambush of students at Jackson State,
on the heels of Ohio's Kent State
massacre. With a pink feather propped in his
headband, Jimi looks like Geronimo on
the warpath. A scathing-mayhem
Machine Gun riles Temple U. radicals.
Pushing leads to insane extremes, the
amps expel torrents and howls. Abruptly
the tumult shuts down, catching the
freaked-out crowd unaware. A full 10
seconds pass before their blown heads
regain enough breath to cheer.
The Temple film also shows Miller's opening
set. His left-hand Strat is upside-down
and re-strung for right-handed
playing - the signature Hendrix outline in
reverse. Jimi may have been "dead a
long time ago" to Miller, but to all the collectors I know, Temple
music is considered superb.
at Temple Stadium
B. Goode at Temple Stadium
Falling from grace is the only direction
left for stars at the top, especially after a
supernova like the one Jimi laid on rock.
But critic impatience with Hendrix should
have been a mere breather from the
hype, something to make his next great
disc seem like a dramatic rebound
(which The Cry of Love LP would have
been). Instead, Jimi died while they were
still gearing up for pot-shots. With his
death in September 1970, assertions
that he'd passed his peak suddenly petrified to a standard postmortem
The irony is that, musically, Jimi was only
Hendrix '70 catatonia tales
credibility through articles by Chris Welch,
the British author of the first Hendrix biography. Writing for Sunday
Mirror not long after Jimi's death, Welch,
who was privy to the early JHE showcase
gigs in London, claimed that Jimi's "great
years were 1966 and 1967, yet all the
promise seemed to fade between those
dates - after a couple of unique albums and
some extraordinary tours..."
The "burn-out" die was cast when
Hendrix: A Biography came out in 1972.
In this first book-length account of Jimi's
life, Welch recalls; "The great days of the
JHE were already over in a matter of
months. From then on, whenever I saw
them, a steady decline had set in...Those
first gigs in the London discos were tight,
explosive and fresh. Later, the band
became ragged, loose and aimless."
Welch then asks, "What went
wrong?" His answer is that Jimi "had
long grown beyond the showmanship of
1967. The sorry truth was that he had
nothing to replace it onstage...most of
his latter concerts proved anti-climactic...As soon as the nightly
to pale, that's when the band began to
fall apart. And the rest of Jimi's years in
England and in the States were spent
searching for an alternative...In the process of shaking down his old
seemed bereft of ideas."
CA - May "1970"
Rolling Stone picked up the
an article titled, "Later Hendrix - Only
For The Faithful." Jimi is described at his
last British gig as a "broken man, barely
going through the motions," while the
music "reveals the dishearteningly desultory level to which his playing
then descended." We were told that the
Film About Jimi Hendrix soundtrack
discs "document Hendrix's personal
degradation...as he neared the end."
Melody Maker agreed that "Jimi
Hendrix's career had declined - both
artistically and commercially - by 1970."
Rock magazine concurred: "In the year
before his death...stories ran that Jimi
had burned himself out, exhausted his
creativity and - in short - was on the skids
when he finally checked out...the abundance of mediocre live
credence to the stories that he had
indeed shot his load..."
Even Guitar (UK) magazine said
after Electric Ladyland, Jimi's "imagination
seems to be on the wane...If complaints
could be made about Jimi's later style, he
could easily be charged with repetition. If
you've heard one of these solos, you really have effectively heard them
axe fell with a curt "two thirds of his later
playing is unworthy of hearing."
Foul seeds were sown and monsters
were grown. Thus, when Jerry Hopkins
sat down to write his 1982 Hendrix bio, he
simply lined up Jimi's best-known 1970
gigs for target practice. Removing 99 percent of the insights
from a favorable review of Los Angeles (4/25/70),
Hopkins chose one negative line: "More a
personality than a musician," and cites
another review calling the gig "deadly
dull." We're also told, "Jimi looked and
sounded very bored" for his Berkeley
(5/30/70) film, and a promoter is quoted
as saying of New York Pop (7/17/70),
"(Jimi) was consuming drugs nonstop...I
remember (his manager) saying, 'Put him
on or he won't make it!'" Likewise, Maui
(7/30/70) "was horrible, and the audio
was worse," and following the opening
number at the Isle of Wight (8/30/70), "It
was all downhill after that."
Lady - New York Pop - July 17, 1970
By the mid-1980s, the truth about
Jimi's last year of concerts seemed like a
long-lost cause. Finally, Ted Nugent
informed us that "by late 1968...he had
lost touch with his instrument. I know a
lot of people will scream, but it's true,
chumps. He came out and did a caricature of Jimi Hendrix."
The issue is summed up thusly in
Superstars: "Had Jimi Hendrix died two
years earlier he would have gone down
as the greatest star in the rock 'n' roll
galaxy...in 1970 people were saying that
Jimi was over the hill, and he never got a
chance to prove them wrong...Jimi spent two years spoiling the picture
and then broke the frame."
A generation has passed and the
haze has cleared. At last we wake up
and smell the bottled water. Jimi had the
chance to "prove them wrong," and he
did. Slowly, over the past quarter
century, like fragments from a deep-sea
wreck, one-by-one, recordings of
Hendrix concerts have surfaced and circulated. To date, over 120 (out
of a total
of 527 shows) are represented on tape.
This audio-evidence of nearly a quarter of
Jimi's total concert music speaks for
itself and certainly does "prove them
wrong" on the issue of Hendrix '70.
A surprising level of misinformation
about Jimi's 1970 activities was reported
in the decade following his death. For
example, a 1974 article in Let It Rock
told us that after the New Year's '70
Band Of Gypsys concerts, Jimi was
"clearly lost and in need of help...he
wasn't even into jamming anymore...He
did a few sporadic North American
Even though his Band Of Gypsys
went to No. 5 in Billboard charts in June 1970, and
in the charts for 61 weeks, Circus printed
that "he disappeared for two years, as far
as the public was concerned." A month
later, Rock magazine added, "In the year
before his death, he seldom played concerts." As late as 1978, Gone
Forgotten drove home the point, "Jimi
started to make fewer and fewer appearances. He died of an overdose
(incorrect) on Sept. 18, 1970."
Gun - from Band of Gypsys
The fact is, prior to Jimi's death in
September, he performed no less than
40 concerts in 1970, five of them were big outdoor festivals.
Fortunately, 30 of these "unknown
shows" are preserved on tape, most of
which are cassettes from portable recorders held by audience members.
In the summer of '70, "bootleg"
albums cut from home-made recordings
were still a brand new way to hear your
favorite artist. Bootlegs of Dylan,
Zeppelin and Tull are the first that I
remember seeing. Then in July, the first
bootlegged Hendrix concert appeared. It
was from the April 25, 1970 Los Angeles Forum