HENDRIX '70: Clearing the Haze by Michael Fairchild

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From the two-month period of April 25 to June 27, thirteen tapes remain as proof that many of Jimi's most satisfying gigs happened in the spring of 1970. A superhuman thread of energy binds these recordings together. The trials and errors of forging a new artform seemed overcome. These spring of '70 sets were all high-energy and smooth-sailing.

Oklahoma U. the week of Kent State

Certainly loads of inspiration came from the fabulous Mitchell/Cox rhythm section. Jimi's ball-and-chain hassles with Noel were gone. He now soared with the first road band to share his views. In the spring of '70, they soothed savage crowds ravaged by Nixon's wartime draft. May was the month of Vietnam escalation, Kent State massacres, Jackson State executions, hard-hat revolts and student bombings. This was the season of near-Civil War hysteria, when America reached its lowest ebb of divisiveness. Woodstock was a hit film featuring Jimi's Star Spangled Banner, while the national nightmare was acute. His Band Of Gypsys LP was new and racing into the Top-5, with that album's surrealistic anti-war performance of Machine Gun included. It felt comforting to get zapped with electroshock Hendrix-therapy. The best example of how the music synched with the mood of the day comes from an Oklahoma University (5/8/70) tape, where the mother of all Machine Gun blasts is dedicated to the Kent State slain.

AUDIO: Machine Gun at Norman
(12:16 .mp3 file 11.2 MB)

Jimi Hendrix and his experience floated into Oklahoma last Friday for two concerts in the old Hugh Fieldhouse. It was the first time they've come to Oklahoma, and they quickly made their presence known…Jimi was very relaxed during his first show not straining himself in any way but still giving the audience the seductive moves at which Jimi is the best between shows Jimi in the experience relaxed at a local apartment. He prepared himself for his second appearance, a show which proved to be the best in this part of the country in many a month. Here arrived back at the Fieldhouse to be greeted by a crowd of well over its 5500 capacity. He walked on stage with the air of a little boy ready to do something naughty, which he proceeded to do, singing his first song fire, which sparked the audience right off the bat. Jimi in the experience sounded much tighter than they had during the first show. What was impressive about the second show where their jams. Jimi and the experience are one of a very few groups that have mastered this art. It is really a joy to hear Jimi take a single note on his guitar and glide all around it and then move to a different note, and then relate the entire sound… the sound they laid down is one of the best in rock music. Jimi certainly deserves to be included in the triad of rock guitarists Clapton back and Jimi, who are considered to be the best in the business. But he has his own unique style that makes him stand out. The show was highlighted by Jimi's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, which he does in the Woodstock film. He claims his interpretation shows where America is today, the audience seemed to agree in view of the recent trouble on campus. I feel it is notable that there was not one disturbance of any kind are in the course shows. It was completely policed by the student peace marshals and not one uniform policeman was in sight. Jimi's last song was supposed have been Purple Haze, but, to the surprise of his manager, he did an encore. According to his manager Gerry Stickles Jimi never does an course, so this was a rare exception. Jimi gave everything he had to the audience and he seemed very glad to do it. He left totally exhausted, but pleased with the way the night had gone. One thing for sure, OU got more than it bargained for Friday night.
The Oklahoma Daily - May 12, 1970

Machine Gun at Norman - Oklahoma U.

A black armband with "K" for Kent State

The Kent State University incident was four days prior to the concert at OU. Student protests rocked the 72 hours before the first show. "It was a very significant time in Norman on campus," said Mike Thompson, who is a conscientious objector. "There was just an awareness of what was going on. The campus was galvanized. Then, my God heres Jimi Hendrix coming to town, holy smoke! All of this timing and energy kind of came together at the one time."

"Acts at that time didn't have big trucks and roadies," said Montgomery. "I helped unload three martial double stacks. The road manager said that Jimi used one and left the other two on standby in case of breakdowns. Besides, three looked cool."

Rick Vittenson, a freelancer for the publication Crawdaddy, said he managed to get a backstage interview with Jimi… "Our conversation was very short and rambling," Vittenson said. "He just seemed very down and I knew that there was no article to be written." Prior to the show, in front of the stage, Thompson said Hendrix walked over and pointed to a black armband that displayed the letter K. Hendrix dedicated to show to the victims at Kent State. Mike Thompson said, "I understood exactly what was going on."

Larry Locklear, who was a senior at Crooked Oak High School in 1970 recalls the show being extremely loud. The same adjective could be used to describe Jimi's threads: red and white polka-dot necktie as a headband, a sheer black shirt with flowing sleeves, red pants, a psychedelic multi-colored vast, and the aforementioned black armband. "I remember seeing those red pants and headband and I thought, God Almighty!" said Locklear. "It was like something from another world."

Marcia Chibitty, who was sitting inside near the top of the Fieldhouse recalls thinking that the music was changing her heart beat to thump in time with the band's rhythm. "I could physically feel it beating on my chest," said Chibitty. "It was great."

An estimated crowd of 5500 attended the last set, which started at 10 p.m…the Hendrix show included everyone from cheerleaders to fringe student hippie radicals…Following the final show Lynn Shirley remembers seeing Hendrix - escorted by a pair of tall, thin college aged blondes on either arm - walking toward a limousine parked on the grass… "I could see their silhouettes as they pulled out, and his big hair, and I was thinking, 'They don't know him.' I remember I was a little shocked. It just seemed a little scary to me."

"People thought Chuck Berry was outrageous, with his little escapades," said Ed Fontaine. "It was nothing. People thought Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones were bad boys. Nonsense. Hendrix was pure energy and it just poured out of him. He was like a wildflower just exploding."

Michael J. Fairchild, a journalist writing for Guitar School magazine, wrote that the Norman version of a Machine Gun is "the single most chilling and fascinating track in Hendrix's bootleg legacy."

An enthusiastic Hendrix can be heard introducing the U.S. national anthem on the audience recording from the second set in Oklahoma. Mike Thompson said the Norman version was one of the most powerful moments he has ever experienced. "It was much different, because within the stream of improvisation, you could hear gunshots from the guitar," said Thompson, who was 19 at the time. "You could hear screams, what he was doing was reenacting on his guitar what happened at Kent State. It was chilling"

AUDIO: Star Spangled Banner at Norman
(3:47 .mp3 file 1.73 MB)

Berkeley 1st Show - May 30, 1970

It is nice Jimi Hendrix is such an incredible guitarist, for the Hassle Factor at his Berkeley Community Theater, 10 p.m. concert on Saturday [May 30] was high. The show was sold out, as was the 7:30 concert…Hendrix really is an exceptional musician. His playing appears effortless even to the point of locking his right hand into a fixed position on the guitar's neck (he is, of course, left-handed), and then playing for what seems to be 30 seconds or a minute varying only his finger-work, not his hand position. By using the electronic variations available, he is able to very for sound from oily to icicle. His technique from blues to steel to flamenco, and the shimmering shattering high notes sliced through the brain like those of no other musical instrument. He played for about an hour… he sang adequately and generally unintelligible, slammed the neck up and down the microphone stand, went on his knees to his back, picked with his teeth and indicated on a couple of occasions that the guitar was not so much a guitar as an appendage of his lower body. In other words, he did Jimi Hendrix to perfection and played so well that it never interfered with the emotional communication…So, you may say, he played beautifully.
John Wasserman - San Francisco Chronicle June 1, 1970

Berkeley, CA May 30, 1970

8mm Film with Sound - Berkeley 2nd Show

When a guitarist like Ernie Isley tells players, "Before Hendrix died, everybody was talking about how he couldn't cut it anymore," it becomes obvious that "everybody" hasn't heard the evidence. How could an objective ear dismiss the uniformly perfect playing of Jimi in Baltimore (6/13/70)? If his San Bernardino (6/20/70) riffs don't "cut it," Roy Rogers is the father of acid rock. Does any guitarist really think it's even possible to outshine the jewels popping off Jimi's frets in Boston (6/27/70)? Be real!

Jimi Hendrix appears, resplendant in a purple ruffled shirt, green bell-bottoms, a silver spangled vest that ended at the shoulder blades, a multicolored headband that trailed down his neck, a bright silk scarf tied to his left arm, and a fringe belt that hung down his right leg. A white guitar with leopard-skin strap completed the ensemble. The Yorktown Light Show paled in comparison...It is ertainly true that during all the frenetic activity onstage, the music sometimes took second place. Yet it was always there...Let's face it, no one is going to upstage Hendrix anyway, musically or visually - he's got the brightest clothes and most of the speakers. And Mitch Mitchell's drumming is a delight: quick, crisp and swingiing. The group was all business, startiing out with t blues and pausing only long enough at the conclusions for Hendrix to acknowledge the beginning of the applause before saying rapidly intot he microphone 'Hello Baltimore, how are you?' before moving on to the next number...Hendrix seems to have given up thee sideshow antics, except for a brief few bars near the end of the concert when he played the guitar with his teeth, and such relatively subtle devices, for him anyway, as falling suggestively on the wah-wah pedal. Perhaps he doesn't need them anymore. Suggestion has replaced overstatement. That doesn't mean tyhat Hendrix isn't still able to conjure up, with a slight turn of his wrist, awesome, searing audial power through his wraparound speaker set-up and then shut it off with a shrug of the shoulder. He is still able with the sullen unsmiling look - heavy business - to draw the fans down in front of the stage as he did at the end of the show at the Civic Center. It's jujst that mujsic is now at the center of the group's presentation which is, of course, where it should be. And regardless of what you think of it, Hendrix music, a combination of tough, bluesy vocal and instrumental delivery mixed wiith speaker feedback, is unlike any sound to be heard in contemporary rock. Hendrix conclused the concert with a tortured instrumentstal version of the Star Spangled banner the likes of which, it's safe to say, has never been witnessed in the birthplace of the national anthem. The audience exhibited a good deal more interest in the song than the usual Civic Center crowd waiting none too patiently for the basketball game to start. Again, it may be that Hendrix is turning more political now. After a fiinal number, one fist raised in the symbol of rebellion, the other giving the peace sign, Hendrix was off the stage as quickly as he had appeared. 'Right on!' shouted several people in the crowd."

James Dilts - Baltimore Sun, June 21, 1970

Hey Joe - Baltimore, MD, June 13, 1970
8mm color film w/audio recording from the show

Naturally, Hendrix was his clever self, swingling and swaying, grinding to the oft high-pitched whining guitar, plucking with his teeth. But it was not the same dynamic tension of two years ago: the infamous stone rapping that pleased so many, the excitment of his stage theatrics...His guitar dexterity never ceases to amaze me, and his colorful attire has to be seen to be believed, but the man is much more. The people loved him. They clapped and applauded where necessary and generaslly approved of what they saw. I guess that's all that really matters.
G.P. - Boston After Dark - June 29, 1970

Hendrix didn't seem to get overly involved in his music as he used to...It didn't really matter to the starry-eyed crowd, mostly between the ages of 18-21, whose feelings were just about summed up by someone who shouted "Hendrix is God!"

Boston Globe (June 29, 1970)

Red House - Boston '70

Message To Love - Boston '70
Song from Band Of Gypsys album, in Top-5 on charts at time of this show.

After the flawless Boston Garden gig, the Cry Of Love tour moved on to the great open-air festivals of the summer. Anyone grooving to the molten magic of Jimi's Atlanta (7/4/70) set on the Stages box set will certainly look askance at the next installment of the Hendrix '70 burn-out myth. Atlanta also marks the start of a new sound season. Whereas the spring 1970 tapes record guitar tones as taut as enclosed firecrackers (i.e., Jimi Plays Berkeley), the outdoor summer sets get super-distortion slack resonance (i.e, Isle of White and Maui's Rainbow Bridge gig). It's as if the sound system became congested from open-air acoustics! Still, no matter which tone you prefer, any astute gauge of the playing confirms that right up to the end, Hendrix's guitar licks grew more complex and subtle.

Purple Haze - Atlanta Pop Festival July 4, 1970
Jimi played on Saturday night with near 300,000 present, his largest audience.
Other big festivals had him on near the end, after most people had left.

Foxy Lady

Seattle '70 - Last Hometown Show

Unsuspecting fans might draw a different conclusion from Curtis Knight's book. As the author of the second Hendrix bio, Knight told his readers that when Jimi returned to Seattle (7/26/70) for a summer gig, he "began to play badly; painful sounds were emitted...He was lost as though he had no control; his body was contorted as if possessed by some evil demon; he was clearly in spiritual agony...the people were not responding. They could see that Jimi was very untogether...Jimi snatched his guitar from his back, flung it down onto the stage and walked off in disgust."

This blurb was taken as gospel when Back Street Heroes embellished the tale, saying, "Seattle was an agonizing and pitiful affair, like the last desperate twitches and whimpers of a dying animal...the worse it got, the worse he played, eventually storming offstage with a torrent of abuse from his fans."

Years after reading these accounts, I found an audience tape of the infamous Seattle set. Hearing it, all I could think was: what kind of drugs were these people on who slandered such great music?! Rain fell intermittently throughout the gig, yet Jimi blasted the crowd for over 80 minutes! He didn't have to play that long, and he usually didn't, especially in the rain. Cox recalls wishing Jimi would end the gig - they were getting shocks off their mics - he feared they'd all be electrocuted. But Jimi was in a great groove, and he kept on groovin'. The music speaks for itself. There is no rancor heard from Jimi (except saying "fuck you, whoever put up the pillow [onto the stage]" - to which crowd members are heard laughing in amusement). And his fans certainly didn't jeer him with "a torrent of abuse" after a flawless set! Barbs like this Seattle myth give Jimi's legacy the scenario of a genius hounded by envy, even past the grave.

8mm film with sound of Jimi's Last Hometown Show:
Seattle, July 1970

But what are we to make of Mitch Mitchell's recollection of Hendrix '70? In Inside the Experience, Mitch recalls, "The Forum (L.A. '70) gig was not very memorable. We went in, did the gig and left, and it shouldn't have been that way. A lot of the gigs were like that. I have to say that most of the gigs were unmemorable, the same old places, yet again...if it had been something completely different, like the Miles Davis thing, that would have been great, but this was like the old band, but much less exciting."

In comparison with the excitement of early Experience tours, when so much new ground was being broken, it is understandable that yet another annual tour, even with a new bass player, would seem anti-climactic to Mitch. If the band were at least performing in Japan or Australia, he would have had the advantage of new territory. Added to circuit repetition is the fact that Cry Of Love music was much deeper than past Experience tunes, especially Jimi's "social relevance" and "political" themes of 1970. To Mitch, it must have seemed less exciting, or at least less carefree, than his exploratory heights with the Experience. But something can be new only once; after that it's a matter of refinement. Jimi's finest refinements are heard in 1970. His musical imagination advanced by leaps and bounds beyond past breakthroughs.

Jimi's Last American Show - Honolulu Aug. 1, 1970

Most agree it's the music that's important, and it's the music that comes through clear enough on those concert tapes. There exists loads of great live music with the original Experience, but I hear Jimi having more musical fun at gigs with Cox than he usually had with Redding. That's not saying the earlier music lacked supernormal technique and imagination! It's just that Jimi sounds more concentrated and elaborate with his melodies during his last year of concerts in 1970. And it's the sound that counts.

At the L.A. '70 gig Jimi introduced himself as "Yours truly on video," however no video tape has yet beed found. A photo of Jimi onstage at L.A. '70 appears opposite Mitch's dedication on page 7 of Inside the Experience, where it is incorrectly identified as a Berkeley shot. The error is almost fitting, because in the absence of multi-track tapes of this L.A. set, the crown jewel of Hendrix '70 music is from Berkeley. With the Berkeley professsional recordings, the myth that Jimi was "spent" near the end is shattered, and a new generation of fans can start to explore his legacy with historically correct thinking.

Hendrix '70: Clearing The Haze was origianally published in GUITAR Magazine in March 1992. The May 1992 issue of GUITAR ran two letters from readers who added more insight:

Dear GUITAR,

Thanks for the article on Hendrix 1970 (March, 1992). I was at the Forum concert in April of '70. It was a different atmosphere from previous rock concerts, very spiritual. Jimi played a few favorites, but mainly jammed. He also made the audience "Stand up for once in your life," before The Star Spangled Banner. Lastly, in reference to whether there was a videotape of the concert, there was a large-screen projection of Hendrix throughout. The camera remained mainly on Jimi. This was delightful to those of us far away. This was the first time I had ever seen this used at a concert.

Dennis Watts
Tehachapi, CA

Dear GUITAR,

Special thanks to Michael Fairchild's article about Jimi Hendrix (Clearing the Haze). I hope it sets a few records straight about this amazing artist. I was fortunate to attend the L.A. Forum 1970 concert. I also possess a copy of the live bootleg. Inferior recording aside, there is no live album that captures the unbelievable guitar sound of Jimi Hendrix than the one that is etched in that vinyl. Drugs plagued his later years, but his playing was always over-the-top, inspired, and way ahead of most guitar sounds, even today.

Peter McKibben
Los Angeles, CA

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