Hendrix in Our Time

Sound Grammar

On a spring night in 1967, the manager of the Savoy Theatre told the young guitar phenom Jimi Hendrix that Paul McCartney and George Harrison would be in the audience for the band’s final show in London. About an hour before going on stage Hendrix, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell hastily rehearsed “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.” They opened their set with a blistering version of the song, which had only been released by The Beatles three days earlier.  By his own account, McCartney was so blown away by the performance that he began incessantly talking up Hendrix to other musicians and producers, including the organizers of the Monterey Pop Festival, who soon invited the new band to perform at the big concert on the California coast three weeks later.  Hendrix closed the Monterey performance, vividly recorded by DA Pennebaker’s cameras, with a vicious cover of Chip Taylor’s rave-up “Wild Thing,” where 90,000 heads were blown, when he lit his crackling Stratocaster on fire and tossed the shrieking guitar into the crowd. Music was never the same.

Three completed studio albums: Are You Experienced? (1967), Axis: Bold as Love(1968), Electric Ladyland (1969). That’s all we have from Jimi Hendrix. Each distinctive. Each meticulously crafted. Each musically innovative and thematically coherent. There’s nothing else like them in the canon of rock music. And then he was gone. Dead in a London flat at the age of 27 and, as a consequence, forever linked to the ghosts of two infinitely lesser talents: the Texas screecher Janis Joplin and the messianic drug-fiend Jim Morrison.

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3

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