Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Geezerology Roundtable: A look back at Jimi Hendrix' debut

Jimi Hendrix finally made a splash in his homeland in 1967, thanks to more than a little help from his friends.

The talented young guitar player from Seattle knocked around the United States for a few years before Chas Chandler heard Jimmy James and his band playing in a small club in New York in 1966. Chandler was wrapping up his final tour as bass player with The Animals and was contemplating getting into the management side of the music business.

Chandler loved a song he recently heard titled "Hey Joe" and had his ear to the ground in search of someone to record it. He thought this Jimmy James kid could be the one. It didn't take much effort for Chandler to persuade Hendrix to drop the stage name and come to London with Chandler to record "Hey Joe" and see if they could make a hit single out of it.

Back home, Chandler recruited a couple of Londoners named Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to help out, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience was born. "Hey Joe" became an instant hit in the United Kingdom, and Chandler took this new band on the road and put them in a studio to record an album, which also became a hit in early 1967.

The cover for the UK release

But Chandler and the Experience found the US market a tough one to crack. They released "Hey Joe" in May 1967, but the song tanked. It went nowhere on the US charts. Hendrix was becoming a big star overseas, but his homeland would only yawn in his face. 

But as luck would have it, a couple of other Englishmen came to the rescue. Some promoters were putting together a lineup for a three-day summer gathering in Northern California called the Monterey Pop Festival. They called Paul McCartney to see if they could snag The Beatles, and Macha shut them down. But Paul made them a deal: He would serve on the governing board of the festival if the organizers agreed to book this kid Hendrix. Pete Townshend of The Who, who did accept a headline booking for the festival, also sang praises about Jimi.

So the Experience got booked. And in June 1967, after his debut single bombed in the US, Jimi Hendrix took the stage at the Monterey Pop Festival and stole the show, both with his bombastic take on psychedelic soul music and his jaw-dropping guitar acrobatics. He played a solo with his teeth. He played another solo around the back of his head. He was on fire. Well, OK, Hendrix literally wasn't on fire. But his guitar certainly was. He raised some pretty good flames and some screechy sounds out of that smashed-up axe to close his set.

Hendrix' created quite the buzz with his antics that day. Word spread through the land fairly quickly. Chandler and Hendrix made a few changes to their album, Are You Experienced, to get it released in the US in August, and curious youngsters turned out at their neighborhood record stores in droves to check out this wild new English guitar player.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Geezers Bob, Scott and Dan sat down the other day to talk about Are You Experienced for the Geezerology channel on YouTube. Check it out:

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