My Jimi Hendrix Experience
By David Nelson
Most musicians from my era have at least one story about their first exposure to Hendrix. It was an exciting time. Eric Clapton was the reigning king and to many even a deity. Trust me when I tell you that I have been to more than one Cream concert where the crowd chanted Eric is God. Recently there have been a few documentaries about Jimi focused on his early career and how he transformed from sideman to headliner capturing the hearts of millions. This is my Jimi Hendrix Experience
I wasn’t much of a musician at least not yet but was desperate to find something to pull my life together. Somewhere in between my periods of chemical psychoanalysis and living hard core on the dark side it was decided that I was going to attend Berklee School of Music in Boston. The hope was to gain the skills needed to compete in a music world with no shortage of talent and ambition. At that point Berkley was first and foremost a jazz school but agreed to take in rockers to help pay the bills.
I devoured everything put in front of me and after a while I had something of an attitude. Hey I play Jazz.
I remember coming home to Dix Hills Long Island to visit my parents but mostly to see my then girlfriend Donna hoping for a long weekend. It was Friday night and Donna insisted that we go see her new rock idol Jimi Hendrix who was playing that evening at Stonybrook University.
She took out the Are You Experienced album and played Purple Haze. I of course with my new found Berklee schooled analysis listened with closed ears thinking this is 3 chord nonsense. How could someone who has been exposed to the greats like Coltrane, Mingus and Monk be impressed by such a bourgeois excuse for music.
However, knowing that it would be a pretty miserable weekend with Donna I relented and agreed to go.
The gymnasium was packed with a restless crowd waiting for Jimi to hit the stage. We were seated all the way in the back. Most everyone was standing so we did to. Jimi along with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums hit stage and proceeded to wow the crowd.
I of course with attitude in full bloom stood at the back of the auditorium, arms folded thinking Foxy Lady, more 3 chord jive. I’m not sure how it happened but over the next few songs I found myself slowly inching forward a step at a time. My arms weren’t folded anymore and before I knew it I was about half way to the stage.
There’s a red house over yonder, that’s where my baby stays
Boom, Jimi breaks into Red House and its starting to get to me. I’m not sure what it was about this song that hit me so hard but I couldn’t keep it in anymore.
Wait a minute, something’s wrong. The key won’t unlock the door
My Berklee façade is fading fast and each pull and trill is taking another little piece of my heart.
‘Cos if my baby don’t love me no more
By the time he pointed to the audience and sang the lyric “…I know her sister will” I was toast. He owned me.
I can’t even remember what the next couple of songs were but by the end of the concert I had pushed everyone out of the way to get to the front of the stage where a brave contingent of security was trying in vain to hold back the masses.
I’d morphed from Berklee boy with an attitude to full blown groupie screaming Jimi, Jimi Jimi.
He and the band came out for one last encore Wild Thing. He played with the guitar behind his head. He played with his teeth. Finally, he’s pushing the neck of his guitar in between his legs as a phallic symbol pointing to girls who then fainted. Seconds later he was humping the stacks of Marshall Amplifiers at the back the stage with the road crew desperately trying to hold them up.
The concert ends and I’m a psychedelic quivering and confused mess. What had I just witnessed? I don’t think I ever really recovered but the concert was the detour I needed to get back to rock where I really belonged.