Left Handed and Upside Down
“It’s funny how most people love the dead, once you’re dead you’re made for life” – Jimi Hendrix
(A recollection of a Jimi Hendrix live performance)
Author’s Warning: My intention is not to take a trip down memory lane but to share my experience of a great musician, a live performance and a pair of AR speakers. I don’t think I would have ‘gotten’ Hendrix through an mp3 player and a pair of ear buds – sometimes it just takes a really smokin’ loudspeaker.
I was a 15 year old growing up in Fort Lee, NJ with my friends John Z. and Kenny W.. Like a lot of teenage music fans at that time, we lived for FM radio music programming. Scott Muni at NYC’s WNEW led the way. The Village Voice was our weekly go-to to find out who was playing where. Our local record store is where we purchased new LP releases (I think albums were around $6.99).
One of my favorite LP purchases was an album cover depicted in a deep mustard yellow background with purple typeface The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced. I couldn’t wait until I got the disk on my Technics turntable, warning my mom, “it might get loud!”. I used all 200 watts of power from my Marantz amplifier to send the ‘Experience’ sound masterly through my AR speakers. (Acoustic Research made great speakers which were engineered by a guy name Henry Kloss – what ever happened to my speakers and to Henry?)
School work was Monday to Friday, so on the weekends I listened to LP’s with my friends John Z. and Kenny W.. John went on to become a guitarist and is now a staple of the Tampa music scene. Kenny W. became a successful songwriter and performer. I was the exception. I had no career whatsoever in music, didn’t learn guitar or keyboards, and can’t write a lyric or a note. I am a music fan, an average Joe.
We spent hours in the basements or attics or garages of our homes, spinning LP’s, playing music, listening and talking about music. When we could, we made the 90 minute pilgrimage to the East Coast Mecca, Bill Graham’s Fillmore East. A bus across the GW bridge, the A train to 42nd Street, the shuttle to Grand Central and the Express 4 or 5 subway to 14th Street and a switch to the local 6 train to 8th Street. Then it was a short walk to 2nd Avenue and arriving at 105 Second Avenue at East 6th Street in Manhattan. Ticket prices I recall were $4 or $5 and the venue held about 2,700 fans. With the Joshua Light Show providing the liquid psychedelics light show and visuals. I fell in love with Lava Lamps ever since. I recalled seeing photographs taken through the Hubble telescope of faraway galaxies and nebulae and they instantly reminded me of the Joshua Light Shows at the Fillmore East.
Hendrix played the Fillmore East three times. Kenny W. and I caught one of those shows. May 10, 1968. Tickets got us into the 8pm show and our collective hutzpah got us in the 11pm show, through the good graces of a sympathetic stage hand who let us in for the 11pm show, where we hung out on stage left. I recall sitting in the balcony for the first show. The Fillmore East offered two shows (8pm and 11pm) and once in awhile offered triple bill shows. That night it was a double bill with Sly and the Family Stone opening for The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix – Guitar; Noel Redding – Bass; and Mitch Mitchell – Drums, along with a wall of Marshall Speakers. The drum kit dwarfed Mitch like their sound, in which the drums overwhelmed and blasted the beats. Each artist played on a large movable platform. I can still feel the air move when The Experience played. The wall of speakers generated a tsunami of sound.
I was super familiar with The Experience's album’s tracks. I can’t remember exactly what the setlist was for either show. My recollection is that Jimi opened with “Lover Man”, then “Fire”, “Foxy Lady”, “Red House”, “Hey Joe”, “Sunshine of Your Love / Hear My Train A Comin'”, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” (a Bob Dylan song) and finished with “Purple Haze”.
It wasn’t a sold out show. It was crowded but not overflowing. 1968 Hendrix was not yet a superstar and the extremes and burdens of success had not yet taken a toll on him. It is hard to believe Jimi’s time on this planet would end short 28 months later.
Jimi’s performance was approachable, positive, playful and happy. He was also experimenting and going to musical places unknown , ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’. He bantered back and forth with the audience. His fashion sense was better than any modern day stylist and his look was genuine, not a costume. Had he lived, I am positive Jimi would have inspired a clothing line, or at least a hat line.
As for his playing, Hendrix tapped into something I have never heard before or since (maybe Prince approached the stratospheric energy Jimi’s playing achieved). The emotions Jimi wrenched from his guitar took your breath away. He played his LP’s tracks but they were all extended in 15 or 25 minute riffs moving from the loud feedback, dizzyingly, dazzlingly, frantically and artfully improvised sequences. Jimi pounded his notes into dust. He was an atomic explosion of feedback, squelching, rhythmic pulses, and divine guitar play. One of my favorite reviews of Hendrix is the Village Voice's’ Robert Christgau’s review of Hendrix at the Monterey Festival (June 16, 1967):
“Music was a given for a Hendrix stuck with topping the Who's guitar-smashing tour de force. It's great sport to watch this outrageous scene-stealer wiggle his tongue, pick with his teeth, and set his axe on fire, but the showboating does distract from the history made that night—the dawning of an instrumental technique so effortlessly fecund and febrile that rock has yet to equal it, though hundreds of metal bands have gotten rich trying. Admittedly, nowhere else will you witness a Hendrix still uncertain of his divinity.” Christgau, Robert (July 18, 1989).
Well, that night in May of 1968 I was absolutely certain of Jimi’s divinity as the Rock n' Roll Guitar and Live Performance God. I leave this writing with a question: what kind of music would have been created and influenced by a Jimi Hendrix who didn’t die and who would have had a 30 or 40 year career? Sit back, open up Spotify and ponder which artists, songwriters, and performers have a little bit of Jimi in their work and can legitimately wear the maestro’s funky hat as a successor to the man called Jimi.