Sunday, April 29, 2018

Spanish Castle Magic - Hendrix - Part 1

Rock's history is sketchy at times even in L.A., New York or London. Sketchier still when one ventures into those little towns that were feeders into the rock, blues or country hubs. L.A. is the heart of American music, sharing the bill with London as the recording capital of the world. But few musicians are actually from Los Angeles. Joni Mitchell "couldn't let go of L.A.," but she'd come to the City of [the Fallen] Angels by way of Saskatchewan. Chili Pepper Anthony Keidis is from Michigan; Glenn Frey from New York; Adam Duritz from Baltimore. Each of these artists exude L.A., but California was, and is, merely the destination, not the journey. 

Rather than head to L.A., Jimi Hendrix would make it all the way to London, and yet his roots are enmeshed in a myriad of locales from Nashville to New Jersey (and yes, even Los Angeles). Hendrix though, would spend his formative years in and around Seattle, and the Jet City would provide that spark few recognized before he got to London.

Hendrix's first electric guitar was an inexpensive Supro Ozark model his father gave him in 1959. Supro was the brand name for the Valco company, that also produced products for Montgomery Ward under the Airline brand and for Sears using the Silvertone name. Hendrix would play that Ozark in his very first gig, at Seattle's Temple de Hirsch Synagogue in 1960. When the Supro was stolen, Jimi bought a Silvertone 3021 from the Sodo, Washington Sears that he named Betty Jean. It was Betty Jean that Jimi carried throughout his early years in Seattle (after which he'd have a stint in the service before touring with The Isley Brothers in 1964).

Spanish Castle Roadhouse - Circa 1955
In his teens, Jimi's favorite haunt was outside the city limits at The Spanish Castle. A roadhouse built in the 1930s outside town to avoid the city's restrictive liquor laws, The Spanish Castle was a big band era venue that evolved over the years and in the rock era had a lineup that included Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, The Beach Boys, Paul Revere and the Raiders and, later, Hendrix himself. Jimi's first pseudo-gig was a bit of an accident.  The Statics blew two amps with Jimi in the audience.  Always with his guitar and amp in his "ride," Jimi lent an amp to guitarist to Zach Static (Hoppenrath), and ended up on rhythm guitar. Hendrix would go on to play The Spanish Castle on several occasions. According to Radio KISW, Hendrix was quoted as saying, "The bass player in the band had this beat up car and it would break down every other block on the way there and back." Hence the line, "Takes 'bout half a day to get there,: from "Spanish Castle Magic" from the Axis LP.

Hendrix' career was a slow rise, from his gigs in the army to his amateur night win at the Apollo, of which he said, "I went to New York and and won first place in the Apollo amateur contest, you know, $25," which led to his short tenure with the Isleys. 

In 1966, Hendrix was playing small clubs in Greenwich Village, particularly Cafe Wha?, as a part of Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. The Animals were big in the U.K. at the time and had had eight U.S. Top 40 hits between August 1964 and June 1966, so when Animals' bassist Bryan 'Chas' Chandler checked out Hendrix live on the advice of Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith, Hendrix was prepared to listen. The Animals were playing in Central Park, although on the verge of splitting up, and Chas Chandler, already planning his next move, suggested to Hendrix that he relocate to the U.K. (Chandler was in the process of becoming a rock impresario.

Chandler said: "I remember thinking, this cat's wild enough to upset more people than Jagger! When he did Hey Joe, a number I was planning to record as my first independent venture, that clinched it." Hendrix did decide to make the big move and on September 23rd 1966 along with Chas Chandler, formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience in London starting with bassist Noel Redding.  Redding was chosen because Hendrix liked his attitude towards music and his "Afro" hairstyle.

Then came drummer Mitch Mitchell, a session drummer who'd worked with The Pretty Things, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, and briefly The Who, while they were looking for a replacement for Doug Sandom: The Who's eventual choice, of course, Keith Moon. Following along the lines of Cream, the power trio, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was born.