Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Monterey

Obviously it wasn't only Townshend who was mesmerized by Hendrix. Keith Altham of NME said of Brian Jones, "[He was] walking back up the stairs with tears in his eyes. I said, 'Brian, what is it?' and he replied, 'It's what he does, it chokes me' – only he put it better than that." It was on that night at the Bag O' Nails that Jimi was first converged upon by Britain's rock elite (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton). On a night to follow, Cream allowed Jimi to jam with them at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London. The story goes that meeting Clapton was one of the reasons Hendrix was lured to Britain. Hendrix played Howling Wolf's "Killing Floor" (which would inspire Led Zeppelin's "The Lemon Song"). Afterwards, Clapton is reported as sitting back stage nervously smoking a cigarette. He told Chas Chandler (Jimi's manager and former bassist for The Animals), "You never told me he was that fucking good."

But it was Townshend who took it to heart. Oddly, while Hendrix regularly tops polls, including Rolling Stone's, the top five historically excludes Townshend, preferring instead Page, Clapton, Richards and Jeff Beck, with Townshend relegated to the teens. Though I find issue with that, polls are absurd anyway. Interestingly guitar virtuosi like Steve Howe rarely make the list, not to mention David Gilmour, Les Paul or played-with-everyone/Wrecking Crew member, Glen Campbell. Townshend found himself on par with Hendrix (no one argues Jimi's topping the list, but many guitarists could play on that same stage) and realized that Jimi, in turn, idolized guitarists like himself and Clapton, studied their styles and created out of that a style of his own. Nonetheless, it all came to a head fifty years ago at Monterey Pop.

Monterey was organized by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and The Beatles' press manager, Derek Taylor, along with Lou Adler. They pledged that the concert's profit be earmarked for charity. All agreed (with the exception of Ravi Shankar who got $3000 for his performance). The Who, who had hardly entered the American airwaves jumped at the chance to perform. Other acts on the bill of course were (long list) Country Joe And The Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Scott McKenzie (whose hit San Francisco was the festival’s and ‘the summer of love’ theme song), The Byrds, The Association, Johnny Rivers, The Animals, Simon and Garfunkel, Canned Heat, Janis Joplin (with Big Brother), Al Kooper, Quicksilver, Moby Grape, Otis Redding – on and on (with performances by those who would attend Woodstock, stellar in comparison).

The Who and Hendrix were both scheduled to play Sunday evening. By then, as many 80,000 people had passed through the gates that day (200,000 over the weekend). Backstage, the Grateful Dead's sound engineer turned chemist, Owsley Stanley, was distributing free LSD trips and Rolling Stone Brian Jones was drifting around dressed like Prince Valiant, but looking, as Keith Richards once said, "like a ghost about to leave a s̩ance." Roger Daltrey recalls Jones joining him, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass and Jimi Hendrix for a jam session back stage. "Jimi was playing Sgt. Pepper on his guitar," said Daltrey. "But, and this was the amazing thing, he was playing all the parts. He would go from a bit of orchestration, to a vocal part, to a solo Рthe whole thing on one guitar." The others stood and watched, accompanying Hendrix by beating out a rhythm on anything close to hand.

Pete Townshend recalled arguing with Hendrix about who would go on first, as neither wanted to follow the other. In the end, John Phillips suggested they toss a coin. Townshend won. Eric Burdon of The Animals, introduced The Who as "a group that will destroy you completely in more ways than one." The Who crashed into "Substitute," followed by "Summertime Blues," pretty far removed from The Mamas And Papas' passive Hippie stance or anything else played that weekend.The Who tore through just six songs, "Pictures Of Lily," "A Quick One," "While He's Away," "Happy Jack," and "My Generation." Instead of peace, love and flowers, they offered masturbation, pervert train drivers, adolescent turmoil, and Pete Townshend hacking away at the stage with his guitar. Ravi Shankar watched the performance and was disgusted by "their lack of respect for their music and their instruments."


The heated animosity between the two musicians if often debated. I have presented it as a Beach Boys/Beatles rivalry, each band pushing the other onto the next level. While that feud artistically civil, many report that Townshend and Hendrix were near socking it out in Monterey. Lou Adler stated that at one point in between sets Hendrix jumped up on a table and said, "OK, you little shit, no matter what you do, I'll do something that burns you."


Brian Jones introduced Hendrix as "the most exciting guitarist I've ever heard." Having already witnessed The Who's explosive finale, Hendrix capped his set with a version of "Wild Thing," kneeling over his guitar and setting it on fire before smashing it repeatedly and tossing the remains into the crowd. Townshend watched Hendrix’s set with Mama Cass: "He started doing this stuff with his guitar," Townshend said. "She turned around to me, and said to me, 'He's stealing your act.' And I said, 'No, he's doing my act.'"
Monterey is a tough critique simply because, so much more than Woodstock, there were many pivotal performances. Janis Joplin's most emotional rendition of "Ball and Chain," Otis Redding's last concert appearance before his untimely death, The Who and Jimi. While Woodstock was all about those in attendance, about the mud and the camaraderie, Monterey was about the Music. Townshend and Hendrix pushed each other, both literally and figuratively, and rock music would never be the same.