Friday, April 5, 2019

Jimi at Monterey

It was at Monterey that Seattle born Jimi Hendrix would make his American debut. Here was Jimi, 24 years old, nervous as all heck, hair wild, red pants, a velour vest, and a Fender Stratocaster - and after 40 minutes, with songs like "Hey Joe" and "Purple Haze" behind him, on his knees, Jimi summoned fire from his guitar. You've seen the photograph. It's one of the most famous rock portraits of all time. After three days that not only rocked but changed the world, Jimi heralded in The Summer of Love.

For rock 'n' roll, it was the equivalent of the first performance of Bach's Brandenburgs or Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Born in Seattle in 1942, Hendrix was unknown to America in 1967. He'd left home at 17 to join the Army, the Airborne Division no less, and there became a rhythm and blues sideman. Soon after discharge, Chas Chandler of the Animals took him to England with the promise of making him a star; that was 1966, just a year before Monterey. While Hendrix was a flop at home, he was an unabashed success in the U.K.; so much so that Paul McCartney suggested he appear at Monterey Pop.

For 40 minutes the sky above Monterey snarled with Jimi's thunder. He played behind his back, with his teeth, a down and dirty sensual assault. But funny, it didn't start out that way. In the opener, a cover of Howling Wolf's "Killing Floor," Hendrix seemed almost timid, giddy or afraid. He said to the audience, "My fingers won’t move as you can see; you don't hear no sounds as you hear. But, dig this," his words emphasizing his nervousness. But then, a single note builds and builds until some kind of nuclear flareup leads into Foxy Lady. He'd played Dylan and The Leaves and would end the night with The Trogg's Wild Thing, but first he tore down everything that had come before, his guitar ripping through the audience, through the evening sky like a bombardier, all in harmonics and blues feedback and even a hint of Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night," played as if it was a battle hymn. And if that wasn't enough, Hendrix then sacrificed his guitar, the broken, burning Strat still calling out in the night.

Woodstock is more famous, and maybe it was The Stones who turned Rock 'n' Roll into Rock with "Satisfaction," but it was Jimi who ushered in Rock's golden age. 

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