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    Journalism

    Jimi Hendrix

    Category: Interviews
     

    Jimi Hendrix (London Evening Standard, October 1967)

     

    “Jimi Hendrix,” they told me – lying to a man – “is so sincere about his music that one of these days he will probably make a human torch of himself on stage.” So anxious to meet a man whose friends were prepared to plan such a horrific demise on his behalf, I called to see him over his milk and menthol-tipped breakfast this week.

    Everyone with a television set must know who Hendrix is by now. He’s the fellow who looks rather like a black Mick Jagger: the one with the electric hair and fuzz-topped companions. He has made four records and had four hits since coming to Britain from Greenwich Village a year ago, and he calls his trio The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their first album was called Are You Experienced?

    He says he is twenty and lives with his manager and his manager’s wife in a Marble Arch flat. It’s a big apartment – on the fourth floor of a modern block – and apart from the bathroom where there’s a celebrated picture of a naked Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention sitting on the loo, it’s just what you’d expect for the average young married couple earning upwards of five or ten thousand a year.

    That is, apart from Jimi’s quarters. In a room that looks for all the world like Mephistopheles’ parlour, with crimson curtains, sheets and carpets, the guitarist has collected a fascinating collection of talismans and charms. There’s a giant panda, peacock feathers, a three foot rag doll, magic Rip Van Winkle slippers and a tiny cloaked Swedish Superman. And suspended above the double divan bed are five huge granny shawls which hang like monstrous vivid spiders’ webs and clutch at a candled chandelier straight out of Jane Eyre. The walls are draped in ornate Chinese and Japanese canvases, and there’s an Oriental jar of dead flowers on the sideboard.

    “I dig dead flowers,” says Jimi in his great dark-brown voice, crushing one as he speaks between his thumb and forefinger. And he giggles. He’s wearing tight tangerine pants, a blue and white flowered shirt and a black jacket with a patterned pageant of white doves.

    “You can learn from dead things, you know,” he says. “In my music I’ve learned from everything, mainly from my life.”

    So far his life has been traumatic. He was born in Seattle, Washington, and for much of his childhood spent a great deal of time commuting up to Vancouver to stay with his grandmother, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. (Ethnically, he’s also part Mexican, but mainly negro.)

    “My mother and dad used to fall out a lot, and I always had to be ready to go tippy-toeing off up to Canada. My dad was very level-headed and religious, but my mother used to like having a good time and dressing up. She used to drink a lot and didn’t take care of herself. She died when I was about ten. But she was a groovy mother.”

    At fourteen he left high school because his father needed his wage. “Dad was a gardener and it got pretty bad in the winter when there wasn’t any grass to cut,” he says.

    By the time he was fifteen he had left home, and he hasn’t been back since.

    “I have a half-sister of nearly six called Genevieve who I’ve never seen. There may be more by now. I must call my dad. He’s married again. I sent him some money but he sent it back. Perhaps I’ll call him today.”

    After leaving home he had his hair straightened and took up playing guitar and bass with some of the sleek mohair-sheened rhythm and blues groups. For a while he played with Little Richard, and then with the Isley Brothers.

    Drafted at seventeen into the 91st Airborne Division of the U.S. army, he left after thirteen months when he hurt his back jumping out of a training aeroplane 10,000ft over Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He then went to Greenwich Village and played in some clubs, and it was there he met Chas Chandler who is now his manager.

    It was in New York that the Hendrix guitar style developed as an individualised composite of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Dylan and the Beatles. And there, too, the Hendrix hair-do, which has set a trend for thousands of little ravers all over London, came into its own.

    “When I was a little boy I used to hate having my hair cut and would try to avoid my dad whenever it got long. I’d sneak in and out of the house and try not to be noticed, but eventually he’d always spot me and sit me down in the hall under the lamp and shave it all off until I looked like a skinned chicken. And then the next day at school all the kids would laugh at me.

    “I guess I’ve always been conscious of my personal appearance because I have big ears. In five years’ time I might be bald.” And he tugs at the tumbleweed of steel wool covering his head. “See how it comes out. That’s because I’ve been overworking.”

    At the moment Jimi and his two Experiences are just finishing their second album, Axis – Bold As Love, in which he further demonstrates the highly individual guitar patterns which have won him the top award as the musician of the year in the Melody Maker Pop Poll.

    The image that Jimi Hendrix, the pop star, presents to the outside world is strangely at variance with Hendrix at home. On television he can look mean, as though he is deliberately baiting parents, and his act, in which he plays his electric guitar with his teeth, is considered sexy and provocative – not least by the extreme Right Wing American women’s society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, who got him taken out of the Monkees’ tour of the United States last year. But in private he is polite and likeable.

    “My dad was very, very strict and taught me that I must respect my elders always. I couldn’t speak unless I was spoken to first by grown-ups. So I’ve always been very quiet. But I saw a lot of things. A fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut.’

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