Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Jimi Hendrix

Famous Flying Eyeball by Rick Griffin
Poster from the Denver Pop Festival June 1969
Final show by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

To my mind Jimi Hendrix is one of the three greatest rock stars. When I say that, I am putting a big emphasis on the “star” part of that phrase. I’m talking about people who are both extraordinary as musicians, but who also embody another quality which sets them apart from other mere mortals. Their behavior, dress, politics, etc. all become part of their fame, and very consciously so. Some get there and recoil or struggle with it. Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro and Van Morrison spring right to mind as people who while unreal musicians, are not comfortable rock stars. For the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix though, they seemed to live it every second. They couldn’t not look cool, break rules and get away with it, or look great on stage come hell or high water. I have some interesting proof of that last one. Once, when pricing some Jimi records a Polaroid photo fell out. It was Jimi on stage. No information other than the date Oct. 68. It is a beautiful representation of any given moment of Jimi. Eyes closed, deep in a solo, he still looks entirely poised and in control. His clothes are great, his hair looks big and beautiful-it’s a perfect image of Jimi, but it is just one random second caught on a Polaroid in the fall of ’68. When you think about it -have you ever seen an image of Jimi where he doesn’t look great?

Mystery Polaroid

 The other two guys have ultimately managed to survive with much of their dignity and reputations intact, but Jimi Hendrix tragically died at 27 leaving nothing but a legendary reputation. His guitar playing is beyond compare-the best players still can’t figure out how he did what he did with the technology available to him. Hi sense of style, while very groovy, still looks incredibly cool. He played with gender, race and lifestyle like he owned them-which of course he did. The three albums (four if you count Band Of Gypsys”) he made during his lifetime are unimpeachable from both a musical and a cultural standpoint. They sound better with each year that passes, and their influence on successive generations of musicians is titanic. Other than a couple of the Buddy Miles-led songs on Band Of Gypsys it’s hard to find anything less than transcendent in his catalog. His music was both earthy and rootsy while being a million miles ahead of anyone else. “Are You Experienced” could be the greatest debut album in history, Axis: Bold As Love defines psychedelic hard rock and Electric Ladyland is perhaps the most ambitious two LP set of the 60’s (I know, I Know, White Album, Trout Mask Replica, etc.). Band Of Gypsys is simultaneously soulful and heavy pointing to two directions he might have pursued had he lived. He was scheduled to jam with Miles Davis shortly after he died-the mind reels.

Another good record store story is the time a guy named Daniel came in to the store on Alameda and told me he had gone to the Regis Field House concert on Valentines Day 1968. He told me he had just returned from Vietnam and he was at the concert the day after and had recorded it himself. He was a bit rattled in the details but I convinced him to bring the tape in and let me listen to it. I wasn’t getting my hopes up. About a week later he came back with a tape and after much assuring, let me take it home. It was incredible. A really good recording of the Denver show. At one point, Hendrix says, “Good to be in Denver-a mile high!” So clearly it is that show. He plays a totally unique jam that night I’ve never heard anywhere else. Daniel resurfaces every decade or so and has me make him another copy of the show. I hope he’s still doing well. The Regis show, and the posters that go with it, and the fact that Otis Taylor jammed with Hendrix late that night at the legendary Family Dog on Evans make this show an important part of Denver music history.

Poster and handbills from Jimi's Regis University show 
Denver 2/14/68

His records have really always been highly desirable since I’ve had the store. Most artists’ popularity waxes and wanes but Hendrix is evergreen in our racks. When I get a new piece of stereo equipment, the first song played is very important. It has to be something that I know inside out, that has great production dynamics, and that still gets me excited. For years, All Along The Watchtower from Electric Ladyland has been that test song for me. The minute that monster guitar part comes screaming out, I’m right there. Jimi’s the greatest!

Jimi in a record store 

Paul Epstein

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