Book of the Week: In Search Of Captain Beefheart – Pt. 22 – Jimi’s Spanish Castles crashing

Jimi’s Spanish Castles crashing

Jimi epitomised the whole 60s thing. He burst upon the scene in 1966 with ‘Hey Joe’ propelling the British Psychedelic scene into a new dimension.

I remember I was with my best mate Oz when I first heard it. You did a double take because it was a new sound. Your ears hadn’t heard anything like it before. It sent shivers through me. That guitar was out of this world.

It had a similar affect on everyone else, particularly musicians. I have read extensively about the effect it had on the British guitarists of the time – Clapton, Beck and Entwhistle. It hit them harder than it did me. They got to see him close up right from the start! At least I got to hear a few singles and a couple of albums first!

Jimi brought all the showmanship of the black R&B scene along with a prowess on the guitar that hasn’t been matched before or since. He was a revelation.

 Opher – still working on that same complicated chord impersonating Jimi

Following ‘Hey Joe’ was a string of equally astounding stuff. There was ‘Purple Haze’, ‘The Wind cries Mary’ and ‘the burning of the midnight lamp’. There were the first two albums – ‘Are you experienced?’ and ‘Axis bold as love’.

Hendrix was the hottest act round. Not only was the music so different, explosive and amazing but the act was as well. He played the guitar behind his head, with his teeth, elbow and backside. He created all this feedback that he harnessed and played. He smashed his guitar, burn it, sacrificed it and made love to it. He salaciously rubbed his guitar up against the speaker stacks with his hips while it shrieked and wailed.

Has anything ever been so exciting? I’d never seen it if it has!

I caught him in a small club in full swing. I caught him in Woburn abbey in full flow and I caught him at the Royal Albert Hall looking a bit jaded.

The trouble was that it was all too intense!

He’d started off really enjoying the act but after a hundred times of doing the greatest hits with all the histrionics it had all become tiresome. There were only so many times you could churn out even a track as good as ‘Foxy Lady’ without it becoming tiresome. It ceased to be fun and became a chore. There was a big difference between playing the guitar with your teeth for a laugh and doing it for the umpteenth time because it was expected of you. You could see he’d got tired of it.

I don’t think it was so much that he’d grown out of the Experience as he needed a break from it and needed some new stimulation and direction. He could have done with a long holiday.

Then there were the wrangles with Chas Chandler which ended with a parting of the ways. Jimi did his next album ‘Electric Ladyland’ with a wider set of musicians, longer, more fully realised tracks and a sprawling double album release.

It was panned at the time. Everyone thought it was too long, needed editing down, and would be better as shorter more punchy songs like on ‘Axis bold as love’. Even Hendrix responded by saying he should have worked on it longer and it wasn’t complete.

It was only later when you go back to it with fresh ears that you see what a work of genius it was. It just takes a while to tune your ear into its greater sophistication.

Following all the pressures – there were rumours of racism, antagonism with Noel, the mafia and pressure from the Black Panther movement – there was the disaster of the split of the Experience.

Jimi got together with some black musicians and produced the funkier ‘Band of Gypsies’. They were slated. Everyone wanted the exciting, dynamic Experience back. They wanted the wild showman and raucous rockin’ Jimi. They got a more thoughtful, subdued and sophisticated funky Jimi who was focussed on producing a mellower jazzy sound.

He played the Isle of Wight and then was gone. He suffocated on his own vomit.

It was not only tragic but was surrounded with rumour. There’d been wine and sleeping pills? Jimi had been left for hours while they cleaned up the flat and got rid of the dope because the police would bust them? His girlfriend panicked and didn’t call an ambulance? It all sounded a mess. Seemingly Jimi arrived, after a botched ambulance fiasco, at hospital barely alive and they couldn’t revive him. Who knows the truth?

It summarised the whole 60s. There was excitement and huge promise, followed by decay, disillusionment that descended into despair and apathy; then a break up and the culmination into death.

You can substitute Koss, Barrett, Lennon, Morrison, Joplin, Brian Jones and a host of others.

Jimi was probably the greatest loss of all. The stuff he was working on at the time of his death was incredible. You could hear what he was capable of. There is no telling what direction he would have headed out into. I can’t imagine him decaying into a trite cabaret act like Clapton. He had balls, imagination and desire to back up his immense prowess.

At the time of his death he had released three studio albums, a live Band of Gypsies album and ‘Smash Hits’. It was not a huge amount.

Since his death the releases have continued to come and come. I have numerous ten CD boxes, 6 CD boxes and 4 CD boxes. There are a huge number of studio outtakes, live performances and radio/TV shows. I don’t know how many hundreds of hours of music I have. I only know it is not enough! I stood outside Electric Ladyland studio’s in New York and wondered.

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