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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Hendrix Interviews

 The first interview February 6th 1967 – London, Montague Square

 As an eighteen-year old arriving in London in September of 1966, I had already seen a whole series of American Folk Blues Festivals in the UK, with the likes of Sleepy John Estes, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Dixon. In May of that year I had sat behind an electrifying Bob Dylan and the Band at Manchester Free Trade Hall and clearly recall someone shouting a still unreported “Remember Selma Alabama!” Bob denied knowing her! So London was no big deal. I was there to study journalism at Regent Street Polytechnic; three of Pink Floyd were there at the same time in the Architecture School. October 1st was the event of the first term, Cream playing at the Students Union. I wasn’t a big fan of Clapton’s blues output, but Cream was different. The hall was packed. I’d broken my spectacles and couldn’t see very well, but around two thirds of the way through a special guest was brought on - someone called Jimi Hendrix!






All I can recall was Jimi sashaying across the stage in some sort of mutant Chuck Berryesque duckwalk, playing some guitar with his teeth and chopping out a nasty version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” It was stunning. There was not much in the press to follow, but “Hey Joe” was released later that year and charted in December. Looking to place my first story in West One, an in-house student magazine that had both news and features, I contacted Hendrix’s management and went to see Mike Jeffries in a dingy office on Gerrard Street, in London’s Chinatown. The interview was fixed in early January 1967.

I turned up to see Jimi at his flat on Montague Square, cassette recorder and one cassette in hand. He was friendly and relaxed through the chat. His girlfriend ”€œ I assume Kathy Etchingham ”drifted in and out. There was a huge stack of vinyl records. On top was Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers and under that a Lenny Bruce album. The cassette soon ran out and we stayed chatting mostly on inconsequentials of the London scene and also about favourite blues artists. Jimi played me a version of “Purple Haze” but without vocals and invited me to Olympia Studios the following day when he was to record the voicings. Of course, I was knocked out at the prospect and left in a great mood. But we met his then-manager Chas Chandler on the way in with his cronies, and he nixed my attendance at the next day’s session. I left in moods swinging between elated and crestfallen.

I was 18/19 when these interviews were done. The first interview was actually the first interview I’d ever done. There was no rock journalism as we were shortly to know it in the seventies.

Steve Barker: What are the main influences in your music?

Jimi Hendrix: Well, I don’t have any right now. I used to like Elmore James and early Muddy Waters and stuff like that ”’ Robert Johnson and all those old cats.

Do you feel any heritage from the old bluesmen?

No, ’cause I can’t even sing! When I first started playing guitar is was way up in the Northwest, in Seattle, Washington. They don’t have too many of the real blues singers up there. When I really learned to play was down South. Then I went into the Army for about nine months, but I found a way to get out of that. When I came out I went down South and all the cats down there were playing blues, and this is when I really began to get interested in the scene.

What’s the scene like now on the West Coast?

Well, I haven’t been on the West Coast for a long time. But when I was on the East Coast the scene was pretty groovy. I’d just lay around and play for about two dollars a night, and then I’d try and find a place to stay at night after I finished playing. You had to chat somebody up real quick before you had a place to stay.

What do you think the scene is like over there compared to Britain?

Well, I never had a chance to get on the scene over there, but from what I’ve seen [in England] it’s pretty good. I thought it could be a whole lot of cats who could play it but not really feel it. But I was surprised, especially when I heard Eric Clapton, man. It was ridiculous. I thought, “God!” And every time we get together, that’s all we talk about ”’ playing music. I used to like Spencer Davis, but I heard that old Stevie’s [Winwood] left them, and I think it’s official about two days ago, or it was yesterday.

What about the Beatles and the things they’re doing now?

Oh, yes, I think it’s good. They’re one group that you can’t really put down because they’re just too much and it’s so embarrassing, man, when America is sending over the Monkees ’oh, God, that kills me! I’m so embarrassed that America could be so stupid as to make somebody like that. They could have at least done it with a group that has something to offer. They got groups in the States starving to death trying to get breaks and then these fairies come up.

Did you ever meet Bob Dylan in the States?

I saw him one time, but both of us were stoned out of our minds. I remember it vaguely. It was at this place called The Kettle of Fish in the Village. We were both stoned there, and we just hung around laughing ’yeah, we just laughed. People have always got to put him down. I really dig him, though. I like that Highway 61 Revisited album and especially “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”! He doesn’t inspire me actually, because I could never write the kind of words he does. But he’s helped me out in trying to write about two or three words ’cause I got a thousand songs that will never be finished. I just lie around and write about two or three words, but now I have a little more confidence in trying to finish one. When I was down in the Village, Dylan was starving down there. I hear he used to have a pad with him all the time to put down what he sees around him. But he doesn’t have to be stoned when he writes, although he probably is a cat like that, he just doesn’t have to be.

How does the Experience get such fusion when you’re basically a bluesman, Noel’s a rock man, and Mitch a jazzman?

I don’t know! Actually, this is more like a free-style thing. We know what song we’re gonna play and what key it’s in and the chord sequences, and we just take it from there. And so far it hasn’t bugged me in any way like saying, “Oh, no! There he goes playing that rock and roll bass pattern again.” Everybody’s doing pretty cool.

Are you just experimenting in your music or moving towards an end?

I guess it is experimenting just now. Maybe in about six or seven months or when our next album comes out we’ll know more what we’re doing. All the tracks on our first LP are going to be originals, but we might play Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” on it.

What do you think of the auto-destruction and the things The Who are doing?

We don’t really break anything onstage ”only a few strings. Actually, we do anything we feel like. If we wanted to break something up, we would do it. There’s a lot of times in the past I have felt like that too. But it isn’t just for show, and I can’t explain the feeling. It’s just like you want to let loose and do exactly what you want if your parents weren’t watching. I dig The Who ”I like a lot of their songs! The Byrds are pretty good too, though I know you don’t dig them over here. They’re on a different kick. I like them.

How about free expression in jazz?

I’d have to be in a certain mood if I could sit up and listen to it all day. I like Charles Mingus and this other cat who plays all the horns, Roland Kirk. I like very different jazz, not all this regular stuff. Most of it is blowing blues, and that’s why I like free-form jazz ”the groovy stuff instead of the old-time hits like they get up there and play “How High Is the Moon” for hours and hours. It gets to be a drag.

How do you feel onstage?

I get a kick out of playing. It’s the best part of this whole thing, and recording too. I wrote a song called “I Don’t Live Today,” and we got the music together in the studio. It’s a freak-out tune. I might as well say that, ’cause everyone else is going to anyway. Do you want to know the real meaning of that? Now, alright, I’ll tell you this ”don’t think anything bad, okay? This is what they used to say in California ages ago: “Guess what ”I seen in a car down on Sunset Strip. I seen Gladys with Pete and they were freakin’ out. ”That’s what it means ” sexual perverting. Now they get freakin’ off and out in all these songs, so it’s got nothing at all to do with sex now, I guess. Anyway, that’s what it used to mean ”perversion, like you might see a beautiful girl and say she’s a beautiful “freak,” you know. [Laughs.] I’m being frank ”that’s all, so I guess I’ll get deported soon.

What about noses?

Well, if you didn’t have a nose you’d probably have to breathe out your ears, man. Then you’d have to clean your ears and blow them.

Do you ever read the International Times?

Oh, yeah! I think that’s kind of groovy. They get almost too wrapped up with something, but it’s really nice what they’re doing. They have a paper like that in the Village, The East Village Other. The Village’s Fugs are real crazy; they do things arranged from William Burroughs, songs about lesbians, and things like “Freakin Out With a Barrel of Tomatoes,” squashing them all between your armpits ”euughh! You’d never believe it, man, those cats are downright vulgar. They tell these nasty, beautiful poems! The nastiest ones you could think of. Here’s one thing I hate, man: When these cats say, “Look at the band ”’ they’re playing psychedelic music!” and all they’re really doing is flashing lights on them and playing “Johnny B. Goode” with the wrong chords, it’s terrible.

What do you think of this psychedelic bit?

There’s this cat smashing a car when he might be singing a song about “I love you, baby.” [Most likely Jimi is here referring to the band The Move.] Now what does that have to do with it? Now, if he was saying the car is evil and the music is in the background and he’s out there reading poetry with his little green and gold robe on - that might have some meaning. Singing “Love Is Strange” while smashing an M.G. up is just stupid.

Have you seen Pink Floyd?

I’ve heard they have beautiful lights but they don’t sound like nothing.

How’s Donovan and his little scene?

He’s nice ”kinda sweet! He’s a nice little cat in his own groove, all about flowers and people wearing golden underwear. I like Donovan as a person, but nobody is going to listen to this “love”bit. I like Dylan’s music better because it’s more earthy and live. “Mellow Yellow” is slang in the States for really groovy. “Sunshine Superman”means he can get his girl ”anyway, that’s my interpretation. I’d like to play some sessions behind Dylan. His group ought to be a little more creative. These days everybody thinks everybody else has to have trips, and people are singing about trips. Like the Byrds when they made “Eight Miles High,”it was just about a plane journey and you do get a good feeling up there. They were even trying to ban “Green Green Grass of Home” back in the States.

The second interview – Manchester University gig November 8th 1967

In November 1967, whilst at Keele University, I was involved in the student magazine Unit – edited by Tony Elliott, who was to go on to found Time Out. I suggested a Hendrix piece, as the Jimi Hendrix Experience was due to play at Manchester University Students Union. In the period since the first interview, Jimi had become a megastar and was packing in audiences up and down the country and into Europe. I travelled to Manchester with some friends and we made our way to the gig, this time lugging a portable Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder.












On arriving I found the dressing room packed with people, including Mitch and Noel, twin black girls and a bunch of the usual hangers on – but no Jimi. I asked where he was and someone said “Check next door.” I entered the room to find Jimi alone, leaning on a radiator next to a window about fifteen or twenty feet across the room. He looked up and said, “Hello, Steve. How are you?”


I didn’t think much about it at the time, but soon after, on reflection, I appreciated this as the mark of the man. Since I’d met him nine months previously, Jimi had experienced incredible success, fan adulation, and had accrued all the trappings of what was to become “the rock-star lifestyle” – hangers-on, sycophancy, pressure, freely available narcotics, etc. But he still remembered my name and behaved like a perfect gentleman, which is the way I always remember him.










 Steve Barker: [Into microphone] Testing 8, 12, 0.

Jimi Hendrix:  [Sings line from Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”] “When you’re lost in Juarez and it’s Easter time too.”

The blurb on your first LP says you are trying to “create create create.” Are you satisfied with what you’re creating?

We like to have our own sound, but we’re not satisfied, not yet. You might be pleased with what you’re doing once in a while, but never really satisfied. We’re pleased with the LP we’ve just finished, for instance [Axis: Bold as Love], but the ideas we got out of it could go on to our next one.

 How far can you go with the music you’re playing now?

I don’t know. You can go on until you bore yourself to death, I guess. You got to try something else.

What will it be?

I think I’ll start all over again and come back as a king bee. [Laughs]

You write all of your own material. Where does it come from?

Just from me. It’s like . . . er, where does it come from? I’m not sure. Like, we go to clubs a lot and all around, riding in taxis, and you happen to see a lot of things. You see everything, experience everything, as you live. Even if you’re living in a little room, you see a lot of things if you have imagination. The songs just come.

 [Steve quotes a line from Jimi’s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”] “Loneliness is such a drag”?

That’s what it is. It really is sometimes. That was the song I liked best of all we did. I’m glad it didn’t make it big and get thrown around.

Does this mean you’re an introvert?

Well, sometimes. Right then when I wrote “Midnight Lamp” I was, but really I have to catch myself and find out. I was feeling kind of down like that. So you go on into different moods, and when you write your mood comes through. So you can go back and listen to your own records and know how you were feeling then and how your moods change at different times.

“Loneliness is such a drag” is a kind of whispery, quiet thing. How come you put these words in among powerful, extroverted music?

I like to play loud. I always did like to play loud. The words of the song just come. They mean a lot, but I don’t know how they come out. It starts off very quiet until we get into it.

How much do you owe to a blues background?

No necessarily anything! I went down South and just listened to the way the people played, and I dug it. But then I like a lot of other things too – that’s why we try to do our own stuff, make something new.

There’s been a lot of controversy over the responsibilities of pop stars. Do you yourself feel any?

That’s silly. Whatever a cat does in his private life should be his own business. Everybody knows this. But you can say it a million times, and it still won’t get through to some people. I really don’t feel responsible too much to myself – maybe that’s all. There are so much other things inside that you feel you can do. There are so many things on my mind. I could start again now – a year of creative work for us is like nothing to a lot of other groups.

 Do you ever feel like going away and sorting yourself out, like Bob Dylan did?

I think that’s going to have to happen soon anyway, because everyone’s getting so tired. You work so hard sometimes, and it gets to be really frustrating. . . . Just around now it’s coming up to winter, and you’ve got to give everything a chance to work up in the spring. It’s natural. That’s when everything happens anyway – you know this – so everyone’s going to have a heart attack just ’cause the flowers are lowering their heads for a second or two.

 What’s happening to you in the spring?

If I don’t get hit by a car or a train, I’ll be around.

How come you got caught up in the hippie scene?

What do you mean? [Writhes and says in a deep voice, “I’m a hippie, I’m a hippie, baby.”] No, it just happened to come about that we were around at the time of psychedelia and all the in clothes. I dug that scene, but not necessarily what you call the “hippie scene.” ’Cause I don’t like classification anyway, regardless of the scene. We just happened to be playing freak-out and psychedelic things, but it does bother us because “psychedelic” only mean mind-expansion anyway. I can’t hear one single word the Pink Floyd are saying. It happens to us, but that’s just anybody’s opinion. There’s so many other types of music – we just happened to be in that groove, that bag, right then.

Do you try to communicate by words or sound when you’re onstage, or both?

Most of the songs we’re doing now, people know the words, I think, but it probably doesn’t mean much to them. They just want somebody to break their neck onstage.

 Does this mean you write primarily for yourself?

Oh, definitely. One song we did called “I Don’t Live Today” was dedicated to the American Indian and all minority depression groups. All I did was just use a few words, and they said, “What does that mean? That doesn’t mean anything.” Eeurggh! ’Cause it was only three or four lines in there anyway.

How about straight piss-talking, like the Mothers of Invention?

I like to listen to them, but we do our own thing. You know, we had a chance to go into that bag ’cause everybody’s mind is still open, but we decided we didn’t want to go that way completely towards strict freak-out. I hit the harp on our next LP [laughs]. The words are very, very important on this next one.

Do you still dig Donovan and his golden underwear?

We go over to his house, but he’s in the States now. We have a lot of fun together.

You said the love bit wouldn’t last – looks like you’re going to be right.

This scene’s like bells and everything and all those little pseudo hippies running around flashing their little “Love, Not War” badges. Those kind won’t last because they’re going to hop on the next train, any train, that comes close to them and is easy to hop. But you don’t really know anymore what a hippie is supposed to be.

 Is stage work still the most important part of your scene?

Well, tonight I was so frustrated, man. We just couldn’t get it together because we haven’t been playing in so long. We’ve been working on the LP. If we did those songs now, they’d miss half the words because the P.A. went out, and we were playing so loud. So it wouldn’t mean nothing to them if we did our new songs. Now we got to wait till the LP comes out – then we can interpret them so much better. It’s so frustrating now – we’re playing the same old songs, and they expect you to do this and do that, and then your guitar gets out of tune and you don’t get a chance to play well. I don’t like laying around. I like to play all the time.

You once wanted to do the old Bukka White song “Fixin’ to Die” as a single, but it never came out. Are there any pressures on you as to what material you record?

No, not at all. We’re just writing and playing what we want, but our moods change. Like once we wanted a Dylan song as one of our singles, then we wanted this and that. But we always wind up doing our own – regardless of whether they flop or not, at least we’re doing our own thing. If you do someone else’s song every fifth single, it shows something’s missing. But you don’t throw just anything out on record.

What do you do it all for anyway?

I like to be involved, and I like music. The same old story – all that goody-goody stuff. Music is a love to me. I love it, and the people are so nice. [In a strained, sarcastic voice] The money’s great too.

 I heard you were in a group in New York with Tim Rose and Mama Cass.

That’s not true. It was another Jimmy. We just happen to have liked “Hey, Joe.” I seen Tim Rose* about one time in the Village, for about half a second, and this is after we went back to the States. He tapped me on the shoulder and said [imitates a stoned-sounding voice], “Hi. I’m Tim Rose.” And then he disappears. All this happened within a third of a second. I like his songs, but that’s all I’ve ever seen of him.

 (Tim Rose = the song “Hey Joe” is credited to him)

 What are you trying to do with your new LP?

I really can’t say. It’s very hard to explain your own type of music to somebody. Unless you have a very definite idea of where you’re going, it doesn’t really make any difference which direction you choose, as long as you’re really honest about the songs you write.

What do you think about the commercial pop scene right now?

[Simulates a confused stutter] Well, have you heard the Marmalade and their record “I See the Rain”? I don’t understand why that wasn’t a hit.

Because they have no name and no publicity?

 We didn’t have a name when we first started.

 But you had the publicity.

 But we earned it, though, didn’t we? I think we did. My hair is breaking off now from the hard English water. I’m almost going bald. I guess I used to have it cut much longer.

What level are you aiming for when you make a record – the kids?

 No, not necessarily. We quite naturally want people to like it – that’s the reason for putting the record out. You see, I have no taste. I couldn’t say what’s a good record and what’s a bad one, really. We play records at the flat sometimes and say, “This is great,” and then somebody will say, “Oh, yeah, but it’s something else.” Then they say “That’s terrible,” and I’d say, “That’s great – the tremolos, for instance.” [Laughs.] So I don’t have no feeling about commercial records. I don’t know what a commercial record really is. So what we do is write and try to get it together as best as possible for anybody who’d really dig it. It doesn’t make any difference who.

 How big a part do visuals play in your stage work?

 You just do it when you feel like it sometimes. I didn’t feel like leaping about tonight too much. I used to feel I had to do it, but not anymore. Man, you’d have a heart attack if you were doing it every night like we were doing it two or three months ago. We’d be dead by this time. Anyway, you can’t do it right unless you feel it. Half of the things I do I don’t even know it, because I just felt like it at the time. If you have everything planned out and one little thing goes wrong, you think, “Oh, no! What am I supposed to be doing now? Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be going like this – do do do de do. ‘Hi, everybody. I’m doing it.’” So you’d really be in a world of trouble if one little thing goes wrong.

 Do you think you’re a changed person since you came to England?

 I didn’t used to talk so much before.

 To people like me.

 No, that’s alright. [Laughs.] Ho hum. I’m as good as bunnies – and you know how good bunnies are.

 Noel Redding: Talk to Mitch. He’s got a very good voice.

What would you think if people went off on you like they do with Dylan?

 I don’t think about it. Ever since he’s been around, people have been kicking him around, saying, “Oh, man, he sings like a broken-leg dog.

[At this point, Jill Nicholls from the Manchester Independent asked Jimi the following question] Mr.Hendrix, is there anything you want materially?

[Noel and other men in the room burst into laughter.] Jimi: Eh?

Is there anything left?

There’s a whole lot of things left – thousands of them. I see them downtown every day. Millions of ’em. Ohh! Marvelous!

 Do you ever think about going back to the States?

I think about it every single day. I really miss it, like the West Coast, because nothing has happened for me. I just like to be out there. I like the weather, the scenery, and some of the people. You can buy a chocolate milkshake in a drugstore, chewing gum in a gas station, and soup from little machines on the road. It’s great, it’s beautiful. It’s all screwed up and nasty and prejudiced, and it’s great and beautiful. It has everything. The same things we hear from there now about the troubles is the same things we hear from Russia – it’s just propaganda, just like Radio Free Europe tells the Russians. [At this point the road manager asks Jimi if he will do a photo shoot, but Jimi continues.] In the States I was playing behind other groups. And for only the first two months before I left the States, we was playing in the Village. I had my own group and we had offers from record companies all over the place, but I don’t think we was ready then. So finally I came over here [to England] with Chas Chandler, with the main ambition to get a group and try to make with something new, whereas in the States I’d been playing behind people like Joey Dee.

 What did you think of it?

 I don’t dig playing in Top-40 R&B groups. They get feedback in “Midnight Hour.” You can’t do nothing free – everything is completely precise. We came over here with one purpose, and that was to make it. That’s the whole scene. As soon as we start getting behind the times, that’ll be the time to give up. That might be tomorrow evening about 5:45, but we’ll try for as long as possible to keep our own sound, regardless of how it might change. [Jimi notices Steve’s microphone] What a pretty microphone!

 Yeah, it’s cute, isn’t it?

 Yeah. Thank you!

 Many thanks to Jas Obrecht for publishing the first complete unedited verbatim record of my Jimi Hendrix interviews around 2009 in his now defunct website. He’s still around though and a couple of years ago published “Stone Free Jimi Hendrix in London, September 1966–June 1967” via the University of North Carolina Press. Edited versions also appeared in West One (Regent Street Polytechnic student magazine), Unit (Keele University student magazine), Debris (Manchester based magazine edited by Dave Haslam and also used in a number of books where the headline subject was Jimi Hendrix – permission was asked, given and credited)


Steve Barker retains the publishing copyrights for these interviews.