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!” 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, 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 – 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, and he nixed my attendance at the next day’s session. I left in moods swinging between elation and crestfallen.
The January 1967 Interview
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.
Many thanks to Steve Barker for his kindness.
This Jimi Hendrix interview is ©Steve Barker 2011. Used by author’s permission. All rights reserved. This interview not be reproduced anywhere in any form without Steve Barker’s written permission. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
At the time of the interviews, Steve was a student in Swinging London. Today he lives in Beijing, China. For the last 26 years he has produced and presented “On the Wire,” a music show for BBC Radio Lancashire in the UK (www.otwradio.blogspot.com). He is also the regular dub columnist and contributor for the Wire magazine (www.thewire.co.uk). He regularly DJs dub sets at clubs in Beijing and Shanghai. In the near future we’ll publish Steve’s second – and more in-depth – Jimi Hendrix interview from November 1967.
More Hendrix in Prepared Guitar