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10 Defining Jimi Hendrix Live Moments

Live in Maui will only add iconic moments to the guitarist's beautiful and unpredictable legend

Jimi Hendrix from Live at Maui
Jimi Hendrix from Live at Maui
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The term “legend” gets tossed around too liberally. So does the qualifier “iconic.” That’s not the case with Jimi Hendrix. The Seattle-born guitarist and the impact he had on both popular music and culture as a whole in such a brief time are the thing of legend. It’s a legend captured, yes, by a series of ground-breaking studio albums, live recordings, archive film footage, and various artifacts from guitars to gypsy-style stage clothes exhibited in museums. But, equally important, his legend exists through the stories that people tell and retell hundreds of times, how listening to or seeing Hendrix made them feel, and all the other little moments they pluck out from what remains — in some cases, only in memory — of the man’s legacy. And when those moments enter into the public Idea of Jimi, they can rightfully be classified as iconic. They are the details, the parts of the legend that make us all nod and agree that, yes, that was Jimi Hendrix.

His legend will no doubt loom a little larger this week after the long-awaited release of Live in Maui and the accompanying documentary, Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui. The doc details the strange story behind the making of the 1971 film Rainbow Bridge. In short, the experimental film — billed in concept as the “antidote to Easy Rider” — crumbled in the hands of its director and producers, and the bulk of the footage of Hendrix performing with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox in what would be the trio’s second-to-last performance in the United States suffered from technical difficulties, got brutally edited, or just landed on the cutting-room floor altogether. While the film has gone down in the annals of botched movies, the Hendrix footage has been reclaimed from the cinematic wreckage and finally given the treatment it deserves in its first official release. As it turns out, not only is the 50-year-old performance full of essential Hendrix guitar gusto, but it’s likely the only time — and this sounds like the stuff of legend — the guitarist gave an intimate, outdoor performance in a tropical locale for an audience of wacky hippies and a chanting collective of Hare Krishnas.

In the spirit of stumbling upon treasures like those found in this collection and documentary, we’ve decided to take a look back at the live moments that have come to define Jimi Hendrix in the public imagination. We have no doubt that his exploits in Maui will only continue to help that legend grow in beautiful and unpredictable ways. Ways that make us think: only Jimi Hendrix.

     –Matt Melis
Editorial Director

Giveaway Reminder!

The Live in Maui vinyl box set is finally being released 50 years later. Alongside the collection’s three LPs is a Blu-ray of the new documentary Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix in Maui, which recounts the whole wild story of Rainbow Bridge and Hendrix’s performance. The set is out November 20th via Experience Hendrix, L.L.C. and Sony Legacy Recordings — but before they even drop, we’re giving you a chance to win them both.

We’re giving away one (1) copy of the Live in Maui box set, including the Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix in Maui documentary. Oh, but it gets so much better: We’re including a Fender Stratocaster in Polar White, plus a grip of Experience Hendrix merch including a T-shirt, sweatshirt, and beanie.

To win it all, simply enter using the widget below. (Note: If you’re having trouble seeing the widget, you can enter here.) The giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only, and requires entry into both the Consequence of Sound’s and Sony’s Hendrix newsletters.

Jimi Hendrix Live in Maui Vinyl Box Set + Prize Pack

 


Jimi Jams with Cream

In the mid-1960s, “Guitar God” Eric Clapton was considered the most distinguished and trendy six-string saint. Yet, once Hendrix’s manager, The Animals’ Chas Chandler, brought him to a Cream show at the London Polytechnic on October 1st, 1966, that dominance came into question. Chandler asked Clapton if Hendrix could jam with the trio, to which Clapton hesitantly agreed. To everyone’s surprise, Hendrix outshone Clapton, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker. Belting out his signature cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”, complete with trademark tricks (playing behind his back and playing with his teeth), his presence and skill were so intimidating that Clapton dropped his hands and walked off-stage in defeat. Clapton later remarked, “He played just about every style you could think of … and my life was never the same again.” Virtually every other guitarist in the scene felt the same way and rightfully so. –Jordan Blum


Hendrix Gets Experienced

Hendrix played with several acts before becoming a household name and a couple more afterward. But it’s safe to say that his fingers never caught quite the same lightening as when he played and recorded as the Jimi Hendrix Experience with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on skins. Hendrix and his manager, Chas Chandler, had recruited the like-minded rhythm section as a vehicle for the guitarist, who was struggling to make ends meet on the R&B circuit. To say things turned out well would be one of the great understatements in rock and roll history. The power trio played their first known gig together on October 13th, 1966, at the Novelty in Normandy, though no recording exists. Within a month, they had wowed several European audiences, signed to Track Records, laid down their first single (“Hey Joe”), recorded future classic “Stone Free”, and created enough buzz that Clapton, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Kevin Ayers were turning out to see them in London nightclubs. While it’s rare to find footage (if it even exists) of the earliest Experience shows, clips from half a year later, like the one above, show just how naturally these dynamic three fit together. –Matt Melis


Aflame at the Astoria

Hendrix was known for theatrical — and even dangerous — onstage antics, with his most outrageous gimmick being lighting his guitar on fire at the end of shows. Although he’d do it many times throughout his career (the Monterey Pop Festival is the most famous incident — see video above), he did it first at the London Astoria on March 31st, 1967. He, Chandler, and journalist Keith Altham were discussing how the Experience could get more media attention; after Hendrix joked about “smash[ing] an elephant” to upstage The Who, Altham replied, “Well, it’s a pity you can’t set fire to your guitar.” Fast-forward a couple of hours and Hendrix is basically praying to his engulfed instrument while bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell provide suitably dissonant backing. This led to the London press calling him “Black Elvis” and “The Wild Man of Borneo,” as well as one of the most legendary aspects of his live shows. –Jordan Blum


Sgt. Jimi’s Lonely Hearts Club Cover

Hendrix’s debut LP, Are You Experienced, was released on May 12th, 1967, and peaked at No. 2 on the UK Official Charts. What took the top spot? The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s, of course, which makes his interpretation of the title track even more enjoyable since it demonstrates admiration rather than competition. Hendrix performed it at Brian Epstein’s Saville Theatre on June 4th — a mere week after Sgt. Pepper’s arrived — so the turnaround alone warrants acclaim. Thankfully, his version accomplishes the same feat as the rest of his covers: a uniquely Hendrix spin that honors the original’s foundation. Unsurprisingly, it’s a looser and harsher take, and it’s endearing to see Hendrix honor the Fab Four so directly. In fact, McCartney later commented: “It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honors of my career.” Such mutual admiration testifies to how respected Hendrix was right away. –Jordan Blum


Making Moves at Monterey

Typically, an artist becomes famous in their home country before finding international success. That wasn’t the case with Hendrix, though, as he became huge in England about a year before making a similar impression in America. Specifically, it was Hendrix’s appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 18th, 1967, that did the trick. He was suggested by Paul McCartney — who joined the board of organizers just to make sure that the Experience got their shot — and enthusiastically introduced by Brian Jones. Obviously, imagery of Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire and then throwing pieces of the destroyed remnants at the audience has become synonymous with the gathering; yet, it’s his setlist — which included staples like “Foxy Lady”, “Wild Thing”, and “The Wind Cries Mary” — made just as much of an impression. The best of the bunch, however, was his exhilarating rendition of “Hey Joe”, teeth-solo and all. –Jordan Blum


Crown Jewel of England

Fans of Hendrix are rather fortunate in one regard. While there is a finite amount of footage to document that such a man ever existed, once it became clear that Jimi was a once-in-a-lifetime (probably an understatement) talent, the cameras started rolling fairly frequently. Hence, we actually have footage — at least in part — of so many of the moments and concerts that populate this list, which has helped in both the formation and safekeeping of his legend. Billed as one of “Rock’s Greatest Lost Treasures,” the half-century-old footage of The Experience’s final European show at The Royal Albert Hall (they had opened there for Pink Floyd just two years prior) captures the original trio at their finest. Featuring a frenzied encore of “Purple Haze”, “Wild Thing”, and “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the show is even better known for Hendrix closing out the main set with the rarity “Room Full of Mirrors”. Last year, fans flocked back to the Royal Albert Hall for a special one-time screening of the film at the very place it all happed 50 years before. –Matt Melis


Star-Spangled Stratocaster

Regarding both sights and sounds, arguably no other Hendrix moment is more iconic and emblematic than his Woodstock rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on August 18th, 1969. Adorned with a red headscarf, a fringed white leather jacket, blue jeans, and his famed white Stratocaster, his patient yet impassioned emulation is a seminal example of someone reinterpreting an old standard for a modern audience. However, it’s the various ways in which he infuses the performance with feedback, note modulation, and other symbolic abstraction (to juxtapose the unity of patriotism with the Vietnam War’s destruction and division) that seals the deal. New York Post writer Al Aronowitz famously declared, “It was the most electrifying moment of Woodstock, and it was probably the single greatest moment of the sixties,” while the editors of Guitar World named it the greatest performance of all time in 2011. Indeed, musical noise had never felt so necessary. –Jordan Blum


Fillmore Funk

Despite leading a triumphant trio, Hendrix faced some backlash for playing with Caucasian musicians in the Experience. That, plus legal issues with producer Ed Chalpin, led to Hendrix recording his first live album, Band of Gypsys, on New Year’s Eve 1969 at New York’s Fillmore East with a new, all-black trio completed by drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox (who was also at Woodstock). Thus, it’s automatically a significant live moment for at least a few major reasons. Plus, the new rhythm section added s stronger jazz fusion, funk, and soul emphasis to the material, especially on compositions like “Machine Gun” and “Message to Love.” To that end, the performance is often credited as helping invent funk rock, and in hindsight, it’s both exciting and tragic to see how much Hendrix was expanding his sound mere months before he passed away. Who knows where he would’ve gone from here? –Jordan Blum


Jimi and the Masses

Hendrix spent the last two calendar years of his career (and life) as the highest-paid performer in the world. Those two years were mired in intraband turmoil, drug addiction, and varying accounts of his work ethic in the studio. That said, the period was also spotted with some of the most dynamic live performances of the legend’s career. That distinction includes his appearance at 1970’s Atlanta International Pop Festival. Promising, similar to Woodstock, “three days of peace, love, and music,” hundreds of thousands of fans flocked to a raceway in Byron, Georgia, enduring 100-degree heat to see their favorite bands. Billed as The Jimi Hendrix Experience (though Redding had been replaced by Bobby Cox), Hendrix — wearing tight, red pants, a psychedelic shirt with flowing sleeves, and his signature headband cutting through his Afro — emerged on July 4th as every bit the guitar god and ’60s emblem that fans longed to see. It was the largest crowd Hendrix would ever play for (crowd estimates top out at 500,000), and thanks to the beautifully preserved footage of the event, we know they got a night that, drugs permitting, they’ll never forget. –Matt Melis


A Quiet Farewell

The biggest rock star in the world finished his career much like it started. Not playing to half a million people or topping an iconic festival bill with the cameras rolling, but rather in an intimate, English jazz club called Ronnie Scott’s in London on September 16th, 1970. The Animals’ Eric Burdon was leading an informal jam there with his current band, War, and Hendrix hopped onstage for the final two tracks: “Mother Earth” and “Tobacco Road”. Luckily, fans were recording the session, and, in a sense, it’s allowed us to hear the last musical words of Hendrix. As the groove of “Tobacco Road” runs its course and the tape starts to hiss and pop, a mix of emotions can be felt. On one hand, we think, too soon gone. On the other, tragic as his passing less than 48 hours would be, we can be grateful that he left us a legend so indelible and vibrant and moments like those on this list that allow us to re-experience his genius whenever we choose. –Matt Melis

 

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