The Jimi Hendrix Experience at Monterey
In the mid 1960s Hendrix had left his native US, after stints in the military and on the chitlin circuit. He decamped to London in 1966, assembled his trio and lit the city on fire. Quickly becoming the toast of the town, he attracted the attention of British rock royalty, who crowded into sweaty clubs around swinging Carnaby Street. Not only did he dress with flash, he crucially played with flash and innovation that had to be seen to be believed. From Townshend to Clapton to Lennon and McCartney to the Rolling Stones, Hendrix gathered no moss in collecting name brand fans. His previous time backing up the likes of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, the Isley Brothers and Little Richard allowed him to hone his fret-wringing chops. He clashed with many of his bosses (including Ike Turner) over his scene-stealing stage stylings. In the space of nine months in London, Hendrix reinvented himself and the concept of the rock guitar god. He took center stage and dominated that position for several years until his early death.
Hendrix brought his reinvented bad self back to the USA for the June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Amidst the gentle peace, love, tie-dye and flowers in one’s hair, Hendrix exploded. The first full release of this epochal performance is finally available. The CD contains his full performance, remastered for full aural onslaught. The DVD is packed with extra material, and is certainly the best value. All existing footage from the performance is included, with previously unseen alternate camera angles. The footage is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with a new 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo mixes by Eddie Kramer (the engineer closely associated with Hendrix), from the original eight-track live recordings made at the concert by remote engineer Wally Heider. A tasty bonus treat are live performances of “Stone Free” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” the two earliest known unreleased Jimi Hendrix Experience performances, shot February 25, 1967 at Chelmsford, England. The sonically-saturated songs (and stunned audience) are preceded by a time capsule tour of the groovy Lord Kitchener’s Valet clothing shop, which I remember visiting with my folks a couple decades after its heyday.
The DVD is fully loaded with past and present interviews from a wide cast of characters, setting the stage for the guitarist’s invasion of the USA. One tasty nugget is from industry legend Joe Smith (former President of Warner Bros Records), who tells of being tipped by Lennon to see and sign Hendrix. Smith quickly signed Hendrix for North America (the only remaining territory available) and put Hendrix on the Reprise label. Reprise had been recently launched by Warner Bros for none other than Frank Sinatra; talk about strange labelmates / bedfellows. The DVD does a fine job of literally setting the stage for Monterey.
Hendrix should have been the headliner, but John Phillips, one of the key architects of the Monterey Pop Festival, wanted his band to close the show. Clearly, the Mamas and Papas found Hendrix a tough act to follow. Townshend describes his insistence that The Who would not follow Hendrix, and describes a wonderful backstage argument in front of Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton and Brian Jones. Hendrix acquiesces, but warns that he will ‘pull out all the stops.’ He stayed true to his word. Monterey is the infamous performance Hendrix closes by lighting his guitar in a burnt offering to the assembled multitude.
Once onstage, obviously under the influence, some of Hendrix’s vocal ramblings prove he should have let his guitar do the talking. But Hendrix offers a few eyebrow raising asides, like thanking Bob Dylan’s grandmother in the audience and an oblique reference to Fats Waller when Hendrix downplayed America’s reticence about his English popularity (‘your feet’s too big’). These bon mots reveal Hendrix’s astute stage presence. “Hey Joe” and “The Wind Cries Mary” are particularly well-crafted.
In the scorching cover of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” he quotes another then-current chart hit “Strangers in the Night” from his unlikely Reprise label mate Sinatra. This cheeky riff has withstood the test of time, even if it sneaks by nearly unnoticed.
Hendrix took the Monterey stage a near-unknown and left the stage a legend. He changed the face of rock guitar. He went from the wildly sublime to the ridiculous (briefly opening for the Monkees) and on to further fame when the Monterey documentary was released theatrically by DA Pennebaker. At Woodstock Hendrix cemented his permanence in the pantheon of rock innovators.
But Monterey is where it all exploded, and these reissues are the definitive archives of one of the defining moments in rock.