Jimi Hendrix A Song For My Friend
LiveAuctionTalk.com: by Rosemary McKittrick
Photo courtesy of Christie's.
“This song is for a friend of mine.” Jimi Hendrix whispered softly into the microphone toward the end of his performance. The songster began to slowly improvise on his guitar. The music he played sounded fragile and grief-stricken.
No one had heard anything quite like this before from Jimi.
His playing seemed to embrace the anger and hurt the audience and he were both experiencing. His music was common ground, a place where they could come together and mourn.
It was April 5, 1968. The audience knew Jimi’s song was an elegy to Martin Luther King Jr. who had been shot and killed the day before in Memphis.
Jimi was performing in Newark that night and thought about cancelling the show. But the Newark Police Department insisted the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” would perform.
They were certain if he didn’t black citizens would burn the city down. Inside the music hall the sound of gunfire could be heard in the streets. The stagehands figured they could all end up dead.
“We all thought there was some kind of conspiracy going on, to eliminate people who were seen as enemies of some kind of dream of America that had never been,” said Mark Boyle, a lighting technician, who was now part of the audience.
As Jimi, a self-taught guitarist performed his elegy to King other stagehands appeared from backstage and stood near the amplifiers. They like the audience were crying from the flood of emotion coming from Jimi’s body and guitar.
Jimi was making it up as he went along. “Hauntingly beautiful…appallingly beautiful,” is how Boyle described it. When he was done the singer, songwriter-guitarist laid down his guitar and quietly walked off stage.
It was like the audience was in a trance. There was no applause. Jimi had touched something deep and there wasn’t anything left to say or do.
His show that night was called one of his greatest unrecorded performances.
Jimi Hendrix has been called the greatest electric guitar player in music history. He showed up on the radar for many Americans in 1967 after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Two years later he was one of the headliners at the Woodstock Festival.
He started out playing backup for performers like Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and the Isley Brothers. He formed his own group called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and played gigs around New York City's Greenwich Village.
Chas Chandler, his manager, convinced Jimi to go to London where he created the band “The Jimi Hendrix Experience.” The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Eric Clapton were all fans.
The band's first single, "Hey Joe" was a hit in England and was soon followed by other hits like "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cried Mary." On tour to promote his first album, “Are You Experienced?” in 1967, Hendrix amazed audiences with his guitar playing and technical ability. Two more albums followed.
Jim evolved into one of the most popular musicians in rock history. He died on Sept 18, 1970, from an overdose of sleeping pills. He was 27.
On June 14, Christie’s, South Kensington, England, featured a selection of Jimi Hendrix items in its Pop Culture auction. Here are some current values.
Book; limited edition; “Classic Hendrix” by Brad Tolinski; number 56 of 1,750; signed; $2,460.
Promotional Poster; “Jimi Hendrix Experience”; Jan. 15, 1969; 55 inches by 39 inches; $2,665.
Wooden Pipe; hand-carved wood with glazed finish; $5,740.
Necklace; glass, wood and metal beads threaded upon purple string; with large amber drop to center; $9,225.
Boots; black leather calf-length; worn by Jimi during visits to New York; circa-1967-69; $15,375.