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On this day, Hendrix signed a contract for $12,500 to perform at the Fillmore East in New York. Most importantly, the Fillmore East would serve as the venue for the recording of a live album by the guitarist. In recent weeks, Hendrix had determined that the most expedient way to resolve his obligation to Capitol Records per the 1968 PPX legal settlement would be to deliver a live album to the label. “The Fillmore gigs were put together very last minute,” recalls Hendrix road manager Gerry Stickells. “The Fillmore East and West were trend spots and Bill Graham was the trend guy. It would be like a major act doing a live album in a club now, compared to a stadium. “
On this day, Jimi flew to Toronto, Canada to make a court appearance related to the drug possession charges brought against him in May. While in Toronto, Hendrix was a guest at the posh Royal York Hotel at 100 Front Street West.
Jimi appeared in court at 10 a.m. in defense of a drug possession charge made against him in May 1969. Under the jurisdiction of Judge Joseph Kelly, Hendrix stood beside Defense Attorney John O’Driscoll and before twelve jury members. The first witness for the Crown was Customs Officer Marvin Wilson. It had been Wilson who stopped Hendrix during a Customs check on May 3, 1969 as the guitarist tried to enter Canada to perform at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Wilson recounted his take of the situation, which was subsequently echoed his superior officer, a Customs Supervisor, as well as another Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. Hendrix then took the stand next. The twenty-seven year old Seattle native proceeded to inform the court that he was entirely unaware of the drugs found in his travel bag. Hendrix made clear his own experimentation with a variety of drugs in the past, but that in this instance, he had no idea that someone had packed drugs in his travel bag. Hendrix claimed that the drugs were mistakenly packed in one of his travel bags along with a number of other gifts he had received from fans while attending a party in Hollywood.
Jimi returned to court to take the stand once again, recounting his side of the story. After Jimi concluded his testimony, journalist Sharon Lawrence was called next. Lawrence testified that she had been with Hendrix at the Beverly Rodeo Hotel prior to his departure. Lawrence echoed Hendrix’s explanation that the drugs had been placed in the guitarist’s travel bags without his knowledge. The defense then called Hendrix’s former producer and co-manager Chas Chandler. Chandler proved to be a compelling witness, lending credibility to Hendrix’s claim while providing details within the life of a successful touring musician.
Jimi Hendrix’s trial for drug possession entered its third day. Both the Counsel for the Defense and the Counsel for the Prosecution made their final address before the jury. The Defense rested the case on the law that to be charged with the possession of a narcotic there has to be knowledge of its existence. Hendrix’s attorney John O’Driscoll reminded the jury that a conviction cannot be handed down if there is any doubt. After a brief address by the Counsel for the Prosecution the jury left the courtroom and deliberated for eight hours before returning with a verdict of not guilty.
Bob Dawbarn of Melody Maker interviewed Jimi by telephone for the December 20th edition of the famed British music weekly. In the interview Hendrix alluded to the reformation of the original Experience band. “I’ve been thinking about that for a long time. All I’m waiting for is for Noel and Mitch to make up their minds and we can get everything fixed. I saw Noel at the Fillmore and I think everything is working out fine with him. Now I am looking forward to seeing Mitch. He has been over there in England getting himself together.” Jimi also provided Dawbarn with some insights about the new music that he had been developing. “I’ve been writing a whole lot of things,” Jimi replied. In fact, we’ve got enough material now for another two LPs. We are trying to decide what to release and at what time. We’ve started recording and you should be receiving a single around the end of January. The title? It should be either ‘Trying To Be A Man [sic]’ or ‘Room Full Of Mirrors.’”
Just months after leaving the Experience to front Fat Mattress, Noel Redding’s group was coming undone. Rolling Stone magazine was among the first to reveal the group’s undoing. “Despite reports to the contrary, Noel Redding’s Fat Mattress was not breaking up. Redding became ill during the group’s million-dollar American tour. In a statement from the Robert Stigwood Organization (Fat Mattress’s management company) said, “Fat Mattress’s debut tour of America has been postponed because of lead guitarist Noel Redding’s sudden illness.” Chas Chandler, the group’s manager strongly denied all rumors pointing the groups split saying “Noel flew home from New York after consulting his doctor and Rik Grunnell, head of the Stigwood office in the States. Noel will be taking a complete rest over the Christmas holiday at a secret address. New plans for Fat Mattress will be put into operation and announced in January.”
Record Plant, New York Studio Recording Born Under A Bad Sign Lover Man Earth Blues Message To Love Changes Lover Man Burning Desire Back in New York, Hendrix returned to the Record Plant for an extended evening session. Jimi led Buddy Miles and Billy Cox through takes of “Lover Man,” “Izabella,” “Earth Blues,” “Message To Love,” “Changes,” and “Burning Desire”, although no masters were achieved. One recording from this session, an impromptu rendition of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” was issued posthumously as part of the 1994 compilation Jimi Hendrix :Blues (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 11060).
Record Plant, New York Studio Recording Ezy Ryder Message To Love Bleeding Heart A long and productive evening of rehearsing and recording for Hendrix, Cox, and Miles. It is not known which session came first, but the Band Of Gypsys spent time on this day at Baggy’s Studios, a makeshift rehearsal facility, and the Record Plant. At the Record Plant, Hendrix and the group made significant progress on “Message To Love,” “Ezy Ryder”, and “Bleeding Heart.” The last of eighteen takes provided a working master for “Message To Love”, although Hendrix opted to retry the song the following evening and this version as scrapped. However, the group successfully recorded the basic track for “Ezy Ryder” on this evening. Additional work in the form of numerous guitar, bass, and vocal overdubs would be completed for this track at Electric Lady Studios during the summer of 1970, but this inspired session yielded the basic rhythm track Hendrix desired. “Ezy Ryder” would later be issued as part of the 1997 compilation First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 11599)). Baggy’s Studios, New York Studio Rehearsals At Baggy’s Studios, Hendrix, Cox, and Miles devoted their efforts toward refining the body of songs Hendrix wished to perform as part of his upcoming performances at the Fillmore East. Hendrix had elected to record the Fillmore East performances for a live album he would deliver to capitol records to settle a longstanding legal dispute. “We rehearsed at a place called Baggy’s in New York,” explains Cox. “It was located down by Chinatown. We were there prior to Christmas and then a little after, practicing and rehearsing. We were working up a set with the songs we were going to perform for the [Fillmore East] concert. Then we realized that we had to do four shows and we used quite a few of those numbers in each of the shows.” Baggy’s Studios was a nondescript Manhattan rehearsal facility opened by former Soft Machine road manager Tom Edmonston. Baggy’s was by no means a recording studio designed to compete with the likes of the Record Plant. Baggy’s had no control room; its purpose was to provide a space for artists to rehearse without restriction and at full volume for as much time as they required. This was a simple, yet effective rehearsal facility geared to those such as Hendrix who had no other convenient space to prepare for a live event or concert tour. “Baggy’s had two floors,” remembers Cox. “It was essentially warehouse space. We worked in the large room downstairs. It was a pretty simple set up. There were rugs on the floor and the walls were padded and soundproofed. “ While commonplace now, the concept of a dedicated rehearsal room for rock acts [as opposed to vacant halls or theaters] had only begun to take hold in 1969. Cox explains. “The recording studio was exclusively used for creating and coming up with something new and different. This was something else. Previous to that time, whenever Jimi wanted to rehearse something he would call me up and I would come over to his apartment and we would play through some small amps. Rehearsal space did not exist as we know it today.” Perhaps most importantly, Baggy’s rental rates were a fraction of the cost of similar time at the Record Plant. With Hendrix’s finances hamstrung by the construction cost overruns of his own Electric Lady Studios and the continuing PPX litigation, this was an important consideration. Some of Hendrix’s recordings of the Band Of Gypsys rehearsals have survived. They were originally made at 7 ½ i.p.s. on a two-track reel to reel tape machine. For Hendrix, these recordings served as a convenient tool to measure the group’s progress throughout the rehearsals. Gene McFadden, a member of Hendrix’s road crew, organized the group’s equipment and installed a sound system from which a feed was patched into the tape recorder. Hendrix loaded a full spool of tape and essentially left the machine to run. Each song was recorded live with no overdubs or other such attempts to finish or even polish them. Twelve examples of these spirited rehearsals, many from the long session on this and the following day, are featured as part of the Dagger Records release Jimi Hendrix: The Baggy’s Rehearsal Sessions. Although dates for each recording from Baggy’s are not entirely clear, it is known from tape box markings that “Burning Desire” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” were recorded on this day. Prior to the release of Jimi Hendrix: The Baggy’s Rehearsal Sessions, a few excerpts from Jimi’s rehearsals at Baggy’s have been commercially issued. “Burning Desire” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” first appeared overseas in 1973 as part of the long since deleted Loose Ends compilation. In recent years, the Baggy’s recording of Jimi’s yuletide medley of “Little Drummer Boy”, “Silent Night”, and “Auld Lang Syne” has been issued as the popular CD single Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year.
Record Plant, New York Studio Recording Message To Love Earth Blues For the second consecutive evening, Hendrix, Cox, and Miles spent time at both the Record Plant and Baggy’s Studios. It would appear that the group began the evening with an extended rehearsal session at Baggy’s Studios. Afterwards, Hendrix began a separate session with Cox and Miles at the Record Plant beginning at 3 a.m. Hendrix returned to “Message To Love”, achieving a satisfactory basic rhythm track with just a single take. Sixteen takes of “Earth Blues” followed, with the eleventh designated as ‘complete.’ Hendrix would add a host of overdubs to this working master, including guitar, lead vocal, backing vocals by the famed Ronettes, and even a new drum track by Mitch Mitchell before his death the following year. First issued as part of the since deleted Rainbow Bridge soundtrack, “Earth Blues” was reissued in 1997 as part of First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 11599). “Message To Love” has since been issued as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience box set issued in September 2000.
Hendrix and attorney Henry Steingarten conduct a telephone conversation surrounding the issues of November 10th. A follow-up letter is sent to Hendrix on December 24 that further outlines the decisions made during the conversation. Record Plant, New York Studio Recording Honey Bed Technical problems hindered Hendrix’s progress on this night. This session was dedicated to “Honey Bed,” an intriguing demo that seemed to draw upon elements of “Bleeding Heart” and “Come Down Hard On Me.” As take three wound down, Hendrix guided Cox and Miles through an early rendition of “Night Bird Flying.” Just past the two-minute mark, a terrifying noise caused Jimi to shout, ‘Hey guys, what’s that noise?’ The squelch grew louder before the recording cut out and the session came to a halt. No other recording was attempted.
Despite initial reports that Fat Mattress had not disbanded, new information surfaced about the group’s messy split. Guitarist Noel Redding left for home after suffering what was being called a “nervous breakdown.” A spokesman for the Robert Stigwood Organization said, “the American tour could have been worth a million dollars.” Meanwhile, Jimmy Leverton of Fat Mattress told Melody Maker “the whole thing got out of hand. It was down to a personal thing within the band. We just couldn’t go on.”
Fillmore East, New York Two Shows Prior to their two concerts later that evening, Hendrix and his Band Of Gypsys held an afternoon sound check and rehearsal at the Fillmore East. Later that evening, before a sold out crowd of 2,639, Hendrix rang in the New Year and new decade with two unforgettable performances. The evening’s festivities opened with a spirited set by the Voices Of East Harlem, an enthusiastic young gospel ensemble. With the anticipation of the sold out Fillmore audience heightened to fever pitch, Hendrix led his trio through a scintillating, seventy-five minute opening performance. None of the eleven songs presented had yet to grace an Experience album. In the place of signature songs like “Purple Haze” and “All Along The Watchtower” were confident renditions of “Izabella” and “Hear My Train A Comin’”. At midnight, Kip Cohen, the venue’s master of ceremonies, rang in the new year and decade buffeted by Guy Lombardo’s “Auld Lang Syne”. Never one to be upstaged, Jimi and company greeted the joyous house with their own inspired reading of the holiday staple. For Amalie Rothschild, the Fillmore East’s house photographer, the experience was an unforgettable one. “Then there was the countdown at midnight. It was the countdown that was a real scream. We’re talking about the end of the Sixties. December 31, 1969 turning into January 1, 1970–.A new decade. This was significant. After all, we were living through it and we knew that the Sixties were the Sixties. We had this big countdown on the [Joshua White] light show screen with this big clock 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…and everybody is yelling together. Then the light show screen pulls up and everybody is on stage–all the crew and the musicians. Hendrix, who is now on stage, launches into this amazing rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and I filmed it [excerpts of Rothschild’s color film footage can be seen in the VHS/DVD Band Of Gypsys]. This was history in the making. You could not miss this. His performance was just so inspired. It was just terrific and I can’t find the words to describe it.” The recordings which make up both Band Of Gypsys and its two disc sequel Live At The Fillmore East certainly bear out Rothschild’s remembrances. Jimi’s celebrated work with the Band Of Gypsys stands among his most impressive and lasting achievements. After the show, Ian Dove of Record Mirror interviewed Jimi Hendrix for the January 10, 1970 edition of the British paper. Later that night, Hendrix retreated to The Café Caliph (previously known as The Café Au Go Go) in Greenwich Village where he joined The James Cotton Blues Band on stage for a jam.