Aug 19 2022

By Steven C. Pesant.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings

In the mid-1960s, before launching a solo career that has profoundly influenced and altered the course of popular music, Jimi Hendrix (then known as Jimmy Hendrix and Jimmy James) was a little-known sideman, working for short periods with a variety of artists including The Isley Brothers, Don Covay, Little Richard, Ike & Tina Turner, and the Harlem-based R&B combo Curtis Knight & The Squires.

Ed Chalpin was an entrepreneur and record producer who founded PPX Enterprises, Inc. in 1960. He had created a lucrative business by recording cover versions of top US hits for foreign record companies, who then overdubbed translated lyrics. In addition to creating remakes for foreign markets, Chalpin had begun to produce original material at his New York recording facility Studio 76 (aka PPX Studios) that he would license to various record labels. In February 1965, Ed Chalpin auditioned Curtis Knight and agreed to manage and produce him.  

Following a chance meeting in their hotel lobby in Fall 1965, Curtis Knight and Jimmy Hendrix discovered they lived only five floors apart in the same building. Struggling to make a living in his role as a sideman, Hendrix hawked his guitar for living expenses and was on the verge of eviction due to late rent payments.  Knight lent Jimmy one of his spare guitars and the duo retreated to Hendrix’s apartment to discuss music while Knight described the makings of his new protest song, “How Would You Feel.” 

The following day, Knight introduced Jimmy Hendrix to Chalpin and a recording session quickly followed. These initial demo recordings, consisting of nine tracks, provide a window into the formation of Hendrix’s creative evolutions.  “Two Little Birds” and “Suddenly” presage his playing on future classics, such as “Little Wing” and “Castles Made Of Sand,” while “Working All Day” and “Taking Care Of No Business,” would hold the distinction of being the first known recordings featuring Jimi’s own compositions.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Jimi Hendrix alongside Curtis Knight 1965-1967
Photos: © Authentic Hendrix, LLC

After their initial session, Chalpin signed Jimmy Hendrix (on or about October 15, 1965) to a recording contract. Hendrix had thought he was signing a release as a backing musician, later noting, “I took it as an insurance of getting paid for the session, I signed it.”  Unfortunately for Hendrix, the contract wasn’t for a release as a backing musician but for an exclusive three-year recording contract for a mere $1.00 and a 1% royalty.

Once signed, Hendrix helped Knight complete his protest song—“How Would You Feel” which eventually became the first single release from these sessions.  From October to December 1965, as well as February 1966, as member of The Squires, Hendrix would revisit the studio with Curtis Knight in hopes of crafting new songs capable of breaking into Billboard magazine’s elusive singles charts. 

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
RSVP Single “How Would You Feel” b/w “Welcome Home” (circa 1966)

On March 15, 1966, Chalpin licensed two singles – “How Would You Feel” b/w “Welcome Home” (Released: April 1966) from Hendrix’s sessions with Curtis Knight to RSVP Records, a New York based independent label owned by Jerry Simon.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
RSVP Single “Hornet’s Nest” b/w “Knock Yourself Out” (circa 1966)

A second license with RSVP Records resulted in the August 1966 release of “Hornet’s Nest” b/w “Knock Yourself Out.”  The latter two instrumentals were composed by Hendrix and stand as the first ever commercial release of his own music. Both of these efforts missed the charts entirely and, as a result, Simon’s interest in the group waned and RSVP did not issue a third single.

In addition to studio time, from December 1965 through Summer 1966, Hendrix would intermittently perform as a member of The Lovelights and Curtis Knight & The Squires while they performed at a variety of small clubs in New York and New Jersey. 

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Jimi Hendrix performing alongside Curtis Knight 1965
Photos: © Authentic Hendrix, LLC

The group’s enthusiastic live performances generally featured popular covers to songs such as Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” Don Covay’s “Mercy, Mercy”, Chris Kenner’s “Land Of 1000 Dances,” or The Four Tops’ “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” while exploring a wide variety of music genres ranging from Top 40 pop, soul, R&B and blues hits.

Ace Hall from Curtis Knight & The Squires discusses his time playing with Jimi Hendrix
Interview: © Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.

Interspersed with sporadic appearances with Curtis Knight throughout 1966, Hendrix found himself back on the road as a backing musician with the likes of Joey Dee & The Starlighters and King Curtis’s Kingpins before eventually forming his own group—Jimmy James & The Blue Flames in Greenwich Village, as well as performing with artists such as John Hammond Jr. 

It was there in the Village that Animals bassist Chas Chandler spotted Hendrix performing “Hey Joe” at the Café Wha? and where he offered to take Hendrix to London to record a version of the song and serve as his producer.

In September 1966, Chandler escorted Hendrix from New York to London to make good on his promise. Under his guidance, Hendrix formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. With the band set, Chandler rushed them into the recording studio; even pawning his bass guitar to help fund the group’s initial studio time.

Chandler’s faith was rewarded in December 1966 when “Hey Joe” became a hit in England and soon throughout Europe. “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” followed in quick succession and were even more successful. In a matter of months, Hendrix had transformed from a struggling, little known sideman to the brightest new star in popular music.

Back in America, Ed Chalpin had learned of Hendrix’s international success via reports in industry trade journals. Following the May 1967 UK release of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut Are You Experienced, Chalpin begun notifying every company he could identify as doing business with Hendrix, that his company PPX had previously signed the guitarist to an exclusive three-year contract covering the term between October 1965 and October 1968.

Shocked at the development that their prized new protégé had competing agreements with their own; Chas Chandler and his partner Michael Jeffrey soon found themselves (along with Jimi’s record labels) tangled in litigation in the UK courts.

Despite the ongoing litigation in the UK; back in America, Hendrix hoped to solve the problem on his own, and took the bizarre step of visiting PPX’s Studio 76 on July 17, 1967 to sit in on recording sessions as a commitment to Curtis Knight and their friendship and in hopes of having this suffice terms of the original 1965 contract with PPX.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Jimi Hendrix photographed during July 17, 1967 recording session at Studio 76, New York City.
Photo: © Authentic Hendrix, LLC

Performing on guitar and a Hagstrom 8-string bass, Hendrix engaged in what he later described as a jam session.  

With new recordings featuring Hendrix now in hand, Chalpin sensed a commercial opportunity. In an attempt to collect enough material for an album release; Chalpin reclaimed seven additional recordings by Curtis Knight & The Squires recorded in sessions from 1965 and 1966, that had previously been licensed to Jerry Simon’s RSVP Records.

On August 4, 1967, Chalpin upped the ante against Hendrix and his new management partners by filing additional lawsuits in US courts that mirrored his UK approach.  

In yet another baffling scenario, merely four days after being served with these new US lawsuits, Jimi Hendrix once again returned to Studio 76 to record with Curtis Knight.

This latest August 8, 1967 studio session featured recordings of “Gloomy Monday” and “My Best Friend” (AKA “Ballad Of Jimi”). Jimi was a generous and loyal friend and he viewed his attendance at the session as a good faith gesture that would resolve any legal issues.  The guitarist made it known that while he was supporting the music, he did not want these recordings to be associated his name.  “I said, ‘Yes, you can use it if you want, but you know, without my name,’” explained Hendrix during a 1968 deposition.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Curtis Knight and Jimi Hendrix photographed July 17, 1967 at Studio 76, New York City.
Photo: © Authentic Hendrix, LLC

Although never disclosed during the original litigation; prior to the first take of an August 8 recording of “Gloomy Monday,” the studio mics and tape picked up the chatter between Hendrix, Knight and Chalpin:

Jimi Hendrix (to Ed Chalpin): Okay look, you can’t, you know… like, when we do this thing, you can’t put my name on the single.

Curtis Knight (agreeing): No, no, hell no.

Hendrix (laughing, signaling to Knight that Chalpin can’t hear him): Okay?

Knight (to Hendrix): You got it.

Chalpin: Rolling!

Hendrix: Edward, can you hear me?

Chalpin: I hear you.

Hendrix: In other words, you can’t, you know, you can’t use my name for none of this though, right?

Chalpin: I can hear you now that I am rolling.

Knight: You can’t use his name for any of this.

Chalpin: Ok, don’t worry about it.

Hendrix: No, but … (laughs)

Chalpin: (laughs)

Hendrix: No, serious though, serious though, you know?

Chalpin: Like I said, don’t worry about it,

Hendrix: Huh?

Chalpin: I won’t use it, don’t worry!

Despite Chalpin acknowledging Hendrix’s request, he was aware that he now had even more of what he wanted – “Jimi Hendrix” – performing on tape. These July and August 1967 studio recordings would come back to haunt Hendrix after Chalpin signed a November 1967 licensing deal with Capitol Records for the US distribution of up to four new albums comprised of 33 recordings featuring the 1965 and 1966 recording with Hendrix serving as a member of Curtis Knight & The Squires, alongside the new recordings from 1967.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Get That Feeling album (circa 1967)

On December 13, 1967, Capitol Records debuted Get That Feeling to the US marketplace. Still riding high from Hendrix’s June 1967 debut at Monterey International Pop Festival and the August debut of Are You Experienced in AmericaCapitol Records attempted to parlay good timing with consumer confusion when they used a photo of Jimi Hendrix taken at the June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival on the cover of Get That Feeling. Capitol even placed Jimi Hendrix’s name above, and in a larger font than Curtis Knight’s own name—despite this music being from Curtis Knight & The Squires and Jimi’s role being merely that of a session musician.

While the album was critically panned, it did catch many unassuming fans off guard who, looking for a copy of Are You Experienced—the hot debut release from The Jimi Hendrix Experience—but instead found themselves duped with an inferior copy of Get That Feeling. Despite negative reviews, by year end, the album managed to reach #75 on the Billboard album charts.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Newspaper headlines and promotional ads for Get That Feeling, circa 1967

In the UK, Chalpin signed a similar licensing deal with Decca Records’ imprint London Recordings for the release of the same material set to debut alongside the US releases.  In August 1967 “How Would You Feel” b/w “You Don’t Want Me” was released, with “Hush Now” b/w “Flashing” following soon after in October 1967.  

While Hendrix’s management and US record label were successful in having Get That Feeling delayed for release in the UK, an injunction restraining Decca from issuing the album was eventually rescinded and the album eventually was released in January 1968, almost in unison with the debut of The Experience’s sophomore album, Axis: Bold As Love.

Following several months of heated litigation between record labels; Reprise Records (by way of parent Warner Bros. Records) agreed to settle outstanding claims made by PPX in June 1968; the results which granted Capitol Records the distribution rights to one future Jimi Hendrix album.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Flashing (US Release) and Strange Things (UK Release) circa 1968

By October 1968, just as The Experience were readying the release of their 2LP masterpiece Electric Ladyland, Capitol Records struck again with the early October debut of Flashing, a new US compilation featuring additional Knight/Hendrix recordings from 1965 and 1967.  While more appropriately annotated with both Jimi Hendrix and Curtis Knight’s names appearing as the same size on the album cover, alongside sketches of both musicians adjacent to the names, the new release was once again caused confusion and was panned by critics.  “Everything about this record is shoddy,” exclaimed Down Beat magazine.

London Recordings opted for a modified song selection for their second album when they debuted Strange Things in November 1968 for the UK market. Despite the alternative title, the album cover artwork resembled that of the US release of Flashing.

By June 1969, the original line-up for The Jimi Hendrix Experience had disbanded, but Hendrix still owed Capitol Records an album is satisfy the terms of their June 1968 settlement.  While an attempt to mix a live album of Jimi Hendrix Experience performances from 1969 concert recordings failed to materialize a finish product; Hendrix eventually turned to friends Billy Cox and Buddy Miles to perform with him at the Fillmore East on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970.  Through these four shows and the resulting live recordings by Wally Heider, Hendrix was finally able to deliver a completed album—Band Of Gypsys—to Capitol Records which debuted in March 1970.

With the US settlement now complete, Hendrix could turn his attention to the ongoing UK litigation, but his untimely September 1970 passing came just before the UK trial was scheduled.  

While Jimmy Hendrix’s intermittent tenure as a guitarist for Curtis Knight & The Squires (and his pre-Squires band, The Lovelights), in 1965 and 1966 was relatively brief, more than 100 albums have been created from some forty studio masters and consumer grade stage recordings by the group.  Most featured low fidelity variations, remixed, edited versions, and instrumentals of the same material—often with their song titles manipulated time and again.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Small sampling of albums featuring Curtis Knight recordings

Jimi Hendrix was hamstrung throughout his career by litigation over these recordings, which continued until his family ultimately prevailed in litigation against Ed Chalpin and PPX in 2003. After 35 years the case had finally been definitively decided.  In 2014, Experience Hendrix acquired the original PPX master tapes including studio and live recordings, finally bringing this difficult chapter in the life and early career of Jimi Hendrix to a close.

HORNET’S NEST – Inside the Nearly 50-Year Battle Over Jimi Hendrix’s Pre-Experience Recordings
Jimi Hendrix performing with Curtis Knight at Ondine Discotheque, New York (circa 1965)
Photo: © Authentic Hendrix, LLC

Since the acquisition of the original tapes; recording engineer Eddie Kramer has gone to pain-staking lengths to maximize the audio quality on the collection. “We’ve taken every single performance as far back as we could go in terms of source and we came up with the best original performances, stripped them back and re-mixed them and made what we feel is the best representation of those recordings,” says Kramer.

These recordings made for PPX and RSVP are part of Jimi Hendrix’s extraordinary legacy. They neatly align with those other sessions Hendrix participated in during this same era as a sideman for other acts. Absent the confusion as to Hendrix’s true involvement, these recordings provide a snapshot of his development immediately prior to his discovery by Chas Chandler. 

“I was a backing musician playing guitar,” Hendrix explained in a 1967 interview. “I was always kept in the background, but I was thinking all the time about what I wanted to do.”  Enjoyed in this context, the early Curtis Knight studio sessions and live recordings showcase his evolving technique and emerging brilliance.

Experience the early years of Jimi Hendrix with these insightful compilations including:

You Can’t Use My Name: Curtis Knight & The Squires – The RSVP/PPX Sessions

Originally released: March 24, 2015 (available from Experience Hendrix / Legacy Recordings)

1. How Would You Feel 3:50
2. Gotta Have A New Dress 3:07
3. Don’t Accuse Me 3:55
4. Fool For You Baby 2:14
5. No Such Animal 4:49
6. Welcome Home 3:47
7. Knock Yourself Out [Flying On Instruments] 6:53
8. Simon Says 3:37
9. Station Break 2:31
10. Strange Things 2:55
11. Hornet’s Nest 5:09
12. You Don’t Want Me 2:21
13. You Can’t Use My Name 0:56
14. Gloomy Monday 3:31

Order Now

Curtis Knight Featuring Jimi Hendrix: Live At George’s Club 20 (1965-1966)

Originally released: March 3, 2017 (exclusively from Dagger Records)

1. Introduction :41
2. Killing Floor 3:22
3. Last Night 2:24
4. Get Out Of My Life Woman 3:48
5. Ain’t That Peculiar 4:24
6. Mercy, Mercy 3:30
7. I’m A Man 5:17
8. Driving South 6:03
9. Baby What You Want Me To Do 3:47
10. I’ll Be Doggone 2:57
11. Sweet Little Angel 4:33
12. Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go 3:55
13. Travelin’ To California 4:30
14. What’d I Say 4:52
15. Land Of 1000 Dances 4:38
16. Come On (Let The Good Times Roll) 4:10
17. Band Outro :57

Order Now

No Business: Curtis Knight & The Squires – The PPX Sessions, Volume 2

Originally released: October 23, 2020 (exclusively from Dagger Records)

1. UFO 2:48
2. No Business 3:01
3. Hush Now 6:58
4. Gloomy Monday [Alternate] 3:24
5. How Would You Feel [Alternate] 3:32
6. Love Love 9:02
7. My Best Friend [Takes 3/4/5] 3:47
8. Hornet’s Nest [Alternate] 3:48
9. I Need You Every Day [Sick & Tired] 3:00
10. Suey 2:34

11. Taking Care Of No Business 2:46
12. Working All Day 3:04
13. Two Little Birds 2:13
14. Suddenly 2:51
15. UFO 2:55
16. Better Times Ahead 2:35
17. Everybody Knew But Me 1:35
18. If You Gonna Make A Fool Of Somebody 2:45
19. My Best Friend 2:07

Order Now

# # #