Sep 21 2021
By Dave Thompson.
It was hard to believe, but the band was going home. They’d been on the road for just about nine months straight; they’d been touring America since the last days of July. But finally, exhaustedly, they’d reached the end of the road … or at least, they’d been given three weeks off, the longest break in their work schedule in almost exactly two years. Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell had already booked their flights back to London; Jimi Hendrix had rented a house in Beverly Hills’ Benedict Canyon. They just had two more shows to play, in Sacramento on Sunday, and Hollywood tonight, and then they could be off.
The Experience had been in LA for three days, flying in from Oregon on September 10, taking a day trip to Oakland for a show on September 13, but aside from that, and a LIFE magazine photo shoot, they’d been taking it easy.
The pace was picking up again now, though. While Mitchell succumbed to an interview with the British pop paper Disc And Music Echo, Hendrix’s day kicked off with an autograph session at a Hollywood record store, the Groove Company and an appearance at local radio station KMET “The Mighty MET.”
The record store appearance was an under-publicized, under-attended event.
Advertising comprised a solitary poster in the store window, promising the opportunity to meet Jimi and the chance to win a copy of his new album. The Experience’s third release, Electric Ladyland, was still three days away from hitting the stores, but the Groove Company had one copy to give away in a raffle … and there couldn’t have been more than 20, maybe 25 people there.
Jimi arrived in style regardless, drawing up in a big black limo that sat purring on the tarmac for a few suspenseful minutes while the fans looked on. Jimi’s girlfriend, Carmen Borrero emerged first, a tall blonde in hot pants and boots, then Jimi hauled himself across the back seat, climbed slowly out of the car … and fell flat on his face as he tripped through the door.
But he chatted happily with the fans, signed the proffered record sleeves and posters, and then he was gone, off to a small press conference back at the hotel. And now, as
The Jimi Hendrix Experience got themselves ready for their performance at the Hollywood Bowl, that evening of September 14, all manner of thoughts must have flooded their minds.
It was, after all, little more than a year since they last play the venue, third on the bill behind The Mamas And The Papas, and Mr. “San Francisco With Flowers In Your Hair” himself, Scott Mackenzie, and it had been a disaster. This time around, of course, they knew it would be better. But that was only because it couldn’t be worse.
The summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and one of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world, the Hollywood Bowl was no stranger to the madness of a pop concert. The Beatles appeared there twice at the height of Beatlemania, in 1964 and again the following year; The Rolling Stones headlined the Bowl in 1966; and just six weeks before The Experience show, The Doors celebrated July 4 there as well. And then, of course, there were The Mamas And The Papas, and the near-capacity crowd of “California Dreamers” who sat in frosty silence while The Experience ran through their set.
There was no danger of that tonight. Indeed, anticipating scenes at least as rowdy as The Doors’ show, the venue had laid on extra security guards, and issued them all with stringent orders. Nobody, and that meant NOBODY, was to be allowed onstage during the performance, and as if the serried rank of uniforms was not enough to deter determined revelers, there was an extra line of defense as well-the energetically spurting water fountains that fronted the stage.
Backstage and out front, familiar faces mingled with the customary crowd of Hollywood well-wishers, while the tried and trusted support bands from so many past concerts, Eire Apparent, Soft Machine, and Vanilla Fudge, ran through their opening sets. Eric Burdon was there, welcoming his friends back to his own neck of the woods; so was Graham Bond, the British rhythm and bluesman whose band, The Organization, had first united Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, two years before they created Cream. Now he was trying his luck in America, touring with The Buddy Miles Express, and preparing to record his own next album.
Jimi was always a little wary of Bond, according to Bond’s wife, Diane. The burly, bearded organist “would come booming into a place, while Jimi shrank back a bit from all that.” But he was also a breath of fresh London air in the stifling heat of a Hollywood night, and he was quickly added to The Experience’s entourage. A few days later, he would even join The Experience and Burdon onstage at the Whiskey A Go Go, jamming into the small hours once the scheduled entertainment had finished for the night.
So, of course, did Buddy Miles, and when he arrived at the Bowl, as The Experience got ready to go onstage, Jimi reminded him to get up and join them during the show. Miles didn’t need to be asked twice.
While The Experience’s live set would routinely feature regular hits, each show, presented no formalized set lists to follow and instead segued from song to song often with a mere nod from Jimi to his bandmates about what would come next.
Despite the proximity of Electric Ladyland, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” remained the only “new” song in the group’s arsenal, just as it had been since it was first aired back in May. Even the group’s signature version of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” released as The Experience’s fifth American single less than two weeks earlier, remained on the sidelines, although that probably didn’t matter too much. Every radio on the freeway seemed to be blasting the song as the fans converged upon the Hollywood Bowl, and a week later, “All Along The Watchtower” was breaking onto the American charts, on its way to becoming The Experience’s biggest ever US hit.
In its stead, The Experience powered through what already seemed an oldies-heavy selection of the songs that they’d been performing almost every night for the last nine months; songs that they could have played in their sleep if they’d wanted to.
For nearly 50 years, the only document from this performance was a subpar audience recording that surfaced in the mid-1970s as a three-side bootleg vinyl release: Live At The Hollywood Bowl. That changed in 2018 when a previously undiscovered two-track recording, surreptitiously drawn from the house mixing console was discovered. Despite its flaws and technical limitations, it remains a fascinating document of the sheer bedlam which ensured as The Experience thrilled a raucous, sold-out audience.
The new tape, a significant audio upgrade from the original bootleg, and has been remastered and been authorized for release as a special edition title within the Dagger Records—official bootleg album series—that has exclusively been issued as an accompanying title within the 50th Anniversary deluxe box set of Electric Ladyland.
Despite their near exhausted state, The Experience powered through the performance, opening promisingly with “Are You Experienced?” While the title track of the trio’s debut album, it was not a song often featured in concert settings. What followed was “Voodoo Child (Slight Return]” which Hendrix introduced as being included on the forthcoming Electric Ladyland album. That song was then followed with an extended “Red House” blues showcase.
A perfunctory “Foxey Lady” led into a less than lukewarm “Fire” and “Hey Joe.” But then there was an effortless segue into Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” just as they did thee-months later on the British television’s “A Happening For Lulu” appearance—and no less exciting for the watching fans. Cream—Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce—had just that week announced their decision to knock the band on the head, bowing out with farewell fall tours of Britain and the US. This was Jimi’s personal farewell to the band that gave him so much pleasure and inspiration.
“I Don’t Live Today” held the audience at fever pitch while “Little Wing” served as an attempt to clam the crowd as the masses continued to jump into the pool. A distortion-laden “Star Spangled Banner” accompanied the thunderous “Purple Haze” to close the show. So, it’s true; it was a seemingly traditional set by the band. What the recordings hadn’t revealed over the years, however, and the history books only hint at, is just how hard it would have been for anyone to pull a coherent performance together that night.
From the start, it was clear that the venue’s security arrangements were woefully misguided. Far from deterring fans, the fountains became veritable magnets from the moment the first kid jumped in, around two-thirds of the way through the show.
Slow changeovers between the bands had already skewered the concert’s timetable. Equipment problems exacerbated the delays. Now, with the security guards simply looking on, uncertain how to deal with this latest development, and more and more people leaving their seats to leap, fully clothed, into the fountains, another concern derailed the performance.
Noel Redding was the first to try and quell the revelers’ aquatic excitement. Water was flooding onto the stage, as fans splashed and cavorted wildly, and he and Jimi were already wet through. The fear now was not of a stage invasion, but of electrocution.
While roadies scurried across the stage, scrambling to drag the cables out of the way of the onrushing waves, Jimi waved his arms, trying to catch peoples’ eyes and gesture them away from the edge of the stage. Noel, his words fracturing as he was jumped back from the microphone, as another tsunami threatened to engulf him, warned that if the splashing didn’t stop, the band would have to leave the stage. Mitchell emerged from behind his drum kit and made his way to the front of the stage, a towel in one hand, while the other reached to help pull people out of the water.
At one point, there were upwards of 50 people in the water, but even as the fountains emptied their human denizens onto the stage—so much for the security guards’ instructions there!—they filled again from the audience.
Breaks between songs grew longer and longer as the water literally ferried fans into the arms of their idols, and now the promoter was getting edgy as well. The gig was overrunning dramatically, but The Experience refused to leave the stage, even when he threatened to pull the plug. They, after all, knew he would never do that, not with the audience as fired up as it was.
The security guards, meanwhile, had finally snapped out of their torpor, every attempt to make it onto the stage—including those made by Buddy Miles, whose time to jam had now arrived, but whose route to the stage was resolutely blocked by the security men.
Onstage, Hendrix was still waiting expectantly for Miles to take his cue, but the cops either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand. Things turned ugly before Miles finally beat a retreat. He’d catch up with Jimi after the show, and there’d be plenty more opportunities to jam with him. He would prefer not to do so from a hospital bed.
The show staggered on towards midnight. Now it was not only the staff’s bedtimes that were being jeopardized, it was various local ordinances as well. It was long past the Bowl’s scheduled closing time by the time Jimi swung into his trademark recreation of “Star Spangled Banner,” which would in turn explode into “Purple Haze,” and the first fans started moving, at last, towards the exits, hoping to beat the crowds back into the city. It was maybe 20 minutes more before the group members themselves finally collapsed exhausted into the backstage area and vowed, never to play beside a swimming pool again.
The group was due to fly to Sacramento the following morning, for a show at the Memorial Auditorium. Instead they overslept and missed their scheduled flight. And though they did make the gig, and everything worked out just fine in the end, that three-week break was looking better every minute.
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