May 25 2021
By John McDermott.
In our Summer 2000 issue of Experience Hendrix magazine, we detailed Jimi’s two May 8, 1970 concerts at the University of Oklahoma at Norman and have recently republished this feature online along with new photos and a recording of the second performance that night.
This important research, spearheaded by Rob Collins, Entertainment reporter for The Norman Transcript, deepened our understanding of the events which surrounded Jimi’s appearance at the university. Articles such as this make it clear just how profound an impact Jimi had on a cross section of young people fortunate enough to have met him or viewed his talent first-hand. Furthermore, Collins’ effort unearthed a number of fascinating historical details, as well as previously unpublished photographs.
The photography work of Rick Vittenson has proven to be one of those fortuitous discoveries. Vittenson was present for the May 1970 concert in Norman, but he has chosen to also share his photographs and recollections of a special meeting with Jimi Hendrix in Dallas, Texas on April 20, 1969.
Experience Hendrix: When did you first see Jimi Hendrix?
Rick Vittenson: I spent the summer of 1968 in New York and I saw him twice there. Jimi performed at the Singer Bowl in New York [August 23, 1968]. I also saw the Jeff Beck Group perform at Steve Paul’s Scene Club. Jimi showed up and played bass with them.
EH: What was your background at the time?
RV: At that time, I was writing as a stringer for the University Of Oklahoma’s daily newspaper. I was a student at the university. I was a kid with a 35mm camera and I wanted to see all of the shows free and meet all of the rock stars that I could! There really hadn’t been any music reviews or anything like that in the paper previously. The first assignment we had was to cover the Jeff Beck Group concert in Tulsa. The next thing we did was drive down to Dallas because we had heard Jimi was going to play there.
EH: How did you come to meet Jimi in Dallas 1969?
RV: There were three of us who drove to Dallas. We found out where Jimi was staying, went to the front desk and just asked where Jimi was. In those days you could do things like that! With Jimi’s room number from the front desk we went up and knocked on the door. Noel Redding answered and we told him we were looking for Jimi. He told us that Jimi’s room was down the hall. We went to the room where Noel directed us to and the door was slightly ajar. We knocked and Jimi opened the door with a smile on his face and said, ‘Come in. Come in.’ I’ll never forget that. He didn’t know who we were or why we were there but he asked us to come on in. It was wonderful.
Jimi was alone in the room and told us that he had been watching roller derby on television. He had just ordered in his lunch, which was a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and some Heineken Beer.
EH: Did you introduce yourselves as journalists?
RV: We told him who we were and just sat down with him. We were more like guests in somebody’s home than interviewers. To be real honest, we were absolutely star struck. At one point while we were talking, Jimi turned to us and said, ‘Are you guys really interviewing me? This doesn’t feel like a real interview.’ We couldn’t help it. We were awestruck by the man. It was more like having a conversation that doing an interview. He was fascinating.
EH: What types of things did you discuss with him?
RV: We talked about him and his music. He was unbelievably childlike and innocent when he was talking to us. The thing that I remember most about the interview was that it was like sitting and talking with a friend. It was a conversation more than anything else.
He told us about when he was a kid people would make fun of the size of his feet. He mentioned that he was disappointed that black people at that time were not a bigger part of his fan base. He wasn’t angry, but just a bit disappointed that he was mostly playing for white kids and that he was not considered part of whatever was going in the black music scene at that time.
I remember real clearly that he had a stereo cassette player. It was the first one I had ever seen in my life. It was a Sony. He played us a couple of songs he had recorded at one of his concerts. He played us “Sunshine Of Your Love” which I had never heard him perform live before. I was blown away.
EH: Did you record the interview?
RV: Oh yeah, but I have no idea where the tape went to.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Dallas April 20, 1969
Listen to an audience recording of The Experience’s April 20, 1969 concert at Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, Texas. This one-hour show features performances of “Stone Free,” “Hear My Train A Comin’,” “Foxey Lady,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Fire,” “Red House,” “Star Spangled Banner,” “Purple Haze,” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
Please note that this is not a professionally recorded concert and the sound quality is sub-par. Although rough sounding, it has been provided for your enjoyment and to help present further context into Jimi Hendrix’s incredible performance legacy.
EH: Did you also go to the concert that night?
RV: Yes. At some point while we were talking to Jimi, someone come to the room and said that it was time to go to the show. We had our own car and did not travel with them but when we got there we were let backstage immediately. We sat there and watched Jimi tune up and play through a little amplifier backstage. He wasn’t talking much, just practicing.
When it came time for him to perform, Jimi made sure we were ushered to the front row so that we would have an unobstructed view to take pictures. The show was wonderful. There was point when he was playing with his teeth that he gave us a sly little wink and smile.
EH: When did you next see Jimi?
RV: I saw him next in Norman, Oklahoma [May 8, 1970]. I was no longer a student at the university. I had transferred to the University Of Illinois at Chicago. I was on Spring break. I was heading to Tucson, Arizona to pick up some friends and go to California. I needed a place to stay overnight on the way so I drove down to Norman. I didn’t know that Jimi was playing there but at that time I had my press credentials. I had become the Midwest editor of Crawdaddy! magazine. I went backstage at the field house and the Jimi I saw there was different that the man I had met in Dallas the year before. We only spoke for a minute or two. It was off to the side of the stage in a small room with subdued lighting. He didn’t remember me offhand from Dallas.
EH: Which performance did you see that night?
RV: I saw the first show. The music seemed more bluesy than the Dallas show. It was a whole different show. He had gotten away from the pop Jimi of 1967 and 1968. It was very different, but brilliant nonetheless. The crowd loved his performance. It was a very big deal for Oklahoma to have him play there. Oklahoma did not always get major talent to come and perform. Jimi Hendrix performing in Norman, Oklahoma was a huge deal.
EH: Was that the last time you saw him perform?
RV: Yes. I never saw him again.
EH: Was your interview ever published?
RV: It never did get published which was the funniest thing. I can’t remember why it wasn’t. I wasn’t writing for Crawdaddy! at the time of the Dallas concert. The only postscript on that was that I had interviewed Ray Davies for Crawdaddy! and it was supposed to be the cover story. That was canceled when we learned that Jimi had died.
JIMI HENDRIX INTERVIEW
Although not related to Rick Vittenson’s hotel room interview with Jimi Hendrix; when The Expereince arrived at the airport on April 20, 1969, local ABC-TV affiliate WFAA interviewed Hendrix upon his arrival. Watch this brief filmed interview plus some additional silent outdoor, pre-show footage which is available courtesy of WFAA / G. William Jones Film & Video Collection at the SMU Libraries at Southern Methodist University.
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