Feb 17 2022
By Frank Moriarty
Texas. Small word, big state. It’s certainly one of the most unique members of the United States of America, one that is proud of its heritage and traditional values but not afraid to call attention to itself. Just consider the state’s slogan: “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
In 1968, Texas was the home of United States President, Lyndon Johnson. To many in the counterculture, Johnson embodied a Texas stereotype: the slow-talkin’ big man with a Southern-accented drawl, with a background in the oil or cattle business and not likely to take kindly to any shenanigans from hippies.
But it was Texas that was the destination of The Jimi Hendrix Experience in February of 1968. Jimi, bassist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell, along with a road crew augmented by Jimi’s guitar effects builder Roger Mayer and publicist Michael Goldstein, had begun a tour in America – joined by the British band Soft Machine – on February 1 at the Fillmore in San Francisco, continuing on in that California city with a series of dates at the Winterland venue.
This tour was the second American journey for The Experience. It was coming just six months after their initial visit in 1967, one which had been contrasted by Jimi’s explosive Monterey Pop Festival debut in June and the disastrous Monkees tour in July. In the intervening months the second Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Axis: Bold As Love, had been recorded and released, and it was important for The Experience to break new ground in the United States.
Though the 1968 American tour began in San Francisco at Bill Graham’s influential concert halls, when The Experience performed at the Fillmore and Winterland they were preaching to the converted. The hip San Francisco music fans had taken to Hendrix immediately when Jimi and the band played several shows the previous summer in the days between Monterey and The Monkees tour.
It was the rest of the United States that formed a big question mark for the success of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Texas shows and the ones that would follow found The Experience playing in America’s heartland for the first time. After a show in Denver, Colorado on Valentine’s Day, The Jimi Hendrix Experience rode into the Lone Star State.
Despite any concerns about what kind of reception the flamboyant Experience might receive deep in the heart of Texas, there were no problems as the band traced a triangular path through the state. Beginning on February 15 at Municipal Auditorium in San Antonio, the band traveled north for a February 16 show at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas and a February 17 Fort Worth show at the Will Rogers Auditorium, then headed back south to Houston’s Music Hall for two shows on February 18.
Part of the reason for the smooth sailing may have to do with Mitch Mitchell’s recollection of a security officer hired to travel with the band – a security officer who turned out to be a highly-regarded Texas police official.
Marred by a series of technical difficulties, the February 15 performance at the Municipal Auditorium in San Antonio was cut short after the band blew all their amps.
On day two, an enthusiastic reception from the Dallas crowd greets the band on February 16 as the amps are checked on the stage of the State Fair Music Hall. Without further ado or fanfare, the muted string scrapes that herald “Are You Experienced?” issue forth from Jimi’s amps and bounce off the rear walls of the hall. As Noel and Mitch join in, the song marches onward at a stately pace. Jimi’s solo is a carefully constructed one, riding closely over the chord changes anchored by Noel rather than drifting off into freeform improvisation. The song ends on a cloud of sound and feedback, Jimi flicking his Stratocaster’s pickup toggle switch to generate sharp tonal variations before punctuating the song with a swipe up the neck of the guitar. The crowd roars and The Jimi Hendrix Experience is off to a very strong start.
While Jimi quickly checks his tuning, Noel steps to the microphone to introduce “Fire” – “a number from our first LP that you might remember, it was a long time ago!” – but before the band begins Jimi has a comment to make.
“Before we do this, I’d like to say that this is really a groovy city because I went down and got these real groovy boots,” Jimi says with a laugh, referring to his new cowboy boots. “I’m really out of sight man – look at those! I got some pointedtoe shoes, wow! Pointedtoe shoes – why, I’m the biggest square in this whole building!”
But Hendrix quickly proves that’s not the case, as “Fire” is performed with a raw intensity driven by Mitch’s rolling percussive power. Short and tothepoint, this version is a burst of incandescent energy.
“Dig, back in 1732, October the 31st, we did a song called ‘The Wind Cries Mary,’ and we’d like to do it for you again right now,” Jimi says as he tunes up for the next song.
“We always tune up, you see, because it sounds better,” Noel adds.
“Yeh, and we’re gonna tune up very closely in this number because we really care for your ears.”
“And it’s in M, which is a very hard key, for tuning that is.”
“And quite naturally – we don’t play very loud – so quite naturally we must be in tune. We play very quiet, that’s our only hang-up.” To laughter from the crowd, Jimi tunes a bit more and returns once again to the microphone.
“Thank you very much. And now for our next number…” Hendrix jokes, before the band coasts into a beautiful, somber reading of “The Wind Cried Mary.” Performed at a pace slower than the recorded version, the restrained grace of the rendition isn’t broken even when Jimi forgets some of the lyrics.
Acknowledging that “We just like to jam – you know how we are, we just like to sit up here and jam, we don’t have nothing planned,” Jimi and the band prepare to perform an instrumental. “I forgot the name of it. Oh, we don’t have a name for it!” Jimi says, but what The Experience plays turns out to be the first concert performances of “Tax Free.”
Written by Swedish musicians Bo Hansson and Janne Karlsson, the snaky riff at the heart of “Tax Free” would insinuate itself gradually as a favorite of Hendrix and The Experience in 1968 and 1969. In fact, the band had recorded the song on January 26 at Olympic Studios, just days before coming to the United States for the tour that brought them to Texas.
With its contrasts between lighter tones and allout distortion, “Tax Free” makes a strong impression on the Dallas crowd by the time it climaxes in a hail of sustained notes. Mitch’s drum solo in the song’s midst shows why his contributions were so valuable to Jimi’s catalog of recordings, as Mitchell avoids the percussion clichés that so often populated the drum solos of the 1960s and 1970s. At the hands of lesstalented musicians, drum solos were a tedious bore. But when the solos came from Mitch Mitchell, they were an adventure.
“Foxey Lady” returns the audience to more familiar turf, although this version of the song steams along at a grinding pace that emphasizes the heavy chord structure and leaves the audience ecstatically pummeled. “If you only knew how much fun this was…” Jimi says as the last notes die out.
“Right now we’d like to play our most favorite record of all, it’s called ‘Tune Up Time,'” Jimi says, as another round of tuning begins. In the late 1960s, portable digital tuners were still years away, and rock guitarists of that era accepted tuning difficulties as a hazard of the job. For Jimi, constantly relying on his Strat’s tremolo bar for assorted stunts and aural pyrotechnics, tuning between songs was consistently required. Modern tremoloequipped guitars have string locking systems that help the instruments stay in tune even under the most aggressive assaults, but the Fenders purchased and used by Jimi would frequently drop out of tune when subjected to the power of Hendrix’s hands.
“We’d like to do a thing… Well, I’ll tell you what, we’ll just play it and see what happens,” Hendrix decides now that the task of tuning up has been completed. The dramatic crescendos of an unfamiliar beginning may have temporarily mystified the crowd as to the next song’s identity, but soon the chord progression of “Hey Joe” becomes clear and the audience roars in recognition. Hendrix, Redding, and Mitchell drive through the song with propulsive force.
“I’d like to do a song specially dedicated to Dallas,” Jimi next says as he introduces “Spanish Castle Magic.” Although the album Axis: Bold As Love had just entered the charts at number 140 a week before, a large segment of the Dallas Hendrix fans applaud in recognition of the song’s title and in anticipation of one of The Experience’s most vital songs. They were not disappointed by the version that follows, one that duplicates the intensity of the album recording while expanding on the guitar parts.
Another onthejob hazard of Jimi’s era crops up immediately after “Spanish Castle Magic,” as Jimi’s Fuzz Face distortion effect pedal begins to pick up radio signals and dutifully transmits them to the amplifiers. The Southern drawl that emerges from the speakers gets Jimi’s attention, although when he pauses to point out the problem to the audience the anonymous Texan voice disappears.
“The cat’s sitting up there blabbing all through our act, and now we give him a chance to talk and he clams up!” Jimi exclaims in exasperation. “I tell you what – you won’t be able to hear him now because we’re going to do a song called ‘Red House.'”
The familiar descending notes of the song’s introduction are summoned by Jimi’s fingers, and Noel and Mitch ease in behind Hendrix’s guitar. Despite the mastery of the blues that he proceeds to demonstrate, at one point Hendrix does a series of hammeron notes while manipulating the tremolo bar. This moves the selfdeprecating Jimi to remark to the audience in midmusical phrase, “I didn’t think I was going to make that one!”
“We’d like to put a certain beginning on it which pertains to the song itself,” Jimi says as he introduces “Purple Haze,” a song written in “11 BC” according to Hendrix.
“Can you hear me, red and blue lights there? OK, here we go,” Jimi says as a low, deep note begins to unfurl from the amps.
“So, right now, I’m pertaining, if you’ll notice. I am pertaining,” Hendrix jests as the note continues. “Can you hear me pertain? Ha…”
“Hope the plane don’t crash,” Jimi says as the note dives with his pressure on the tremolo bar.
A loud electronic squawk flies form the amps as Jimi suddenly brings his volume up and down.
“That’s just to wake you up there, thank you very much,” Jimi informs the crowd, then begins further manipulations of the tremolo before sliding the guitar along the microphone stand. “Naughty, naughty, naughty are you, microphone,” Jimi admonishes as he continues to build his sonic collage, one now growing in both volume and intensity to staggering proportions.
It all serves as a complex and chaotic introduction to “Purple Haze.” Hendrix pulls out all the stops in the song, with the solo graced by long onehanded note pulloffs down the guitar neck complemented by furious attacks of picking.
“Yeh, we got one more last song to do and I know you’re all saying, ‘Thank God!'” Jimi says as the show comes to an end. The crowd yells its disagreement with Hendrix’s supposition.
Jimi, who all night has been a combination of guitar genius during the songs and comedian between them, still has more to say.
“There’s a lot of people picking on a certain cat who’s president right now,” Jimi says in reference to Lyndon Johnson, “so we’ll try to help him out and do a song, the international anthem. Bringing all the soldiers back from Vietnam, this is the kind of song you should have. Instead of them marching down the street back from Vietnam with big M-16s and all that, you know, and big, uh, submarines and all this that’s on their backs, how about they’re marching into town with big feedback guitars?”
Unleashing a grumbling burst of feedback to humorously illustrate his point, Jimi slips into one of his infamous funny voices: “Yeh, I’m just coming back from Vietnam there!”
The crowd laughs at the imaginary homecoming scene Jimi has devised, then he continues.
“Well, not necessarily like that. But what if they came down, and all of ya’ll all sang this certain song with them? And if we all sang together on this certain song – because it is the international anthem – so if everybody could stand up and put their left hand across… And put their right hand across… Well, you know, whatever you can find to put it across there, and we can really get it on there, uh…”
The sound of Jimi quickly strumming one chord on his guitar merges with the laughter of the audience.
“And it’s very important for ya’ll to sing along – don’t be scared, I’m not gonna tell nobody!” continues Jimi. “So ya’ll be really groovy and sing along with the song – it’s an international theme.
“And it goes something like this here… Oh hell, how does this work?” Jimi asks as he looks down in mock confusion at his guitar.
But the kidding comes to a quick end as The Experience finally roar into “Wild Thing,” the lumbering beat of this most basic of rock and roll songs – Jimi’s “international anthem” – driving home the entire concert. By the end of the song Hendrix has woven a mass of feedback into a near-physical form – and tossed in a bit of “Taps” for good measure.
So closes an exceptionally strong performance by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, one characterized by the good feelings and happy moods that were in evidence on that stage in Dallas more than 50 years ago.
The next night, at the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth, Texas on February 17, the set list featured some different selections – although quite naturally “Tune Up Time” made its nightly appearance.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” got the show off to an enthusiastic start, followed by The Experience’s rendition of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” Like “Tax Free” the night before, this Bob Dylan song was making its concert debut after being recorded by Jimi in the studio; unlike “Tax Free” – which became a concert staple – the Dylan tune would only be performed live by The Experience two more times, both later in 1968.
Also making an appearance at the Fort Worth show was “Catfish Blues,” which was graced this night by Jimi’s delicate exploration of descending chordal patterns just before the song suddenly shifted into overdrive. “Catfish Blues” – also referred to by Jimi as “Experiencing the Blues” – was performed frequently by The Experience in 1967 and 1968. Yet after this rendition in Texas, the song was only performed in concert once more, in Stockholm, Sweden on August 31, 1970, shortly before Jimi’s death.
On the final night in Texas, The Experience performed two shows at the Music Hall in Texas. Since this article first appeared in the pages of Experience Hendrix magazine in 1998, a new fan recording from one of the evening’s shows appeared. Now available via the Jimi Hendrix YouTube Channel this 50-minute performance features “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Fire,” “Hey Joe,” “Foxey Lady,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Catfish Blues,” “Purple Haze,” and “Wild Thing.”
After the Houston shows, The Jimi Hendrix Experience flew on to New York on February 19, for a brief regrouping before the tour continued in earnest with shows in Philadelphia, Detroit, Toronto, Chicago, and several dates in Wisconsin.
Although The Experience would not return to Texas until August, their February visit doubtlessly left lasting impressions on some Texans of note.
Opening The Experience concerts in all four cities in Texas was The Moving Sidewalks, a young band of Texans featuring a guitarist named Billy Gibbons. Supposedly Hendrix was so taken with young Gibbons – all of 18 years old at the time – that Jimi gave Billy one of his Fenders. Years later, after rising to fame and fortune with ZZ Top, Gibbons told Guitar World about the pink Stratocaster, now “degenerated to more of an apricot.
“He said the color pink was not conducive to burning, so he gave it to me and said, ‘Play on, brother.’”
Another equipment transaction came when Jimi traded $40 and one of his wah-wah pedals to obtain the Vox wah-wah pedal being used by the guitarist in another young Texas band that opened for The Experience, The Chessmen. That guitarist: Jimmie Vaughan.
But the influence that Jimi Hendrix has had on Texas guitar players is worth far more than any vintage equipment.
“I just thought he was the greatest thing I’d ever seen,” Stevie Ray Vaughan told interviewer Jim Fahey for Guitar for the Practicing Musician in 1990. Stevie Ray discovered Jimi’s music through his older brother Jimmie, and Hendrix made a lasting impression.
“I never got to see him live, but I was influenced by his music, his style, his attitude, what he was looking for – or at least my interpretation of what he was looking for, which was growing from the inside out.”
The Hendrix influence continues to an even greater degree today, as a new generation of Texas guitarists make their presence felt. Musicians like Ian Moore and Chris Duarte are quick to pay homage to the memory of Jimi himself and the continued life of his music.
“I’m trying to create a huge collage of music and sound from just a three-piece group, and that’s what Jimi did very well,” Duarte told interviewer Tom Baylor in 1997. “People couldn’t believe all that sound was coming from just three guys, and that’s what I’m trying to do. And another parallel is the chaotic spirit – the free spirit – that Hendrix had with such a hard blues foundation, which I’m trying to go for, too.”
The amount of time that Jimi Hendrix spent in Texas may have been brief, but it’s clear that his influence on the Lone Star State shines on brightly even 50 years after that short tour of February 1968.
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