Jan 26 2024
Story & Interview by Steven C. Pesant. Jimi Hendrix Interview by Jay Ruby.
Having successfully made a name for himself in the summer of 1967, Jimi Hendrix came back to America as part of a special press junket organized by then PR coordinator, Michael Goldstein. The gimmick: gather some of the top up-and-coming British acts, fly them to New York’s JFK Airport, huddle them into helicopters and have them swoop into the heart of mid-town Manhattan, and land them, in dramatic fashion, on top of the Pan Am Building where they would be greeted by hoards of media. What a truly perfect event—a real British invasion in its truest sense.
Well, the scheme looked great on paper. Unfortunately, by the time January 31, 1968 rolled around 1/5th of the organized invasion (Eric Burdon And The Animals) mysteriously lay back in London. The other four groups, Soft Machine, The Alan Price Set, Nova Express, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were grounded at JFK due to low clouds, rain, and high winds. Merely 30 miles away atop the Pan Am Building, the Copter Club Lounge was packed full of media personalities, the booze was flowing, but the stars of the hour were nowhere to be seen. Despite the intended subjects being nowhere in sight, those in attendance made sure that the party went on without them.
Within a couple of hours, The Experience, and their throngs of ‘commando-like’ storm troopers [aka those British bands] made their way to the Copter Club Lounge—wet and dreary—but present, nonetheless. Well, the invasion hadn’t gone according to plan, but despite many in the press corps leaving the comfortable surroundings, those that remained at the Club, with some coaxing from Goldstein’s crew, were more than ready to make the best of situation gone awry.
Among those in attendance at the gathering was Jay Ruby, a newcomer for Jazz & Pop magazine, who had been given what was thought to be a simple assignment – interview Jimi Hendrix. Ruby, a new kid on the scene covering the music on the East Coast had recently moved to Pennsylvania where he was an assistant professor in the School Of Anthropology at Philadelphia’s Temple University. Despite just a rookie for Jazz & Pop, Ruby had had some previous experience interviewing musicians while living in San Francisco up through the fall of 1967. In preparing this piece, I had the opportunity to speak to Ruby, who more than 30 years later, remained at Temple University where he was then serving as professor of Anthropology and is the director of a graduate program in the anthropology of visual communication.
As Ruby recounts, this was not the first time he had met Jimi Hendrix. “I previously met Jimi backstage at Monterey [June 1967]. I had been teaching at the University of California (Davis) and was hoping to be a writer. I knew [Lou] Adler and a few others so they gave me a Press Pass and I got backstage.” Despite talking to Hendrix briefly, Ruby remembers little about the conversation, but explains, “it was his performance—with his lighting his guitar on fire—it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life!”
By the time Ruby met Hendrix the second time, Jimi was a superstar in England and on his way to becoming something very big here in America. “There was a colleague of mine who was writing for Jazz & Pop, and he got me started with them,” explains Ruby. “[The Hendrix interview] was my first one. It was really a nightmare because it was a kind of a three-ring circus there and we kept getting interrupted by people from other magazines, but Jimi remained very nice about everything.
THE COPTER CLUB LOUNGE INTERVIEW
JAY RUBY: What’s the musical scene like in England? Is it different from here?
JIMI HENDRIX: Well, yes, it is. It’s a little more together as far as the musicians are concerned. They all know each other, and they get a small place, and everybody congregates around London. It’s not that much different really. They have their own scene and we’ve got our own scene over here.
JAY RUBY: You like it better over here?
JIMI HENDRIX: As a musician, not necessarily. I like to jam a lot and they don’t do that much over there. I like to play with other cats, but you just can’t do that over there sometimes.
JAY RUBY: For what you are trying to do with your music, do you feel that the trio form is best?
JIMI HENDRIX: We set out to be a trio; that’s the reason we are like this. We tried the organ for about fifteen minutes, and it didn’t work out. It made us sound like just anybody. But it isn’t ideal that it’s a trio. It just happened like that.
JAY RUBY: Are you really into the destruct thing?
JIMI HENDRIX: Not basically. There are times when we do it; but we play millions and millions of gigs, and when we do this destruction maybe three or four times, it’s because we feel like it. It might have been because we had some personal problems.
JAY RUBY: So, when you do it, it’s because you’re mad?
JIMI HENDRIX: Yes. Maybe we might be worked up or something, you know.
“… you feel very frustrated, and the music gets louder and louder and you start thinking about different things, and all of a sudden, crash, bang. Eventually it goes up in smoke.”~ Jimi Hendrix
JAY RUBY: How does it feel?
JIMI HENDRIX: Oh, this is the feeling like…you feel very frustrated, and the music gets louder and louder and you start thinking about different things, and all of a sudden, crash, bang. Eventually it goes up in smoke.
JAY RUBY: Do you think about it ahead of time?
JIMI HENDRIX: No. You couldn’t get that together. We did it once before and somebody said, ‘That’s great, why don’t you plan it out.’ Plan what out? It just happens, that’s all.
JAY RUBY: Whom do you admire most as a guitarist? Who’s doing things that you like now?
JIMI HENDRIX: Well, it’s very hard to say. But as far as the blues scene goes, some of the things that Albert King and Eric Clapton do are very good. I don’t have any favorites. It’s very hard because there are so many different styles and it’s so bad to put everybody in the same bag.
JAY RUBY: Whom do you listen to?
JIMI HENDRIX: I like to listen to anybody as long as they don’t bore me. I tend toward the blues as far as guitar players are concerned. The music itself… I like things from Roland Kirk and The Mothers.
JAY RUBY: A lot of people compare you to Clapton.
JIMI HENDRIX: That’s one thing I don’t like. First of all, they do that, and then they say, ‘O.K. now, blues first of all,’ and we just say,’ We don’t want to play blues all the time.’ We just don’t feel like it all the time. We want to do other things, do nice songs or different things. But, like, the blues is what we’re supposed to dig. But, you see, there are other things we can play too. And we just don’t think alike… sometimes the notes might sound like it, but it’s a completely different scene between those notes.
MITCH MITCHELL: When we first started, Jimi was very much influenced by people like Dylan, and I wasn’t into that scene at all. Now Jimi’s gotten turned on to people like Mingus and Roland Kirk. We just learn from each other, balance each other. It’s a lot better.
“All three of us, we all have our own little scene as far as music goes.”~ Jimi Hendrix
JAY RUBY: And enjoy each other, right, and have the whole thing happen.
JIMI HENDRIX: Right. You should hear him really get together on drums; that’s another thing that makes me mad, too. All three of us, we all have our own little scene as far as music goes. Noel likes nice gutsy rock, and he plays guitar. He’s been playing bass only since he’s been with us. And Mitch plays a whole lot of drums and yet people get stuck on one thing.
JAY RUBY: Some people have difficulty making the transition from concerts to records. You have not. Do you see yourselves as primarily a live or a studio group?
JIMI HENDRIX: Either you can dig it as a record or in person. Like some want to hear one thing—when you make a record you put a certain sound in the record or a certain little freaky thing like the sound of raindrops reversed and echoed and phased and all that. It’s because you are trying to emphasize a certain point in the record. So, people already have this in their minds when they go to see you, and they expect to hear that. But the main thing is the words, and they can feel the other thing and not necessarily hear it.
JAY RUBY: The thing that turns me on way everything changes so fast. For instance, what you did on your first album is different from what you did on the second.
JIMI HENDRIX: Yes, we noticed that after we listened to it. We were really deep into making our second LP.
JAY RUBY: This is not conscious, you’re not aware of the fact.
JIMI HENDRIX: No, not at all. We try to make a change. You fix your life and say, ‘Well, we’re going to do this next time.’ We get ideas—groovy ideas, you know. Everything’s a very natural progression. I don’t know—I might not be here tomorrow, so I’m doing what I’m doing now.
JAY RUBY: This is very different from what music has been before. No music has ever changed as fast as this has.
JIMI HENDRIX: Well, I know what you mean, like the Chuck Berry scene. I’d feel guilty if we did something like that—using the same background with every single song and only different words. That shows that you’re going in the word scene. It’s like anybody who’s hungry—that’s young and wants to get into music—anybody like that has got to go into so many different bags. They have got so much to be influenced by, so many different things in the world.
JAY RUBY: Is it just being young?
JIMI HENDRIX: Not necessarily, no. I mean ‘young’ being ideas, being hungry… not necessarily being hungry for food.
JAY RUBY: So maybe it’s always going to change?
JIMI HENDRIX: Well, maybe. Maybe we’ll settle down. There are some things… but some things are just too personal. They might catch up to us later. Everyone starts talking about that—they have to pick on something, and they say, ‘Instead of using guitar, bass, and drums, they’re getting tiresome.’ Dig Bob Dylan. He’s been in this business for ages and he’s really out of sight because there’s a lot of personal things. You just don’t want to put a lot of junk on top of it, like violins for certain numbers, unless it calls for it.
JAY RUBY: When you record, who does the effects?
“Phasing: It makes it sound like planes going through your membranes and chromosomes… It was a special sound … we wanted to have the music itself warped.”~ Jimi Hendrix
JIMI HENDRIX: All those things are our own mind… all those things are coming out of us… we do a lot of things. Like, on the last track of the last LP [Axis: Bold As Love], it’s called phasing. It makes it sound like planes going through your membranes and chromosomes. A cat got that together accidentally and he turned us on to it. That’s the sound we wanted, it was a special sound, and we didn’t want to use tapes of airplanes, we wanted to have the music itself warped.
JAY RUBY: When you put a song together for a recording session, what do you do? Do you play first and then put the sounds in or do you put them together at the same time?
JIMI HENDRIX: Well, it depends. Sometimes we play through Leslie speakers and then sometimes we might put it on afterward as we play. A lot of times we record the three of us as one instrument and then build around that.
JAY RUBY: You don’t do an arrangement ahead of time?
JIMI HENDRIX: Oh yes. We have ideas in our minds and then we’ll add to them.
JAY RUBY: Let’s get back to the blues for a minute. How do you define it?
JIMI HENDRIX: You can have your own blues. It doesn’t necessarily mean that folk blues is the only type of blues in the world. I heard some Irish folk songs that were so funky—the words were so together and the feel. That was a great scene. We do this blues one on the last track of the LP [Axis: Bold As Love], on the first side. It’s called ‘If 6 Was 9.’ That’s what you call a great feeling of blues. We don’t even try to give it a name. Everybody has some kind of blues to offer, you know.
JAY RUBY: What about the white/black scene? Is white blues really the blues?
JIMI HENDRIX: Well, I’ll tell you. The Bloomfield band is ridiculously out of sight, and you can feel what they’re doing no matter what color the eyes or armpits might be. Because I can really feel it, I want it. I say, “O.K., they’ve got this white cat down in the Village playing harmonica, really funky.” So, we all go down to the Village and then, wow, he turned me on so much, I said, “Look at that.” He was really deep into it, and nobody could touch him there because he was in his own little scene. He was really so happy. I don’t care like I said before, it all depends on how your ears are together and how your mind is and where your ears are.
JAY RUBY: They say that in England, it’s a whole different thing. They don’t make a distinction. It’s sound and it doesn’t matter what color you are, you’re playing. We’ve still got that hang-up here.
JIMI HENDRIX: It isn’t really a hang-up because that’s human—being dumb-sighted anyway, you know. That’s natural, just like being in a fight, nobody can go out on the street with this little boy. America’s little boy. Countries to me are just like little kids, playing with different toys. But all these countries will soon grow up.
JAY RUBY: Let’s talk about jazz.
JIMI HENDRIX: Charlie Mingus and he [Noel Redding] can take care of the rest.
“There’s so much happening, especially if you have an open mind for music, because, as we all know, music is an art.”~ Jimi Hendrix
JAY RUBY: How about Coltrane?
NOEL REDDING: Oh yes, he’s great. There are so many cats, they’ve got their own little scenes. Mitch digs Elvin Jones a lot, and there’s Charlie Williams and the structure of Richard Davis. I like Coltrane as well. But Kirk is nearer to what I actually like. It’s very comparable to Jimi. A lot of people call Jimi a joker for using electronic effects. Well, Kirk is a joker when he plays two horns, not that I really mean that. There are only two kinds of music-good and bad—regardless of what you play or what sort of bag you might be in. We haven’t even started yet. He hasn’t even started yet—Roland Kirk. You can hear so much for the future. You can hear some of the things he’s going into—not necessarily about notes, but you can hear the feelings. It’s people like Kirk who are cutting down snobbery, because in every kind of music, even in rock ‘n’ roll, it exists. Where people just can’t see anything outside. It’s like certain jazz musicians I met in London recently who just don’t want to know anything else apart from maybe Sun Ra, and it’s a bad scene. If you can’t sit outside your music—outside one particular scene, man, you need something done to your head.
JIMI HENDRIX: There’s so much happening, especially if you have an open mind for music, because, as we all know, music is an art.
After reviewing Jay Ruby’s interview, we talked a little more about Jimi Hendrix and the influence that he continues to have on music; and in particular, the age-old question, “what is it about Jimi Hendrix that makes him so popular after all these years?”
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: You mentioned that you were at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Looking back at that event, how would you describe your first encounter with Jimi Hendrix?
“He was just a great musician and very flamboyant.”~ Jay Ruby
JAY RUBY: As I indicated before, his performance was one of the more amazing experiences in my life. He was just a great musician and very flamboyant. [Before he performed] he watched The Who, and there he was, on the side of the stage watching them tear the stage apart. That was going to be a hard act to follow. He obviously thought about this in advance because he did, after all, have a can of lighter fluid in his pocket.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: Many people try to paint that flamboyant action as a social statement…
JAY RUBY: I don’t think it had a lot of symbolic importance. It was just great theater. What Monterey was important for, was that the East Coast discovered all these musicians who hadn’t been around that much. It was Big Brother & The Holding Company and other peoples like that’s first ‘major’ public appearance. For most of the local bands, they were simply local band and didn’t have record contracts. So, it was kind of an east meets west.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: Having seen Hendrix on stage six months prior to interviewing him, did you get the sense that everyone knew where Jimi was headed?
JAY RUBY: No. I don’t think so at all. I mean I think everyone who saw him at Monterey was extremely impressed with him and they realized that he was going to be a big deal. But people were just starting to get used to him.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: What was the Hendrix package?
JAY RUBY: He had a terrific stage presence. He was just wonderful to watch—it was just grand theater. I mean, one of things that I think took Americans a long time to learn, something that Jimi learned from the British, was that this just wasn’t music, this was theater. And you had to present something very visual too. For Jimi, it wasn’t just his clothes or his incredibly sexual aura, but he was just incredibly good entertainment—the three of them were wonderful to watch.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: What about his music?
JAY RUBY: He was one of the more experienced and proficient experimenters of feedback. He and Pete Townshend, seems to me, were the best people for making feedback into a musical thing. I mean we’ll never forget “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, right? All feedback—that was an amazing piece of work. It’s still a powerful piece. Besides being a consummate musician, he was just a lot of fun to watch. His clothes and everything, he really had a style to it.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: At several points in his career, Jimi was under intense pressure because some people in the African American community said that Jimi “wasn’t black enough…”
JAY RUBY: Well, he never developed much of a black following. If you look at what popular black music was at that time, it was Motown. And so, he was too much into the white blues, psychedelic stuff, and that audience is almost entirely white. I think he had developed a following, but I don’t think he had very many black followers., I don’t think that they rejected him, I just don’t think they were very interested in him. Diana Ross and The Temptations—that was what was going on at that time.
Jimi’s audience was white. The same people that like Eric Clapton, also liked him, be he was much more into expanding the blues form rather than just following that form.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: Was Jimi a true bluesman?
JAY RUBY: I think he was eclectic. He came out of a blues tradition, but he certainly expanded upon it. His experiments with feedback and his experiments with borrowing from folk/rock. I’m not sure who I would compare him to. In many ways he’s very much like Pete Townshend.
“He was a good musician, and on his way to becoming a very important musician.”
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: What is it about Jimi Hendrix that continues to make him so popular today?
JAY RUBY: As far as Hendrix, it was just astonishing to watch and to listen to. Nobody moved on stage while he played. It was just astonishing, and everyone just stood there and watched. I was standing on the side of the stage and watched him with all those pyrotechnics which after The Who, it was really mind-boggling. He was accomplished at that moment, but I don’t think there were really a lot of changes in what he did from that point. He was a good musician, and on his way to becoming a very important musician.
I think Hendrix would have been a lot like Eric Clapton in the sense, of being able to go through middle-age very gracefully with his music. A lot of these guys were so burnt out, but I don’t think that would have been the case with Hendrix.
FROM THE VAULT. This classic interview with Journalist/Anthropologist, Jay Ruby was conducted in September 2000 and was published in the Winter 2000 edition of Experience Hendrix Magazine. Jay Ruby’s interview with Jimi Hendrix was conducted on January 31, 1968 and later published in the July 1968 issue of Jazz & Pop. Following his time at Jazz & Pop, Jay Ruby was a scholar and professor in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University in Pennsylvania before retiring in 2003. Sadly, Ruby passed away in February 2022 at the age of 86. Thanks for the memories.
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