Oct 27 2022
By Dave Thompson.
It could never happen today, and it was a I rarity back then. But when The Jimi Hendrix Experience set out on their latest American tour through the spring of 1969, the support band was also one-third of the headliner’s line-up: bassist Noel Redding’s Fat Mattress.
Like band mate Mitch Mitchell (whose own proposed project would never get off the ground), Redding had been toying with the idea of launching a parallel solo career almost since The Experience themselves got underway. A great guitarist and a talented songwriter in his own right, it was inevitable that there would be little room within The Experience for him to exercise either ability; and The Experience’s crushing workload meant he would have little opportunity to put these dreams into motion for a while. But during one of the group’s summer 1968 breaks, he got together with Neil Landon, his bandmate in the pre-Experience Loving Kind, and they began writing.
The material that Redding envisioned for this new band was very different to that being created by The Experience, although not too far removed from his solitary song-writing contribution to the Electric Ladyland album: “Little Miss Strange.” Cast firmly in the mold of English pop psychedelia, it was tight pop with a whimsical angle, and little time for either extended soloing or improvisation.
The band worked on their album whenever time (meaning The Experience’s schedule) allowed. Although they had still to secure a record deal, by early 1969, the record was done, and Fat Mattress – Redding, Landon, bassist Jim Leverton, guitarist Steve Hammond and drummer Eric Dillon – were itching to go out on the road. The forthcoming Experience tour would provide them with the perfect opportunity.
For Mike Jeffery, The Experience’s manager, the inclusion of Fat Mattress on the bill was little more than a publicity stunt. Once again, the idea of the support act being so directly related to the main attraction was such a novelty, that it could not help but generate interest.
At the same time, Redding himself makes it plain that Jeffery only agreed to the match to keep the bassist from quitting The Experience altogether. Redding made it quite clear that if he wasn’t allowed to express himself within the framework of The Experience family, he was prepared to go elsewhere to do it. This latest American tour was the perfect place to take a stand. By the end of it, in Hawaii at the beginning of June, The Jimi Hendrix Experience would have become the highest paid band in rock history. It certainly wasn’t the time to be looking for a new bassist!
Or was it? Just as Jeffery predicted, Redding’s onstage exertions with Fat Mattress gave the media a whole new subject to focus on when discussing The Experience’s latest tour.
And far from tiring the bassist out before he took the stage with Hendrix and Mitchell, Fat Mattress’ short set only seemed to invigorate him. Recorded evidence of The Experience’s shows proves that Redding was playing some of the best shows of his career during that spring 1969 tour.
But Hendrix wasn’t happy. Though he continued to assure visiting journalists that there were no reasons on earth why The Experience and Fat Mattress should not continue their coexistence, secretly he was seething over the amount of effort Redding was expending on his own band [or so he told his old friend Billy Cox on April 18, when the pair met up after The Experience’s Memphis show]. The bass-playing Cox returned to his Nashville home convinced that any time now, he’d be getting a call to join the biggest, best paid, band on the planet.
Hendrix spent the weekend before the L.A. show back in New York, watching his own Electric Lady studios slowly take shape; the latest purchase was $84,000 worth of Ampex tape machines; and recording at the Record Plant. Redding and Mitchell were pointedly not invited along for the occasion. Instead, Hendrix worked with whoever else was around, including Buddy Miles. Noel Redding, it seemed, wasn’t the only member of The Experience with another bunch of musicians to play with!
Redding and Mitchell, meanwhile, made their own way to L.A. on April 21, to hang out, have fun, and await Hendrix’s arrival the day before the show. He landed, however, to find his bandmates in a state of mild nervousness. Ever since they hit town, it seemed, the ground beneath southern California had been in almost perpetual motion – a late night twitch here, a lunchtime lurch there; most of the activity was barely perceptible, passed completely unnoticed by the city’s own inhabitants. But tourists and visitors felt it (or at least, they thought they’d felt it, when they heard about it afterwards), and though few of them would ever have said such a thing out loud, most of them shared the same secret fear. Everyone knew that L.A. was built on a major faultline; everybody knew, too, that one day the fault would simply give way and the entire southern Californian coast would tumble into the ocean.
Was that day just around the corner?
A 3.3 magnitude earthquake hit on April 23; three more, no larger than 4.0, no weaker than 3.5, came at regular intervals the following day; another, measured at 3.4, wobbled through on the morning of Hendrix’s arrival. No big shakes by local standards; just a month before, they’d had a plate rattling 5.8 to deal with. But still, it was something to think about.
That night of April 25, Hendrix and Redding went out to a party being thrown for English singer Donovan, at The Factory in Hollywood. It was rare, these days, that the pair spent offstage time together, rarer still on this latest tour. But the thought of the following night’s Forum show seemed to draw them together in ways neither man could explain – they even arranged a band rehearsal for the afternoon of the show, a luxury they hadn’t regularly indulged in since the very earliest days of The Experience. Everyone had noticed a few slack moments in the set. The rehearsal would iron them all out, and ensure that this show turned out perfectly.
For the same reason, Fat Mattress would not be opening the proceedings, for the first time on the tour. From the slightest suggestion of weariness, to the remotest possibility of unpreparedness, nothing was going to be left to chance. Although they hadn’t played there since the Hollywood Bowl show back in September 1968, The Experience were no strangers to the City of Angels and were spending considerable time at a rented home at 2850 Benedict Canyon Road in Beverly Hills. In town now, however, he checked into the Beverly Rodeo Hotel, where he would remain for the next week, until it was time to move on to the next city, Detroit.
Despite the work they put into it, The Experience’s set would not differ widely from any other that they had played over the last year or so. In the last week alone, Hendrix had either written or recorded eight songs, “Room Full Of Mirrors,” “Crash Landing,” “Bleeding Heart,” and “Lover Man” amongst them. But the live show hadn’t changed in what seemed like a hundred years, and it wasn’t going to start changing now, save for the rarely performed cover of “Tax Free,” which the band had periodically interjected into set lists over the past year.
The Chicago Transit Authority opened the show with a short set based around their newly completed debut album. The Illinois jazz rockers had been in L.A. since mid-March, transferred there at the bidding of Columbia Records producer Jim Guerico. Since then, they had made great swathes of the city their own, with residences at the Whisky and Hollywood’s Thee Experience. Their encounter with Hendrix’s Experience, however, marked their biggest test yet, and they acquitted themselves well enough to be confirmed as support on three more shows the following month.
New York rock ‘n’ rollers Cat Mother And The All Night News Boys – alongside Fat Mattress, the tour’s regular opening act, this time at Hendrix’s express request – followed with a strong set drawn from a very strong album. The modern-day obscurity of both The Street Giveth… And The Street Taketh Away and its creators remains one of rock’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
But the capacity crowd had sat through enough, already. The noise was rising even before Cat Mother completed their set; as the last changeover dragged on, The Forum was shaking to its foundations. By the time The Experience came onstage, the P.A. could barely compete with either the wall of applause, or the vague rumor that while The Forum rocked, the city was quaking again. A 3.5 tremor rumbled through around 9:20 in the evening, and though nobody noticed a thing in the hall, a lot of people felt something inside, a little blip on that inner radar which can sense when something, somewhere, has gone suddenly awry.
“Yeah, okay, then.” Hendrix took the microphone, and simply rapped for a few minutes. He’d felt something as well. “We’re all at church, right? Pretend there’s a sky above you, right? Yeah.” He turned to speak to Noel for a moment – “come on, let’s get tuned up” – then back to the crowd. “This whole show is dedicated to you, ourselves, Murray Roman, the Smothers Brothers … God bless their souls.
“It’ll take us around 45 seconds to get arranged, and we want to forget about everything that happened yesterday, last night or this morning. Just forget about everything, but what’s going on now, it’s up to you all and it’s up to us too, so let’s get our feelings together. They talk about some kind of earthquake going on, you know, dig, dig. You know where all the earthquake happening is coming from. It’s bad vibrations, man, they get very heavy sometimes, you know. You wanna save your state? Get your hearts together.”
And then he put all thought of natural calamity out of his head and made sure that the rest of The Forum followed suit. The show that night would be one of the longest The Experience had ever played—almost two hours—even though the set list itself stretched to just nine songs. But each one developed into a marathon; indeed, most appeared to have been chosen because they could be developed: “Tax Free,” “Foxey Lady,” “Red House,” a stunning 12-minute extended reading of “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Star Spangled Banner,” “Purple Haze,” “I Don’t Live Today,” before closing the show with an even longer medley—stretching nearly 17-minutes—encompassing “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and The Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love.”
This was in no way an economic selection of songs, nor the sound of a band that was sick of playing together. And as each number in turn spiraled off on magical routes of its own, the audience boiled over again.
A couple of times, Redding stopped playing to appeal for calm; a couple more, Hendrix noticed the venue’s cops getting itchy round the edges, encroaching onto the stage, preparing to stop the show and risk a riot. Finally, the guitarist told the fans exactly what was happening. “They’re going to cut the show short if this keeps up. So just sit down and be cool so these other people …” [coughs for emphasis] … “will get off the stage.”
The audience obeyed, and Hendrix thanked them at the end, laying down his guitar after a frenzied “Sunshine Of Your Love,” and flashing a huge grin and a peace sign. Together, after all, they’d beaten the cops, they’d beaten the earthquakes; now, if The Experience could just beat its own inner demons, they might all live happily ever after.
“It will be a long time before this performance is equalled at the Forum—probably as long as it takes for the Jimi Hendrix Experience to return there.”~ Evan Maurer (Music Critic, The Los Angeles IMAGE, May 2-15, 1969)
It was a transcendent night with show leaving the city shaking following the stellar performance with everyone talking about The Experience’s headlining appearance at The Forum. “… with the music still ringing through everyone’s ears, Hendrix put down his guitar, raised his hands in the peace sign and left the stage accompanied by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell,” described Evan Maurer, music critic for The Los Angeles IMAGE. “A lot of people just stayed in their seats unable to believe it was really over, others unable to believe it had really ever happened.”
Little did we all know at the time, a tectonic shift was on the way—and just a mere nine weeks later—Noel Redding would walk away from it all.
NOTE: This story was first published in March/April 1999 (Volume 3, Issue 1) issue of Experience Hendrix: The Official Jimi Hendrix Magazine.
JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE – LOS ANGELES FORUM: APRIL 26, 1969
This pristine recording—available in its entirety for the very first time—newly mixed by Hendrix’s longtime engineer Eddie Kramer, captures the original Jimi Hendrix Experience in their unrivaled, peak form and is sourced directly from the original eight-track master tapes.
The accompanying illustrated booklet (24-pages in the CD release and 12-pages in the 2LP release) features liner notes from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons plus LA Times music critic Randy Lewis who both witnessed the show first-hand. The deluxe 2LP vinyl release is packaged in a lavish gatefold jacket and is pressed on 150 gram vinyl at Quality Record Pressings’ (QRP) legendary Salina, Kansas facility.