My Christmas present to myself this year was a box set called The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but I really bought it for my son Sam who loves Hendrix. Across four CDs are previously unreleased concert and studio recordings from 1966-1970, alternate versions of classics and some unheard Hendrix music; 60 recordings in all in chronological order. There’s so much material, in fact, that I haven’t assimilated it all yet, but there’s plenty of time.
I never saw Jimi Hendrix perform or interviewed him. His death occurred not long after I joined Melody Maker in 1970 so my connection to him rests solely on having been responsible for the publication of several books about him, three by the late Hendrix aficionado Tony Brown, a plumber by trade who lived in Norfolk. The best of these books, at least in my opinion, was published in 1997 and called Jimi Hendrix – The Final Days, and the introduction, which I had a hand in writing, from the book appears below. It will be followed by two further extracts.
The death of Jimi Hendrix was a tragic, avoidable accident, though in the circumstances it was woefully predictable. The official cause of death was asphyxiation caused by inhaling his own vomit, but in the days and weeks leading up to the tragedy anyone with an ounce of common sense could see that Hendrix was heading for a terrible fall. Unfortunately, no-one close to him managed to steer him clear of the maelstrom that was closing in.
In the three weeks leading up to his death Jimi Hendrix was overworked and overstressed, unsure about his future, insecure in his personal relationships and unsympathetically managed by businessmen whose sole concern was financial. He was facing at least two impending lawsuits, one concerning his record contract, the other a paternity suit, and he was seeking advice about how to leave his current manager. His normally robust health was faltering due to a nagging bout of ‘flu and persistent exhaustion brought about by a chronic lack of sleep. He rarely saw a doctor.
Hendrix spent his last days in London but he had no home in the UK, and instead flitted from one hotel to the next, and he felt enormously unsettled. He was regularly surrounded by dozens of hangers-on wherever he happened to be, in hotel rooms, backstage at gigs, at parties, in night-clubs, but he had no-one in whom he could place absolute trust. Sleeping partners passed through his bed with alarming rapidity, and he proposed marriage on a whim to at least two of them and probably more. At the time it must have seemed to him that the world was populated entirely by people reaching out to touch him in the hope that a fragment of his sparkle might somehow enhance their own lives.
All of this had a disastrous effect on his music, the one thing that might have held Jimi Hendrix together. Desperate to change his style of playing and the show he presented on stage, he was locked into an endless spiral of big, often badly organised, festival concerts which offered little opportunity to progress as he wished. The expectations of fans seemed only to depress him further. He wanted musical respect, and to play a kind of elevated free-form rock jazz; the fans, if they weren’t fighting amongst themselves, wanted the wild rock showman, and endless choruses of ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’. So long as the audiences were huge, the businessmen who controlled Jimi’s career were content. Changing the music might reduce the size of that audience, and this was sufficient reason to keep Jimi on a treadmill that was ruining not just his muse, but also his health and sanity.
In the modern era rock superstars of the stature of Jimi Hendrix are routinely shielded from the demands that Jimi had to face, but no such buffers were in place in 1970, other than for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Hendrix was allowed little time to relax between concerts in different countries and while on the road he was expected to do as many as half a dozen press interviews in a single morning, more than today’s superstars are inclined to give in a whole year – and only then if they have product to sell. Jimi didn’t, but the press were baying at his door all the same. Incredibly, many interviews took place immediately before he went on stage, and many were conducted by foreign journalists who couldn’t understand Jimi’s turn of phrase. Verbatim transcriptions often give the impression that interviewer and interviewee are on a different wavelength, but Jimi soldiered on regardless because it was expected of him and to turn down an interview might appear disrespectful.
There is plenty of research material around about Jimi’s state of mind during his final weeks, but a great deal of new evidence has come to light in the last three years. Key officials who supervised arrangements when his body was discovered have now been interviewed. Much detective work went into finding the ambulance men, doctors and policemen who attended to Jimi Hendrix on the morning of his death.
The result of this investigation was sent to the Attorney General’s office in the hope that they would re-open the inquest into Jimi’s death. The evidence was so strong that they ordered Scotland Yard detectives to conduct their own investigation. After months of research and interviews with all those concerned, they were quite confident that the inquest would be re-opened. However, when the results were sent back to Sir Nicholas Lyle in the Attorney General’s office, it was felt that it was no longer in the public interest to re-open the original inquest. It was decided that too much time had elapsed since Jimi’s death.
What follows is an hour by hour account of the last three weeks of Jimi Hendrix’s life and it charts in great detail the downward spiral of events that would ultimately lead to his death. It becomes very clear that these last three weeks were probably the worst three weeks of his life.
It includes transcripts of all the interviews he gave to the press in England and Europe during the last three weeks, through which we get an insight into Jimi’s thoughts about his music and plans for the future. There are also detailed accounts of all his final concert performances during this period, from his last concert in England at the Isle Of Wight Festival, through his subsequent tours of Sweden, Denmark and Germany, to his last performance during an informal jam with Eric Burdon’s group, War, at Ronnie Scotts Club in London on September 16. My book culminates with a very detailed account of his movements on the night of his death.
I conducted over one hundred hours of tape recorded interviews with many of the people involved with Jimi during those last three weeks, and none of this material has been published before. It may not answer the question of why Jimi Hendrix died so young, but I hope that it offers a clearer picture of the events that surrounded his tragic death.
When all is said and done, Jimi Hendrix’s death robbed the world of the greatest guitarist and musician rock music has ever seen. I believe my book is the most detailed account of the last three weeks of his life ever published.