It was 42 years ago today (September 18th, 1970), that Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27, about two months shy of his 28th birthday. Over 40 years later, the events surrounding his death remain sketchy at best, with the only clear fact being that the coroner report stated that Hendrix had asphyxiated in his own vomit, which mainly consisted of red wine. Monika Dannemann, his girlfriend at the time, has long contended that he was alive when placed in the ambulance.
In July, the Jimi Hendrix Experience's legendary second show at Northern California's Berkeley Community Center from May 30th, 1970 finally saw official release. The set, which has been bootlegged numerous times over the years, showcases a still-evolving Hendrix less than four months before his sudden death. Backed by the final Experience lineup of Mitch Mitchell on drums and Band Of Gypsys bassist Billy Cox on bass, the trio tears through such Hendrix classics as "Stone Free," "Hey Joe," "Foxey Lady," "The Star Spangled Banner," "Purple Haze," and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," among others.
The tracklist to The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At Berkeley is: Introduction, "Pass It On (Straight Ahead)," "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)," "Lover Man," "Stone Free," "Hey Joe," "I Don't Live Today," "Machine Gun," "Foxey Lady," "Star Spangled Banner," "Purple Haze," and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)."
ODD CIRCUMSTANCES OF HENDRIX'S DEATH
Hendrix aide James "Tappy" Wright claimed in his recent memoir Rock Roadie that Hendrix's final manager Michael Jeffery confessed to killing the legendary guitarist a year after Hendrix's death in September 1970. According to Wright, Jeffery claimed that he plied a semi-conscious Hendrix with enough pills and alcohol to kill him so that he could collect insurance money and not risk Hendrix breaking their management agreement.
Wright, who also roadied for Elvis Presley and Tina Turner, among others, said that Jeffery said in his confession: "I had to do it, Tappy. You understand, don't you? I had to do it. You know damn well what I'm talking about. . . I was in London the night of Jimi's death and together with some old friends . . . we went round to Monika's (Dannemann's) hotel room, got a handful of pills and stuffed them into his mouth . . . then poured a few bottles of red wine deep into his windpipe. I had to do it. Jimi was worth much more to me dead than alive. That son of a bitch was going to leave me. If I lost him, I'd lose everything."
Jeffery, who died in 1971, had told Wright that he had taken out a $2 million policy out on Hendrix, which named him as the chief beneficiary.
The official cause of Hendrix's death was "barbiturate intoxication and inhalation of vomit."
The events surrounding Hendrix's death have always been shady, especially when it comes to how Hendrix was found and who exactly called for an emergency crew -- neither things which are ever out of the ordinary in an O.D. case.
FRIENDS AND FANS REMEMBER JIMI HENDRIX
Eddie Kramer, who was the engineer on the Jimi Hendrix Experience albums Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland, recalled his memories of Hendrix's death: "We had just completed Electric Lady Studios, and we were halfway through a record which was going to be called The Cry Of Love. I spoke to Jimi a week before he died, and he was very positive, and was looking forward to coming back to America. His death was an unfortunate accident, there's no question about that."
Journey guitarist Neal Schon first saw Hendrix play when he was only in his teens, and says that he was simply the greatest guitarist he ever saw perform: "Y'know, if I had to pick one guy, I'd probably say Jimi Hendrix, just because he was so innovative in inventing the electric guitar, almost reinventing it."
Janie Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix's step-sister and president and CEO of Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix, told us that Hendrix was always good to his father Al and was about to buy the family a new house -- but one a bit different than the one he'd grown up in as a boy: "He was gonna come stay with us, and he told my dad to go look for a house on Mercer Island, which here it's a little island that you can get to via bridge. It was where all the upper-class people lived, and he wanted him to go find a house in that area, and he was going to come stay with us."
Stephen Stills spent hours jamming with Hendrix and plans at some point to release some of their joint sessions on disc. He says that Hendrix turned him on to restringing lefty guitars for righties for a better sound: "Jimi showed me up close and personal, something about the positioning with the pickups made them sound better upside down. But I had a '50s lefty Strat, and that went away. Somebody nabbed it."
One of Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley's greatest rock moments was the day he got to be Hendrix's roadie on July 17th 1970: "I roadied for Jimi Hendrix, believe it or not, at his last concert at New York's Randall's Island a couple of months prior to his death. I snuck in backstage and they put me to work. I'm setting up Mitch Mitchell's drums, I mean it was bizarre. Back in those days they didn't have laminates and stick-on passes, it was just free love and free everything. I had hair down to here and yellow hot-pants on and a snakeskin star so obviously they thought I was in one of the bands. So I just walked backstage and looked at the guy and he just let me walk backstage. And when they realized I wasn't in a band they just put me to work."
Woodstock promoter Michael Lang recalls trying to talk Hendrix out of his closing spot at the legendary 1969 festival: "I think they came in Sunday morning. I asked them if they wanted to go on earlier. And Michael (Jeffery, Hendrix's manager) said 'No, we definitely want to close the show.' I said 'Well, closing the show might not be good idea. It's running approximately 12 hours behind. Chances are you're going to be closing in the morning,' and they sort of insisted on it. Unfortunately, most of the audience was gone by the time Jimi played. But he played an unbelievable set."
Chicago trombonist and co-founder James Pankow recalls the band touring with Hendrix being a life-changing experience: "That was quite an experience. He was a god, if you will. He could snap his fingers and disappear into thin air, in a matter of speaking. He was psychedelic ladyland. Musically he was daring and innovative as anybody was -- if not more. I mean, an Africa-American who played guitar left-handed, a trio who had a bigger sound than big ensembles, and did music that was not only expressive, but was characteristic of the day."
Band Of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox was asked what he thinks Hendrix would have accomplished had he not died in 1970: "I get asked that question quite often, and we were gravitating toward more, like, The Rays Of The New Rising Sun. We were gravitating toward classical music, I think. We would've taken those modes into a classical vein. And then he had thought about perhaps maybe going to Juilliard, and there's no telling. (He) always talked about it."