Sunday, July 28, 2002

My Jimi Hendrix Experience: He Played Real Good, For Free

People under age 35 have likely heard of Jimi Hendrix, the legendary guitarist who died of a drug overdose in 1970 at the age of 28.
They may have heard his music, too, and they know it still holds up today as a definitive example of guitar virtuosity.
But to see him play live was the most extraordinary event of my youth.
First time I saw him was on Feb.15, 1968 at the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium.
I was 16 years old, already smoking weed and wearing love beads and flowers in my hair.
My hippie pals Linda and Judy and I rode the bus downtown early.
We decided to go to the hotel where he was rumored to be staying to try to catch a glimpse of him. While they were scoping out the south side of the hotel, I was on the north.
There he came, out of a limo, smoking a Lark cigarette. He stubbed it out and entered the lobby. I said hi to him and asked for an autograph. He politely agreed, and used my back as a desk from which to scribble his name.
As he walked away, I scampered outside and collected the still warm cigarette butt from the ashtray. I wrote his name on it in tiny script.
To call the concert that night astounding was like saying the Grand Canyon is pretty deep. The audience all appeared to be holding a few joints, so the air remained hazy with pot smoke all night.
I was hallucinatingly high. We all were.
Jimi played his guitar like it was his one true lover. He hit more notes than I thought humanly possible. He laid on his back and played with his teeth. He played it backwards, sideways and upside down. He made the guitar cry. He made it sing.
The music was hypnotic. All our hearts were beating in rhythm.
We left the concert in a blissful, lovestruck daze.
After the concert, Linda and Judy had to return home, so I hooked up with my big sister who was at the concert with her older friends. We decided to go to Love Street, a small, two-story discotheque a few blocks from the auditorium.
The house band was a typical 60's hippie rock band called Sweet Smoke. They were good and we knew and liked them all.
As we waited for them to take the stage, the owner of the joint came on stage and took the mic. "Uh, tonight we are going to be trying out a new guy, his name's Jim, and I want you guys to give him a chance."
We began to jeer, wanting Sweet Smoke to play their regular gig.
"No, no, don't get bummed out, just give this guy a chance," the owner said.
From the wings entered Jim, also known as Jimi Hendrix.
He and his guitarist Noel Redding took the stage and played a wailing two hour set, for free.

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