Throughout my career, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some pretty big stars in the music industry. I spent an afternoon watching a film recording session with Elmer Bernstein; demoed a keyboard for the man who inspired me to play keyboards, Keith Emerson; and traveled with former keyboardist for Yes and The Moody Blues, Patrick Moraz. But one of my most indelible memories is the night I met Jimi Hendrix.
The year was 1969, when music concerts played a major part in every teenager’s life. At that time, I was the drummer and singer for Witch Creek. We played a lot of original material, as well as rock renditions of classical pieces like Night On Bald Mountain and Also Sprach Zarathustra.
One time, my bandmates Mike Sterling, Rick Reed and I decided to go to a concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. We drove up from San Diego, in Rick’s beat-up little car, to see a stellar show featuring Soft Machine, Electric Flag with Buddy Miles and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Of course, we didn’t have tickets to the show. We figured that we could just hang out backstage because we were musicians.
We arrived in the afternoon when the crew was still setting up, so we were able to walk right through the loading dock doors. Mike and Rick disappeared while I was talking to the manufacturer’s representative for Sunn Amplifiers. He explained that Jimi would be trying out Sunn Amps that night, in the hopes of getting him to become a sponsor.
As the show neared, the security guards came around to make sure that everyone backstage really belonged there. When they got to me, the kind rep from Sunn Amps said that I was with him, so I was able to stay backstage to see the show. It was around that time that I realized that Mike and Rick had climbed up into the lighting scaffolds to avoid being ejected. So here I was, backstage at a major rock concert, watching from the side of the stage.
Soft Machine opened the show with a set that was really impressive. I had never heard of them before and they never made another album, but they really made an impression.
Next up was Electric Flag with Buddy Miles. I was still riveted to my spot on the floor on the side of the stage, knowing that that Mike and Rick were still hovering several stories above. Just after the band started, I noticed that an attractive redhead sat cross-legged on the floor next to me. I then turned a bit further to see Jimi Hendrix sitting just a bit behind us. I’ll always remember how nice it was that he let his girlfriend sit up front with me and that he didn’t simply push me out of the way to be with her.
Trying to not be a total idiot, I said “Hi Jimi, glad to meet you.” He looked at me, smiled and said, “Good to meet you too, man.” So here’s a guy who is a legend in the rock world, being kind to this random kid backstage. It made a big impression on me that has lasted to this day.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience went onstage next and it was indeed an experience! There were actually posters made of Jimi burning his guitar during that show. The performance was one that I will never forget.
Unfortunately, Jimi died on my birthday a couple of years later. The man who seemed like such a gentleman and whom I respected as a pioneering musician was gone. But the world knew who Jimi was. He was extremely talented, a great showman and in my very brief experience with him, he was a genuinely nice guy.
Thank you for the experience, Jimi!