Jimi was against prejudice, and he was offended by Jim Crow and the way blacks were treated in some of the places he visited as a musician. After he got out of the service, Jimi demonstrated for civil rights down South. He told me that he and some of the guys in his band went to clubs where they had a section for the whites and a section for the blacks. They'd sit in the section for whites, and then they'd get arrested and put in jail. The boss at the club where they were working had to pay the charges to get them out, and afterwards he took it out of their pay. Jimi said, "Dad, I did just what I figured you'd do. I hope I didnt' do anything wrong."
"Heck, no!" I said. "I agree with you. If that had been me, I'd be doing the same thing." As a matter of fact, I participate in a lot of the civil rights activities in Seattle, even though it isn't as bad as the South. You stand up for your rights. Jimi knew I had participated in marches.
After he became famous, Jimi told me he donated money to the NAACP and to Rev. Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Jimi liked Martin Luther King, but he didn't go for Malcolm X and some of the Black Muslims who believed that blacks should do their own thing. I didn't believe in that either. Jimi and I believed that there should be no color barrier for anybody.
Once Jimi started playing the chitlin circuit, he always kept in touch by postcards, phone calls, or letters. He'd let me know where they were playing. He told me about cutting some records, but I don't know who he was playing with at that time. Jimi did tell me he backed the Supremes on a record, but his name wasn't mentioned on the album. He felt pretty good about doing that, because the Supremes were so well known.
Around 1964 Jimi started playing with the Isley Brothers, and he went on tour with them.
After the Isley Brothers, Jimi started working for Little Richard.
While he was playing with Little Richard, Jimi started going by the name of Maurice James, and then later he used Jimmy James. He wasn't all that much impressed with playing with Little Richard. When Jimi came to Seattle with the Experience, he told me that Little Richard had fired him without paying him and that Little Richard still owed him a thousand dollars. I said, "Yeah, I heard about you playing with his group. I didn't see you, but some friends saw you on TV with him." Jimi was in the background, they told me, and he had big plumes like on the hats worn by the Buckingham Palace guards. Of course, Little Richard was down in the front of the group. But Little Richard has told me in person, "Oh, yeah, Jimi used to upstage me. I'd be down there just doing my thing, and people were cheering and clapping. I'd find out they were all clapping for Jimi back there."
During the summer of '65, Jimi sent me word that hed quit Little Richard. "He didn't pay us for five and a half weeks," Jimi said, "and you can't live on promises when you're on the road, so I had to cut that mess a-loose." By then hed moved to the Hotel America on 47th Street in New York City. That August, Jimi wrote me a long letter from New York saying he was out of work again: "I still have my guitar and amp, and as long as I have that, no fool can keep me from living. There's a few record companies I visited that I probably can record for. I think I'll start working toward that line because actually when you're playing behind other people you're still not making a big name for yourself as you would if you were working for yourself. But I went on the road with other people to get exposed to the public and see how business is taken care of. And mainly just to see what's what, and after I put a record out, there'll be a few people who know me already and who can help with the sale of the record."
His letter also mentioned that he was going to start singing: "Nowadays people don't want you to sing good. They want you to sing sloppy and have a good beat to your songs. That's what angle I'm going to shoot for. That's where the money is. So just in case about three or four months from now you might hear a record by me which sounds terrible, don't feel ashamed, just wait until the money rolls in because every day people are singing worse and worse on purpose and the public buys more and more records.
I just want to let you know I'm still here, trying to make it. Although I don't eat every day, everything's going alright for me. It could be worse than this, but I'm going to keep hustling and scuffling until I get things to happening like theyre supposed to for me. "
One day in late September 1966, our phone rang and the operator said, London calling. At first I was wondering who in the heck was calling me I didn't know anybody over there. It was Jimi, and he was all excited as he told me, "Dad, looks like I'm on my way to the big time."
He went on to say he was in England, auditioning for a bass player and a drummer. "I'm gonna call the group the Jimi Hendrix Experience," he said, and "I'm gonna have my name spelled J-i-m-i."
I thought the group's name was strange, but I liked it. All these strange names they had around then Vanilla Fudge and the Who and the What and the Why. I told him, "That sounds great."
Jimi also talked about how he was going to sing. "Yeah, dad," he said, "all these other guys sing, even though they ain't got no voice and they're just hollering and going on. You know I don't have no voice, but heck, I'm gonna do it too."
I later found out that Chas Chandler, the bass player for the Animals, was the one who discovered Jimi. He took Jimi from the group that he was playing with at the Caf Wha? in Greenwich Village and took him to England to build a group around him, and that was the Experience.
When Jimi first went to England, I didn't think that he was going to be that successful, but then I started getting reports on him after he started playing as the Experience. There was a notice of him in some music magazines, and then one of my stepdaughters saw a picture of Jimi with a caption that said, The Wild Man of Borneo. When she first looked at the picture, she thought it was me for a minute. She said, "What's Al doing in London?" She looked again and said, "Ooh, that's Jimi Hendrix The Wild Man of Borneo and The New Sensation in London." Jimi was on his way.
I'd listen to Jimi's albums all the time, and we'd always watch him when he was on television. We were living in the Queen Anne district when we saw him on The Ed Sullivan Show.
He did a crazy guest appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. It started out with a clip of Jimi burning his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was his first big American show, and then Jimi came out. The first question Dick Cavett asked him was, "What would you say is the meaning of destruction onstage when you do it like that?"
"Hmm," Jimi answered. "I was in such a trance when I did it, but let me see if I can remember. When you watch us play and so forth, you can get it out of your system. Make it into theatrics instead of putting it on the streets, so that when you get home with your family or girlfriend, you have all this tension out of the way. It's nothing but a release, I guess."
Then Dick Cavett asked Jimi if music has a meaning. "Oh, yeah, definitely," Jimi told him. "It's getting to be more spiritual than anything now. Pretty soon, I believe, they're going to have to rely on music to get some kind of peace of mind or satisfaction direction, actually. More so than politics, because politics is really an ego scene. That's the way I look at it, anyway. It's like a big fat ego scene. It's the art of words, which means nothing. So therefore you have to rely on more of an earthier substance, like music or the arts, theater, acting, painting, whatever."
Dick Cavett asked Jimi about what he meant by his expression Electric Church. Jimi told him, "That's just a belief that I have. We do use electric guitars. Everything is electrified nowadays, so therefore the belief comes through electricity to the people. That's why we play so loud. Because our music doesn't actually hit through the eardrums, like most groups do nowadays. They say, 'Well, we're gonna play loud too because they're playing loud, and they've got this real shrill sound that's really hard.' We plan for our sound to go inside the soul of the person, actually, and see if we can awaken some kind of thing in their minds, because there's so many sleeping people."
When Dick asked about what compliments he likes to hear, Jimi said he didn't like them. "I don't really live on compliments," he said. "As a matter of fact, it has a way of distracting me and a whole lot of other musicians and artists that are out there today. They hear all these compliments, and they say, 'Wow, I must have been really great,' so they get fat and satisfied, and then they get lost and they forget about the actual talent that they have, and they start looking into another world."
Dick wanted to know how you could make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and still sing the blues. I thought Jimi's answer made a lot of sense: "Sometimes it gets to be really easy to sing the blues when you're supposedly making all this much money. It's like money is getting to be out of hand now. Musicians especially young cats they get a chance to make all this money, and they say, 'Wow! This is fantastic,' and like I said before, they lose themselves. They forget about the music itself. They forget about their talents. They forget about the other half of them. So therefore you can sing a whole lot of blues. The more money you make, the more blues you can sing sometimes. But the idea is to use all these hang-ups and all these different things as steps in life."
When Dick mentioned that Janis Joplin was a superstar, Jimi told him, "I'm Super Chicken and don't you forget it!"
The clincher came when Dick asked Jimi, "Do you consider yourself a disciplined guy? Do you get up every day and work?"
Jimi said, "Oh, I try to get up every day. I'-m still trying today."
SEX, DRUGS AND ROCK 'N ROLL
We had a copy of the British version of Electric Ladyland the one with the naked ladies on it at the house. When Jimi saw it, he told us he wasn't happy with that jacket. He said it wasn't what he wanted, and that it wasn't his idea to have all the naked gals on there.
On the way to the concert, we went by the Olympic Hotel to get some of Jimi's things. Mitch and Noel went up to Vancouver in the van, and Jimi went with us. Jimi didn't carry any money around with him, so he got seventy-five dollars for him from his road manager, Gerry Stickells, who was carrying the money. Jimi didn't have pockets in his pants, so he always carried a little war bag, just like one of those purses that women carry now. Jimi had a lot of stuff in there, but he didn't carry money. He said it was embarrassing he couldn't even buy a bubble gum.
Jimi asked my [second] wife if she needed anything, and June said, "I really could use a washer and a dryer," so he gave her five hundred dollars. I imagine he was generous with other members of the family too.
A few weeks before he came home again in May 1969, Jimi had been busted in Toronto. I read about it in the paper. Somebody had given him some pills, which he put in his bag. Then when the Canadian Customs searched his bag, they found whatever it was, although I'm still not sure what the pills were.
When Jimi got to Seattle later that month, he checked his gear into a hotel on the North End and came and stayed at the house. He said," I guess you heard about Toronto and all that."
"Yeah, I did. Ain't no big thing."
Jimi told me about what happened in Toronto. He told me he had said he wanted something for a headache, and these two girls gave him some pills he thought were aspirin, so he just put them in his bag, but it turned out they weren't aspirin. This whole thing could have been something his manager, Michael Jeffery, set up. I know Jimi didn't care for Jeffery.
The most common misconception about Jimi is the drugs. People enhance it like he was way out, a wild man taking drugs all the time, which he wasn't. He was just a cool cat playing his music. It's an exaggeration to connect Jimi to drug abuse. He would talk against drugs, because I asked him about them sometimes. He said, "Oh, no. I don't do all that heavy stuff. I might have smoked a little pot sometimes, but those needles and cocaine no way!"
Then he said, "You know, dad, a long time ago when you used to take us kids to the clinic, I was always scared of the needles. I sure don't like no needles, and I ain't taking none now. I don't mess with that stuff."
Jimi did tell me that he had tried some LSD. I knew a lot of the guys were doing it. I said, "I hope you don't let that stuff overrule you." I also knew a lot of people who had smoked pot, but I didn't know what LSD was all about.
It seems to me that about ninety percent of the stories of Jimi's drug use were leaked to the press by [Jimi's manager] Michael Jeffery. In those days people believed that the reason guys played so loud and carried on was they had to be loaded. When I asked him about it, Jimi said, "Hell, you can't play any good music and be high as a kite. It jus't dont make sense. Just like a drunk driver hell, he ain't gonna go down the road straight. He's going to be all over the road! It stands to reason."
When Jimi came to see us in July '70, he was so thin it looked like he could stand some good square meals. He talked about how he'd like to spend a few months at home without letting anybody know he was there, just so he could lay back and take it easy and eat. He also talked again about wanting to get a home down along the shoreline of Mercer Island, where he used to work with me.
Jimi made it clear that he wanted to break away from Michael Jeffery. The first time I asked him how his manager was, he just said, "Yech!" I knew right off the bat Jimi didn't want to talk about it.
Jimi also told me that he wanted to get into another phase of music, to get away from the psychedelic thing and do something different. He didn't know exactly what it was going to be blues, jazz, or what but he said he was going to be renowned like Bach and Chopin. He said he was going to make me doubly proud of him, and I told him, "I couldn't be any more proud."
THE END OF THE LINE
On September 18, 1970, Henry Steingarten, Jimi's lawyer, called to tell me Jimi was dead. It was in the morning, and I was still in bed. Oh, it hurt its still hard for me to talk about it.
At the time Steingarten didn't say how Jimi died, just that he had died in London. I can't remember if he told me any of the circumstances, because I was in shock over losing Jimi. After he hung up, I didn't call anybody else. I just thought, "It's going to be announced in the newspaper and on the radio and TV." Sure enough, my phone started buzzing off the hook. Everybody was saying, "I heard about Jimi dying. Is it true?"
We had the funeral service at the Dunlop Baptist Church that Janie attended. That whole day was hard for me, naturally. I didn't talk at the service. A woman sang spirituals, and Freddie Mae read the words to Jimi's "Angel" and did a eulogy. The authorities let Leon go to the funeral, and then he had to go back to jail again. He was in the army at the time, and I guess that was while he was home on furlough. He'd tried to steal a fur coat for a girlfriend. I said to the wife," Jimi would roll over in his grave seeing how we had to get Leon out of jail to go to his funeral."
I know Jimi's death was accidental. Some people said he committed suicide that's bull! And it wasn't an overdose of drugs. Monika Dannemann, this girl he was staying with the night he died, said that she had given him some barbiturates, and Jimi thought they were sleeping pills or headache pills. He had probably taken too many, and there was a chemical reaction with the wine he had been drinking. It fizzed up in his lungs and throat, and he drowned in his own vomit.
There's also a theory that Jimi was intentionally killed. There are a lot of possibilities in that, because Jimi wanted to get away from Michael Jeffery. There was also a rumor that Jimi had been allowed to die in the ambulance. Monika said that they didn't lay him down on his stomach or back. Instead, they held him up in the chair. I've never heard of anybody being in a chair in an ambulance when they're out cold, so I don't know.