Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock
by Pete Clemons
The Woodstock festival held during August 1969 is remembered for so many things. Not least of all for the fact that it produced so many memorable performances. And this, in turn, gave greater rise to so many of the bands and artists who featured in it.
Of course , over here in the UK, the vast majority of music listeners only had the film and the triple LP record set to judge it all by. But some of the most talked about tracks from the album were those by Jimi Hendrix. Of course, what you hear on vinyl, or on celluloid, was only part of a greater performance and of an even stranger and remarkable story.
Earlier, during 1969, Jimi had seemingly wanted to expand the band and explore new options. And this led to Noel Redding leaving the successful Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Several accounts exist over the exact circumstances of Noel Redding’s departure during June 69. Noel Redding, according to an interview, claimed that he had heard, via a third party, on the morning of a festival in Denver that Jimi had wanted to expand the band. Noel also mentioned that after the gig in Denver tear gas was used on the crowd, who were trying to get onto the stage. But, he explained, the wind was blowing into the direction of the stage. After the gig the band were hustled into a van. Suddenly, crowds were all over the van, even on the roof of it, and it began to buckle. Noel simply couldn’t handle it anymore and quit. Witnesses at that same gig claimed that Jimi also announced on stage that this was to be the last ever gig by the Experience. Either way, the original Jimi Hendrix Experience was finished.
With the Woodstock festival looming it was clear that Jimi’s new band had to be put together hastily. Bass player Billy Cox was an old friend for example. Guitarist Larry Lee, another old friend of Jimi’s, then got a call from Billy Cox. Jimi had given Billy the job of tracking down Larry.
Larry Lee hadn’t heard from Billy, who happened to be sat next to Jimi, in years. All this was just a couple of weeks before the gig. They encouraged Larry to join them where they were jamming. This was now ten days before the Woodstock gig itself. The rest of the line-up featured Mitch Mitchell drums, Juma Sultan percussion and congas, Jerry Velez congas.
There then began, apparently, a battle between those who only had commercial interests at heart and who wanted Jimi to continue with money making music of the Experience, and Jimi himself with his artistic ambitions and visions. But for artists, money is not always the prime motivator. Sometimes they need to grow.
For Woodstock, Jimi was down as the headline act. Well actually that’s not strictly true. Festival organiser Michael Lang had actually wanted his childhood hero, western movie star Roy Rogers, to close the show. He wanted Rogers to play a song called Happy Trails which had been used for the TV cowboy programme ‘The Roy Rogers Show’. But Rogers turned down the offer.
The Woodstock festival, notoriously, ran incredibly late. Rain on the Sunday being one of the issues. So late in fact that Jimi didn’t get on stage until 8:30/9am on the Monday morning of the 18 August. Knowing that the whole festival weekend was suffering with timing issues, organiser Michael Land did actually give Hendrix the opportunity of performing earlier at a time where he could take maximum exposure. But Hendrix refused and stuck with the original schedule. However, despite a dwindling crowd there was still a substantial audience to play for.
Having followed Sha-Na-Na on stage Jimi’s band were introduced onto the stage as The Experience although when you check anywhere they seem to be credited as ‘Gypsy Suns and Rainbows’. However, during Voodoo Chile where Jimi introduces the band, he is clearly heard explaining that is their first gig and to call them the ‘Southern Rainbows, but you can call us the Band of Gypsies’. They played uninterrupted for almost 2 hours. You would never have known that this new line up had hardly performed together.
Jimi was a prolific jammer and spent many hours in the studio. This was true particularly after the break-up of the Experience. The core of the Woodstock band was with him through this period as well as drummer Buddy Miles. A lot of Jimi’s gigs were also recorded. And this is why there was so much material, of varying quality, being made available over the years since Jimi’s death. And, of course this brought with it, all the usual questioning of motives behind each release.