Inside the Book

The following sample text is from CHAPTER ELEVEN: “WE’RE JUST JAMMING, THAT’S ALL.” © 2018 Modern Listener Publishing.

If you enjoy this excerpt you’ll want to own Modern Listener Guide: Jimi Hendrix, where you’ll discover the colorful life story of Jimi Hendrix fully complemented by a vibrant, in-depth analysis of his music.

In this excerpt: As the summer of 1969 began to heat up, Jimi Hendrix found himself to be a musician without a band. The original lineup of the Jimi Hendrix Experience had played their final show on June 29, 1969, at the Denver Pop Festival, the curtain coming down on Hendrix’s groundbreaking trio amid clouds of tear gas deployed by a police force determined to regain control over a rebellious audience. Suddenly the headlong momentum that had driven Hendrix to the peaks of stardom was now a spent force. Jimi found himself back in New York, adrift and wondering what was next…

Jimi Hendrix wanted to get away. His popularity in mid-1969 was bigger than ever, but his life was in turmoil. His new studio was turning into a financial black hole where huge amounts of funding went in, only to yield the next round of construction woes. And even if his studio had been up and running, he had no band to work with. He wasn’t even sure what direction he wanted to pursue musically. The only thing certain: change was in the air.

“I couldn’t possibly take a year off, even though I am very tired,” Jimi lamented to journalist Ritchie Yorke. “In reality, I might get a month off somewhere but there’s no way for a year. I spend a lot of time trying to get away but I can’t stop thinking about music. It’s in my mind every second of the day.”

Back on the East Coast in the wake of the Denver Pop Festival and the dissolution of the Experience, Hendrix appeared on the two most popular late-night television shows within days of each other. And, since there no longer was a Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jimi’s national television appearances – both broadcast from New York – found him backed by unusual musical aggregations.

On The Dick Cavett Show on July 7, Jimi performed “Hear My Train A-Comin’” with the assistance of members of the house band, the Bob Rosengarden Orchestra. Rosengarden himself manned the drums.

Then, on July 10, Billy Cox made his public debut as Hendrix bassist, joining Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy to support Hendrix as he took on “Lover Man.” Jimi’s amplifier gave way during a first take, leaving guest host Flip Wilson to entertain the audience while a backup was prepared.

Meanwhile, another change was afoot that very same week. Jimi migrated out of New York City to a large, rural, rented house in Boiceville – a property complete with horses in a stable. Boiceville is located four miles from the town of Woodstock. The area had popped up on rock radar screens beginning in 1967 when it became a hub for Bob Dylan, his manager Alert Grossman, and members of The Band. It later drew an expanding cast of musical characters including Todd Rundgren and Paul Butterfield. All were attracted by a rootsy arts scene and what appeared to be a permanent laid-back vibe in the small town of Woodstock itself. That ambience carried over to nearby burghs like Bearsville and Saugerties, scattered throughout the immediate area.


Manager Mike Jeffery established himself in the trendy Woodstock NY area in 1969 and encouraged his number-one client to do the same – making it all the easier for Jeffery to keep an eye on Jimi Hendrix’s activities. (Modern Listener Archives)

Grossman wasn’t the only rock manager in the area: Mike Jeffery, seeking to reinforce a hip, in-the-know image, also had made the 100-mile trek north of Manhattan, buying a home in Woodstock proper. He first encouraged Jimi Hendrix to visit and stay in a garage apartment on the property; he then suggested that his client rent his own place in the area. While these suggestions may have been presented as being in Jimi’s best interest, there’s little doubt that the best way Jeffery could keep his eye on his chief income generator was by having him nearby.

Jeffery had reason for concern. The manager wanted Jimi to form an Experience-like unit and get back on the road, but Jimi seemed more interested in expanding his musical horizons. The guitarist had already fallen in with Juma Sultan, a percussionist with an earthy Afro-jazz flair who was also on the Woodstock scene and known for his work co-founding the Aboriginal Music Society arts organization.

Eventually Hendrix found the sprawling, eight-bedroom Boiceville manor house and pronounced it suitable. Often referred to in the Hendrix world as “the Shokan house” for the neighboring town of Shokan, the property almost immediately hosted Sultan and his girlfriend as well. While many in the area fancied themselves living a country lifestyle, Jimi – with his taste in Corvettes – didn’t quite fit the farmer mold. Still, he made the scene and was photographed riding horses – when he wasn’t zooming up and down the New York State Thruway on his frequent visits to Manhattan.

The idyllic rural setting of “the Shokan house,” actually located in Boiceville, NY, as seen today. Here Jimi Hendrix rehearsed for Woodstock with his Gypsy Sun and Rainbows band. The lackadaisical practices led to the group’s erratic festival performance, though Hendrix himself proved to be in astonishing form. (Modern Listener Archives)

In the end – and more by happenstance than by design – a rainbow coalition of musicians would coalesce around the guitarist at the Boiceville house. Three black musicians, a white Englishman, and a Puerto Rican would join him in trying to put the post-Experience pieces together again. Jimi’s new friend Sultan was on board, and it was no surprise Hendrix invited his Army pal Billy Cox to fulfill the bass role. And another percussionist, Jerry Velez, had become acquainted with Jimi through jams at The Scene club and now was incorporated into this new lineup. Weeks later Mitch Mitchell was summoned to return from England to play drums, although he never really warmed to the additional musicians.

Surprisingly, Jimi insisted on adding a second guitarist to the mix. The name Larry Lee would not bring any recognition from rock fans; instead, Jimi had once again turned to a Nashville friend with shared Army roots. After receiving his discharge, Hendrix had briefly played in the Tennessee area with band lineups that included Lee and Billy Cox. In May 1969, he’d written Lee on stationery from New York’s Hotel Navarro: “I will get in touch with you within the next two weeks…” Lee had assumed he’d never see Jimi again, especially now that stardom had arrived. But in mid-July Lee found himself on the way north for a reunion.

For Lee and Cox, the contrast between life in Nashville and Woodstock/Manhattan must have been mind-bending. Cox had at least had some time to adjust to Hendrix’s new rock star life since they’d first reunited in April, but Lee was pulled by Jimi directly into this chaotic orbit soon after returning from Viet Nam, where he’d been shot in the head and nearly killed.

Whatever progress the musicians were making collectively was disrupted in the last week of July when the head of this growing Boiceville household took a quick vacation. Jimi departed for a week-long sojourn to Morocco – much to the surprise of Billy, Larry, Juma, and Jerry, who were left behind with no idea where Hendrix had gone. Accompanied by socialite Deering Howe and one of Howe’s associates, Michael Jason, the three met up with Colette Mimram and Stella Douglas, the two partners who had founded a trendy clothing store located on 9th Street near the Fillmore East in New York. Mimram had been born in Morocco; Douglas had also been born in that country and was married to producer Alan Douglas, who would soon play his own role in Jimi’s life.

After a relaxing week spent at luxury hotels in the North African country, Hendrix left his five friends behind to make his way back to New York via Paris.

For years rumors have held that Hendrix had a romantic liaison with the lovely actress Brigitte Bardot during an extended layover in France while on his way home. UniVibes: The International Jimi Hendrix Magazine dedicated serious effort to obtaining a definitive answer to the “did he, or didn’t he?” question, but for now the absolute truth remains unknown.

Fresh from a visit to Morocco and Paris, Jimi Hendrix jams at the town of Woodstock’s small Tinker Street Cinema on August 10, 1969. In just a week, Hendrix would play before an audience thousands of times larger. (Tinker Street Cinema)

Days after his return from Morocco, Jimi Hendrix made a public appearance in the town of Woodstock, playing at the Tinker Street Cinema, a small converted church building. Various musicians affiliated with Juma Sultan’s Aboriginal Music Society, who often played the venue on Sunday evenings, stepped onto the cramped stage to join Hendrix. The free-form jam session was supplemented by two percussionists from Santana, who happened to be in the area to play a gig. With Mitch Mitchell not yet present, Hendrix did not have the opportunity to rally his new full lineup to assess what he had at its musical core.

Jimi had a pressing reason to make such an assessment. In July, Mike Jeffery had been approached by Michael Lang, one of the promoters of the Miami Pop Festival, where Jimi had played two sets in May 1968. Lang proposed that Hendrix should headline Lang’s new venture: the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, which, despite its name, would be held dozens of miles from the town that was its namesake. When Lang offered over $30,000 for the concert and Jimi’s appearance in a film to be made of the event – a higher fee than the amount paid to any other festival artist – Jeffery had accepted.

As Jimi played on the small Tinker Street Cinema stage, the opening day of the festival was less than a week away.

Ready or not, history was about to be made.

Woodstock – Music from the Original Soundtrack and More

Woodstock 2


Live at Woodstock

When the public at large has occasion to consider the “Aquarian Exposition” of August 15-18, 1969 – better known simply as Woodstock – three things likely spring to mind: the massive crowd estimated at 400,000 people, Jimi Hendrix’s mesmerizing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the iconic image of Jimi – resplendent in buckskin fringe and headband, flashing the audience a peace sign – as hippie figurehead.

In the context of Jimi’s real world, however, Woodstock amounted to a rough, somewhat shambolic gig played in the early morning daylight before a reduced crowd standing around in drying mud. It was also one of Jimi’s longest shows, ending with a rare-for-Hendrix encore, and contained a number of noteworthy new songs making their public debuts.

Also remarkable at Woodstock was Hendrix’s overall guitar sound. From this time on, when Jimi’s effects were all cooperating with each other and with his Marshall amplification, the sounds that Hendrix could deploy were stunning – sounds never before heard in music. Though Hendrix always had standard production Fuzz Face and Vox wah-wah pedals on hand, there was more than meets the eye behind some of these robust and revelatory sounds.

While long-time UK electronics cohort Roger Mayer still had his hands busy with work for Hendrix, Dave Weyer at West Coast Organ and Amp Service in Los Angeles made his own mark on Hendrix’s later tonality. He modified some of the guitarist’s Fuzz Face units and, through his acquaintance with engineers and technicians employed by the Vox operations owned by Thomas Organ, was able to construct wah-wah pedals that looked like stock Vox models on the outside but were in fact electronically tuned to achieve Hendrix’s sonic goals. West Coast Organ and Amp Service also provided guitar setups while modifying and re-tubing Jimi’s Marshall amps to prepare for tour duty. All of Hendrix’s gear essentially traveled directly from servicing in Los Angeles to the stage at Woodstock, and this marks the inception of a period when Jimi often crafted truly monumental guitar tones during the remainder of his career.

Interestingly, the engineer in charge of documenting the audio of the entire festival – and a daunting challenge that must have been – was none other than Eddie Kramer, who got the job based on his reputation for recording Jimi Hendrix. Kramer largely spent the festival weekend in a portion of a tractor-trailer parked behind the stage, his confines stuffed with a console, two mixers, and two eight-track, one-inch tape recorders, fed by long chaotic lines of cable running from the stage.

Portions of Jimi Hendrix’s set at the historic gathering first appeared in the early 1970s. Woodstock – Music from the Original Soundtrack and More was a triple album that acted as a soundtrack for the movie of the same name. It was released in May 1970, offering edited selections from “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Purple Haze,” and “Villanova Junction.” A year later additional songs were released on Woodstock 2: “Jam Back at the House,” “Izabella,” and “Hear My Train A-Comin’,” with the latter titled “Get My Heart Back Together” in the credits of this 1971 release.

The single-disc Woodstock was the initial CD-era attempt at a dedicated retrospective surveying Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance. Coming late in Alan Douglas’ administration of the Hendrix musical estate, the disc was released on August 20, 1994, marking twenty-five years having passed since the festival took place. But the album contained just ten songs extracted from the two-hour set, presented in an altered running order.

Accordingly, Experience Hendrix/MCA’s double-disc Live at Woodstock was greeted with enthusiasm when it emerged five years later, in July 1999. And while to date it is still the most comprehensive commercial presentation of Jimi at Woodstock, Live at Woodstock remains incomplete. Edits were made on parts ranging from Jimi’s opening comments to Mitch Mitchell’s mid-set drum solo. The levels of the musicians who accompanied Hendrix were in many cases lowered significantly. The severity of the pruning is most questionable in light of Experience Hendrix’s decision to cut two entire performances from the concert. Their musical merit may be debatable within the context of one of Jimi’s most memorable concerts, as both were sung not by Hendrix but by Larry Lee, and both had a distinct R&B flavor unlike anything else Hendrix played that morning. Still, it would have been far preferable to let the purchasers of Live at Woodstock decide for themselves whether or not to invest time listening to these two tracks.

So, as a documentation of this extraordinary concert Live at Woodstock raises some unanswered questions. The partial elimination of percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan along with second guitarist Larry Lee focuses this album on a power trio core – a format Hendrix was specifically trying to leave behind, at least for the time being. Did Experience Hendrix hope that in the wake of this studio handiwork their release was primed to rocket up the pop music charts of 1999? Did they feel that removing sections of the source recordings made the package more palatable to the general public? Whatever the motivations, the biggest question is a simple one: isn’t a historic musical performance significant enough to simply be presented as it happened? The answer appears to be “no.”

The most impressive Live at Woodstock variation came in a 2004 partnership between Experience Hendrix and Classic Records. The result was three vinyl albums housed in dramatic sleeves and a box, capped off with a large-format booklet, Woodstock ticket reproduction, guitar pick, and bonus single with two Gypsy Sun and Rainbows studio efforts, “Izabella” and “Message to Love.” (Classic Records, 2004)

Jimi Hendrix took to the stage at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair at approximately nine in the morning on August 18, 1969, under welcome sunny skies, facing a crowd estimated to be reduced by half from its peak earlier in the weekend. 24 hours before, singer Grace Slick had led Jefferson Airplane onto the same stage and, addressing a crowd that still numbered in the hundreds of thousands, announced, “Alright, friends, you have seen the heavy groups – now you will see morning maniac music…”

Such an announcement might have been appropriate for the set played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, with the guitarist struggling to maintain the creative cohesiveness of his expanded band, all the while assuredly deploying the full, mind-boggling range of his imposing musical abilities.

An offer had been made late on Sunday evening to allow Hendrix to go on stage and perform at roughly midnight, as it was obvious to everyone that weather and technical delays had played havoc with the planned schedule and the event was now destined to stretch into Monday’s daylight hours. But Mike Jeffery declined. He decided to stick to the definition of “headliner” as the very last band to play. As a result, the crowd had dwindled considerably by the time Jimi Hendrix was introduced. Or more correctly, mis-introduced.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Jimi Hendrix Experience,” intoned festival MC Chip Monck. It’s doubtful anyone bothered checking with Jimi about his band’s introduction, as he likely bristled over the idea of hearing the words “Jimi Hendrix Experience” associated with his new aggregation.

“I see that we meet again,” Jimi says in greeting, before immediately moving to correct Monck’s mis-identification. “Dig, we’d like to get something straight. We got tired of the Experience and every once in a while… It was blowing our minds too much. So, we decided to change the whole thing around and call it Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. For short, it’s nothing but a Band of Gypsys…”

Hendrix then introduces his musicians: percussionists Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez, Larry Lee on guitar, Billy Cox playing bass, and Mitch Mitchell – playfully identified by one of Jimi’s nicknames for the drummer, “Granny Goose” – serving as a link to the Experience in his customary role behind the drum kit.

Alluding to the newness of his band, Hendrix added after the introductions, “We only had about two rehearsals, so we’d like to do nothing but primary rhythm things. I mean, it’s the first ray of the new rising sun anyway, so we might as well start from the earth, which is rhythm.”

With names straightened out and the envisioned content established, Hendrix and company set about preparing to play. With some of Jimi’s remarks edited out and the removal of the majority of tuning and set up sounds, Live at Woodstock gives the aural impression that Gypsy Sun and Rainbows efficiently ripped into their first number seconds after taking the stage. In reality, it was a typical-for-the-era chaotic opening, with the first music not coming for several minutes after the musicians stepped on stage. But when they did get it together, Hendrix led the band into a song wholly unfamiliar to the remaining audience, “Message to Love.”

Like People, Hell & Angels’ “Izabella” – itself played at Woodstock later in the show – “Message to Love” would undergo continual lyrical and structural refinements while being played frequently throughout the remainder of Hendrix’s career. The spiritual nature of the song also features forward-thinking lyrics of female empowerment: “Don’t rely on no man, and try to understand. I say find yourself first, and then your talent – work hard in your mind so you can come alive. Then prove to the man, you’re as strong as him – because in the eyes of God, you’re both children to Him.”

As the song progresses Mitchell tries to push the pulse quicker instead of comfortably settling in to ride the groove established by Cox’s bass and Jimi’s guitar. And the sound of those three musicians is about all of the instrumentation you can hear. Reflecting the judicious mixing by Eddie Kramer, the contributions of Juma, Jerry, and Larry are difficult to discern, decidedly residing in the background of the soundscape.

In the wake of the first sets of lyrics, Jimi brings the band down for a brief passage, scatting along vocally against solo runs expressed through a largely clean Stratocaster tone. Soon, though, Hendrix builds the intensity, rolling his guitar’s volume control up – thus increasing the distortion – and venturing into a brief solo colored by the pulsing of his recently acquired Uni-Vibe pedal.

The song then evolves into a brief, gospel-like cadenza. “Everybody, come alive! Come alive, come alive now…” Jimi exhorts, before he ratchets up the Uni-Vibe from subtle pulsing to full-on swaying. Hendrix then engages in a duel with Mitchell, the band now rushing toward a final build and crescendo.

Acknowledging the just-completed song as “Message to Universe,” Hendrix next introduces “Get My Heart Back Together” – his frequently used alternate title for “Hear My Train A-Comin’.”

Billy is slow to enter the song, but once he does Jimi’s free to riff around on the song’s main theme. Later Hendrix does some effective playing against open-string pedal tones, before reigning the band in for a restrained, conversationally questioning wah-wah dialog. Jimi’s really digging his Uni-Vibe, with the pedal effectively locked on stun throughout, setting off moaning high notes that powerfully contrast the pumping swirl of the rhythms.

Hendrix transfers to a rawer, less processed tone for “Spanish Castle Magic,” switching off the Uni-Vibe while offering an animated, interpretive reading of the lyrics. In a mid-song, rhythmic octave section the Gibson Les Paul of Larry Lee is briefly audible in the mix, before the guitars retreat, yielding to Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell sparring through a percussive jam. It’s likely that Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan were involved as well, but as with most of the show their contributions are inaudible.

A page dedicated to Jimi Hendrix appears in a briefly-available 50-page movie program from 1970, accompanying initial screenings that year of the film Woodstock. (Modern Listener Archives)

Following a winding instrumental path, Hendrix homes in on the final lyrics and bears down on an intense outro characterized by a concentrated fusillade of notes, bringing the song to a grinding conclusion.

“We don’t want to play too loud for you,” Hendrix jokes in the wake of the song, “so therefore we just play very quietly – and very out of tune.”
And a fairly quiet – though in tune – “Red House” quickly follows. In the opening solo Jimi rolls the treble off on his Stratocaster’s tone knob for a warmer feel as he interacts with Billy’s traditional blues lines, both musicians working through the progressions. Lee’s second guitar is occasionally somewhat audible, although if there is one song in Jimi’s canon that had no need for additional musicians it’s the stripped-down structure of “Red House.” Perhaps aware of that fact, Hendrix keeps this version short and to the point, far briefer than some of the marathon excursions heard on the final Experience tour.

“Master Mind” was played next on the day, but the track composed and sung by Larry Lee is one of the two songs that Experience Hendrix did not see fit to include on Live at Woodstock.

Lee does get his due on what starts out as a jaunty run through “Lover Man,” the second guitarist present in the mix playing an actual solo as Hendrix surges along in a rhythm role, before the responsibilities switch. Jimi uncharacteristically strays out of key in passages and the song begins to feel as though it’s on the verge of falling apart. Even Mitch Mitchell loses his way briefly after the final verse in a sprint to finish off one of the set’s low points.

Equipment problems pester Hendrix in the first part of “Foxy Lady” – in film footage Jimi can be spotted glaring at his effects, and Hendrix road stalwart Gerry Stickells is seen on his knees making adjustments as soon as the song concludes – but Jimi rallies with a rather astonishing solo that begins in familiar territory before the notes unexpectedly veer off into the avant-garde realm, sounding angular, brittle, and wholly unpredictable.

“Jam Back at the House” – a song also known as “Beginnings” – offers the most fertile ground for the expanded band of Jimi’s imagination. In fact, the song was listed first on Hendrix’s handwritten set list, though it was not actually played until mid-show. Not following a straight-ahead rock or blues structure, “Jam Back at the House” has a rising-and-falling funk feel, with diversions into swing rhythms. Accordingly, Mitchell has a diverse array of percussive duties to account for and he rises to each of the challenges with aplomb. Larry Lee also plays an integral role in this song, and it’s obvious that Jimi had devised interlocking guitar parts as key components. The song features numerous modulations and style shifts and provides a revealing glimpse of Jimi focusing on his compositional skills as much as his performance facets.

One of the sobering realities of the Woodstock era was the Viet Nam conflict, and Jimi refers to soldiers clinging to their machine guns in place of their significant others as he introduces “Izabella,” one of his new songs with lyrics at least partially grounded in current events. With his Uni-Vibe back at full force, Hendrix serves up some of his fiercest rhythm guitar playing in the drive forward. Mitchell takes a somewhat free approach to the drumming, but he’s kept in rhythmic check by the ever-reliable Billy Cox. Cox’s bass work is always musically interesting, but equally important he serves as the anchor for the entire expanded aggregation. Hendrix acknowledges this by matching unison accent notes in octaves with his bassist early in the first solo. Even when some of Jimi’s soloing later in the song walks the edge of chaos, Cox’s presence not only restores order but makes it sound like Hendrix is following a daring yet carefully designed solo path.

In reality, a medley consisting of two covers – Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman” and Jerry Butler’s “Aware of Love” – were next on the set list; on Live at Woodstock that effort has been eliminated, although a few of Jimi’s introductory comments before these songs remain in place. Instead, this release moves on to “Fire,” another song that did not benefit from percussion players and second guitar – hence more aural invisibility for the supplemental players. It’s a compact and energetic take, crowned by one of Jimi’s greatest pitch bends right at the 2:30 mark, a thrilling, roller-coaster-like dive-and-rise.

A flyer tucked into the 1970 Woodstock film program promised the imminent arrival of a soundtrack album. The three-record set was released on May 11, 1970, and climbed to the number one position in the US charts, thanks in part to Jimi Hendrix’s astonishing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (Cotillion Records, 1970)

Jimi’s Woodstock performance nears its end with what is essentially a lengthy, non-stop medley. The included songs cover an astonishing amount of musical turf – and a number of moments that stand among the peak achievements of Hendrix’s career.

“I’d like to do a thing… A new American anthem until we get another one together,” Jimi advises. “It’s called ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return).’” The closing song from Electric Ladyland serves as the proverbial tip of the iceberg for the following half-hour of music. Hendrix starts off closely following the album version, but within minutes he’s adding an edge of aggression with violent tremolo bar bends and surprising accents of octave notes in a lengthy solo exploration. He briefly drifts in and around the rising-and-falling bass line Billy Cox is playing, then begins to bring the band down for another round of introductions and his vow: “If I don’t see you no more in this world, I’ll meet you in the next one.” A brief excerpt of Larry Lee’s solo follows, his Les Paul tone contrasting with Hendrix’s wavering, liquid distortion. Jimi steps back to the forefront to lead the band through a segment previewing another new song under development, “Stepping Stone.”

Leaving that new song structure behind, Hendrix lets his rhythm morph into a funky staccato break, the band hesitantly pulsing with him but apparently not quite sure where Jimi is next headed.

“Thank you again,” Hendrix calls out over the music, “You can leave if you want to, we’re just jamming, that’s all. You can leave or you can clap…”

Hendrix and Lee then work their way into a descending five-note pattern. Once the feel is established, Jimi begins embellishing and straying from the theme as it repeats. Cox falls in as well, his bass grounding the intensifying musical swell. Finally, a blaring crescendo gives way to Jimi’s wah-wah, slowly revisiting the opening theme of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” The band crashes in on what sounds like a long closing note as Hendrix kicks on the Uni-Vibe and climbs up his guitar neck, but it’s far from the end.

Three long, pulsing notes later Hendrix shifts into what has become one of the signature pieces of his legacy, his stunning interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Within 30 seconds Billy Cox senses this piece is going somewhere unknown and sensibly lays out of the proceedings, leaving Mitch Mitchell to pick and choose where he will support or converse with Jimi’s sounds.

And what sounds they are. This instrumental version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” marks an incredible harmonic convergence of on-the-verge-of-uncontrolled-feedback amplification, electronic effects, a resonant Fender Stratocaster, unseen vibrations in the air, and the immense talent of the man directing this massive sonic force. Jimi Hendrix colors with sound, somehow able to illustrate the anthem lyrics with the motions of his hands manipulating the six strings. And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air? Jimi leads your ears into the combustion, riding the tremolo bar across the skies depicted by Francis Scott Key. It is a singular musical creation, and the remaining Woodstock crowd was fully awestruck by a nearly symphonic statement that so passionately reflected the cultural and political climate of the era.

Then, rising out of the swirling cloud of feedback surrounding the home of the brave, the two tritone notes that herald “Purple Haze” slink from the amplifiers, Hendrix peeling out in an entirely different direction. Kicking off his wah-wah pedal for a rounder, less biting tone, he follows the framework of the studio recording fairly closely. But it’s the in-betweens that amaze: Jimi casually tosses off fills high on the neck or plummets down to the headstock to snap open strings against the fretboard. The outro solo evolves into a single unbroken sound, based on Jimi’s lightning-fast picking with the strings so bent that it sounds like signals emitted from another planet.

The band falls away, Hendrix alone and unaccompanied, conversing via a piercing wah-wah call-and-response, then unleashing another storm of notes. Unexpectedly Jimi then diverts to a pseudo-flamenco passage, bravely exploring new sounds in front of tens of thousands of witnesses. He further lowers his guitar’s volume knob to refine his sound, letting the natural tonal characteristics of his Stratocaster’s pickups become the aural focus. Guiding the audience through a bolero-like passage voiced in delicate chordal progressions, Jimi then initiates the beautiful and somber theme of “Villanova Junction,” another new instrumental. It offers a stark contrast against the volume and controlled chaos of the minutes that have preceded this melodic refuge, a divergence that is nearly shocking. Some of Hendrix’s most lyrical and pensive playing characterizes “Villanova Junction,” becoming a lovely and unexpected means of closing his Woodstock set proper.

“Thank ya,” Hendrix laconically acknowledges, and then leaves the stage.


As you’ll discover in the book, Jimi Hendrix wasn’t quite done with the Woodstock audience. He granted the crowd a rare encore, working through the song that had initially cemented his alliance with manager Chas Chandler three years earlier, “Hey Joe.” Then he was gone – departing the muddy devastation of the festival site in a most unlikely way.

If you enjoy this excerpt you’ll want to own Modern Listener Guide: Jimi Hendrix, where you’ll discover the colorful life story of Jimi Hendrix fully complemented by a vibrant, in-depth analysis of his music.