” S’cuse Me, While I Kiss The Sky (Kiss This Guy?)”
“And then Billy, he burned his guitar!”
- My best buddy, Bobby McCoy, screaming into the phone, after seeing Monterey Pop.
I was thirteen, and hanging out with new friends.
One of them was Brain Sedore, a weird guy who lived in the apartments down the street from us, and one of the first “hippies” at Woodward High School in Rockville, Maryland.
I would go over to his house after school and get sto…watch him smoke pot. We had been listening to Sgt. Pepper’s and Freak Out by the Mothers of Invention, pretty much non-stop for the past month.
Forty-five years later, I will never forget looking at an album cover he handed me one afternoon, and thinking that those three guys on the cover had even wilder hair than Wayne Cochran.
Brian dropped the needle on the first cut, and as “Purple Haze” blasted through his mom’s Zenith console, he looked at me and summed it all up with a single, hushed:
November 27, 2012, would have been Jimi Hendrix‘ seventieth birthday.
Unlike many of the artists I’ve written about, his legacy is pretty familiar to almost everyone.
Rather than add to the countless accolades (deservedly) heaped upon him by music historians and pop-culture writers, allow me to offer some personal observations on how a journeyman veteran of the black Chitlin’ Circuit changed everything; not just the music itself, but damn near everything:
As best as I recall:
- Sgt. Pepper’s and Are You Experienced were the two albums responsible for the “‘n’ roll” being dropped from “rock ‘n’ roll.” Along with Disraeli Gears by Cream, released in November of 1967, these landmark recordings forced critics and lovers of “serious” music to pay attention and reconsider their blanket dismissals of rock as being little more than harmless fodder for adolescent girls. A good example of this was:
- Our high school band teacher, Mr. Talamo. Mr. (“Call me Jack”) Talamo, was a Skitch Henderson-goateed, turtleneck-wearing, confirmed jazz lover, who had once given me an “F” for doing a report on Bo Diddley (“Very uncool, man”). After listening to Experienced, he grudgingly admitted that Jimi Hendrix was “a pretty groovy cat.”
- Prior to Hendrix, local bands played either “Soul” or, as the new music was known, “Psyche.” Within a year, bands like The El Corals, D.C.’s number one soul band, were playing “Fire” and “Foxy Lady” between “Cold Sweat” and their “Temptin’ Temptations” medley.
- Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center was besieged by local guitar players trading in Fender Dual Showmans and Vox Super Beatle amps for six-foot tall Marshall stacks, and buying up every fuzz tone, wah-wah pedal, octave splitter, and Rotoverb available.
-The Stratocaster began challenging the Fender Jaguar and the Mosrite as the coolest guitar in the world. (The Les Paul would come later).
- Up until Jimi, guitar players dressed like everybody else in the band. After his appearance in Monterey Pop, guitar players, both black and white, began wearing gypsy scarves, ruffled tuxedo shirts, velvet bell-bottoms, and getting even more girls than before. One of the first local musicians I recall seeing with the gypsy scarf was the guitar player for Crystal Mesh, a fifteen-year-old former accordion player named Nils Lofgren.
Folk/Gospel/Family groups like The Chambers Brothers changed their style, losing the matching sport coats in favor of “Digger” hats and loud, vertically-striped hip huggers. Eventually, even Motown artists began inviting those of us who were “dancing in the streets,” to a new place that was “right around the corner, and just across the track.” at the corner of Motor City Avenue and Haight-Ashbury streets better know as “The Psychedelic Shack.”
Speaking of which, words like “psychedelic” became part of everyday vocabularies.
- While the Beatles were claiming that the title of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” happened to be purely coincidental, songs like “Manic Depressions,” was proof that hallucinogenic drugs were indeed having a profound effect on music. This in turn, made many of us curious about certain drugs, resulting in…some of our friends experimenting with them.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience brought back the blatant sexuality of old school R&B to mainstream rock. When The Who smashed their instruments and amps, it was Goofus and Gallant run amok. When Hendrix played the guitar with his teeth, it reminded you of something you’d seen in that illustrated Secrets of a Successful Marriage you’d discovered hidden behind the Popular Mechanics magazines your dad’s study.
Even cooler than that:
- We began to hear rumors of young women who had discovered a new use for a material, up until then favored by Boy Scouts to preserve animal tracks. Cynthia “Plaster Caster” and her creative friends were also the first music aficionados to refer to themselves as “groupies.”
- A song that appeared a couple of years down the road, on “Smash Hits,” became the first representative of a certain genre to be played on many “underground” radio stations. It was originally included on the U.K. version of Are You Experienced? but pulled right before the album’s release in the United States. Legend has it that Hendrix was furious, but the suits would not budge. At the insistence of the executives at Reprise, the record label begun by Frank Sinatra in 1960, they cut “Red House” from the American release, because in 1967, as they informed him, American teenagers “did not like the blues.”
…I have just finished listening to “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “Fire,” “Foxy Lady,” Red House,” and all the rest of them, for the first time in nearly forty-five years. After two rough drafts, three re-edits, and track-by-track analysis, an album released over four decades ago still has the power to reduce a jaded, fifty-eight-year-old music writer with peripheral neuropathy and blood pressure issues, to shaking his head, while staring at the Windows Media Player screen and uttering a single, hushed:
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
About the Author: