WHAT must it have been like to play alongside the greatest rock guitarist of all time? You won’t find out from Noel Redding’s book Are You Experienced?
Of all the tacky, tawdry volumes cashing in on the Hendrix phenomenon, this one takes the biscuit. Redding, who was bassist in the Jimi Hendrix Experience from 1966 to 1969 while Mitch Mitchell played drums, manages in more than 200 pages never to say anything complimentary about Jimi. Instead he produces a peevish rant with constant complaints about being ripped off by management. He moans that all the attention was focused on the flamboyant group leader – while using a picture of Hendrix on his own book cover.
His spelling is atrocious – it’s instead of the possessive its throughout, other musicians’ names wrong including John Entwistle of the Who (Entwhistle), Steve Marriott (Marriot), Dave Clark (Clarke), Genya Ravan (Raven), The Mersey’s, Lynsey de Paul (Lyndsay DePaul) and many more. Agents are described as ‘pirhanas’. A wah-wah pedal becomes a WhaWha. Who edited this (if anyone)?
This skinny, spotty herbert from Kent complains about the attentions of female fans, as if he’d have stood a chance of scoring without the reflected glory of Hendrix. ‘I didn’t think it would be possible, but I just got so fed up with girls trying to pull me, with twosomes, threesomes and group efforts. I’d met a few lovely ladies and I preferred to see them regularly instead of a series of one-night stands.’ Despite this he boasts of having had ‘the clap’ ten times. His life on the road is an odyssey of boredom relieved and often caused by drugs, drugs and more drugs.
He frequently accuses Hendrix of stealing his ideas. Most tedious of all are the endless lists of transactions taken from his diary in an apparent effort to persuade the taxman that he doesn’t owe a penny.
Redding claims to have been kept constantly in the dark about payments and expenses, while supplying meticulous detail in sentences such as: ‘Next day at 7am after being in the group for only a week, it was Marshall gear we carted off to France – three amps, two speakers, two PA cabinets, three Shure mikes, three stands and strings for a total of £1,066.7s.’ Rock and roll!
His diary entry for February 15, 1967, reads: ‘Cambridge, Dorothy Ballroom (£75). Lost two plectrums.’
Later, ‘I gave up my favoured tortoiseshell picks, which the bass ate alive, for some new German experimental plastic ones. Over the years, I went through hundreds of different types of picks before settling forever on Jim Dunlop’s standard picks, starting with a grip surface of .73mm for electric guitar and .88mm for banjo, bass and acoustic, and ending up using 1mm for everything.’ Phew, that’s a relief!
Diary entries from 1968 include: ‘January 4, Gothenburg, Sweden, Lorenksburg Cirkus – two shows (£578.10s.4d)’ followed by ‘January 8, Stockholm, Koserthus – two shows (578.10s.5d)’. Remarkably specific for a permanently spaced-out sex machine.
Warning: you might find the excitement of the following paragraph too much to bear. ‘I thought I was the owner of a publishing company, but in actuality I owned only a name, a dba (doing-business-as) or aka (also-known-as), a thing called Joint Music, c/o Steingarten, Wedeen & Weiss, thereby nullifying the whole point of the exercise. Warner Brothers files show that Little Miss Strange was registered to Joint Music, c/o SWW, in September; transferred to Arch Music (Schroeder) then reregistered in October to SeaLark (Schroeder) and Yameta (Jeffery).’
There are pages and pages of this stuff while the death of Jimi Hendrix on September 18, 1970, gets relatively short shrift. ‘As I lay struggling through the aftermath of a heavy night on the town, the phone in my New York hotel room insisted on waking me. “Hello, a friend of yours is dead.” “Oh yeah, who’s that?” “Hendrix.”
‘I hung up, numbed . . . suddenly I felt mortal and very alone. The next few hours were unreal. The phone rang unceasingly. Girls pounded on my door. I was forced to leave for privacy and sanity’s sake and was drawn, unexpectedly for me, into a church. More expectedly, I then gathered up the ladies, took them to a bar and began to get drunk.’
Redding himself died in 2003, aged 57. If you see his book in a charity shop it might be worth a look for the comedy value of his relentless negativity. On no account pay more than 50p.
In marked contrast to Redding’s whinges is Mitch Mitchell’s account, The Hendrix Experience. Although the writing again leaves much to be desired, this is a far more uplifting affair based on interviews with the drummer, who died in 2008. It begins with a dedication: ‘There are very few musicians who are given the chance of working with someone as unique as Jimi. He gave me the space, time, encouragement and inspiration – I was so lucky. I miss my friend as much today as ever.’
Among Mitch’s reminiscences is an ill-advised American tour the Experience undertook with the Monkees. ‘They were a nice bunch of chaps even though we thought they couldn’t play. We shared the private plane and all that but, God, did their audience hate us. Eight-year-old kids with their mums and dads, no wonder they hated us.
‘There were some nice things about the tour. We did a couple of days on Greyhound buses and we discovered that Peter Tork could play banjo, Mike Nesmith could play guitar, Mickey Dolenz was one hell of a nice guy and Davy Jones was extremely short.’
During another American tour, Mitch recalls, ‘we actually managed three days off so I flew to the Bahamas with a girlfriend. Noel joined us, which was odd because he really doesn’t like sunshine. He gave it all of three hours, whereupon he decided he hated the Bahamas and flew straight back again.
‘Another time, in Quebec, we heard of this great girl singer in town, called Joni Mitchell. So we went to this little folk club, after our gig, with Hendrix’s tape machine. We were amazed, she was wonderful. So we taped the show and then went back to the hotel. Turns out, not only is she staying in the same hotel but she’s on the same floor. So we went to Jimi’s room, just the three of us, played the tape back, compared notes. It’s two in the morning but we’re keeping things low and we’d been there about an hour and the manager comes up. He went f***ing berserk, “You can’t have guests in your room.”
‘What? We couldn’t believe it. So we said, “We can’t have any guests in this room, right?” “Yes”. So we moved everything into my room. We got chased out of there and went to Joni’s. This went on all night. Unfortunately the tape and the recorder were stolen the next day, so end of story on that.’
Despite the anecdotes, the real joy of this large-format book is the pictures, foremost of which is an astonishing shot taken in September 1967 at a Royal Festival Hall event called Guitar-In, with the Experience sharing the bill with Bert Jansch and Paco Pena. Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, in dinner jacket and black tie, can be seen laughing wildly holding Jimi’s Flying V guitar, watched by the wild-haired band in kaftans. I found several more hilarious photos from the same session here, including a couple showing Jimi ruffling Thorpe’s hair. Old Jezza was clearly a frustrated rock star and, who knows, politics’ loss could have been popular music’s gain. And a certain Great Dane named Rinka might have lived a little longer.
Old jokes’ home
Police arrested two kids yesterday. One was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one and let the other one off.
A PS from PG
I am grateful to Iain Murray for this suggestion regarding Major Brabazon Plank, explorer and big game hunter:
On his own showing, he had for years been horning in uninvited on the aborigines of Brazil, the Congo and elsewhere, and not one of them, apparently, had the enterprise to get after him with a spear or to say it with poisoned darts from the family blowpipe.
PG Wodehouse: Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves