INTERVIEW Jimi Hendrix’s London flat and memories
PROLIFIC MUSIC JOURNALISTS AND HENDRIX BIOGRAPHERS CHRIS WELCH, HARRY SHAPIrO AND LEGENDARY ROCK PHOTOGRAPHER BARRIE WENTZELL SHARE THEIR MEMORIES ABOUT JIMI, HIS FIRST LONDON GIGS, BASKSTAGE STORIES AND ENGLEBERT HUMDERDINcK NO LESS?!!!.. AS THE HOUSE OF HENDRIX FINALLY OPENS TO THE PUBLIC!!
Fellow rock musicians and fans far and wide have been desperately begging for years to get inside the house of Hendrix. Well the highly anticipated wait to step inside the icon’s former London flat is finally over. The Jimi Hendrix Museum located at 23 Brook Street, is open to the public. The flat which Hendrix affectionately referred to as “the only home, I ever had” has been completely restored to it’s original features and appearance from 1968 when Jimi Hendrix and former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham paid just £30 a week for the Mayfair apartment!!
Along with historically accurate furnishings from Jimi’s original flat, the museum houses various multi-media displays of Hendrix’s output, snippets of his personal vinyl collection including a copy of Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ apparently stained with Hendrix’s blood, and further rare examples of his musical legacy.
But Hendrix’s house is not the only famous home on the block?! Separated by a wall and 200 years sits the home of famed composer George Fredric Handel. The flats; now linked form Handel & Hendrix in London . Duel museums which will play host to a packed schedule of tours, live music and special events in the upcoming year.
Despite the great privilege of seeing Jimi’s flat before anyone else, the highlight at the opening launch came from acclaimed music journo’s and Hendrix biographers Chris Welch, Harry Shapiro and legendary rock photographer Barry Wentzell; who sat down to chat Jimi, memories from the flat and oddly enough Englebert Humperdinck….
THE LONDON FLAT….
CHRIS WELCH: Jimi was always charming and friendly. He loved living here, especially being by the theatre, the stage, tv studios, rock festivals, he just liked the life in London. Being in the centre of it all in this cozy little flat with his girlfriend was like an oasis of calm for him. The flat was very small and compact; and he had this large bed with a canopy that took up most of the space; as you’ll see. There wasn’t a lot of room for guests to sit.
I’d like to say I could smell dope in the apartment but maybe not…certainly incense, there was always a lot of incense.
BARRIE WENTZELL: Yeah “incense” I think it was?!
CHRIS: Yes that’s right “incense” Funny enough I used to keep scrap books of all my interviews, it was kinda a little thing that I used to do just for fun. Years later I took out my scrap book from 1967 which had all my interviews with Jimi Hendix in them and it smelt very strongly of “incense”. I mean we’re talking 30-40 years later from in the drawer! I had to explain it to my wife.
BARRIE WENTZELL: You probably could have smoked that?!
HARRY SHAPIRO: Jimi did love London, it was a calmer place as opposed to New York where everyone was pretty much always in his face. Especially when he became so internationally famous after the Monterey Pop Festival. There were some fairly bad characters hanging around him in New York and he didn’t really like that. London and the flat was a cozy place. It’s right in the centre and he could walk around.
And you know you could just walk up to him?! Jimi was very open. It used to drive Kathy mad!! He would give his phone number upstairs to anyone on the street that came up to him, or that chatted to him in the record shops and wanted it. So they finally put an extra line in for special people to get through and he’d gave that one out!! haha They had to disconnect the doorbell because fans were always banging on the door downstairs. He was very open and down to earth and approachable like that!
• • •
HENDRIX/HANDEL HOUSE: Jimi knew that Handel had lived here, and apparently sometimes music students would knock on the door and ask if they could see Handel’s house and he would let them come up and have a look and have a cup of tea with him. There’s a story Kathy tells that apparently Jimi saw an apparition of Handel in the mirror while shaving and that after that they went out and bought vinyl copies of the Messiah and Water Music.
He had a very open mentality to all kinds of music Jimi. He was a very good listener, and a very careful listener. Whether or not Handel had a particular influence on his music.. who knows? But when we were at EMP and going threw his vinyl collection you could tell by the scratchings on the Handel records that they got a lot of play over the others.
BARRIE WENTZELL: I do remember actually when Chris and I were interviewing him Handel did come up. Jimi mentioned that Handel had lived downstairs or next door or something and I said “Oh really, how do you feel about that” and he said “Some nights, I pick up vibes from Handel, and so I bought Oratorio and Water Music and it’s really cool music. ”
• • •
FIRST TIME HEARING HIM PLAY:
HARRY SHAPIRO: I saw him at the other end, at the Isle of Wight which was actually his last UK gig. He wasn’t a happy bunny. Festival organisation was dreadful back in those days. He didn’t come on til about 3 o’clock in the morning and he was not happy. He was a technical perfectionist you know and the PA systems and the amps for festivals at that time were just dreadful. So anyways, he came on and pretty much the first thing that happened was that the amps were picking up the signals from the local taxi company. So you had Hendrix on stage in front of thousands of people and some guy in a taxi office going “Oi! Will you go pick up Mrs Smith” coming out over the amps! haha!! I mean to Jimi’s credit he pulled it all together and managed to get through it, and nobody knew of course that this would have been his last gig.
• • •
HARRY SHAPIRO: Well interestingly it took me 2 years to persuade Kathy Etchingham to grant me an interview. I mean I’d completely given up hope. Kathy had become extremely weary and protective of interviews back then, cause of everyone sensationalising and spreading these rumours and stories about all the drugs and orgies and gossip surrounding Jimi. So honestly I just kinda accepted it wasn’t going to happen.
Then one night 2 years later, we’re having a dinner party at home and the phone rings. I answer and the person say’s “Harry? It’s Kathy?” I say “Kathy Who?” “It’s Kathy Etchingham. I’d like to do that interview” so I say “Oh great! So when shall we do it?” and she says “Now!!!” So she literally jumped in a taxi and came around to my house!!
We sat in the front room and she said “Could you put some Hendrix on?” so I put on ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ (which funny enough had been written for her, by Jimi after they’d had a major row and she’d thrown a frying pan at him and he stormed off) and she just sat there in floods of tears, and it was quite an incredible moment. We’ve been good friends ever since.
• • •
TAKING A BREAK…
CHRIS WELCH: Outside the London flat I interviewed Jimi a lot in hotels. We did one once at the Cumberland I remember ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club’ had just come out, and that’s all he wanted to talk about. Jimi was always very generous in his praise towards other people, he didn’t really want to talk about himself. So I go in and he say’s “Listen to this, it’s fantastic” that was actually the first time I heard the album for Sgt.Pepper’s was with Jimi playing it for me.”
BARRIE WENTZELL: I saw him at the Saville once actually, just as you said about Sgt. Pepper coming out. It was only the next week after people had first heard it, and you had Jimi playing Sgt.Pepper at the Saville and it sounded better than the Beatles! and I mean that was hard to do?! It was incredible!
CHRIS WELCH: Ha! That was Jimi! We were in the bar at the BBC back stage at Top of The Pops one time and he’d kinda got used to the English way of doing things and he said “Well I better get a round” He bought every one in the bar a beer! I just remember all these pints of lager flying around everywhere, he was a always a perfect gentleman Jimi and very witty. Anyways I remember speaking to him that night and the one thing he said was that he needed a rest, that he wanted to take a year off.
BARRIE WENTZELL: He told me that as well. I was sent along to take some pictures for Melody Maker once and I went to see him and the secretary said “He’s in the office and he isn’t too happy” So I knocked on the door, and went in and he was slouched on the desk. I said ‘What’s the matter Jimi?” he said to me then “You know I wanted just to take a year off, and record. But my managers got me on this crazy schedule, there’s no time, how am I going to pay all these bills?” and you know it had become a bit of a curse. To him and to a lot of bands at that time who were worked to death really.
HARRY SHAPIRO: Yeah and I think that’s an important point, that when Jimi was saying he wanted to “take a year out”, the one thing that he would have never been allowed to do back in those days was “take a year out!” Because the managers and the record companies their view back then was that if your not out there all the time, gigging, putting out records, playing on TV…within 6 months everyone’s going to forget you and they’ll never know who you are!! It took people like Peter Grant the manager of Zeppelin, (clever guy) who took Zeppelin off the road and brought them back and they were 10 times bigger than before to change things. So going back to my point, Jimi was going to struggle taking a year out, because there was so much pressure on him to just keep on going.
• • •
CHRIS WELCH: I did see the night where he first set fire to his guitar actually. It was in the Finsbury Park Astoria which later became the Rainbow, where the Beatles used to play. Anyways I went there to see this package show. Englebert Humperdinck was on the bill of all people, the Walker Brothers and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I went backstage and everyone was milling around, Cat Stevens was there on the bill as well and they all had about 15 minutes each, which was insane really. Anyways Jimi came on and started playing and there was this idea to do something spectacular at the end of the set. Jimi poured lighter fluid on the finger plate of his guitar and at the end of the set it burst into flames. It was amazing! Then I sadly wound up celebrating that afterwards by eating eggs and chips with Englebert! haha
HARRY SHAPIRO: Jimi only did that twice, light his guitar on fire. At the Astoria and later at the Monterey which literally catapulted him to fame. I mean he quite literally stole the show and there was this big fight backstage about who was going to follow him. I mean the Who didn’t want to follow that, you couldn’t top that!!!
BARRIE WENTZELL: Those package shows were funny . There was one gig actually where Englebert’s guitar player didn’t show up, so Jimi wound up playing guitar for Englebert from behind a curtain. I mean it must have been great.
CHRIS WELCH: You know funny enough Jimi loved Englebert, they got on really well. He thought he was a great singer.
BARRIE WENTZELL: Ugh I had to spend a whole day with Englebert because the Melody Maker had this idea to do a story of like a “Day with Englebert Humperdinck” and I don’t know who came up with that, because I remember thinking “That’s the most boring day ever!”. We had eggs and chips as well actually backstage at the Palladium.
HARRY SHAPIRO: I mean these package shows were quite ridiculous. Can you imagine putting Jimi Hendrix on the same bill as Engelbert Humpderdinck it sounds just ridiculous and it carried on in America! Because Mike Jeffries who was Jimi’s co manager had this brilliant idea of sending Jimi out on tour with the Monkees. So they go off and Jimi’s phoning like “This is ridiculous man, I can’t do this” so they made up this story that the “Daughters of the Revolution” which was some kind of religious, white, right wing fundamentalist group whatever had complained about Jimi Hendrix being on this tour and had got him thrown off. When in fact it was just that he couldn’t stand being on tour with the Monkees and just walked off the tour.
• • •
HARRY SHAPIRO: The other interesting point about Jimi in London is that it all happened so fast, and it’s one of those big “What if’s?” in rock history, like “What If Jimi Hendrix hadn’t come to London?” Because for the first half of 1966 he was scuffling around New York, nobody knew who the hell he was, he was literally sofa surfing between girlfriends, eating tomato ketchup sandwiches because that’s all he could afford! I think when The Animals bassist Chas Chandler (who wanted to be a manager) saw him downstairs at the Cafe Wha? in New York it was the afternoon slot! I mean there couldn’t have been more than a half a dozen people there… IF THAT, so it was complete “Who the hell is this guy” and Chas asked him if he would come to London and he said “Yeah, on one condition” and the one condition was that Chas would introduce him to Eric Clapton.
When Jimi came over to London the first time gig he ever played was at Central Polytechnics and Chas Chandler brought him over to speak to Jack Bruce who as you know was the bass player in Cream, and Cream were playing the gig. He said could Jimi come on and jam.
BARRIE WENTZELL: Oh no!!!! haha
HARRY SHAPIRO: haha Exactly, so Jack says “yeah, no problem, no problem” So Jimi walks on. Ginger Baker’s sat there behind the kit with a face like thunder because he just hated anybody getting involved you know. Jimi starts playing Howling Wolfs “Killing Floor”. Eric walks off….Eric’s standing in the wings apparently his jaw was just floored. Jimi did the whole works!!! He was playing between his teeth, the whole lot!!! I think after that there was like a little guitarists anoynomous. There was Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton who would probably get in a huddle and go “have you seen this guy?!” “we’re in trouble!” But I don’t actually think they actually got a chance other than that to play together. There is a tape actually which I’ve heard of the two of them, Jimi and Eric. Someone must have had a little tape recorder in the speakeasy and taped it somehow. They’re both absolutley pissed, stoned or something and they’re sitting at a table and just kinda rapping with each other. They liked each other but I think Eric was maybe a bit weary of Jimi and how talented he was, but there wasn’t this sort of gun fight at the OK Corral tension or anything like that.
BARRIE WENTZELL: Also about Pete Townsend.. Chris and I were interviewing Eric Clapton at the Pheasantry down on Kings Road, about Eric leaving Cream I think it was?! Anyways after some exotic herbs, Eric said Pete Townsend had invited him to go see a movie a few weeks before, but it really wasn’t really about the movie… it was “What we do about Hendrix!” haha. I think you couldn’t do anything, Jimi was just great! That’s it!
Handel & Hendrix in London
Is Now Open
General Admission is £7.50
Words by Tracy Kawalik, Chris Welch, Barrie and Harry Shapiro
Photos by Tracy Kawalik, and Barrie Wentzell