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Bill Wyman remembers watching Jimi Hendrix for the first time

@TylerGolsen

Stories of rock star happenstance leading to global domination are surprisingly common. Oasis play a gig in Glasgow where Creation Records label head Alan McGee just happens to be there. The Woodstock Festival binging on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian during an extended break not because he was scheduled, but just because he happened to be attending the legendary festival.

The Rolling Stones are not except from these kinds of stories. Different accounts credit The Beatles for both directing Andrew Loog Oldham to the group and, of course, landing them a deal with Decca Records. The Beatles were famously rejected by Decca, but apparently, George Harrison kept in contact with the head of the label when he was still a teenager. While this all seems a little fishy, it remains part of the murky and dubious retellings that go along with rock and roll.

Speaking of, Rolling Stones’ bassist Bill Wyman has got a possibly apocryphal story of his own relating to the late, great Jimi Hendrix. In his interview with Rob Hughes in Classic Rock Magazine earlier this year, Wyman claims to have been one of the first famous British musicians to catch a young Hendrix before his star was made. According to Wyman, he is even partially responsible for setting Hendrix up for success by hooking him up with former Animals bassist Chas Chandler.

“I first saw him at a club in Queens in New York in 1966, when he was known as Jimmy James,” Wyman contends. “He did things the average person wasn’t doing, though I knew they’d been done before – playing guitar round the back of your head and biting strings. Jimi was a nice guy and all the Stones got on very well with him.

“When we got back from America, I bumped into The Animals at the Scotch Of St. James. Chas said to me: ‘We’re off to the States next week.’ I said: ‘If you’re in New York, go and see this guy called Hendrix. He’s fantastic.’

“So they went, Chas met him and then signed him and brought him over. I was one of the first people to see him here, when he played a club in Bromley [The Bromel Club, in 1967]. It might have been the first gig he did. There was hardly anyone else there. But he still poured lighter fuel on his guitar and set fire to it that night.”

Wyman’s seemingly ludicrous claim should be fact-checked by some Hendrix historians. What we do know is that the Stones played at the Forrest Hills Tennis Stadiums in Queens on July 2nd, 1966. That would be the most logical time for Wyman to have snuck off and witnessed Hendrix, but in his book Ultimate Hendrix: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Live Concerts and Sessions, writer John McDermott contends that it was someone else within the Stones’ orbit who saw Hendrix: Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith.

Was Wyman with Keith when she stumbled upon Hendrix, allegedly at the Cheetah club in Manhattan and not in Queens as Wyman’s recollection surmises? Did Wyman see Hendrix later, at a time when his stage antics were more honed and his fame was a little greater? Was Wyman producing a false memory? It’s hard to tell, but if it is true, then Bill Wyman just might be the person to thank for bringing Jimi Hendrix to England and then to the world (it was probably Linda Keith, though).

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