The night Jimi Hendrix died and the guitar Eric Clapton never got to give him
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to take a look back at a saddening story of two friends whose paths will never cross again. It sees Eric Clapton remember the night Jimi Hendrix died and reveals the gift he had planned to give him that night.
When Jimi Hendrix first arrived on the shores of Britain in 1966, with a guitar slung over his back and all the talent in the world in his case, there was one man many thought would be annoyed to see him. Eric Clapton had long been the main man in Britain when it came to the guitar and now he had a challenger.
The anointed ‘Guitar God’ had been shredding his fretboard for some time with Cream and had rightly taken a seat at the table of greatest living musicians. Hendrix meanwhile was, at the time at least, mopping up scraps under the tablecloth.
Hendrix was always desperate to get over to Britain and embed himself within London, the new epicentre of creativity. But even he, with all his parcelled talent, could not have expected the reception he would receive when he did eventually touch down. Brought over to the centre of the swinging sixties by his manager and The Animals bassist Chas Chandler, Jimi was scheduled to play the famous Bag O’ Nails club and begin his domination of the rock world.
However, just a few days before that event, Jimi took himself to Regent Street Polytechnic to take part in a legendary jam session with the notorious rock band Cream. Naturally, one particular member of the band was eager to see the new kid from America have a go on stage. Clapton reached out a figurative hand and helped Hendrix on to the stage.
Hendrix got up and delivered a mind-swirling array of talent. Eric Clapton told Planet Rock: “We got up on stage and Chas Chandler says ‘I’ve got this friend who would love to jam with you.’”
“It was funny, in those days anybody could get up with anybody if you were convincing enough that you could play. He got up and blew everyone’s mind. I just thought ‘ahh, someone that plays the stuff I love in the flesh, on stage with me. ’I was actually privileged to be (on stage with him)… it’s something that no one is ever going to beat; that incident, that night, it’s historic in my mind but only a few people are alive that would remember it.”
With that performance, the relationship between one of the most intrinsically talented duos to have ever shared a pint began. Hendrix and Clapton would share jokes, drinks and stages over the next four years, their admiration for one another growing stronger and stronger until Hendrix’s untimely death on 18th September 1970.
It was a rock and roll death that would shake the music scene to its very core and leave a gigantic hole in the industry and many people’s hearts. For once, the rock world felt like it had finally found its saviour and then, as saviours often are, Hendrix was ripped away from his adoring audience. It left a mark on global society and left many fans bereft. Including, his friend Eric Clapton.
In the rarely seen footage below, Eric Clapton explores the pain he felt when losing Hendrix and the sad story that accompanies it. Clapton says, “After Jimi died, I was angry. I was incredibly angry. I thought it was, not selfish on his part but just erm, a lonely feeling—to be left alone. And after that, I kept running into people who kept shoving him down my throat ‘Have you heard this one he did, this one’s never been on record before’.
“To see these young kids playing the guitar coming up and saying ‘Have you heard this one’ or ‘I can do all this’. Forget it, mate. It’s been done,” concludes the pained guitarist.
A visibly shaken and angry Clapton continues to open up about his grief, “It’s the same with Robert Johnson. I won’t listen to Robert Johnson in mixed company. I won’t put him on, I won’t listen to him if there’s anyone there who don’t feel it. And that’s how I feel about Jimi.”
With a burning fire in his eyes, he addresses the interviewer with a feeling that only the grief-stricken can truly understand. “I knew him, I knew him and I played with him and I loved his music. But I don’t ever wanna hear anything said about him again.”
In one of the ultimate sliding doors moments in rock and roll, Clapton had originally planned to meet Hendrix the night of his death but that never came to fruition and left the Cream man with an unwanted reminder of his friend’s demise. “The night that he died I was supposed to meet him at the Lyceum to see Sly Stone play, and I brought with me a left-handed Stratocaster. I just found it, I think I bought it at Orange Music. I’d never seen one before and I was gonna give it to him.”
Adding: “He was in a box over there and I was in a box over here. I could see him but I couldn’t… we never got together. The next day, whack! He was gone. And I was left with that left-handed Stratocaster.”
While many people dispute the validity of Clapton’s suggestion that Hendrix was at the show—most people believe he never attended the Sly Stone performance—the final reminder of mortality, the left-handed Stratocaster, remains a powerful image and one that is clearly burned into the memory of Eric Clapton.