Jimi Hendrix‘s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival was a major coup. Frustrated by his lack of success in New York during the mid-1960s, Hendrix hooked up with former Animals bassist Chas Chandler and left his home country for England. After assembling a backing band with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix staged a legendary run that would forever preserve his name in the history books of rock and roll.
It didn’t even take that long for Hendrix to become one of the biggest stars in London. A few well-publicised gigs and the chart success of the ‘Hey Joe’ single meant that Hendrix became a widely known performer by the start of 1967, only a few months after he first arrived in the UK.
Despite his popularity on the other side of the Atlantic, ‘Hey Joe’ had practically been ignored back in America. Record buyers weren’t even able to buy the recently released debut from the band, Are You Experienced?, unless they received import copies. Reprise Records would release the album in August, two months after Hendrix made a name for himself at the Monterey Pop Festival.
Even Hendrix’s ability to get into Monterey Pop was difficult. With no record and no chart success, it took personal intervention from Paul McCartney to ensure that Hendrix had a spot on the bill. Fellow London exports The Who knew of Hendrix’s explosive reputation, and sought to ensure that his destructive tendencies didn’t upstage their own destructive tendencies. It came down to a coin flip about who would go on first. Pete Townshend won, and The Who tore the stage to pieces as they finished their set with ‘My Generation’.
Hendrix, with his back against the wall in a make or break moment, was undeterred. All it took was a can of lighter fluid and some incredibly loud distortion to make Hendrix the unequivocal winner of the Monterey Pop Festival. But before he set his guitar alight at the end of ‘Wild Thing’, he plugged into his bluesy roots and showed America just what they were missing by not buying the ‘Hey Joe’ single.
Check out Hendrix’s performance on ‘Wild Thing’ down below.