Before the legendary 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival, America was pretty blissfully unaware of the mercurial talent of Jimi Hendrix. However, the guitarist had gained himself a heap of notoriety across the pond in Britain and, in mainland Europe, the singer was beginning to make waves. Hendrix’s guitar work had not only blown away audiences with his songs, but his stunning performances had captured the hearts and minds of his contemporaries too.
It was a prospect that saw Hendrix quickly rise like the cream of the sixties crop and go on to become known as not only a great guitarist — arguably the greatest ever — but the poster boy for the entire decade’s creativity and free-spiritedness. His untethered style and potent stage presence, seemingly dropping from outer space, propelled the singer and guitarist to legendary status.
There are many notable Hendrix performances around his explosion in 1966. There’s the famous Bag O’Nails club night that saw mouths drop in awe at his talent. There was also the jam session with Cream on Regent Street in London which saw Clapton rubbing his eyes in disbelief at his talent. But there was something else that really made Hendrix the name of the moment. He was ‘real’.
The artist wasn’t about gimmicks or turning looks on stage, despite his colourful costumes. Instead, he was about playing and playing with his heart on his sleeve. It meant that despite acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones using the paved streets of television, along with some bashful eyes and the odd witty retort, as a shortcut to commercial stardom, Hendrix was determined to cut his own path. The guitarist refused to conform to commercial pressures.
Instead what producers and television shows encountered when they booked The Jimi Hendrix Experience was exactly that. The 100% authentic version of the genius guitarist performing at his loudest. It meant no benign jokes or throwaway comments. No fawning over the latest craze and no pandering to the host. Jimi was there to play and be himself and that was it.
A great place to see this was on the German TV show, The Beat Club, when it welcomed Hendrix to perform two of his most iconic songs, ‘Hey Joe’ and ‘Purple Haze’. The tracks had already seen Hendrix gain fame in 1966 and attract the attention of British TV shows Ready, Steady, Go! and Top of the Pops and now he was going across the channel to the continent. Well, kind of.
While the performance was filmed for The Beat Club, the footage was actually shot at the legendary Marquee Club in London on March 2nd, 1967 and aired nine days later in Germany. It provides one of the clearest indications of the Hendrix’s uncanny ability to whip audiences into a frenzy and send shockwaves through the television set.
Hendrix had the talent to make his playing transcend the stage, whatever size it may be, and swell into the inky night and envelop the entire universe, if only just for a few precious notes. Equally, while being able to conjure sky-swallowing riffs, he was also able to connect with his audience on a deeply personal level. Here, in the footage below, we see both assets of his performance working in tandem.
As Hendrix flies through his two biggest hits, he provides a nationwide moment of joy and delights the small contingent of staff filming. There’s a palpable tension to the recording that lets you know, while this was a day-job for many of the people involved, nothing about seeing Jimi Hendrix live was ever ordinary.