It may seem like it would take a lot to be banned from an entire TV channel, but Jimi Hendrix made it happened with one singular performance. In 1969, Jimi Hendrix would find himself, in quick succession, both making a legendary prime time appearance on BBC television and, just a few songs later, banned from the channel indefinitely for an impromptu tribute to Cream.
While London was positively swinging with rock ‘n’ roll creativity in the sixties, the BBC was still a very stuffy, starch-collar-shirted, stiff-upper-lipped, establishment capable of making rash decisions over the smallest indiscretions. They were likely unhappy about even inviting the mercurial counter culture poster boy, Jimi Hendrix on to the prime time TV show hosted by Lulu, in the first place. They were certainly unhappy with his performance.
Although Lulu could have a subversive side, she was still the natural choice for the BBC when they were sketching out their intent to capture the viewership of the growing counterculture movement. Lulu represented a perfect crossover of styles — having been friends with The Beatles she had some reputation but her bubbly, charming, and well-mannered tone and straight-laced image made her the perfect candidate for the BBC’s new primetime show Happening For Lulu.
The show would air just before the 6 o’clock news, a prime time slot, and was the home to some of the country’s brightest and best musicians. Welcoming artists from the pop music bubble wielding their guitars with their long hair and floral clothing — they were an affront to everything the BBC stood for at the time. But the Beeb needed viewers, so they had to invite the scene’s most daring acts.
During the late sixties, there was only one man who could truly live up to that hype, the only act which could spark a revolution with one single note, Jimi Hendrix and his band The Experience. They were a phenomenon that was about to sweep the entire world.
The group were invited to the show with the expectation that they would comply, not only with the show’s practices but also with the BBC’s rigorous straight-laced demands. The first of which would see the band perform two hits, their brilliant song ‘Voodoo Child’ and their latest hit ‘Hey Joe’, to an adoring audience. They were also expected to have Lulu join Jimi and the rest of the group on the latter song to perform a cringeworthy duet.
The scene that Mitch Mitchell and the rest of Jimi Hendrix Experience found when they walked into the studio was, as Mitchell describes in his memoir, “so straight it was only natural that we would try to combat that atmosphere by having a smoke in our dressing room.”
As Open Culture reports, he continues: “In our haste, the lump of hash got away and slipped down the sink drainpipe. Panic! We just couldn’t do this show straight — Lulu didn’t approve of smoking! She was then married to Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees, whom I’d visited and shared a smoke with. I could always tell Lulu was due home when Maurice started throwing open all the windows.
“Anyway, I found a maintenance man and begged tools from him with the story of a lost ring. He was too helpful, offering to dismantle the drain for us. It took ages to dissuade him, but we succeeded in our task and had a great smoke.”
They walked into the studio and began to tune up their instruments and wow the crowd with a spellbinding rendition of ‘Voodoo Child’, which must’ve truly shaken audiences out of their wingback chairs at home. It really is one of the best Jimi Hendrix performances of the song you are likely to see. As the track played the beginning of Hendrix’s ban would start to present themselves.
“That was really hot,” said Lulu as the notes of ‘Voodoo Child’ subsided and the crowd’s cheering rested, left agog by Hendrix and the rest of the band’s talent. “Yeah. Well, ladies and gentlemen, in case you didn’t know, Jimi and the boys won, in a big American magazine called Billboard, the group of the year.” At this moment a sudden, and apparently accidental, piece of feedback shook Lulu off her notes and left Hendrix smiling.
A showbiz pro, Lulu continued: “And they’re gonna sing for you now the song that absolutely made them in this country, and I’d love to hear them sing it: ‘Hey Joe.'”
On that very day, another moment in musical history had already taken place, which would have shaken the British rock elite’s core. The British supergroup Cream had announced their split. Comprised of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, the group represented the higher echelons of rock and roll and especially British music. Hendrix knew this first hand and knew that their demise was a sign of things to come — the sixties couldn’t last forever.
The guitarist had been at a Cream jam-session when he first introduced himself to the music scene here in the UK and ever since they had remained a firm favourite for the mercurial musician.
So only a few bars into their latest single, on a nationally televised live performance, Hendrix stops the music and says “We’d like to stop playing this rubbish and dedicate a song to the Cream, regardless of what kind of group they may be in. We dedicate this to Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce.”
The band then give a truly magnificent performance of Cream’s song ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ and brought the house down.
Noel Redding said of the story: “This was fun for us, but producer Stanley Dorfman didn’t take it at all well as the minutes ticked by on his live show. Short of running onto the set to stop us or pulling the plug, there was nothing he could do. We played past the point where Lulu might have joined us, played through the time for talking at the end, played through Stanley tearing his hair, pointing to his watch and silently screaming at us. We played out the show.
“Afterwards, Dorfman refused to speak to us, but the result is one of the most widely used bits of film we ever did. Certainly, it’s the most relaxed.” It would see The Jimi Hendrix experience banned from the BBC for life but would live on as a moment of rock and roll history unlike any other.
Watch below as Jimi Hendrix pays tribute to Cream on the Lulu Show.