Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix helped make London the coolest place in the world throughout the late 1960s. The capital was a beacon of constant creative chaos which alluded to an exciting and adventurous new world, with music placed at the forefront of it. Whilst the art they made came from two different spaces on the rock ‘n’ roll spectrum, the illuminating nature of their work tied them both together.
Hendrix made his grand arrival as the counterculture saviour when he touched down on the cobbled streets of little old England in 1966. The nation was not ready to experience the wild brand of spiralling, kaleidoscopic musical wonder which this young American was about to unleash on the British public. His first appearance on English shores saw him shake up the system and immediately win over the country’s then-guitar royalty Eric Clapton, who watched on as Hendrix dethroned him. It wasn’t just Clapton who was watching on as the mysticism of Hendrix took the London audience by total surprise, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was also in the crowd and was utterly mesmerised.
This performance wasn’t Hendrix’s ‘official’ live debut on British soil, but it was certainly one way of making an impact. His manager, The Animals bassist Chas Chandler, asked Clapton if Hendrix could make a cameo halfway through Cream’s set, which they obliged despite never previously seeing the guitarist play. It was an act of kindness which would come back to haunt them when the American brazenly overshadowed their show.
Hendrix took the stage and performed a manic version of the Howlin’ Wolf song ‘Killing Floor’. Clapton would later discuss the performance in vivid detail: “He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way. I mean he did a few of his tricks, like playing with his teeth and behind his back, but it wasn’t in an upstaging sense at all, and that was it…he walked off, and my life was never the same again.”
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was equally blown away and that night at the London Polytechnic would lay the first brick in Hendrix’s legendary legacy. “In the middle of the show, they said, ‘We would like to introduce a friend of ours’,” Waters later recalled. “And this guy came on stage and started playing guitar with his teeth and at a certain time, also playing with the guitar behind his head.
“I found myself thinking about it some time ago. And I remember that I had misunderstood his name. I thought he was called Junior Hendrix, but then I discovered that he was not ‘Junior’, it was Jimi Hendrix, and that was the first time that he performed in England, at a Cream show. I suppose it was around 1965,” Waters fondly recalled, even if he did get the year wrong.
It didn’t take long for Hendrix to become the talk of the town. The following year, Pink Floyd found themselves touring across Britain supporting him and the run of dates was an eye-opening experience. Drummer Nick Mason wrote in his book, Inside Out, that those run of dates were Pink Floyd’s “first real taste of rock ‘n’ roll as we had imagined it.”
The love that Floyd had in abundance Hendrix was reciprocal. In an interview with Melody Maker in 1970, Hendrix dotingly said: “The term blowing someone’s mind is valid. People like you to blow their minds, but then we are going to give them something that will blow their mind, and while it’s blown there will be something there to fill the gap.
“It’s going to be a complete form of music. It will be really druggy music. Yes, I agree it could be something on similar lines to what Pink Floyd are tackling. They don’t know it, you know, but people like Pink Floyd are the mad scientists of this day and age.”
That Cream show at London Polytechnic in 1966, is the purest example of Jimi Hendrix’s character. He wasn’t at all overawed by the likes of Eric Clapton and Roger Waters watching on with eagle eyes. Hendrix was a man gifted with cojones the same size as his enormous talent, and it says everything about a powerful statement of intent, and in one song, he announced that there was a new King of London Town.