Mick Jagger is somebody who knows a thing or two about rock ‘n’ roll hedonism and the cataclysmic effects it can have. The Rolling Stones leader, with the death of Brian Jones being a pertinent reminder of the potential fatal ending, has seen the world of music evolve across decades. His words on Jones’ death are well covered, but his thoughts on another ’27 Club’ member, the passing of Jimi Hendrix, are excruciatingly on the bone and point towards the harsh realities of fame.
The Hendrix story is intrinsically linked with Jagger’s Rolling Stones bandmate, Keith Richards, who played an instrumental part in Hendrix’s rags to riches story. The guitarist famously made his way over to European turf following a chance encounter in a New York nightspot where his skills thrilled Linda Keith, the then-girlfriend of Keith Richards. The guitarist quickly recommended Hendrix to The Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler who immediately offered to be his manager, and the rest, as they say, is history.
On September 24th, 1966, Hendrix took up the offer from The Animals’ bassist and moved to the swinging scene in London, where he signed a management and production contract with him and Animals manager Michael Jeffery. Chandler immediately began recruiting members for a band that would get the best out of Hendrix’s insane ability, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience was born.
Hendrix’s sharp rise to fame led to an even fiercer escalation in personal problems, and his life would tragically end in 1970 when he overdosed on a concoction of medicine. Despite only having a handful of years as a known talent, Hendrix conquered more in that time of note than most artists do in their lifetime, but his life is a warning sign about the gruesome side of fame.
Mick Jagger knew him well, and Hendrix’s story is all-too au-fait with, having seen many fall down a similarly slippy rope. “He was a really sweet guy,” Jagger later told Rolling Stone in 1995. “A bit confused. It’s the same old story: Jimi Hendrix played all over the place with all these bands. He’d been a background guitar player for donkey years.
“And suddenly he gets what he wants, then has to play ‘Purple Haze’ every night,” Jagger continued. “He goes, ‘Uh, I don’t want to play “Purple Haze” every night. I don’t want to burn the guitar.’ And then when everyone went off the deep end, he had to go off the deep end. He became a heroin addict.”
Jagger’s bandmate Richards remembers Hendrix in the fondest way imaginable, choosing to treasure his talent rather than his addiction issues. “Jimi Hendrix, bless his heart … almost inadvertently ruined [the] guitar,” Richards told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Because he was the only cat who could do it like that. Everybody else just screwed it up, and thought wailing away [on the guitar] is the answer. But it ain’t; you’ve got to be a Jimi to do that, you’ve got to be one of the special cats.”
Once heroin gets involved, the story usually only ends in one way, and tragically Hendrix is an example of what happens when fame mixes with opiates — even if they didn’t play a direct part in his death, heroin held a grasp over him. The drug has tarred rock ‘n’ roll but continues to become the preferred vice and the only method of escapism that seems appealing from the fame.
Although it seemed like nothing could get him down on the surface, and he was revelling in every moment of stardom, the dramatic way that his life-changed in such a short time made him lose sight of recognising himself. Drugs offered him a temporary break from being this performing circus animal playing ‘Purple Haze’ to roaring fans every night. The thing that he dreamt of for his life didn’t end up being a completely different beast from the one he envisaged whilst playing in dive bars across Greenwich Village. In his case, the journey was a more scintillating experience than the destination, and drugs offered him respite, which ultimately led to a chokehold that he couldn’t wrestle away from.