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Music

The surreal first time Graham Nash ever met Jimi Hendrix

Graham Nash has seen and done it all. Whether it be as a member of Liverpool legends The Hollies, a quarter of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or the boyfriend of countercultural heroine Joni Mitchell, Nash’s life is the stuff of legend. He lived the rock ‘n’ roll dream and experienced both the euphoric highs and the crushing lows that we as perennial spectators know so well, particularly when it comes to our favourite rock musicians. 

Graham Nash’s 2013 autobiography, Wild Tales, is brimming with anecdotes from rock’s golden age. There’s ample drugs, romance and many of the era’s biggest stars make appearances, often in bizarre ways. This wasn’t the first time that Nash had discussed his crazy career though, he’s often spoken freely in interviews about his wild and adventurous life. 

In 2012 during an interview with MusicRadar, Nash was asked about his friendship with everyone’s favourite guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, and if he ever played the guitar with his contemporary, as CSNY bandmate Stephen Stills was known to have. Nash replied: “Oh, no, no. I would never play guitar with Jimi (laughs). But I hung out with him. I used to share an apartment in London with Mitch Mitchell, and I got to hang with Jimi a lot. By the way, nobody could ever beat Jimi Hendrix at Risk. No one. Nobody ever. He would drop acid and play Risk, and he was still unbeatable”.

Nash then explained how Hendrix, in real life, was completely different to his media image. He recalled: “He was very different from his image. He was a very serious cat – very humble, but very serious. He realized he was trapped. He was trapped into playing the guitar behind his head, playing with his teeth, sticking his tongue out, Foxey Lady and all that. He had created this sexual image that… Who the hell could live up to that constantly?”.

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The story of how Nash first met Hendrix is a brilliant one. In the same interview, he remembered the first time he came across Hendrix, and it wasn’t how you’d expect. It was sometime in ’65 when Hendrix was playing in the backing band of legendary rock ‘n’ roller, Little Richard. The Hollies were set to play at The Paramount Theatre in New York City for The Soupy Sales Easter Show. Nash said: “We thought we were going to do our set – 45 minutes of dynamite. ‘Which two songs are you were doing?’ we were asked. We were like, ‘What? Two songs?’ But there were 12 other acts on the bill, five shows a day – two songs. So that was a shock”.

Of course, Little Richard was closing the show, as his pedigree at that time was unmatched. The band would watch him from the side of the stage each night, and one evening, Nash overheard an argument before Little Richard was set to go on. As if something from a film, Nash recalled: “‘Don’t you ever fucking do that again! I’m Little Richard, the king of rock ‘n’ roll, you fucking guy! Stop playing your fucking guitar behind your fucking head!’ And he was yelling at Jimi. It was this argument as they got in the elevator to go up. The volume decreased as they went, but you could still hear them arguing. I can hear it now. So that was Jimi. It was obvious he was a talented guy”.

What an incredible thing to have witnessed, Little Richard shouting at a pre-fame Jimi Hendrix. If the famously flamboyant Little Richard was scared of being upstaged by Jimi Hendrix, that says a lot about his massive talent. The fact Hendrix was an adept Risk player is also shocking, but he was human after all. It’s stories like these that help to keep Hendrix’s flame alive. 

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