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When Jimi Hendrix stood up The Grateful Dead


During the 1960s the creative forces of liberation had a strong sense of both competition and collectivism. In fact, the origins of the Grateful Dead are a testimony of this communal spirit. The Day tripping bus of emerging pop culture was in some ways a literal vehicle containing some of the finest writers of the beat generation.

This technicolour bus would stop at several gatherings where Kool-Aid containing acid was served up and the spun-out folks in attendance would take in a band bashing out rock ‘n’ roll. Their journey was a vehicle for counterculture and one of the bands absorbed in the gatherings was none other than Grateful Dead.

Therefore, even when they gathered up some commercial success, they were still viewed as a highly approachable outfit. Thus, naturally, Jimi Hendrix was a star big enough to simply makes a request to jam with them. However, given the hair-raising ways of both parties, that didn’t mean that things were bound to go swimmingly, in fact, they were doomed from the start. 

Chet Helms was a music producer who rubbed shoulders with more than a few stars back in the day and the man behind The Dead’s desk recalled: “Hendrix is back in San Francisco. He calls me and asks me to put together a jam with him and Quicksilver and the Grateful Dead. He said he really enjoyed jamming at Monterey and would like to do it again… I told him, ‘Sure, I think I can set it up,’ I made a few calls and got it together and I set it up for Quicksilver and the Dead to show up and jam with Hendrix.”

Continuing: “So I called Hendrix back and told him to meet us at the ferry boat in Sausalito at 2 am, and we would jam all night,” a late-night session was on the cards, but things can often go awry in the wee small hours. “We go out to this place [October 12], and the Dead are beat and dead tired because they had just played the Avalon, but after all, it’s a jam with Hendrix. We sit there from 2 am until morning, and Hendrix never shows.”

Naturally, this created an odd twist on the adage of never meet your heroes and everyone involved was disheartened, except for Hendrix as Helms will soon explain. “Everybody in Quicksilver and the Dead were pissed…. The Dead played again at the Avalon that night [October 13] and Hendrix shows up there while the Dead were playing. Hendrix comes up to me and I told him that the Dead and Quicksilver and I were waiting for him all night in Sausalito, and I asked him what happened.”

Hendrix being Hendrix, the source of his absence is a somewhat predictable one. Hendrix says, ‘Oh, I met this broad, and we dropped acid and we fucked all night’…. Hendrix said, ‘Can I jam with the Grateful Dead tonight on the stage?’ and I said, ‘It’s OK with me, but it’s their gig. If they want that to happen, it’s fine with me.’”

But the Dead were hurt and devilish. Hendrix wandered backstage and all seemed to be forgiven, the band did a good job of seeming elated at the prospect of playing with him. Owing to a strict curfew, Helms told Hendrix, “No matter what, I’m pulling the plug at midnight. What happened was the Dead kept telling him to wait, and played out their set…. So, Hendrix never jammed with the Grateful Dead, and the bottom line is they were pissed at him.”

Sure, it’s a comical revenge tale, but it is certainly one tinged with the sour taste of ‘what could’ve been’. Tragically, there are a lot of tales like that in the life of Hendrix

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