Eric Clapton was one of the many contemporary musicians who got to see Jimi Hendrix‘s meteoric rise happen in real-time. With manager, and former Animals bassist, Chas Chandler, spreading Hendrix’s legend among his numerous connections within the London rock scene, the genius guitarist was a sensation as soon as he started playing club gigs with his new band, the Experience, in late 1966.
The only difference was that Clapton actually got to hear Hendrix well before most did. Chandler brought the still-green Hendrix to a Cream gig at Regents Polytechnic at the University of Westminster, where Hendrix asked to sit in with the psychedelic blues trio. Clapton was amicable, and Hendrix performed many of the show-stopping theatrics that would later make up his signature performing style (also at the gig that night: Roger Waters).
Clapton was suitably impressed, but when he learned who Hendrix would be playing with at his first gigs, he had his doubts. “I thought at first that his band, The Experience, I thought was a bit of a mistake,” Clapton recalls in a 1973 interview. “It was a hype, really. I felt from the first that he should have at least an American band. Whether they’re white or black didn’t matter as long as they knew the music they were playing.”
“I thought that Chas had really just picked up two free musicians who were in the rock field, loosely,” continued Clapton. “Mitch, before that, was playing with Georgie Fame and more into a jazz thing. I don’t know what Noel was doing, but it didn’t take them long once Jimi sort of introduced them to his music. They really got into it very quickly, but I thought at first that it could have been a better band, or a bigger band.”
Clapton acquiesced that “it worked, in the end, obviously”, but he also believed that Hendrix could have made it with anyone else, or even with no one else. “He had the club on its feet from the word go. They couldn’t believe it. Just solid musicians, the whole club. He was incredible, he really was. He rehearsed two days and had like an hour and a half act of great songs and the band was together. He could have been up there on his own. He didn’t really need anybody else. He could just play on his own and do it perfectly.”
Clapton also shares his thoughts on Hendrix’s fashion choices and how he probably wouldn’t “look as good as he did,” mentioning the velvet suits Hendrix preferred at the time. Check out the full interview down below.