Jimi Hendrix couldn’t get arrested in the Black community. Before he had made any money, there weren’t fifty Black folk in America who gave a damn about Jimi Hendrix, and almost all of them were his siblings, his father, his aunts, his uncles and his cousins, and some of them weren’t too sure about him either.
Bear in mind, his musical accomplishments were already great. Great back ups for the Isley Brothers, and others; great session work, including those amazing licks for “Have Mercy,” by What’s-His-Name (it’ll come to me).
For a long time, no one understood Jimi. My favorite story was told by Les Paul, who got it, big time. Les was visiting in a jazz club in Jersey City, or Newark, in the middle of the day, probably collecting on a bet or something, but he had to run, he had a meeting in Manhattan. He remembered, though, something he’d heard in the background, music that had really caught his attention. So after the meeting, he called his friend at the club and asked, what was that I heard? Oh, he was told, some Black kid auditioning, I can’t use him, he way out there. Yeah, it was Jimi, and that was the consensus, we can’t use him. All Jimi got from Black people was kicked out of the band because his shoes weren’t sufficiently shined.
Then he started hanging out with White people, who got it. Chas Chandler took him over to England, and the whole scene fell out, they couldn’t believe it. I read about it in English trade magazines, like “Melody Maker,” and “Rave.” (Imagine! Calling Rave a Trade Magazine!) As soon as I could, I bought the first American 45, “The Wind Cries Mary,” b/w “Purple Haze.” Me and my friends played “The Wind Cries Mary” a few times, and we were pretty speechless about it, we’d heard about that cut in the magazines and it was really beyond our expectations. There were about seven of us, several of us played the electric guitar or bass, one drummer, and several of us were in bands, we thought we were pretty hip. Finally we turned it over, and we just went fucking crazy, we must have played “Purple Haze” seven times in a row. Sure, we were a little loaded, but wow, Black, White or Puerto Rican, we got it.
Tunes like “Castles Made of Sand,” and “Wait Until Tomorrow,” Black people didn’t get, period. And they didn’t get the look of it all. They thought that it was some kind of Urkle stuff, pre-Urkle, but just some Black nerd trying to be funny, and they thought he wasn’t a very good singer. But we got it, and we thought he sang just fine, and we totally loved it, we loved Jimi.
Then Jimi started to make money. That changed people’s minds. All of a New York Minute, Black people were hanging around telling him, Jimi! you need to be helping a brother out! why you got these White boys in the band! it’s a Blood thing! Things went downhill from there, and Jimi died. I never thought about the Black angle at all until much later, long, long after he was dead. Dead. I hate to say it even now.
Jimi broke the cardinal hipster rule, one of the two. The first one is: don’t get caught (attention, Robert Downey, Jr.); the second is: don’t OD.
Other than that, he was PERFECT.