Steve Barker’s January 1967 interview with Jimi Hendrix, who was then recording “Purple Haze.” Steve interviewed Jimi a second time on November 8, 1967, following a concert in the Manchester University Students’ Union. A few sentences from this conversation appeared in the February 1968 issue of Unit, a small student magazine. The version below is the first time the entire interview has been published.
At the time of this interview, Jimi was in a flurry of activity. In the two weeks leading up to the interview, the Jimi Hendrix Experience had completed recording “Little Wing,” “Wait Until Tomorrow,” “Ain’t No Telling,” “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Castles Made of Sand,” “Up From the Skies,” “Bold As Love,” and “One Rainy Wish.”Jimi had also mixed the Axis: Bold as Love album with Chas Chandler and Eddie Kramer. The day after the interview, the Jimi Hendrix Experience played in Munich, Germany. “This was really the first time we all knew something big was going to happen,” bassist Noel Redding remembered. “You could feel we were just on the cusp of success.” As recounted in my article Jimi Hendrix in London (http://jasobrecht.com/jimi-hendrix-in-london/), Jimi used a long cord to walk into the crowd during the Munich concert. He damaged his guitar getting back onstage, he lifted it over his head and threw it to the ground. The crowd went berserk, and soon guitar smashing – often the same guitar, glued back together each night – became a standard part of the set. On to Steve’s introduction and interview. – Jas Obrecht
My November 1967 Interview with Jimi Hendrix
By Steve Barker
Unit – edited by Tony Elliott, who was to go on to found Time Out. I suggested a Hendrix piece, as the Jimi Hendrix Experience was due to play at Manchester University Students Union. In the period since the first interview, Jimi had become a megastar and was packing in audiences up and down the country and into Europe. I traveled to Manchester with some friends and we made our way to the gig.
On arriving I found the dressing room packed with people, including Mitch and Noel – but no Jimi. I asked where he was and someone said “Check next door.” I entered the room to find Jimi alone, leaning on a radiator next to a window about fifteen or twenty feet across the room. He looked up and said, “Hello, Steve. How are you?” I didn’t think much about it at the time, but soon after, on reflection, I appreciated this as the mark of the man. Since I’d met him nine months previously, Jimi had experienced incredible success, fan adulation, and had accrued all the trappings of what was to become “the rock-star lifestyle” – hangers-on, sycophancy, pressure, freely available narcotics, etc. But he still remembered my name and behaved like a perfect gentleman, which is the way I always remember him.
The November 1967 Interview
Steve Barker: [Into microphone] Testing 8, 12, 0.
Jimi Hendrix: [Sings line from Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”] “When you’re lost in Juarez and it’s Easter time too.”
The blurb on your first LP says you are trying to “create create create.” Are you satisfied with what you’re creating?
We like to have our own sound, but we’re not satisfied, not yet. You might be pleased with what you’re doing once in a while, but never really satisfied. We’re pleased with the LP we’ve just finished, for instance [Axis: Bold as Love], but the ideas we got out of it could go on to our next one.
How far can you go with the music you’re playing now?
I don’t know. You can go on until you bore yourself to death, I guess. You got to try something else.
What will it be?
I think I’ll start all over again and come back as a king bee. [Laughs.]
You write all of your own material. Where does it come from?
Just from me. It’s like . . . er, where does it come from? I’m not sure. Like, we go to clubs a lot and all around, riding in taxis, and you happen to see a lot of things. You see everything, experience everything, as you live. Even if you’re living in a little room, you see a lot of things if you have imagination. The songs just come.
[Steve quotes a line from Jimi’s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”] “Loneliness is such a drag”?
That’s what it is. It really is sometimes. That was the song I liked best of all we did. I’m glad it didn’t make it big and get thrown around.
Does this mean you’re an introvert?
Well, sometimes. Right then when I wrote “Midnight Lamp” I was, but really I have to catch myself and find out. I was feeling kind of down like that. So you go on into different moods, and when you write your mood comes through. So you can go back and listen to your own records and know how you were feeling then and how your moods change at different times.
“Loneliness is such a drag” is a kind of whispery, quiet thing. How come you put these words in among powerful, extroverted music?
I like to play loud. I always did like to play loud. The words of the song just come. They mean a lot, but I don’t know how they come out. It starts off very quiet until we get into it.
How much do you owe to a blues background?
No necessarily anything! I went down South and just listened to the way the people played, and I dug it. But then I like a lot of other things too – that’s why we try to do our own stuff, make something new.
There’s been a lot of controversy over the responsibilities of pop stars. Do you yourself feel any?
That’s silly. Whatever a cat does in his private life should be his own business. Everybody knows this. But you can say it a million times, and it still won’t get through to some people. I really don’t feel responsible too much to myself – maybe that’s all. There are so much other things inside that you feel you can do. There are so many things on my mind. I could start again now – a year of creative work for us is like nothing to a lot of other groups.
Do you ever feel like going away and sorting yourself out, like Bob Dylan did?
I think that’s going to have to happen soon anyway, because everyone’s getting so tired. You work so hard sometimes, and it gets to be really frustrating. . . . Just around now it’s coming up to winter, and you’ve got to give everything a chance to work up in the spring. It’s natural. That’s when everything happens anyway – you know this – so everyone’s going to have a heart attack just ’cause the flowers are lowering their heads for a second or two.
What’s happening to you in the spring?
If I don’t get hit by a car or a train, I’ll be around.
How come you got caught up in the hippie scene?
What do you mean? [Writhes and says in a deep voice, “I’m a hippie, I’m a hippie, baby.”] No, it just happened to come about that we were around at the time of psychedelia and all the in clothes. I dug that scene, but not necessarily what you call the “hippie scene.” ’Cause I don’t like classification anyway, regardless of the scene. We just happened to be playing freak-out and psychedelic things, but it does bother us because “psychedelic” only mean mind-expansion anyway. I can’t hear one single word the Pink Floyd are saying. It happens to us, but that’s just anybody’s opinion. There’s so many other types of music – we just happened to be in that groove, that bag, right then.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967
Do you try to communicate by words or sound when you’re onstage, or both?
Most of the songs we’re doing now, people know the words, I think, but it probably doesn’t mean much to them. They just want somebody to break their neck onstage.
Does this mean you write primarily for yourself?
Oh, definitely. One song we did called “I Don’t Live Today” was dedicated to the American Indian and all minority depression groups. All I did was just use a few words, and they said, “What does that mean? That doesn’t mean anything.” Eeurggh! ’Cause it was only three or four lines in there anyway.
How about straight piss-talking, like the Mothers of Invention?
I like to listen to them, but we do our own thing. You know, we had a chance to go into that bag ’cause everybody’s mind is still open, but we decided we didn’t want to go that way completely towards strict freak-out. I hit the harp on our next LP [laughs]. The words are very, very important on this next one.
Do you still dig Donovan and his golden underwear?
We go over to his house, but he’s in the States now. We have a lot of fun together.
You said the love bit wouldn’t last – looks like you’re going to be right.
This scene’s like bells and everything and all those little pseudo hippies running around flashing their little “Love, Not War” badges. Those kind won’t last because they’re going to hop on the next train, any train, that comes close to them and is easy to hop. But you don’t really know anymore what a hippie is supposed to be.
Is stage work still the most important part of your scene?
Well, tonight I was so frustrated, man. We just couldn’t get it together because we haven’t been playing in so long. We’ve been working on the LP. If we did those songs now, they’d miss half the words because the P.A. went out, and we were playing so loud. So it wouldn’t mean nothing to them if we did our new songs. Now we got to wait till the LP comes out – then we can interpret them so much better. It’s so frustrating now – we’re playing the same old songs, and they expect you to do this and do that, and then your guitar gets out of tune and you don’t get a chance to play well. I don’t like laying around. I like to play all the time.
You once wanted to do the old Bukka White song “Fixin’ to Die” as a single, but it never came out. Are there any pressures on you as to what material you record?
No, not at all. We’re just writing and playing what we want, but our moods change. Like once we wanted a Dylan song as one of our singles, then we wanted this and that. But we always wind up doing our own – regardless of whether they flop or not, at least we’re doing our own thing. If you do someone else’s song every fifth single, it shows something’s missing. But you don’t throw just anything out on record.
What do you do it all for anyway?
I like to be involved, and I like music. The same old story – all that goody-goody stuff. Music is a love to me. I love it, and the people are so nice. [In a strained, sarcastic voice] The money’s great too.
I heard you were in a group in New York with Tim Rose and Mama Cass.
That’s not true. It was another Jimmy. We just happen to have liked “Hey, Joe.” I seen Tim Rose about one time in the Village, for about half a second, and this is after we went back to the States. He tapped me on the shoulder and said [imitates a stoned-sounding voice], “Hi. I’m Tim Rose.” And then he disappears. All this happened within a third of a second. I like his songs, but that’s all I’ve ever seen of him.
What are you trying to do with your new LP?
I really can’t say. It’s very hard to explain your own type of music to somebody. Unless you have a very definite idea of where you’re going, it doesn’t really make any difference which direction you choose, as long as you’re really honest about the songs you write.
What do you think about the commercial pop scene right now?
[Simulates a confused stutter] Well, have you heard the Marmalade and their record “I See the Rain”? I don’t understand why that wasn’t a hit. See it here:
Because they have no name and no publicity?
We didn’t have a name when we first started.
But you had the publicity.
But we earned it, though, didn’t we? I think we did. My hair is breaking off now from the hard English water. I’m almost going bald. I guess I used to have it cut much longer.
What level are you aiming for when you make a record – the kids?
No, not necessarily. We quite naturally want people to like it – that’s the reason for putting the record out. You see, I have no taste. I couldn’t say what’s a good record and what’s a bad one, really. We play records at the flat sometimes and say, “This is great,” and then somebody will say, “Oh, yeah, but it’s something else.” Then they say “That’s terrible,” and I’d say, “That’s great – the tremolos, for instance.” [Laughs.] So I don’t have no feeling about commercial records. I don’t know what a commercial record really is. So what we do is write and try to get it together as best as possible for anybody who’d really dig it. It doesn’t make any difference who.
How big a part do visuals play in your stage work?
You just do it when you feel like it sometimes. I didn’t feel like leaping about tonight too much. I used to feel I had to do it, but not anymore. Man, you’d have a heart attack if you were doing it every night like we were doing it two or three months ago. We’d be dead by this time. Anyway, you can’t do it right unless you feel it. Half of the things I do I don’t even know it, because I just felt like it at the time. If you have everything planned out and one little thing goes wrong, you think, “Oh, no! What am I supposed to be doing now? Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be going like this – do do do de do. ‘Hi, everybody. I’m doing it.’” So you’d really be in a world of trouble if one little thing goes wrong.
Do you think you’re a changed person since you came to England?
I didn’t used to talk so much before.
To people like me.
No, that’s alright. [Laughs.] Ho hum. I’m as good as bunnies – and you know how good bunnies are.
Noel Redding: Talk to Mitch. He’s got a very good voice.
What would you think if people went off on you like they do with Dylan?
Jimi: I don’t think about it. Ever since he’s been around, people have been kicking him around, saying, “Oh, man, he sings like a broken-leg dog.”
[At this point, Jill Nicholls from the Manchester Independent asked Jimi the following question] Mr. Hendrix, is there anything you want materially?
[Noel and other men in the room burst into laughter.] Jimi: Eh?
Is there anything left?
There’s a whole lot of things left – thousands of them. I see them downtown every day. Millions of ’em. Ohh! Marvelous!
Steve: Do you ever think about going back to the States?
I think about it every single day. I really miss it, like the West Coast, because nothing has happened for me. I just like to be out there. I like the weather, the scenery, and some of the people. You can buy a chocolate milkshake in a drugstore, chewing gum in a gas station, and soup from little machines on the road. It’s great, it’s beautiful. It’s all screwed up and nasty and prejudiced, and it’s great and beautiful. It has everything. The same things we hear from there now about the troubles is the same things we hear from Russia – it’s just propaganda, just like Radio Free Europe tells the Russians. [At this point the road manager asks Jimi if he will do a photo shoot, but Jimi continues.] In the States I was playing behind other groups. And for only the first two months before I left the States, we was playing in the Village. I had my own group and we had offers from record companies all over the place, but I don’t think we was ready then. So finally I came over here [to England] with Chas Chandler, with the main ambition to get a group and try to make with something new, whereas in the States I’d been playing behind people like Joey Dee.
What did you think of it?
I don’t dig playing in Top-40 R&B groups. They get feedback in “Midnight Hour.” You can’t do nothing free – everything is completely precise. We came over here with one purpose, and that was to make it. That’s the whole scene. As soon as we start getting behind the times, that’ll be the time to give up. That might be tomorrow evening about 5:45, but we’ll try for as long as possible to keep our own sound, regardless of how it might change. [Jimi notices Steve’s microphone] What a pretty microphone!
Yeah, it’s cute, isn’t it?
Yeah. Thank you!
About Steve Barker
Steve Barker lives in Beijing, China. He produces and broadcasts “On the Wire,” a music show for BBC Radio Lancashire in the UK (www.otwradio.blogspot.com ). He is also the regular dub columnist and contributor for the Wire magazine (www.thewire.co.uk ) and regularly DJs dub sets at clubs in Beijing and Shanghai.
This Jimi Hendrix interview is ©Steve Barker 2011. Used by author’s permission. All rights reserved. This interview not be reproduced anywhere in any form without Steve Barker’s written permission. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .