Let Jimi Take Over! Jimi Hendrix London Follows His Path


Jimi Hendrix London by William Saunders.

Jimi Hendrix London follows the guitarist’s trail in the city

By Hannah Monahan

Jimi Hendrix in London.
Jimi Hendrix in London.

Landing in London in 1966 Jimi Hendrix rose to stardom in the ’60s music scene fast. Being from America, Jimi was spotted by music manager Chas Chandler, and weeks later was meeting with the music superstars in London including John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Eric Clapton.

It wasn’t long until his name was on par with theirs as he jammed around the London music scene playing in small club venues and later on worldwide stages.

Jimi Hendrix London by William Saunders details Jimi’s life in London during that period. Not just an account of his music career, this book details the many clubs, stores, and flats he frequented coupled with personal accounts from the people who knew him personally, of their times with Jimi. Maps and charts in the book display the places in the city that were transformed by the guitarist and in turn transformed him as well. Music lovers take this book on your next trip to London and see the history behind this musical icon.

William Saunders is a native Londoner born in 1958. He began his writing career working for underground magazines that were popular around the punk movement in the late 1970s. His songs and poems gained recognition on the John Peel Show and were awarded prizes from the lyricist from Cream. He spent the 1980’s working in magazine publishing after the rough end of rock and roll and later became a freelance writer. His interest in Jimi Hendrix grew through his conversations with people who experience the psychedelic music era of the 60’s first hand.

An Excerpt from Jimi Hendrix London

A frightening performance

A few days before Christmas 1966, Chris Welch, features writer at Melody Maker, finally caught up with latest word-of-mouth sensation on the London club circuit. As always in the run-up to Christmas, central London was awash with parties, and for Welch, the days had merged into a blur. The evening he first saw Hendrix he had already seen the Who play a club date in Walthamshow in North London, before driving to (9) Blaises Club, 121 Queen’s Gate, Kensington.

Like the Scotch, Blaise was a venue for insiders, “where musicians, agents, managers, and writers allowed themselves to be deafened, whilst imbibing quantities of alcohol,” in Welch’s words. When he arrived that night, nobody was acting too cool to care, however.

“The club was packed and the only way to see Jimi was to stand on tip-toe and crane the neck. In the squashed and steaming crush around the pocket-sized stage, I glimpsed my first sighting of Jimi Hendrix, and scribbled Jimmy Hendricks in my ink-stained notebook.”

Shepherds bush sound

Jimi went out of his way to make the amp-builder Jim Marshall’s acquaintance too, going withMitch Mitchell to (10) Jim Marshall’s shop at 93 Uxbridge Road, Hanwell, on the road toward Ealing in late December. There, in an ordinary, if not even the slightly dismal parade of shops, Jim Marshall kept a drum and guitar store that, together with the working man’s café next door, had become one of the hubs of the London music scene.

The business had started in 1960, as the retail arm of Jim Marshall’s drum and teaching business. Unlike other musicians of the big band era, Marshall had not dismissed rock and roll as a cheap fad.

Through his young pupils, Marshall was plugged into the network of musicians in West London who were moving from rock, through pop, to blues. And once he started selling drum kits, it was natural to diversify into guitars and then into amps.

Mitch had been one of Marshall’s pupils and protégés, and the Saturday job he had in the drum shop as a schoolboy had given him his first contacts in music. When he took Jimi out to Shephards Bush to meet Jim Marshall that December afternoon, Jimi became just one of several guitarists who had met Jim through his drummer.

Jimi was not shy when he was introduced to Jim. He announced himself as the greatest guitarist in the world. Jim, who knew both Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck well, preferred to reserve his judgment on this. As a businessman before anything else, he was wary that Jimi and Mitch had come and talk him into an endorsement deal.

Jimi’s claims may have reinforced Jim’s prejudice that all Americans were arrogant, but Jimi’s charm won the day. Jimi made much of the coincidence that they shared the same name, they were both James Marshalls. Jim was left with the impression of a serious-minded and knowledgeable young man. Jimi for his part was determined to work with Marshall amps as soon as he could afford them.

A London home

In December Jimi and Kathy left the Hyde Park Towers Hotel to move to (11) 34 Montagu Square with Chas and Lotta. Kathy had negotiated the move. The property was under lease to Ringo Starr, and when Kathy ran into him one and mentioned that she and Jimi were looking for somewhere more permanent, he offered to sublet the house to them.

The London square is a form of residential architecture that flourished between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The facades of the terraced houses on all four sides of a London square face each other across communal gardens in the center. Although each side of the square is built as one continuous block, it is divided into tall private houses rather than apartments.

Luxurious in their use of space, and secluded and exclusive in their architecture, the squares were built for the wealthy. The inward-looking design discourages through traffic, and the communal gardens are enclosed with iron railings and padlocked, so only residents can use them.

Ringo had fitted the place out with James Bond-style opulence, although certain period features could not help but obtrude. As Kathy recalls in her memoirs: “It consisted of the ground and lower ground floors of a converted townhouse in a smart square near Marble Arch. Chas and Lotta had a white-carpeted bedroom on the ground floor, opposite the sitting room, while Jimi and I were downstairs in a room opposite the kitchen.”

Jimi Hendrix in London, where he lived for a number of years.

The queen of ears

Kathy had taken some lessons in cookery from Ronnie Money and mastered the Scottish dish of mince and tatties (ground beef and mashed or boiled potatoes). As a birthday surprise, she bought Jimi a dog, a female basset hound who was named Ethel Floon but who Jimi always called the Queen of Ears.

Itinerant and mostly homeless for all his adult life, Jimi had long dreamed of owning a dog. Clumsy and untrainable as bassets are, Ethel lived an indulged life, walked in Hyde Park by Kathy and forgiven for her lapses in toilet training.

Nightclubs were as much a part of Jimi and Kathy’s domestic life as ever, and the jazz club Ronnie Scott’s became a favorite hangout, not least for its opportunities for late-night jams. (28) Ronnie Scott’s Club, 47 Frith Street, was and still is London’s most prestigious jazz venue. This unpretentious nightclub has accommodated most of the major names in jazz over the past half-century.

In the 1960s, musicians’ unions of both sides of the Atlantic restricted the number of foreign acts who could perform in their respective countries, but Ronnie Scott’s still brought over musicians who were making their mark on the history of jazz, such as the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and the pianist Cecil Taylor, pioneers, respectively, of bebop and free jazz.

The girl I left behind me

Jimi had always preferred the idea of a larger ensemble that would play looser and more improvised sets. The more he fronted The Experience, the more he felt the need to jam, and the less opportunity he had to do so. The U.S. tour schedules had been frantic and intense, sometimes so intense as to cover thirty cities in as many days.

In London, Jimi had the (32) Flamingo Club, 33 Wardour Street, an afternoon club for musicians in Soho, where he could jam before he went to work, and the Speakeasy, where he could jam into the small hours.

Another influence on Jimi, Noel, and Mitch’s decision to separate was that Cream had split up. The Experience had exceeded everyone’s expectations but had begun as a Cream imitation. It seemed to them pointless to continue as an imitation now that the original was no more.

Hannah Monahan

Buy the book:  Jimi Hendrix: London

Hannah Monahan is a Boston-based freelance writer.

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