50 Years Ago: Chas Chandler Experiences Jimi Hendrix Live for the First Time
By 1966, Jimi Hendrix's career was stalled. The guitarist was frustrated with gigs as a sideman for artists that included Little Richard and the Isley Brothers. His fortunes changed when fashion model Linda Keith convinced Animals' bassist Chas Chandler to see Hendrix at the Café Wha? in New York's Greenwich Village. Hendrix's performance on July 5, 1966, left Chandler awestruck. He immediately put into motion plans to bring Hendrix to London and help him become a superstar.
Keith, a blues fan and girlfriend of the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, first saw Hendrix at New York's Cheetah discotheque, where his band performed as Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. "It was so clear to me," Keith told The Guardian. "I couldn't believe nobody had picked up on him before because he'd obviously been around. He was astonishing – the moods he could bring to music, his charisma, his skill and stage presence. Yet nobody was leaping about with excitement. I couldn't believe it."
Keith was determined to gain Hendrix exposure. Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham was persuaded to catch Hendrix at Cafe au Go Go, but Oldham left unimpressed. In early July, the Animals arrived in New York to begin a North American tour. Chandler, aware that his band was on the verge of breaking up, hoped to move into record production and artist management.
"The night before we were to play in Central Park, someone played me Tim Rose's version of 'Hey Joe,' which had been out for about nine months in America," Chandler recalled in Ultimate Hendrix: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Live Concerts and Sessions. "I was so taken by it that I vowed, 'As soon as I get back to England, I'm going to find an artist to record this song.'
"Later that evening, we went out to a club called Ondine's. As we walked in, Linda Keith came walking out and we stopped to talk. She told me she was going out with this guy in the Village that I had to see. … I went down to the Village again and saw Jimmy James and the Blue Flames perform at the Café Wha? It just so happened the first song Hendrix played that afternoon was 'Hey Joe.'"
Guitarist and producer Bob Kulick, a Café Wha? regular, was there. "Chandler was a star himself, because he played bass with the Animals, and he’s sitting about seven rows from the stage," Kulick told Guitar Player. "I look over at Chandler, and his mouth is hanging open. And when Jimi started playing with his teeth on 'Hey Joe,' Chandler’s drink fell from his hand and spilled all over his lap. I saw it happen. I’m sure Chandler knew what we did at that moment – that Jimi had mopped the floor with every guitar player the guy had ever seen before. There wasn’t a person who saw him play who didn’t think he was a god."
After the show, Chandler and Hendrix discussed his plan to take the guitarist to London and form a band with British musicians. The next time they met, Hendrix agreed to sign with Chandler and Animals' manager Michael Jeffery. Jimmy James was soon to become Jimi Hendrix.
"That afternoon at the Café Wha? Jimi was just an explosive kid whose potential struck me," Chandler recalled. "As much as his version of 'Hey Joe' impressed me, what convinced me of his talent was another song that he did that first day, 'Like a Rolling Stone.' I knew [Bob] Dylan well and loved his material, but 'Like a Rolling Stone' was the first of his songs that I didn't quite get. It was something about the way Dylan had sung the song. I never felt he expressed it properly. When Jimi sang the song, he did it with tremendous conviction and the lyrics came right through to me. My initial impression, having heard him play 'Hey Joe' and 'Like a Rolling Stone,' was that I couldn't see his career going in any other way but the place between those two songs. That was where I had to go."
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