A Jimi Hendrix story: Lemmy, psychedelia and super-strength acid

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
(Image credit: K & K Ulf Kruger OHG / Getty Images)

Abandoning the traditional rock-bio format, Mick Wall’s book Two Riders Were Approaching: The Life & Death of Jimi Hendrix is a psychedelic exploration of the life and death of Jimi Hendrix. In this exclusive extract we find Jimi at the peak of his powers.

Two Riders Were Approaching: The Life & Death of Jimi Hendrix by Mick Wall is available now.

"More than 3,000 youngsters attended two houses at the Coventry Theatre. He can play guitar with his teeth, lying on the stage, or behind his back – and do it better than most in a more conventional position. The result was a stunning, completely individual performance, which included hits like Hey Joe, The Wind Cries Mary and Purple Haze, and the wildest version yet of Wild Thing

"But the teenagers who stood on their seats for Jimi Hendrix were unmoved – and I guess somewhat bewildered – by the Pink Floyd, a group for whom the new wave is more of a spring tide." Coventry Evening Telegraph, November 20,1967

Can you even fucking begin to imagine, man? 

After Monterey: after San Francisco and LA. After Peter Tork’s major hang in Laurel Canyon: after Steve Stills’s mansion pad in Malibu. After magical Devon and Houdini’s far-out freak zone, man, tripping on the Owsley seven-day weekend and the Burning Of The Midnight Lamp flame-on. 

After the fucking Monkees, man, are you fucking kidding? After killing on the East Coast, after take-after-take-after-take-after-take-after-take back in the studio, with Chas breathing heavy down my neck, man, and that little bitch Noel pulling his faces and drinking his shitty brown beer, man, after all the hassles and bullshit and money I’m making you, man. 

After Axis and Paris and Amsterdam and the Albert Hall and all the TV and the radio, after the Melody Maker award for ‘World Top Musician’, big reception at the Europa in London in September, stepping over believers everywhere I go, man. After all of that, you want me to go to Coventry? Do they even know what year it is, man? Coventry? 

“That’s right,” said Mike. “It’s all arranged.” 

Another goddamned package tour? 

“That’s right,” said Mike. “Only this time you’re the headliner. Forty minutes a night, two shows a night, a thousand pounds guaranteed. You can do it in your sleep.” 

Jimi in a time loop, a tailspin, all tapped out: everything he’d done in the year since he hit London. Everywhere he’d been, everything he’d seen. Everybody that now knew his name, his face, the whole crazy voodoo trip, man. And he’s going out on another package tour? Wait – is Engelbert on the fucking bill again too? 

“No,” said Mike, the air thick with the fug of cigarettes and joints. Pink Floyd, The Move, The Nice, Amen Corner… all very cool. Easy-peasy: money for old rope – and good cost-free promo ahead of the release of the new album.

Jimi Hendrix poster

(Image credit: Coventry Theatre)

Jimi going home to Kathy, drinking whisky and cola, smoking Rocky Marciano and Marlboro reds, dropping three or four trips at a time, the way you did when you tripped every day, one more than yesterday every day until you finally stopped – if you finally stopped. Jimi didn’t like to stop. Swallowing leapers to help maintain. What if the aliens came down now to finally say hi when you’re out cold? Think about that, man. How bummed you’d be. Best to just keep on keeping on, ride on, ride on. 

Three weeks, twenty-nine shows – a cheap thrills hits package. The Move had had three, Jimi four, including Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, which only just squeaked into the Top 20, Jimi bent out of shape over it but never letting on cos it’s all cool, it ain’t just about having hits, you know? Pink Floyd had just one, Amen Corner had one and a half. 

Jimi digging the scene for what it is, going out and doing his party favours, crotch-thrusting, tongue-waggling, playing with his teeth, behind his back, lying writhing on the floor. Those forty minutes fly by, Jimi tripping throughout the entire three weeks. 

Jimi had picked up a new English roadie for the tour, a young guitarist named Ian Kilmister who had known a little success of his own in a northern ballroom party band called the Rockin’ Vicars. Ian – later better known as Lemmy, after his habit of always asking people to “lend me” a quid – was destined to become a force of super-nature in his own psychedelic pioneers Hawkwind (then later punk-metal game-manglers Motorhead). 

Just twenty-one, he had hitchhiked to London and managed to blag a room at Neville Chesters’s squat in Kensington. Ian had met Neville when he was working for The Who, “trying to put guitars back together after Townshend had finished smashing them”. 

Ian had phoned Nev from a red call box asked him if he could kip on his floor a couple nights and Nev had said, yes, come on over. Ian didn’t know till he got there but Nev was now working for Jimi and shared the flat with Noel. The place full of guitars “in different degrees of destruction that Neville was trying to put back together out of the bits – cannibalising Rickenbackers”.

Ian lit a cigarette, blew smoke in my face and continued. It was thirty years later and by now he was Lemmy. Seeing Hendrix play for the first time was the big turning point, he said. “I couldn’t believe him. Nobody could believe him. Nobody knew you could do that with a guitar. The big thing before that was Clapton. That was as high as you could get.

"Hendrix used to fucking do a double-somersault and come playing it behind his neck, fucking biting it! I watched him many nights and he wasn’t just pretending, playing it with his fingers. He was playing it with his teeth! And he used to fuck the amplifiers and drag it around the floor. Lighting it on fire…"

Ian was still wondering how to go about finding his own pad when, out of the blue, Neville mentioned they were looking for a second roadie for the next Hendrix tour. Luck! 

“I hired on for £10 a week and all your meals and whatever. It was madness. Two shows a night. Just do your hits. Bang, bang, bang. Great fun.” 

His job was simple enough. 

“Neville took care of all the electrics, I just humped all Hendrix’s gear. When he was playing I’d watch him on stage from a chair in the wings. You could never tell how he did it. He loved to fuck off all the guitar players in the audience. Graham Nash sitting backstage with his ear on the stacks all night – none of this glad-handing you get backstage now with the fucking canapés. In those days people wanted to learn and improve.”

Even being around Hendrix off stage was a lesson. “He had this old Epiphone guitar – it was a twelve-string, strung as a six-string – and he used to stand up on a chair backstage and play it.” Jimi was “a prince, a really good guy – oldfashioned. Get up when a lady enters the room. Pulling chairs out for chicks.” 

Jimi had superman stamina. 

“If you wanted to see some athletic fucking, Jimi was the boy for it. I’d never seen anything like it – there were always lines of chicks going nuts outside his dressing room. It was like, 'Take a number and wait.' I used to score acid for him, and his dope. I’d get him ten hits of acid and he’d take seven and give me three. They say acid doesn’t work two days in a row, but we found out if you double the dose it does.” 

After Monterey, Owsley had gifted Jimi thousands of tabs of his triple-strength White Lightning. The ones with the little owl faces stamped on them. They weren’t illegal yet. But what he hadn’t swallowed in handfuls he’d given away like candy, or simply ditched when he got on the plane back to London. Now he felt like he needed to do acid every time he played.

When the tour ended in Glasgow, just before Christmas, Ian was bereft. Jimi’s next stop was Scandinavia followed by a three-month tour of the US. No need for any English roadies. Ian left Hendrix determined to get his own like-minded band together. A lot of people who saw Jimi on that tour felt the same way. Jimi in a wide-brimmed hat with a feather and crushed red flares. 

“A lot of the guys were getting stoned,” recalled Bev Bevan, drummer with The Move. “It was a very peaceful tour.” 

“It was like a huge school trip,” Keith Emerson of The Nice said. Keith carried knives onstage: driving huge hunting daggers into his keyboards; throwing them into the side-mounted speakers; whipping them with an actual whip. The man had a whip. 

Bored, Jimi bought a home-movie camera. One night Keith is doing his knife act, throwing them towards the speakers, when at the last moment he sees Jimi poking his camera between the speakers. 

“I kind of froze mid-throw. Jimi had his tongue out and was beckoning me to actually throw them at the speakers while he was in the middle, while he filmed it. I thought, I don’t want to be the one who puts him in the history books.” 

But Jimi is already in the history books. “I remember Newcastle City Hall,” breezed Amen Corner sax player Allan Jones. “Jimi was very often out of tune, because he used to bash his guitar around like crazy. And he may have been a little bit out of it and didn’t quite tune up his guitar properly before he went on, or whatever. And he was constantly going out of tune. 

“This night, he actually took the guitar off his shoulder and threw it at the Marshall stack. The place just erupted and went fucking ballistic!” 

Schoolboy shit. “I remember The Move playing once, and I rode a bicycle across the stage,” Noel Redding liked to recall. “Another time we put stink bombs in Bev Bevan’s bass-drum pedal.” 

Oh, how they laughed.

Jimi seeing the other side of acid in Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd: his brains already blown out. Syd standing there motionless, the band filling, long crazy head-trip instrumentals, like it’s all part of the plan. A sold-out Royal Albert Hall as the Experience powered through Foxey Lady, Fire, Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, Spanish Castle Magic, The Wind Cries Mary and Purple Haze. Jimi, Noel and Mitch just showing off now. Power-trio trip, world bow down, yeah. 

Keith Emerson before he died: “Everybody involved in the tour, they’d all come back in the wings and watch him because every night he played he’d do something completely different. A lot of times he astounded Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, because they didn’t always know what he was going to do. He was certainly trashing a lot of speakers. I remember him playing the Flying V guitar for the first time, and he threw it and it actually landed like an arrow into the speaker cabinet, and us backstage watching from the wings were just completely, wow!” 

The night in Bristol: dozens of fans crash the dressing room. Eager autograph hunters. One of them to Jimi loudly so that everyone hears: “I think Eric Clapton is much better than you.” 

The room freezes. Jimi turning round: “Well, I think Eric’s a far better guitar player too.” 

Another lost night, Jimi swinging his guitar around his head, the seven furies, brings it down and it smashes into Mitch’s bass drum. Mitch in tears afterwards. Jimi still tripping-tripping tripping. “You shouldn’t have done that! You’ve got no respect for my drums!” It was true. Jimi gliding, spiralling. Jimi wasted.

Two nights before the end of the tour in December, at the Nottingham Theatre Royal, the elastic band snapped. Jimi just gone, barely even trying, the guitar hopelessly out of tune yet Jimi barely noticing or caring. 

Jimi giggled, but it was like some private joke only he was in on, him and the ho-ho-ing voices in his head. The faces that surrounded him in his everlasting dream, the rainbows and the caves and the wild-money river and pet-hate loves and lies and beautiful people, only none of them mine, really mine, ya dig? 

Jimi giggled and did all his party tricks – pulling at the guitar strings with his teeth, playing the guitar behind his back – but he couldn’t get the music to really move, to focus and breathe and conjure fire. He wasn’t really trying. 

Almost a year ago to the day he and Kathy had moved into the pad in Montagu Square. Then Hey Joe had come out, been a hit – a hit! And Jimi had been on the move ever since. Not like the old days of being second or third banana, one step ahead of the rent, the law, the baby mamas, all that shit – but this time as the big kahuna. 

Hey Joe, Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Are You Experienced – all hits, my brother! Big-ass hits! Then Monterey… big in America, baby, land of getting it on… the Fillmore, five at the West, the Scene in New York, getting thrown off the Monkees tour for being too baad for the little girls, the groovy Salvation back home in New York, five there, the Ambassador in DC, five there, then back to LA and, dig, can you say the Hollywood Bowl?

After that, who cared, baby? London, Berlin, Stockholm, no hang-ups, no white-woman, black-man prejudices, being voted ‘World Top Musician’ by Melody Maker, overnight at the Europa Hotel, many good friends and groovy bad ladies, many good times and trips and ups and downs and all-arounds, the best dope, the finest pussy, many good friends living the dream with you for you because of you. 

Filming the gig at the Albert Hall a week later, a stately performance for the educated white-rock classes, turned on, moneyed, coming to dig the Wild Man of Borneo act for the first time, getting something else, something more, Jimi digging it special, one for the collection, barely remembering it a week after that. 

Jimi is public property now. No longer a secret. Mike and Chas smiling contentedly from the wings. Everything going to plan – almost – everything right on groovy gravy. Almost.

Two Riders Were Approaching: The Life & Death of Jimi Hendrix by Mick Wall is available now.

Mick Wall: Two Riders Were Approaching: The Life & Death of Jimi Hendrix

(Image credit: Orion Publishing)
Mick Wall

Mick Wall is the UK's best-known rock writer, author and TV and radio programme maker, and is the author of numerous critically-acclaimed books, including definitive, bestselling titles on Led Zeppelin (When Giants Walked the Earth), Metallica (Enter Night), AC/DC (Hell Ain't a Bad Place To Be), Black Sabbath (Symptom of the Universe), Lou Reed, The Doors (Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre), Guns N' Roses and Lemmy. He lives in England.