It's London, October 1, 1966. Jimi Hendrix has been in London for just a week, and manager Chas Chandler wants to him to make a name for himself, quickly. What better way than to jam with with the UK's hottest band, Cream?
This wasn't normal. Most musicians would have been too intimidated to ask to perform with Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton, then-untouchable guitarist and inspiration behind several instances of "Clapton is God" graffiti in the city.
But Hendrix wasn't like other musicians. And so he took to the stage and manufactured a moment that went down in history. Or, as writer Charles Shaar Murray once said, "he killed god, man."
Jack Bruce (Cream bassist): We were playing Regent Polytechnic. I was just having a pre-gig pint in a pub across the road and in comes this guy who turns out to be Jimi Hendrix. Now, we had already heard about Jimi on the grapevine. Jimi came up to me and said: “Hi. I would like to sit in with the band.” I said it was fine with me but he’d obviously have to check it out with Eric and Ginger. So we went across to the gig, and Eric immediately said yes and Ginger said: “Oh, dunno about that”.
Eric Clapton (Cream guitarist): He was very, very flash, even in the dressing room. He stood in front of the mirror, combing his hair, and asked if he could play a couple of numbers.
Neil Slaven (record producer): We didn’t expect anything unusual that night, until Clapton stepped up to the mic and said: “We’d like to introduce you to a friend of our from New York City.” Then this guy walked on stage looking for all the world like nothing less than a black Bob Dylan, with this huge mop of hair.
Jack Bruce: He came on and plugged into my bass amp, and as far as I can remember he just blew us all away.
Nick Mason (Pink Floyd): When Jimi Hendrix came on stage it tipped right over the edge. It was the musical moment of my life.
Eric Clapton: He did Killing Floor, a Howlin’ Wolf number I’ve always wanted to play, but which I’ve never really had the complete technique to do. Ginger didn’t like it and Jack didn’t like it. They’d never heard the song before. It was just… well, he just stole the show.
Neil Slaven: I will never forget the look of absolute shock on Clapton’s face. Here was this total unknown, using techniques that Clapton had not the faintest inkling of.
Chas Chandler (Hendrix’s manager): Clapton stood there and his hands dropped off the guitar. He lurched off the stage. I thought: “Oh God, what’s happening now?” I went backstage and he was trying to get a match to a cigarette. I said: ‘Are you all right?’ And he replied: ‘Is he that fucking good?’ He had heard ten bars at most.
Kathy Etchingham (Jimi’s girlfriend): He walked off stage with this smirk. He knew exactly what he was doing.
Jimi Hendrix: When I think back, it seems so pushy that I would have barged into someone else’s show that way. I can hardly believe I treated Clapton – a hero of mine – with so little respect.
Eric Clapton: It’s something that no one is ever going to beat; that incident, that night, it’s historic in my mind but only a few people are alive that would remember it
The new live album, 'Jimi Hendrix Experience Los Angeles Forum: April 26, 1969 (opens in new tab)' is out now on 2LP vinyl, CD and all digital platforms via Legacy Recordings (streaming links are here: https://hendrix.lnk.to/ForumPR (opens in new tab)). The new book, JIMI by Janie Hendrix and John McDermott (opens in new tab) is out 24th November.