Jimi Hendrix: The British Experience
by David Soulsby
Take a slow stroll away from the American Embassy in
London’s plush Grosvenor Square, make your way along Brook Street towards Oxford Street, and you’ll pass a row
of fashionable Mayfair town houses where a blue plaque above a shop front might catch your eye.
Study the English Heritage plaque and the name of the man being
honoured as a past resident might surprise you: it’s none other than Jimi Hendrix, regarded by many – myself
included – as the greatest rock guitarist ever.
The Seattle-born Hendrix lived in the top-floor flat at number 23
Brook Street between 1968/69, and would have been seen regularly on the streets in around the capital city’s
Mayfair, Soho and West End areas, wild-haired and dressed in his trademark colourful clothes. Many of London’s
leading clubs and rock venues were situated here and Hendrix played at most of them, often trying out one his
latest compositions for audiences that regularly boasted fellow rock stars such as Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and
Hendrix certainly cut a dashing figure when out and about, but
always seemed unfazed by the attention of passers-by. He was just going about his business — and that was the
business of producing some of the best music that came out of the Sixties. And more than 40 years on, his influence
and legacy live on.
So to celebrate and pay a fitting tribute to the left-handed
guitar maestro who died in September 1970, the Handel House Museum, which occupies the Brook Street site where the
great German composer George Fridric Handel lived in the 1700s, has held a Hendrix In Britain exhibition and tour
of his flat. How fitting, I think, that Hendrix should have lived where another creative giant — albeit from a far
different era and genre — produced such a legacy of important music. Indeed, Hendrix was so taken with the Handel
connection that he visited a local record store and bought several Handel albums, played them, and became a
Items on show included the guitar Hendrix used on the brilliant
Red House, several extravagant stage costumes, the famous Westerner hat, a copy of his death certificate, concert
memorabilia and a revealing selection of photos, including one that particularly caught my eye.
The photo in question was taken backstage at a concert in England
when Hendrix shared the bill with headliners The Walker Brothers, plus Cat Stevens and special guest star Engelbert
Humperdinck. The image says a lot — Hendrix is seated with his guitar laid across his legs, his eyes not looking
directly at the cameraman but slightly down as if just a little timid, not wanting to steal the limelight, while
singer Cat Stevens and Gary Leeds of The Walker Brothers are looking intently at him, one could say almost in awe.
Humperdinck is the only one of the quartet with eyes for the camera, apparently unaware of the three men by his
The exhibition, which opened in August and ends this November, has
drawn Hendrix devotees from not only Britain but from all over the world, not least from America, where a glance
through the visitors book reveals poignant comments and heart-felt tributes from visitors from all parts of the
My own contribution says simply: ‘A fitting tribute to a great
guitar genius.’ Not particularly original I know, but often the simple, direct words are the best. The word genius
is a much over-used accolade but Hendrix fully deserves it — he indeed had, as the dictionary defines it, ‘an
exceptional natural ability’.
But there was much more to Hendrix than just being a superb
musician and musical innovator. To me, he was a complex human being. He was full of contradictions. He was
flamboyant, yet surprisingly shy. Much of his music was raw and loud, yet at the same time melodic and
On stage he did things that often shocked and even offended some
people, yet away from the razzmatazz and frenzy of performing he was polite, charming and softly spoken. He
appeared in control of what he was doing, but there was always in the background a feeling that he was continually
searching for something new and different. He broke down musical and race barriers, and if he’d survived you can
only guess at what he would have gone on to achieve. He would be 68 this November 27 — if only!
Hendrix himself said "I have plans that are unbelievable but then
wanting to be a guitar player seemed unbelievable at one time.’ I think he would have gone to even greater heights.
His standing among his guitar contemporaries was immense, and still stands the test of time, and his fans appear to
be as loyal and respectful today as they were in the Sixties. And new young fans joining the ranks all the time add
to his magnetic appeal.
To me, it doesn’t seem like 44 years ago that Hendrix arrived in
England (thanks to the astute Chas Chandler of The Animals) but one, alas, can’t deny the passage of time. Hendrix
emerged like an exciting, invigorating breath of fresh air. And along with fellow Experience band-mates Noel
Redding and Mitch Mitchell set the music scene alight — literally, as Hendrix often burnt his guitars on stage. It
was pure showmanship, yes, but it was just an addition to the brilliance of his musical talent.
British musicians had been invading America in droves in the
Sixties and taking it by storm. It seemed a little unfair of us Brits to have such a monopoly, so it was perhaps
only right that the balance should be redressed by a then-unknown America performer who came, saw and quickly
conquered the UK. Hendrix did that, and then returned to his homeland to stamp his mark for ever, his appearances
at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969 among the most breathtaking in the history of live
Surprisingly, it took many years for Hendrix to earn the music
industry praise due to him — it was 1992 before the Jimi Hendrix Experience were inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame, and another 13 years before gaining recognition in the UK Music Hall of Fame. Still, better late then
I remember when I first heard Hendrix play. It was like hearing a
conversation and wanting to be part of it. That might sound odd, but that’s how I felt. I’m glad to say that I have
continued to listen to the conversation and still want to be part of it.
Carry on kissing the sky, Jimi.
About the Author:
David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex, England, and is now retired after 46 years as a
journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met
many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and
Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of
Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.
Purchase David's book "Somewhere in the