When I read in the recent Rolling Stone that Brad Schreiber had just written a book with my friend Steve Roby about the early years of Hendrix, I clicked the BUY button on Amazon and purchased “Becoming Jimi Hendrix”. Then I reached out to Steve to see if the authors would participate in a Rockonomics Q&A. But first, I want to mention that I know Steve Roby from my early days at Rhino Records. We worked on a compilation of Jimi Hendrix’s early recordings as a session player that we had hoped Rhino would license and make available. These recordings showcased Hendrix’s back-up work with Rosa Lee Brooks, Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, etc… Although it was never released, it was a great idea, and really put the evolution of Hendrix’s guitar playing into context.
Q: Steve It seems as though Jimi Hendrix was very determined to be successful, doing whatever it took to get his break. He backed up lots of famous musicians, was there one in particular that championed his playing?
A: King Curtis. When I interviewed Cornell Dupree, he said Curtis gave Jimi two or three songs to spotlight his playing during the regular nightly sets they did in 1966. Jimi would always launch into an Elmore James blues number, and the crowd loved it. Curtis really wanted to be a guitarist, and I gather he liked his unique style.
But like the many other regimented R&B bands he played with, Jimi had to adhere to a strict dress code or face fines, or even termination. It was not uncommon for backing musicians at the time to polish their shoes with Vaseline for the ultimate shine, but more importantly to keep the nagging leader off their backs. While Jimi was with King Curtis, it was a case of showing up at a gig, and not wearing a tuxedo. Curtis not only fired him, but humiliated him on stage in front of his fellow musicians and the audience.
Brad, please see this quote below…
Michael Bloomfield was quoted in Guitar Player, August 1971 Jimi Hendrix
“Sound was his thing. He played the guitar, but he could get any sound in the world through it, and sound was what he was looking for. I think that he was the most advanced. There was no one near him in any way. He had everything: speed, control, and on and on. The cat was the most amazing guitarist I had ever met in my life. I think his work will be studied for years and years.”
Q: In a few sentences what makes Jimi Hendrix so “studied” today?
A: No one would deny Jimi’s unparalleled ability to get a stunning variety of sounds
out of the electric guitar. But he loved all kinds of music and showed a willingness to explore each genre, be it rhythm and blues, rock ballads, acid rock, fusion, jazz and so on. He could listen to a silly pop song and hear the one section that was truly sonically interesting and catalog it in his head.
Q: Steve, as I mentioned I ordered “Becoming Jimi Hendrix” but I’m a huge fan… If I were just an average fan, please tell me why I’d be interested…
A: Jimi’s life story has been covered in several biographies. Some emphasis has been given to his early career, but the main goal for most authors was to document the familiar years with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In Becoming Jimi Hendrix, however, we show how and where he developed that “hellish and robust sound,” as one reporter called it. For example, listen to “Fire,” and that classic R&B riff. Where did that come from?
Success would have never happened for the often-shy guitarist if he’d given up early and returned to Seattle, settling for a job at a brewery or at Boeing, like many of his classmates did. Jimi had this amazing fortitude, and tolerance. He was determined to play his style no matter what others told him to do. He’d rather starve.
We interviewed his friends, lovers, and band mates, and developed this extraordinary story of Jimi’s rocky journey on the R&B circuit, discovery of LSD, and for those that relish information, there’s a complete tour listing and sessionography that spans the various groups he played with from 1962 to 1966. It took about four years of research to compile this book, and I know even the average fan will walk away with a different impression of the Hendrix they thought they knew.
Q: One last question for Brad, who were a few of Jimi’s influences? And was there someone in particular he tried to seek out and perform with while backing bands up?
A: Jimi, during his development in R&B, met and paid careful attention to players like B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins and Curtis Mayfield. But what is important to remember is that Jimi loved all kinds of music and utilized the blues of an Elmore James as much as he did the surf guitar of Dick Dale. He was an alchemist of sounds and of all genres.