Uncut’s 50 Best Gigs – Number One!

Today: we finish up our trawl through the best - here's Jimi Hendrix

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In this month’s UNCUT, our writers, friends and favourite musicians reminisced about their favourite gigs.

We’ve been publishing an account everyday throughout the month – including online exclusives on gigs by Manic Street Preachers,The Stone Roses, Pixies, Beach Boys, and Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones and Babyshambles’ Adam Ficek‘s favourite live memories too.

Now here’s our NUMBER ONE:


1 | JIMI HENDRIX
Monterey Pop Festival, California, June 16-18, 1967

Keith Altham:

In the summer of ’67, I fly out to America to cover Monterey for the NME. On the plane I sit next to a quietly spoken, lanky musician with frizzed-out hair, wearing headphones, reading a copy of the sci-fi classic, Stranger In A Strange Land, and holding up four long, slender fingers to indicate the channel number on the in-flight entertainment on which we can all find one of his heroes, T-Bone Walker, playing guitar.

Hendrix is flying home to see if he can justify the accolades bestowed on him by Clapton, Beck and Page in England as “King Guitar” and I’m going with him and coming back with The Who. The Jimi Hendrix Experience and I fly to LA and take a short flight to Monterey where we go direct to the festival site to get our passes. I’m driven around by a golden-haired goddess called Mama Michelle from The Mamas & The Papas, assigned to me by festival organiser and label boss Lou Adler, who mistakenly thinks I’m important.

Hendrix played a warm-up sound check version of “Sgt Pepper” underneath the stage at Monterey through a little practice “Bulldog” amp before going on. Janis Joplin, Paul Simon, Roger Daltrey and myself watched in wonder. Brian Jones floated across from the festival hospitality tent in his diaphanous white lace and ruffles, gives me a shy, dreamy smile looking just like Keith Richards’ later description of “a ghost leaving a séance.” I ask him if he was enjoying the spirit of free love and flower power in the air. “Sure,” replies Brian in a whisper. “Except it’s not “free” and it’s not “love.” Brian was many things, not all of them pleasant, but he was no fool.

I was paralysed in the press pit by the lung power of Janis Joplin when she sang “Ball And Chain”. Otis Redding almost brought me to tears as he delivered “Dock Of The Bay” in the warm late night rain on the second night, and Simon & Garfunkel sang “Sound Of Silence” in angelic close harmony, while a new group called Buffalo Springfield showed enough potential for me to mark two of their number, Steve Stills and Neil Young, in my review. But the festival was almost stolen by The Who, a four-man demolition squad. Backstage, I congratulated Keith Moon on their breakthrough and he said in his mock public schoolboy tones: “You may quote me as saying we have become an underground success overnight and mine is a large brandy.” It was ever thus.

Just as the audience were recovering from The Who’s sensational havoc, on comes the unknown Hendrix, in feathers, frills and black hat and takes rock guitar one step beyond to leave the press open-mouthed. Following his extraordinary version of “Wild Thing”, he finishes by setting fire to his guitar. This was actually my idea, and something he never completely forgave me for.

It worked as a publicity stunt, but it became something of a bane to Jimi thereafter, as he was expected to commit guitar flambé at every gig. On the last occasion at the Saville Theatre he turned on me rather balefully and suggested I “set fire to my bloody typewriter”. It was the last occasion he complied with the guitar pyre.

As the flames died back at Monterey, a young hippy reporter who had just turned up in the press pit asked me incredulously, “Who and what the hell was that?” “That,” I informed him portentously, “is James Marshall Hendrix. I suggest you note the name.”


COMING TOMORROW: UNCUT’S WORST GIGS

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