Biographer to share Jimi Hendrix ‘experience’ at book signing; La Jollan recalls summer with rock icon
If you go
■ What: ‘Hendrix on Hendrix’ book signing with Jim Hendrix biographer Steve Roby
■ When: 7 p.m. Oct. 13
■ Where: D.G. Wills Books, 7461 Girard Ave.
■ Contact: (858) 456-1800 or dgwillsbooks.com
By Pat Sherman
Steve Roby, acclaimed biographer, archivist and historian of the late guitar virtuoso, Jimi “Voodoo Child” Hendrix, will be in town for a discussion and book signing, 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at D. G. Wills Books in the Village.
The author will discuss and sign his most recent book, “Hendrix on Hendrix: Interviews and Encounters with Jimi Hendrix,” which chronicles the psychedelic blues rocker’s brilliant but tragically brief career in his own words, as amassed from European and U.S. print and broadcast news interviews, as well as court transcripts of his trial for narcotics possession at Toronto International Airport.
The book even includes a slice of San Diego counterculture journalism from May 1969, when Hendrix allowed San Diego Free Press scribe Jim Brodey to interview him backstage at the Sports Arena, where Hendrix performed with his three-piece band, the Experience.
The interviews chronicle the height of the Seattle-born musician’s career, from his arrival in London in 1966 to his accidental death from asphyxiation on Sept. 18, 1970.
In his first British press interview, The Record Mirror’s Peter Jones dubbed the up- and-coming artist, “Mr. Phenomenon.” The last interview, conducted just a week before he died and shortly after his final performance in Germany, finds the artist in a “fragile state,” Roby said.
“He was in state of flux, kind of a bit uncertain about his future,” Roby said, noting that the Experience had just broken up and that Hendrix was under pressure from executives at Reprise Records to release a follow-up to his third and final album, 1968’s “Electric Ladyland.”
“One point he makes (during the interview) is that he wants to be known for not being just a guitar player or a singer,” Roby said. “He wanted to establish himself as a producer or getting into another form of music, like jazz.
“Jimi wanted to expand the band, (and his) manager wanted it to continue to be a three-piece, because it had been a successful outfit selling records, and selling out concerts,” Roby said. “Jimi wanted to take it further and experiment with new sounds. He wanted to add horns and congas. He had been experimenting with people like Miles Davis and John McLaughlin. … His manager wasn’t going for it.”
Through the course of the interviews collected for the book, Hendrix expounds on his songwriting process, guitar technique, traumatic childhood, and myriad influences — from Bob Dylan to science fiction books.
Recollections of a ‘Scorpio Woman’
One La Jollan who will likely be at the D.G. Wills event is well-known community activist Melinda Merryweather, who got to know Hendrix while serving as art director on his posthumously released concert film, “Rainbow Bridge.”
The free concert, filmed July 30, 1970, was held on the slopes of Haleakala, a dormant volcano on the island of Maui. Attended by about 200 locals, surfers, students and hippies, it was Hendrix’s second-to-last U.S. concert performance (his final show was two days later, in Honolulu).
Merryweather can be seen in much of the film, including a scene in which she rides into frame on horseback.
“There were no professional actors,” she said. “This is the first reality movie. Nobody had dared do anything like this before.”
Merryweather said she got involved in the project after meeting Hendrix’s manager, Mike Jeffery, on Maui.
“Michael Jeffrey was fascinated by me and my friends because we were into all these new age things — vegetarianism, yoga, surfing, being organic and being green.”
The film’s director, the late Chuck Wein, was a proponent of so-called color-sound healing. “Jimi was interested in writing some music by color, which is something Beethoven did, and he needed someone to interpret that for him,” Merryweather recalled.
A friend of Wein’s from Arizona arrived to transcribe colors into musical notes for some of the songs in the concert. Merryweather took the concept further by having people sit in their astrological sun signs.
“People showed up and said, ‘You guys are absolutely nuts,’” Merryweather recalled, with a laugh. However, she noted, when Hendrix began jamming the transformation of visible light into sound, many in the audience wept.
While filming “Rainbow Bridge,” Merryweather, Hendrix and other cast and crew stayed at Seabury Hall, an Episcopal school in Makawao that was on summer hiatus. While in Hawaii, Merryweather challenged Hendrix to a game of ping-pong, in which they played for the shirts off each other’s backs. Though Merryweather won the American flag T-shirt she so coveted, in hindsight she suspects Hendrix threw the game. Years later, when visiting
his father, Al Hendrix, in Seattle, she came upon a ping-pong table in the basement, causing his father to effuse about how his son had been somewhat of a neighborhood tennis table champ.
Following Hendrix’s death, Merryweather continued her career as a model, commercial art director and interior designer, going on to decorate Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland Studio in New York City and Michael Jeffrey’s home in Woodstock.
“I was like the psychedelic Martha Stewart,” she quipped.
At her request, Hendrix wrote a song for Merryweather before leaving Maui. Titled “Scorpio Woman,” it appears as an acoustic demo on the posthumously released compilation, “Morning Symphony Ideas.”
“He couldn’t read or write music, so he would play into a little tape recorder … for eight or nine hours … (and then) take that back to the studio and build the song around it,” she said.
Upon her request, the song includes touches of flamenco, as well as some Bach, Beethoven and the blues. Hendrix’s manager mailed the tape to Merryweather after his death.
During the recording, Hendrix can be heard getting up to answer the telephone.
“I played it for Stevie Ray Vaughan and he just broke down and cried because he didn’t realize Jimi (also) had to struggle (with the song-writing process),” Merryweather said.
Though the Hendrix estate wanted professional musicians to finish the song, and the sound of the ringing phone removed, Merryweather insisted it be released unaltered.
“I’m going, ‘God, that’s the whole beauty of it,’” she said. “It’s all just so precious and beautiful and rich.”
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