Experiencing Jimi – Part 1: Janie Hendrix
It was a fire that burned briefly – too briefly – but its glow remains.
Jimi Hendrix’ career might’ve lasted only a few years, but his music still plays on, a couple generations since his passing. The new West Coast Seattle Boy box set from Experience Hendrix/Legacy Recordings offers an amazing retrospective of Hendrix’ career, starting with his sideman days with the Isley Brothers (1964) and ending with a road-weary Jimi seeking a little shelter from the storm in 1970, tucked away in his apartment with an acoustic guitar. In between there are wild sonic explorations with the Jimi Hendrix Experience – both live and in the studio – supplemented by helpings of the new musical directions Jimi was exploring in the final months of his life. The best part? This is 4 CDs’-worth of previously-unreleased material – plus a remarkable documentary DVD that’s just psychedelic icing on the cake (Relix.com “is now hosting an exclusive clip from the DVD”:http://www.relix.com/video/artist-exclusives/2010/11/16/exclusive-look-jimi-hendrix-film-voodoo-child, (Voodoo Child_ ).
To get a better feel for what this project represents, we offer a two-part interview with the frontline of Experience Hendrix, LLC. We’ll start with a conversation with president/CEO Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s half-sister. As we’ll see, Janie knew of her brother before she met him – he was a bigger-than-life character who then transformed himself into a size that was easy for her to be around and love during the short visits they had together.
Let’s all get small for a bit.
Chapter One: Little Sister
BR: Janie, how old were you when you met Jimi for the first time?
JH: I was six years old when Jimi came home in February of 1968. He’d gotten out of the service in 1962 and had decided not to come back here to Seattle at that point. He told my dad there was no way for him to make it as a musician unless he went to Nashville – or maybe New York. There just weren’t any opportunities for him musically here at home.
Al, my dad, told Jimi, “I completely understand – do your thing.” When you’re 20 years old and trying to find your way, there were no better places to be than where he was heading. It was completely understood why he wanted to stay out on the road and didn’t come home at that point. Jimi went to Tennessee first and ended up playing on the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit.” That was where he made his early connections.
BR: The first disc of the West Coast Seattle Boy collection contains some great tracks from Jimi’s early days as a sideman.
JH: You know, a lot people don’t get it … they’ll listen to music from that period and say, “That’s not Jimi” – but it is. It’s Jimi trying to figure things out and realizing that he doesn’t want to be a sideman his whole life. It was a way to eat, to gain notoriety, to gain stage experience, and to figure out what it’s like to be on the road … that whole way of life. And it all comes out in the music.
BR: It’s cool, because even in those settings, there’ll be a moment – an intro, a turnaround, or a little guitar break – and you can definitely hear it: “That’s Jimi!”
JH: Oh, yeah. (laughs) He’d be using his arm or his thumb or whatever he could to get those different sounds – a lot of the same techniques he’d use later in the Experience.
BR: During the years before he came home, did you have a sense that this big brother you had yet to meet was becoming famous?
JH: I remember reading things in the papers about Jimi and cutting them out to save. When he’d call home, I’d be so excited to hear his voice, you know? I’d tell him about collecting all that stuff. In fact, in one of the interviews Jimi did when he was in England, he mentioned, “I can’t wait to get home to meet my little sister; she’s following my career and cutting out all these articles.” (laughs)
Jimi would call home as much as he could to talk with all of us and let us know what was going on. We were hearing from him regularly, so we were able to follow his career. He would always send postcards, letters, and photos when he wasn’t calling.
BR: Now that’s a good son. (laughter) And we need to remember: there were no cell phones; there was no texting or e-mails. You had to go out and find a stamp.
JH: Exactly! And back then, a stamp and a candy bar probably cost about the same so it was like, “Hmm … a stamp or a candy bar for dinner?”, you know?
BR: Do you remember any of Jimi’s calls in particular?
JH: Oh, yeah. (laughs) He called us when he was competing in the talent show at the Apollo Theater in New York in 1964. Jimi didn’t want anyone to know how scared he was; he was actually scared that they’d be throwing stuff at him. And as a little girl, I didn’t know anything about the Apollo Theater, but I’m thinking, “Oh, no – what are they going to throw at you?” You know, I’m thinking chairs or whatever – big heavy things. And Jimi was like, “No – they throw food at you. I don’t want them throwing anything at me.” He was serious.
I told him, “Well, I’m going to pray that they don’t throw anything at you, Jimi.”
BR: Oh, man. And he won that night, right?
JH: That’s right; and when he called afterwards, he was happy that he’d won – but even happier that no one had thrown anything. (laughter) Jimi started playing with the Isley Brothers soon after that.
I remember he called from London when the Experience was coming together: “I’m onto the big time! This is it – I’m going to make it.”
BR: So you had a sense – long before you actually got to see Jimi face-to-face – that other people knew who your big brother was.
JH: Absolutely. The clincher, of course, was seeing him on TV. When you’re a kid … (laughs)
BR: Oh, that seals the deal, for sure. How about hearing his music – do you remember hearing the Experience for the first time?
JH: Oh, yeah. (laughs) We were living in a triplex at the time – pretty thin walls, you know? There were two young women who lived next door – we called them “the hippie girls.” (laughs) I remember hearing them come home and apparently they’d just come from the local record store, because suddenly there’s this really loud music coming through the wall. And my dad says, “Oh my God – that sounds so much like Jimi!”
BR: Come on – through the wall? (laughter)
JH: Honest to God – through the wall. So my mom goes next door and knocks: “I’m sorry to bother you, but what is that music you’re listening to? We think it’s our son.” And one of the girls holds up the record jacket, and sure enough – it’s the Jimi Hendrix Experience. When they figured out who we all were, they handed it to my mom: “Here – you take this record! It’d be our honor for you to have it; we can go get another one.”
BR: There – right there! The true hippie ethic summed up! (laughter) That is such a cool story.
JH: Isn’t it? Those sweet hippie girls … (laughs)
BR: So, when Jimi came home to visit, I’m guessing it was either one thing or the other: either you have a ton of memories of him sitting around the house, guitar in hand, and playing constantly – or he’d try to get away from that for a bit.
JH: When he’d come home to Seattle, he’d drop off his gear at a hotel and if he was playing in the area, there’d be guitars there, of course. But he’d gather up a few things and come to stay with us rather than at a hotel. You know: family, home cooking, and a nice bed – and he didn’t bring his guitar home.
Most people who think they knew Jimi really well don’t believe that. They always say, “Jimi didn’t go anywhere without his guitar.” But when he came to stay with us, it was like every minute was precious. We’d sit around and talk – sometimes for hours – not just about what he had going on, but what everyone else was doing, too … he wanted to know.
I remember us sitting around and playing games, too. Jimi loved playing Monopoly, with all the constant talking and kidding around that goes with it: “You come on this side of the board and you’re gonna get it.” (laughs) Sometimes those games would go all night long – until 7 or 8 the next morning. When he came home, he’d try to spend as many moments as he could with everyone. He didn’t want to go to sleep; he wanted to stay awake and spend every minute he could with the family until it was time to leave again.