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Jimi Hendrix's Legendary Monterey Pop Festival Performance Celebrates 50 Years

The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding) during a sound check at the Marquee Club. © Ray Stevenson

Even someone with just a passing interest in rock music knows that Jimi Hendrix is one of the most celebrated guitarists who ever lived. And in 1967 Hendrix gave a seminal performance at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival, which also saw performances by Janis Joplin, The Who, and the Grateful Dead.

The iconic performance from Hendrix kicked off the first US tour for his band The Jimi Hendrix Experience and took place in the Summer of Love which, along with the festival, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year (and, of course, there’s a new Monterey International Pop Festival to coincide).

Jimi Hendrix performing at the Christmas on Earth concert at Olympia, London in December 1967. © Ray Stevenson

Writing about Hendrix’s Monterey Pop Festival performance when reviewing the CD release of it back in 1986 Rolling Stone said:

With the Rainbow Shriek of his flaming Stratocaster at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, Jimi Hendrix dramatically announced the arrival of the new Aquarian age of peace, love and spiritual aspiration. At the same time, he liberated rock & roll guitar once and for all from the choke of Top Forty dictums. The way he tore into "Purple Haze," scratching the song's elephantine funk intro with sawtoothed distortion, and calmly skated up the shimmering, ascending chorus of "The Wind Cries Mary" had no precedent in rock guitar and, even at Monterey, no equal.

The American debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience at Monterey on June 18th, 1967, is still a revelation, an orgasmic explosion of singing feedback, agitated stretches of jazzy improvisation and recombinant R&B guitar. Sucking the crowd into his hurricane sound, Hendrix dragged Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" through Mississippi-blues mud, attacked his own "Can You See Me" with amphetamine impatience and, egged on by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell's rhythmic frenzy, drove "Wild Thing" head-on into a wall of white noise.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience performing at the Woburn Music Festival on the evening of the 6th July 1968. © Pete Smith

Hendrix employed epic volumes to the music in his performance, which made for that monumental feedback. And, of course, after his rendition of “Wild Thing” Hendrix poured lighter fluid over his black Fender Stratocaster, setting it ablaze and making rock and roll history.  

It wasn’t the first time Hendrix had set alight to his guitar though, that happened at a performance at London’s Finsbury Park Astoria Theatre earlier in the year. But it was certainly the most memorable.

Jimi Hendrix restrings his guitar before a performance at the Marquee Club, London in March 1967. © Ray Stevenson

And a guitar from that performance, not the one that was set alight, but another one which Hendrix played but swapped out, was set to be auctioned next week on the festival’s anniversary. Dallas-based Heritage Auctions were due to auction off the black Fender Stratocaster, which Heritage’s Director of Music Memorabilia, Garry Schrum said was a guitar among a few that “have changed music history.”

“This is one of the most important guitars to ever come to auction,” Shrum said in a statement to ABC Radio in the US. “In the pantheon of guitars, only a few have changed music history and Jimi’s Black Strat is one of them.”

It was being offered by a private collector from the United Kingdom and was expected to get around $750,000.

Jimi Hendrix on stage at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970. © Stefan Wallgren

But now the guitar has been pulled from auction, after Heritage released a statement saying that experts had examined the instrument, and concerns were raised that it might not be the same guitar Hendrix played at the Monterey event. A shame.

Still, while you might not be able to get your hands on the Black Stratocaster, there are other Jimi Hendrix items up for sale at Heritage’s Summer of Love memorabilia auction on June 17-18 in Beverly Hills, California. There’s a black leather biker's jacket worn by Hendrix with a starting price of $10,000. There’s also an Indian-style hippy embroidered vest with elephants on, owned and worn by Hendrix which starts at $7,500. And a red velvet kaftan (one of the guitarist’s favorite clothing items allegedly) and a long suede vest with beads on, again with a total hippy vibe. At an estimated cost of around $55,000 for the lot, dressing like Hendrix won’t come cheap or necessarily improve your guitar playing. But you’ll look the part at least.

You can also get a concert poster from the festival with Hendrix’s name, along with many other acts like Janis Joplin, on it. 

"This auction is all about 1967's 'Summer of Love,'" said Shrum. "That is the summer Hendrix and Janis Joplin changed music forever. Two years later, we were treated to Woodstock, but it all began the summer of '67."

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer all these iconic Jimi Hendrix images, along with many others, as limited edition photographic prints which you can buy here.

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