Seeing Hendrix on Acid

By Kyle K. Mann

The trick to coming on to LSD as you walked through the front door at Winterland was to take it at the perfect point on the drive in, which for us was the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We made it a bit of a ceremony.

It’s early 1968. I forget who drove, but it wasn’t me. I popped a full cap of the purple stuff, I remember that. The 250 microgram dose was a lot, but in those times it seemed normal.

Because we were going to see Hendrix, man!

We got separated soon after we went in. The Winterland foyer was packed. That was fine, we were all one anyway. Half or more of the crowd had taken the good acid we enjoyed in 1968. And what a bill, with Albert King and John Mayall opening the show.

Both warmed us up nicely. Mayall’s band was hot, and he was in fine form, singing and blowing blues harmonica with feeling and power. I particularly remember his version of Parchman’s Farm, with its frantic harp riff and extended solo. Mayall was a authentic blues fan who had had Eric Clapton as a sideman. Born in the late 30’s, he was a bit older than the average rock star. We didn’t care.

Albert King was even older, born in 1923, meaning he was an ancient 45 or so. Again, we didn’t care. “If you don’t love the blues, you got a hole in your soul,” he shouted at one point. Wow, what a voice, what a guitar player. I can still hear him on “Born on a Bad Sign.” Nasty, primal.

By now the acid was peaking, and I stood in a psychedelic maelstrom, both connected to everyone and alone in my selfhood. Ok, Jimi, show me, I thought. Or was it all of us?

He seemed shy, almost, that early ’68 show. We scrutinized him. In turn, he sized his San Francisco audience up, then slowly smiled. And we were sold, right there.

There were very few bi-racial rock bands in 1968. Arthur Lee and Love, Sly and the Family Stone, Paul Butterfield… The Chambers Brothers had a Caucasian drummer. That was about it. But the multi-racial unity of the three members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience was unquestioned that night. Didn’t matter who was black or white, we were beings wearing bodies who loved music and were free. We were Experienced, and it was time to party.

So Jimi started us off with Sgt. Peppers…

His version of the title track and opening song of the album was perfect. After all, in England he had played it with the Beatles in the audience. There is a great photo of the Fab Four in a balcony, staring in fascination. The shot was taken a couple days after the release of their magnum opus, yet Hendrix had mastered the album’s great beginning track, which they Themselves never played live, and made it his own. It wasn’t one-upmanship, it was Hendrix acknowledging who had got us all where we needed to be.

After that breathtaking opening, it was time to rock with the blasting, blisteringly-paced rocker “Fire.”

Nearly a half-century later, as I type, I’m smiling. What an incredible moment. The shattering opening of the power trio, with those landslide drum fills of Mitch Mitchell. And that grooving bass pattern on the chorus! Which that in mind, Hendrix let us know who was in charge, with the commanding line “Move over Rover, and let Jimi take over!” Followed by a simple but grinding guitar solo, featuring those doubled, bent notes.

We in the standing audience were in a frenzy, laughing, shaking (no room to dance, we were packed like sardines) and marveling at the sound. The volume was just right, as I can attest after later hearing the band Blue Cheer on the same stage. That was pain; I actually walked away and went behind the stage so those huge Blue Cheer speakers weren’t pointing at me. So, yeah, Jimi wasn’t the loudest of the rock bands, and thanks Jimi, because my hearing all these years later is still reasonably good.

I’m always glad to hear Fire, to this day. It’s what rock music is all about.

Next up was Hey Joe, the Experience’s first single. It wasn’t then, and isn’t now, my favorite song, because of the vindictive and murderous tone of the lyrics. “I shot her,” Hendrix yells, and I wince. Still, the solo is a delight, and the tune’s slower pace set us up for the next song and the redemptive celebration of femininity, Foxy Lady.

Masterful guitar work. With one’s neuoreceptors chemically propped open, mindblowing. Hendrix was unstoppable on this song, playing the guitar every way possible. Cartwheeling his strumming arm, then contrasting that by playing one handed in the neck, then using the microphone stand as a slide, then using his elbow as a slide. Laughing “Aw shucks” and making it work, an astounding mix of humility, humor, and complete confidence. A performer’s performer. You couldn’t keep your eyes off him.

Great dynamics on the tune, building that trill louder and louder, then punching through the sound with controlled feedback and then the swoop down the neck into the riff. Hendrix pioneered a lot of techniques, including wah wah and phase shifting, but when it came to feedback he was a sonic Van Gogh. It was something new under the sun. Hearing it, seeing it created live, was like a supernova between your ears.

Somehow he sounded like an orchestra on that guitar. He was one with the instrument, it was like an extension of himself. It was electric/organic, it was like a merging of meat and metal. It was just so Right.

Slowing it down again to cool out, with The Wind Cries Mary. Ahh, didn’t realize we need to relax a bit. Enigmatic lyrics, reflective and thoughtful singing. Soothing and tasty, a different flavor from the Hendrix chocolate sampler box. And dynamic chord changes, especially in the bridge with a flash of bright energy to remind us what’s up. Well sung, well played. Thanks.

Time to crank it back up with Killing Floor, the gigantic Howlin’ Wolf-written masterpiece that the Electric Fag had made their own. Hendrix had opened the Monterey Pop Festival with this ditty (introduced by Brian Jones of the Stones, no less) and here it was now, potent and punchy. Six tunes in, and we are exhausted, well I am anyway. More outstanding showmanship, but I’m starting to overload.

Thankfully, Hendrix slows it down yet again with Little Wing, excellently done of course. Stevie Ray Vaughn paid tribute to this one before he died, and yes, it too was superb, but we are paying homage to the Originator here. The creator, which is obviously vital. It’s a moving song, and sweetly amplified sonic magic. We in the audience were entranced, captivated anew, refreshed… the virtuoso strikes again.

And now the set capper, Are You Experienced? which was of course the title track of the first Hendrix album, as well as a reference to the name of the band. So then, here we went, listening to a song created in the studio with backwards tracks, bass, drums, guitar… and a hammering piano octave that sounds throughout the song. Could the Jimi Hendrix Experience pull it off live?

Yes.

Now, this is a song about taking acid. It doesn’t get much more direct than this. “Have you ever been experienced, well I have” he sings. Well, indeed!

So there we are, many of us on acid, grooving along to Hendrix, shuffling our feet a little, nodding our heads, realizing this is the psychedelic peak. Right here, right now. I’m standing about twenty feet away from the stage, and it’s the Electric Church, with Preacher Hendrix singing his sermon. And it is good. It is still happening, it will always be happening, and we were free, and are free, and always will be free to death and beyond into the spectrum we can dimly make out…

Thanks God, for the salvation.

That said, acid wasn’t for everyone. There were acid casualties, though how many of those were due to bad acid or not even, we will never know. An acid bummer was hellish, the flip side of the ecstatic union pure LSD could bring. I had two bummers in the sixties, and soldiered on because the benefits outweighed the risks.

I can’t find acid any more. For starters it is stunningly illegal. I don’t like to think about how long one can be put away for, for mere possession. But I will say, these days I wouldn’t take a pill someone said was LSD. There’s only one way to take acid now, and that’s blotters, teeny squares of paper. Because LSD is the only drug effective in microgram doses.

That itself is kind of a clue.

Cut to Winterland, that fall of 1968. A lot has happened, and changed, but by heaven there we are again, and even though the stage has been shifted to the opposite side of the hall, we are still loving this show. Here it was that I saw Hendrix, soloing wildly, start running across the stage with his guitar and do a complete forward somersault. While playing perfectly. Landing on his feet, still playing and ending the lick with a flourish.

For decades I thought I’d hallucinated it. Then I saw it on film. So! Not a hallucination after all. What a relief. Because it was a sharp memory, and really cool. Yeah, I’m experienced.

The Doors were psychedelic in a different way, and could absolutely knock your socks off just playing. Janis Joplin too. Earth, Wind and Fire put on an insane live show, though I’m not sure I’d exactly call it psychedelic. Talking Heads, great stuff but more ironic. There was an American 60’s band called the Kaleidoscope that was genuinely bizarre, though few remember them. Zappa’s band was post psychedelic. The Brazilian master Milton Nascimento, who I saw on acid in the 90’s… he was like jungle psychedelic.

Yep, nobody ever did what Jimi Hendrix did, and these days I can usually command a bit of respect talking about actually seeing it, mining these goddam old hippie memories.

But you know, I sit here laughing quietly, having written that.

I sit here laughing.
by Kyle K. Mann

Topanga

1/26/17

Kyle K. Mann
About Kyle K. Mann 43 Articles

Kyle K. Mann is the pen name of a contributor to, and sometimes editor of, Gonzo Today. He lives high atop Topanga, California, where owls hoot and coyotes howl. A radio broadcaster in multiple fields in the 80s and 90s, Kyle currently supports himself part time as a Union film crew member in Hollywood. His articles and interviews first appeared in Gonzo Today in early 2015, and some of them are fairly good.