Hello again to all wandering eyeballs. Delighted you decided to drop by (or ended up here through a grievous computer error)...
Not long ago, I was over at a favorite hangout, AKA the Wrestling Classics Message Board
While scanning the topics, I chanced upon an active discussion taking place: who do you think is the greatest live performer in music history? That broad expanse was immediately narrowed down to the best onstage musician (or band) over the past 40 years. (After all, despite the claim of "having seen and heard him myself!" from one mischief-maker, how can we really know that Mozart wasn't the hands-down winner?)
Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, Michael Jackson and Queen were among the names most frequently mentioned. And since it was the middle-of-the-night and I was done working on another project, I decided to jump in and offer my $.02. So, for better or worse, the following is the response I posted. I'd like to think it brings back fond memories for some and gives a moderately sharp image for those too young to have "been there."
I appreciate your e-mail messages, so don't feel too shy to send along your thoughts about this column.
Thanks for taking the time to read!
= Richard =
I saw Jimi Hendrix perform on five different occasions (maybe six). Arguments can be made that he could be sloppy as hell if he didn't especially feel creative during any given performance. But when he was on and improvising with inspiration...
The single most amazing Hendrix show that I attended took place around 1968 at Bill Graham's Filmore in San Francisco. The energy throughout the place, even before Jimi took the stage, was unlike any I'd known before. Basically, it was an overexcited, upbeat, happy and stoned crowd. Somehow, it felt more "pure" than other concerts I'd attended.
Halfway through his set and between songs, Hendrix took ahold of the mic stand and said something like, "Hope you don't mind if a friend of mine comes out to join us."
The great guitarist Jeff Beck (don't know if he remains so nowadays) came out stage left, waving once or twice at the stunned but ecstatic audience; and along with the band, launched into Jimi's "Stone Free." Watching, we saw how the musicians were actually feeding off the crowd's passions and giving it right back. Before long, the two guitar legends began exchanging licks back and forth, both frequently smiling and sometimes laughing as they each made an effort to top the other while staying true to the song itself.
And don't kid yourself ... while a lot of them were loud and joyfully delirious, certain passages were somewhat muted and not at all frenetic. What this meant was that our anticipation of what was just over the horizon built back up. (Wrestling Psychology 101). Hendrix and Beck threw the lead to one another more and more frequently, each playing his part one notch louder than what had preceded him. (This goes to 11!)
And finally, when the drums and bass slammed their way back in simultaneously with the guitars hitting a chord that was both ringing and pure, the crowd couldn't help but explode. The music became utterly deafening as it continued soaring higher and higher, proving that drugs alone still couldn't take you to THIS place. Even though "Stone Free" continued on a little while longer, we'd reached the apex.
Possibly as much due to a circulating shared substance, at that moment I felt lightheaded as a flash of colors went off in my head. Never again have I felt that same thing. It was nothing but a real live genuine Jimi Hendrix Experience.
As I said, I've no idea how long that version of the song lasted, but it didn't matter. We bystanders were overwhelmed with what we were witnessing.
Should Alzheimer's come along one day to claim my brain, I'm betting I'll still remember that concert...