Believe it or not, the very first real concert I was ever allowed to attend as a wee Canadian tyke was The Jimi Hendrix Experience at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens in May 1969.
I’d already been a fervent fan for a couple of years, having spent most of my grade 8 art class making swirly sketches of Hendrix in charcoal. Plus, the Are You Experienced? album was right up there — almost — with The Monkees’ Headquarters on my 1967 most-played list.
Fast-forwarding, Christmastime ’68 was spent, between runs down the local tobogganing hill, digging all eight vinyl sides of The Beatles and Electric Ladyland — and, most likely as a direct result, my gym-class rhythm section and I were just starting to assemble our very own semi-power trio when word filtered along the groupvine that the Experience was planning to stop by our very neighborhood in a few months as part of its possibly farewell world tour.
In a word then? WOW.
My most-trusted pal Ric scored two tickets in the Gardens’ nosebleed section, and I fibbed to my parents that we were off to a hootenanny (!) for the evening.
Yet no sooner had we approached the venue that word began a-buzzin’ that our hero had just been busted for carrying a batch of non-pharmaceutical mood enhancers into Toronto Airport. Hmm …
Undaunted, we climbed skyward to our seats, sat on sonic needles and pins through both opening acts (the pretty cool Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys — whose big hit “Good Old Rock n Roll” my little band was already struggling to learn — followed by none other than, uh, Fat Mattress) until the one and only Jimi himself sauntered onstage, miraculously only a few minutes late.
Now, considering all the man had already been through that day, I guess it was no real surprise the evening’s set consisted of mainly downcast tunes a la “Red House,” though Hendrix did graciously treat the teenage throng with a quick encore full of that fabled, fiery foxey purpleness of yore.
And then, suddenly, he was gone — Experience and all.
James Marshall Hendrix returned to town briefly that December however, just long enough to be completely exonerated of all narco-charges (“Canada has just given me the greatest Christmas present ever!” he exclaimed to the Toronto Daily Star), but I suppose one could question if, or why, that life lesson ultimately went unheeded.
And I suppose it does say something that out of all the delicately detailed minutiae forever etched upon my grey matter concerning that momentous concert 40 long, long Toronto springs ago, I can still most vividly recall exactly what Hendrix was wearing (Harlem-Asbury chic all the way!), what I was wearing even (don’t ask), the appropriately brilliant weather, the commuter train Ric and I snuck on after we told our parental units we’d just be folking around — hell, I even remember the proto-Bowzer moves Cat Mother & Co. deployed whilst performing their one-hit wonder!
But do I recall a single sliver of the sounds and/or stylings of the Noel Redding-fronted Fat Mattress performance of that same, utterly magical night? No sir, I do not. Which reminds me: Redding himself passed onward and upward to that great big Gardens in the sky six years ago this May 11th.
And the moral, perhaps, to this all? Well, I still find myself revisiting Electric Ladyland on almost as regular a basis as I do the Monkees’ Headquarters.
So, you see, some things, I guess, shall never change.
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.