Be sure to read “The Genesis of Jimi Hendrix: Part I” prior to continuing onto Part II.
Nashville in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was on an exceptional musical climb. In fact, “one-half of all American recordings were issued from Nashville when Jimi and his bandmates arrived” (Roby, Schreiber 32). There was an exponential expansion of music row, the grand presence of RCA and Columbia, the formation of the Country Music Association, and the creation of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Essentially, Nashville had quickly solidified itself as the headquarters for country music. Not to mention that “there were a number of studios in Nashville, and the “Nashville Sound” had developed around a small group of musicians who played on the majority of Nashville recording sessions,” marking Nashville as a prime location for aspiring studio musicians (Cusic 1).
On the opposite end of this country music spectacle, were the rhythm and blues hubs of Jefferson Street and Printer’s Alley. In 1962, race issues and segregation remained heavily prevalent within Nashville, segregating a large majority of entertainment venues. This discrimination forced Hendrix and company into performing at specific clubs, while simultaneously keeping them out of others. Due to this separation of races, Jefferson Street became the home of the King Kasuals and other talented African American musicians of the time. A mecca of music, Jefferson Street regularly produced jazz, soul, and blues genres, while having the likes of Ray Charles and Duke Ellington grace its stages.
Despite Jefferson Street’s lively music scene, the truth was that Hendrix longed to be performing in New York City or Chicago. Desiring a larger city where his sound may have been more accepted, it was Cox who convinced a young Hendrix to make the move to Music City, telling his friend, “we got to start somewhere” (Sisk). Hendrix himself would later state that Nashville was “one of the hardest audiences in the South…Everybody knows how to play guitar. You walk down the street and people are sitting on their porch playing more guitars…That’s where I learned to play, really, in Nashville” (Roby, Schreiber 31). Though not his first choice, the Nashville competition forced Hendrix, and those alike, to continuously improve, while simultaneously providing them with live, in-person blue prints on exactly how to get it done.
The Club Del Morocco proved to be the perfect classroom for this one-of-a-kind musical lesson. Now performing on a regular basis, Hendrix was granted the opportunity to gain the immense amount of experience he had been missing while weighed down by his commitment to the military. Additionally, the founder of the Club Del Morocco, Theodore Acklen, provided free room and board to the band in an apartment above his beauty salon, Joyce’s House of Glamour. “Jimi ran into the likes of Aretha Franklin and Etta James getting their hair done downstairs at the House of Glamour in preparation for upcoming Del Morocco gigs” (Roby, Schreiber 32). Although the apartment above the beauty salon was less glamour and more bare essentials, Hendrix now had the freedom to focus solely on his music, while consistently encountering and learning from a number of the greatest acts from the 1960’s.
The King Kasuals were essentially the Club Del Morocco’s house band, playing together multiple times a week, as well as backing outside singers and musicians. This position not only provided Hendrix with countless hours of playing each week, but the priceless experience of performing with hundreds of other musicians from various genres and backgrounds. Exposed to an array of talents and styles, it was during this flourishing time period that Hendrix encountered what he had appeared to be yearning to find, the experimentalist guitarists of the south.
Though the musicians in Nashville had a differing sound then that of which Hendrix was aiming to produce, their performance styles wowed crowds, thrilled women, and inspired all, including the budding King Kasuals guitarist. One guitarist, Alphonso Young, especially caught Jimi’s eye. Talented enough to play behind his head and with his teeth, it was then that Hendrix began to recognize that, beyond sound, there was a vast array of artistic expression a guitar was capable of producing. An imaginative player from the very start, this discovery greatly impacted Hendrix as a performer while he was in Nashville, as well as when he went on to become one of popular music’s most well-regarded players. An instant and profound example of this theme taking effect would be when Hendrix legendarily set his guitar on fire during two separate occasions, one being at the iconic, Monterey International Pop Festival of 1967.
Based off of this experimental inspiration, Cox provided Hendrix with an outrageously long guitar cord. The cord, which had quarter-inch plugs at both ends, made it possible for Hendrix to hop off stage, dive into the crowd, and make the audience feel more connected to the music, as well as the individuals performing it. “Jimi wanted to play outside the front door of the clubs,” Cox would later say, emphasizing just how important it was to Jimi to spark fan reactions, bring people inside, and leave them begging for more (Roby, Schreiber 36). These sorts of adjustments in their performance styles created a distinctive experience that audiences would go on to remember and hopefully promote to their friends.
Another extremely important relationship Hendrix began to develop during his time in Nashville was with blues guitarist, Albert King. A left handed guitarist like Hendrix and desperate to play from an early age, King begun learning guitar from a wire attached to brick wall. He’d later go on to have to hits such as, “I’m a Lonely Man” and “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong.” Admired by Hendrix, King took the time to expose Jimi to his own personal style and unique interpretation on certain chords and notes. This friendship would continue to blossom long passed Hendrix’s time in Nashville as King, Hendrix, and Janis Joplin would later dawn the stage together for an impromptu performance.
Regardless of the endless amounts of music based knowledge they had gained at the Club Del Morocco, when their yearlong agreement came to a close, both Cox and Hendrix began to feel frustrated and confined by their situation. Acklen, club owner, paid the band a minute income, believing that his providing boarding and job security covered more than enough of what the group had earned. Itching for a change, Nashville provided Hendrix with yet another opportunity to continue his musical growth. A popular Rhythm and Blues tour descended upon Nashville with an expansive and impressive lineup. A wide variety of musicians and singers alike, two of the biggest names at the top of the bill were a young, Aretha Franklin and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. With such a grand ensemble, it took an extremely charismatic and comedic MC to keep the show on track and the audience entertained, luckily the troupe had legendary showman, “Gorgeous” George Odell leading its way.
Part III coming soon…
Cusic, Don. “Nashville Recording Industry.” Tennessee Encyclopedia, Tennessee Historical Society, 1 Mar. 2018, tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/nashville-recording-industry/. Accessed 3 August 2018.
Hendrix Exhibit. The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville, TN.
“Jimi Hendrix.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 22 Feb. 2016, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/jimi-hendrix-jimi-hendrix-biography/2743/. Accessed 3 August 2018.
Roby, Steven and Brad Schreiber. Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads toPsychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius. vol. 1st Da Capo Press ed, Da Capo Press, 2010. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.mtsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e0 0xna&AN=590963&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Sisk, Chas. “Curious Nashville: Why Did Jimi Hendrix Play Jefferson Street?” Nashville Public Radio, 4 Jan. 2017, http://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/curious-nashville-why-did-jimi hendrix-play-jefferson-street. Accessed 3 August 2018.
Ward, Ed. “Jimi Hendrix, Before He Was Famous.” NPR, NPR, 21 Dec 2010,www.npr.org/2010/12/21/132231192/jimi-hendrix-before-he-was-famous. Accessed 3 August 2018.