Be sure to read Part I and Part II before continuing onto Part III…
When the show had arrived in Music City, “Gorgeous” George Odell, MC/singer of the tour, was in search of a skilled guitarist for his backup band. As if meant to be, this was around the exact time that Hendrix wanted out of his contract with the Club Del Morocco and was now on the hunt for a fresh gig. When the two eventually united, Odell quickly confided in Hendrix that he was invited and welcomed to join the tour, but that Odell would not be able to afford to pay him. Hendrix, who had become acclimated to living a life on little to no means, agreed to the arrangement, asking only to be fed and allotted the opportunity to play live.
This offer would transition into Hendrix’s initial experience as a true touring musician. “His first tour taught Jimi that being a player on the road required, more than anything else, stamina” (Roby, Schreiber 47). Hendrix absorbed a great deal of valuable guidance from his time with Odell. A true entertainer, “Gorgeous” George Odell could captivate audiences from the moment the curtain rose, to the instant it fell back to the floor. Hendrix, used to dingy clubs with limited admission and cramped stages, witnessed a full and grand performance in which Odell’s energy never dropped and the crowd never grew bored. Additionally, Odell portrayed a sense of femininity within his style of performance, a trait not often depicted amongst southern male musicians. Jimi would grow to appreciate this distinctive characteristic of Odell’s, and in later years, began expressing an air of femininity within himself and his style of performance.
Whilst on tour, Hendrix also began working alongside Hank Ballard. Ballard had found success with his song “The Twist,” which had gone on to be popularized by Chubby Checker. A virtuoso similar to Odell, Ballard was known for his on-stage antics and high energy performances. Regardless of his admiration for Ballard, it was the man stood next time him that truly struck a chord with Jimi. Billy Davis, guitarist of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, had enthralled Hendrix years ago when he was nothing more than a teenager with a cheap guitar living in Seattle. At one of the Hank Ballard and the Midnighters shows back in Hendrix’s pre military days, the aspiring guitarist had pestered Davis non-stop, begging with Davis to impart his wisdom and express from where he acquired his musical inspirations. Eventually giving in, Davis divulged tips and tricks to the overly enthusiastic teen, unaware that years later, their paths would cross again. In fact, it was Davis who got Hendrix to switch from strutting the stage with Odell to jamming with the Midnighters.
Hendrix had officially landed his first stint with a nationally recognized touring band. Though an extremely exciting opportunity, one that would prove to teach Jimi a great deal about constant road life and live performances, this experience would also showcase the characteristic’s that had been haunting Hendrix’s professional career since day one. The Club Del Morocco had conditioned Hendrix into a full-time musician, but lacked the repetitive nature of life on the road. The military, however, had trained Hendrix for a life of preparedness, but left the guitarist uninspired and disconnected from his work. In a small club rocking out with the King Kasuals, Jimi had the freedom to play as he pleased, when he pleased, and how he pleased. With the Midnighters, Hendrix was told what to play, when to play it, and how to play it.
Hendrix quickly became known as an outstandingly innovative guitarist who encountered extreme difficulty when forced to take direction, something the majority of musicians have to do in order to make a living. Demanding uniformity and reliability, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters quickly recognized Hendrix’s inability to conform into the guitarist they desired. Davis once said on the issue, “He couldn’t play the music right,” but in all honesty “it might be more accurate to say Jimi refused to play the music the way he was expected” (Roby, Schreiber 49). Due to this circumstance, Hendrix was kicked out of the band, off the tour bus, and left stranded in Knoxville, Tennessee, having to find his own way back to Nashville. Unfortunately, Hendrix’s first tour appeared to end just as quickly as it had begun.
Once back in Music City, an unshaken Jimi Hendrix remained loyal to his musical aspirations and began taking advantage of the abundance of studio work Nashville had to offer. Reunited with his dear friend Billy Cox, it was Cox who, once again, brought Hendrix into a studio with Hoss Allen, the same DJ who had possessed limited admiration for Hendrix’s off the cusp habits. After his swift departure from touring life, it was certainly no secret that Hendrix remained a man of little musical inhibition, playing how he wanted, not how he was told. Due to this strong characteristic, Hendrix and Allen’s relationship did not drastically shift, nor was Hendrix the most precise and celebrated of studio musicians. The difference was that this time Hendrix had grown as a musician since his last encounter with Allen, which landed him on several recordings, and the opportunity to learn a great deal about the recording process.
Despite his struggle to obey requests, Hendrix would continue on his journey as a budding studio musician, working yet again with his musical dichotomy, Hoss Allen. This time however, instead of Cox in the studio with Hendrix and Allen, it was one of Jimi’s early guitar idols, Johnny Jones. Jones had written the blues song “Feels So Bad, Like a Ball Game on a Rainy Day” and had attempted to record it with another band, but the tune was left unfinished on the cutting room floor. Though it took Hendrix several takes to produce the sound Allen and Jones had been searching for, he eventually completed the task and can be heard as the rhythm guitarist on the recording. The song was played on Allen’s radio station, WLAC, and officially marked the start of Hendrix’s long and loving relationship with radio play.
Though Hendrix may not have been the quintessential studio musician, capable of perfectly recreating requested melodies within an instant, he was quickly becoming considered amongst Nashville’s music scene as one phenomenal and unmatched talent. Friend and fellow Nashville guitarist, Larry Lee had been playing with Billy Cox in a band called the Bonnevilles. At the time, the Bonnevilles’ record “Cherokee Twist” had recently pushed Elvis Presley’s “Good Luck Charm” out of the billboard top spot, showcasing their growth in popularity and beginning stages of possible national success. Lee and Cox spoke with band leader, Robert Fisher, about the possibility of hiring on their widely talented friend, Jimi Hendrix.
An official member within a band on the rise, alongside two of his closest mates that supported his unique guitar style, it appeared Hendrix had finally landed the descent fit he had been searching for. Not long after Hendrix joined the band, the Bonnevilles set out gigging across Tennessee. Having grown used to playing for a predominantly African American audiences due to the segregated venues in Nashville, Hendrix and his fellow bandmates experienced performing for white crowds more than they had ever before. Despite the Bonnevilles growth in popularity due to their ability to defy racial lines, the unfortunate truth is they continued to deal with segregation issues in terms of lodging and over all treatment. Through experiences such as these, it becomes easy to imagine the impact this would have over a budding musician such as Hendrix, adding further explanation to his later iconic stand on peace and love.
As the Bonnevilles gained a grander reputation and following across the south, they were presented with an opportunity to tour alongside, the Impressions. Busy promoting their new record “It’s All Right,” the Impressions were an anticipated act, headed for success. Hendrix was later quoted on the experience stating, “The best gig was working with Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. Curtis was a really good guitarist…I learned quite a lot in that short time. He probably influenced me more than anyone I’d ever played with up to that time” (Roby, Schreiber 61). This declaration made by Hendrix adds to the already complex cocktail of priceless lessons he learned while in Tennessee, exposing yet again how crucial this time period was for the young and impressionable musician.
As the tour with the Impressions came to a close, and Hendrix found himself back in Music City, it was at a performance on Jefferson Street that he was approached by a man name Carl Fisher. Fisher was a concert promoter who appreciated in Hendrix what so many other’s found strange. His distinct sound and captivating performance led Fisher to asking Hendrix if he’d like to come back with him to New York, and try out an entirely fresh music scene. As if an answer to his prayers, Hendrix left Nashville, Tennessee, making his way to New York City, the place he had always longed to be.
The southern United States was forced upon a young Jimi Hendrix due to his military sentencing. Possibly the last place the Seattle teenager imagined himself being, it was in Tennessee that Hendrix formed lasting relationships that shaped his career, learned from all-encompassing showmen that rally crowds and inspire all, and developed guitar skills from the men who were the needles weaving through the fabric that is R&B music. Without this formative time, it is difficult to imagine the performer or musician Hendrix would have become. Due to this uncertainty, it becomes safe to assume that Jimi Hendrix’s time in the south was a crucial component on his journey to stardom and international fame.
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.