The 40 minutes that made Jimi Hendrix a legend: a guitar, a match and “sex” on stage

The 40 minutes that made Jimi Hendrix a legend: a guitar, a match and “sex” on stage
The 40 minutes that made Jimi Hendrix a legend: a guitar, a match and “sex” on stage

Jimi Hendrix burns his guitar in Monterey

Forty minutes, a match and a bottle of flammable liquid hit him. Jimi Hendrix to turn one of the great totems in rock history. Well, maybe something else needs to be added to that formula: the movement of his fingers and his pelvis. With all that and a Fender Stratocaster, the Seattle-born guitarist became an unforgettable legend.

It was June 18, 1967, almost six decades ago, in the American musician’s first performance in his own country. That night, in Monterey Pop FestivalHendrix became a prophet in his land. It was because of the virtuosity with which he played the guitar, because of a talent that had not been seen before in a rocker who played that instrument – Jimi Hendrix was the man who made Pete Townshend tell him to Eric Clapton that they were both going to lose their jobs – and also because, after showing off all that, he set his guitar on fire, sat behind him and moved his pelvis as if there was sex between him and the Fenderand waved his fingers as if doing some magic trick to make the fire grow.

The fire was beaten out: after setting it on fire, Hendrix slammed his guitar against the floor and against his amplifiers. The Stratocaster was destroyed in just seconds. The musician had just finished his presentation with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding – together they were The Jimi Hendrix Experience-: the last song of a set of nine songs had been “Wild thing”. Right after that cover by American musician Chip Taylor, Hendrix sought out the flammable liquid and poured it on the Fender. The real wild thing was that fire that was burning in front of about 50,000 people.

Jimi Hendrix debuted on American stages in 1967 and died in 1970 from a barbiturate overdose.

Monterrey, a Californian city that is closer to San Francisco than Los Angeles, was the headquarters of the first major mass festival in the history of rock. There the seed of something that would flourish was sown – in the midst of the explosion hippie– in Woodstock two years later. The organizing committee of the festival was from the big leagues: it was made up Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Brian Wilson and Smokey Robinson.

It was McCartney who did the most lobbying for Hendrix to be part of the festival, which lasted three days and in which they also performed The Who, Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel and The Grateful Dead. The very same Brian Jonesfounding partner of The Rolling Stoneswas in charge of announcing The Jimi Hendrix Experience on stage: “I want to introduce you to a great friend, a compatriot of all of you”said Jones, who would still be a Stone for two more years. “A brilliant performer and the most exciting guitarist that I heard in my life… The Jimi Hendrix Experience!“, I introduce you.

That night, Hendrix played, among several songs, “Like a rolling stone“, he cover of Bob Dylan which the Stones themselves also perform, and also pieces like ““Purple haze” and “Foxy lady, which would become classics of a short discography – and above all, of a career. The Seattle musician first performed in 1966 and, in 1970, due to an overdose of barbiturates, he died at the age of 27.

The entrance of the festival in Monterrey: Jagger and McCartney were part of the organizing committee

The guitar that set fire to and destroyed was a 1965 Fender Stratocaster Fiesta Red. Years later, when Hendrix was already dead and was unforgettable, the guitar manufacturing company developed a line of no more than 200 copies that were sold inspired by those forty consecratory minutes, including pelvic movements and the final bonfire. That kind of sacrifice that Hendrix displayed on stage, that captivated everyone who was at the festival and that came out photographed and told in the newspapers the next day: his name had begun to travel around the world at dizzying speed.

The festival in Monterrey was not the first time that the musician set a guitar on fire. He had tried the tricks of hypnotizing his audience with that same maneuver at the end of March of that same year, in London. It was not his idea but that of a British rock journalist, Keith Altham.

Hendrix’s popularity was growing in England, something that had not yet rebounded in his native country. In pubsbars and theaters in London, some of the most important musicians of that era saw him: They couldn’t believe how he played the guitar. Jimi would end some of his shows by beating his instrument to total destruction. But it was not something unprecedented: Townshend, from The Who, already did it. Then Altham told him to go for more: to set the guitar on fire. Hendrix listened and became excited, all at the same time, and he did not hesitate for a moment to take that step.

Hendrix at his last show, in Germany. Him and a Fender Stratocaster (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

On March 31, 1967, at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London, the musician played none other than “Fire” and ended the song with the guitar on fire. The Monterrey festival would allow him to bring that same vertigo to a mass audience that until then had not been possible. The attempt went well: Rolling Stone magazine said that Hendrix’s performance that night in California had been “a revelation” and “an orgasmic explosion”.

The nine songs that Jimi played in Monterrey – and the presentation that Brian Jones gave him – are heard on the album Live at Monterey that his heirs published in 2007. That publication, with better technical conditions, replaced Jimi play Montereyfrom 1986. On the album you can hear the virtuosity of a guitarist as had not been known until then, and also his ability to stretch the most instrumental parts of his songs, as if by lengthening the notes he could open psychedelic doors to those who listened to him. .

But you can’t see the fire. The ritual, between the sexual drive, sacrifice and destruction, which Hendrix built with a match, a liquid and the idea of ​​another, who believed that that fire could make him the protagonist of an unforgettable night in the history of music. You don’t see Hendrix convincing thousands of people at once that he was a legend.

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