Jimi Hendrix’s 'Science Fiction Rock n Roll' Takes On Harlem On 27 Club

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This season of 27 Club is examining the life of the epically talented Jimi Hendrix; though he died at the age of 27, his years were full of surreal stories and experiences that many people have no idea about. On this episode, host Jake Brennan tells us about the Harlem block party concert Jimi played in 1969, when he was pelted with bottles and eggs before ultimately winning the audience over. Involved in this story: Jimi’s time in London, the mobsters in charge of the block party, the recurring dreams Jimi would have of his mother “always on her way out, always leaving him behind,” and the struggles Jimi dealt with being a “black man adrift in a sea of white musicians.” 

 

With his characteristic storytelling style, Jake embroiders history with details to put us right on the scene; Jimi, in New York, watching a young boy put up posters proclaiming that Jimi was playing a concert at a Harlem nightclub the next week. The only problem was, Jimi had never agreed to that show. The boy realizes he’s busted, and runs away from Jimi; Jake describes all the people he would have seen in the streets as he evades Jimi and his bodyguards, “the twins,” chasing after him with their “two-pack-a-day lungs.” When they finally catch up with him, the boy’s got friends around, and it becomes clear that this kid is mobbed up. The mobsters get Jimi to agree to play their show for free.

But Jimi Hendrix had a race problem. He was a black man in America, dealing with all the racism and discrimination the 1960s had to offer, but black radio rejected his music, saying it was hippie, psychedelic, white man’s music. “Jimi had a term for it: science fiction rock n roll.” His bandmates in the Experience were white, many of his groupies were white, many of his girlfriends were white – so, all in all, Jimi wasn’t popular in Harlem. His concert there was booed, he was pelted with bottles and eggs, but his unbelievable talent managed to convince many of the people watching that he was worth paying attention to. Much like he had done in London in 1966, he simply could not be denied: after he played there, “Pete Townshend pondered life behind a broom. Jeff Beck considered a career in interior design. Brian Jones turned to Aleister Crowley, Chas Chandler quit playing in The Animals to manage Jimi, and Eric Clapton asked Jimi if he needed a roadie.” 

Listen to the episode to hear more about Jimi’s mob shakedown, his terrible night in Harlem, and much more about the Voodoo Child on 27 Club.

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