Hendrix In Harlem @ The Apollo

Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, but in 1946, Johnny’s parents changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix. By the late 1960s, however, the world came to know him as Jimi Hendrix, leader of Jimmy James & the Blue Flames, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band Of Gypsys, and also as the most influential guitarist is rock history.

Jimi Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and began playing gigs on the “chitlin’ circuit,” playing in The Isley Brothers’ backing band and later with Little Richard and Curtis Knight & The Squires before launching his own career in England in 1966. There, Hendrix became a colorfully-dressed guitarist known for extended lead guitar solos using feedback, distortion and other techniques unheard of in his day, playing his guitar behind his back and with his teeth and setting his guitar on fire.

Little known, however, is Hendrix’s early history in New York. Hendrix headed to Harlem in 1963 and won the $25 first prize playing with the house band at an Amateur Night at the Apollo in Harlem in 1964. He returned to the Apollo many times as the lead guitarist for The Isley Brothers and a sideman for Little Richard, Don Covay, King Curtis and Wilson Pickett in 1964 and 1965. Hendrix also reportedly played in numerous Harlem clubs. The British Invasion blues rock band The Animals played the Apollo in 1966, where the band’s bassist, Chas Chandler, met Hendrix. (Other reports indicate that Chandler first heard Hendrix play at the Café Wah? in Greenwich Village, where Hendrix gravitated by 1966.) Chandler became Hendrix’s manager, took him to England, and helped Hendrix form the Jimi Hendrix Experience that same year.

Hendrix achieved fame in the U.S. after his fiery performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The world’s highest-paid performer at the time, he headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Hendrix’s mainstream career spanned only four years before his accidental death from barbiturate-related asphyxia in 1970 at the age of 27.

On Nov. 26, 2016, the Apollo Theater hosted Hendrix In Harlem, a tribute concert on the eve of what would have been Hendrix’s 74th birthday. Rather than a set of “greatest hits,” the tribute traced the road that brought Hendrix to Harlem, from his early foundations in rhythm & blues that defined Hendrix’s pioneering rock experimentation to the electric psychedelic rock that later brought him fame. The concert reimagined the world that Hendrix came from before he became famous, that brought him to Harlem. Hendrix In Harlem balanced interpretations of Hendrix’s lesser-known R&B history with the better-known classic rock from his later years.

Funk/ska-punk/rock band Fishbone became the house band, with band leader Angelo Moore doubling as the master of ceremonies. Guitarist Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers recollected how Hendrix was almost living in the Isley household for about two years. Nona Hendryx of progressive soul group LaBelle recounted early meetings and how she later discovered she and Hendrix were related. Vocalists Saul Williams, Alice Smith and Liv Warfield of Prince & The New Power Generation, and guitarists Gary Lucas and 12-year-old Brandon “Taz” Niederauer of Broadway’s School of Rock, also performed in rotation.