One of the strangest pairings in Rock ’n’ Roll history took place 50 years ago this summer. Pop mega-stars The Monkees embarked on a U.S. tour and enlisted The Jimi Hendrix Experience to open for them. Yes. You heard that right. Here’s what happened when Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees.
In retrospect, the pairing seems incomprehensible. The ultimate in pop music, The Monkees, whose early hits featured only session musicians, combined with arguably the greatest rock guitarist of all time in Jimi Hendrix. Sounds like a match made in hell. And in many respects it was, particularly for the audience. Yet, at the time, miraculously, it made sense to both parties.
The Summer of 1967
Go back to the summer of 1967. The Summer of Love was in full swing. Monterey Pop Festival had just concluded. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was on the top of the charts. In short, pop music was changing. Psychedelia was ascendant, as was harder rock.
The Monkees had lived on the top of the charts, both singles and albums for the better part of a year. And their television show was immensely popular. Yet they felt they still had much to prove to the world. They longed to be respected for their musical talents, and desired to showcase their budding songwriting abilities. In their minds, they needed musical credibility.
Hendrix, on the other hand, was still an unknown in much of the U.S. The Experience had been in England for most of the previous year, honing their sound and gaining an enthusiastic following, including such rock luminaries as Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. Despite Hendrix’s groundbreaking performance at Monterey Pop, few knew who he was, and so he needed exposure.
The result was this unlikely pairing. The Monkees felt that Hendrix’s overwhelming talent would somehow give them some musical credibility, while Hendrix simply needed people to hear him play, in the hope of developing a following and a reputation. And no one would draw larger crowds than The Monkees. (Keep in mind, The Beatles were done touring by this time.)
What Could Go Wrong?
The tour was scheduled for 29 dates, starting at The Hollywood Bowl. Hendrix joined the tour after it had begun, with his first show coming on July 8 in Jacksonville, Florida. Hendrix was not real happy about the arrangement, having previously called The Monkees’ music “dishwater”, but he went along. As it turned out, he got along fabulously with the four Monkees. And they loved getting to see his show every night. It was the audience that had a problem.
Most of the attendees were young kids, along with a parental unit or two to act as chaperones. And they came to hear The Monkees pop hits. Instead, the shows opened with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Right in front of them was a black guy playing guitar, sometimes with his teeth, dressed in psychedelic clothing, and moving onstage in an erotic manner. At times it looked like he was making love to his guitar. This did not go over well with the teeny-boppers and their parents.
Hendrix opened his show with “Purple Haze”. But the crowd would shout “We want Davy!” or “We want The Monkees” in an effort to drown out The Experience. Jimi would try to engage the crowd during “Foxy Lady” by getting them to sing “Foxy…Lady”. Instead, they would scream “Foxy…Davy!”
By the 16th of July, Jimi had had enough. During a show in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, he flipped off the audience, threw down his guitar, and stormed off-stage. And just like that, the strangest pairing in rock music history ended.
Music critic Lillian Roxon had tagged along for the tour, and wrote a piece explaining Jimi’s abrupt departure. It was strictly intended as a joke. She wrote that the Daughters of the American Revolution complained his show was “too erotic” and that he was “corrupting the morals of American youth.” Further, the group had demanded the promoters remove him from the tour. Unfortunately, the main-stream press failed to grasp the humor, and reported her tongue-in-cheek story as truth. It quickly grew into the accepted truth, eventually reaching legendary status, despite being nothing more than satire. Indeed, for most of my life, that was the only explanation I ever heard about this most odd tour pairing.
And so, when Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees, things didn’t work out well, despite the best of intentions.
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