Wednesday, September 23, 2009
1970/04/26 - "Cal Expo", State Fairgrounds, Sacramento, California - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Spanish Castle Magic
Room Full Of Mirrors
Purple Haze »
Star Spangled Banner
Voodoo Child (slight return)
To download an audience recording from this performance, click on this link
Jimi Plays Sacramento (26 April 1970)
by Phil Carson
By the spring of 1970 Jimi Hendrix had arrived at a crossroads in his life and career. His circumstances required decisions, if not solutions.
Hendrix had not toured since June 1969 and had played only a handful of concerts since then. His ad hoc band, Gypsy Suns, Moons and Rainbows headlined Woodstock in August 1969 and performed at the United Block Association's benefit concert in Harlem two weeks later. Although playing with this ensemble undoubtedly contributed to Jimi's development as a musician and served his need to hang out with friends under relaxed conditions, its cumbersome numbers and level of talent didn't promise a touring band. Nonetheless, with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass, this interim group held the seeds for a later, tighter band.
In fall and winter, 1969-1970, Hendrix's experimental Band of Gypsys spent an inordinate amount of time jamming in the studio; then headlined at Bill Graham's Fillmore East on New Year's Eve and Day. But that band too burst apart from various pressures, and disintegrated onstage at the Winter Festival For Peace at New York City's Madison Square Garden on 28 January 1970.
Jimi's recording situation was no less troubled. He hadn't finished more than a handful of tracks since producing Electric Ladyland nearly two years earlier. And Ed Chalpin's contractual claims needed to be addressed... Eddie Kramer spent February 1970 mixing the Band Of Gypsys live LP. It would be released in the U.S. on 25 March 1970. But by that time Jimi had already moved on. He had to be free.
On the brighter side construction resumed on Hendrix's dream studio in New York City, Electric Lady. That meant Jimi had to tour and generate cash. With his predatory manager, Michael Jeffery, undoubtedly applying pressure for a lucrative tour, Jimi flirted with re-forming the Experience. But his feeble attempt to convince Rolling Stone writer John Burks in a farcical interview on 4 February 1970 fell short of convincing and Jimi ultimately balked at Noel's return. Instead Jimi asked old friend Billy Cox to take over on bass guitar, and Mitch Mitchell would resume his role as Jimi's drummer.
At this stage Jimi managed to have his 1970 American tour scheduled for weekends to allow him weekdays to devote to studio work on his envisioned double album, tentatively titled, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. Hendrix and his freshly christened Cry of Love band opened a thirty-date American tour in California with two back-to-back concerts on the last weekend in April 1970. Apparently the new trio established itself in Los Angeles in mid-month to prepare for the tour, though no tapes of those rehearsals have surfaced.
As Cox recalls in the book Jimi Hendrix: Sessions, "After the business at Madison Square Garden I was real suspect. I agreed to come back in February, but that fell apart as well. I didn't hear from Jimi for about a month. Then I got a phone call from him... He promised and promised that I would have no hassles, so, like a fool, I came back for the third time," Cox recalls. "Mitch was cool. He didn't even talk about the Band of Gypsys. He just went about his business... There was a real respect between Mitch and Jimi. We just got down to playing...."
The band quickly caught fire. While less nimble and cerebral than Noel Redding, Billy Cox added a soulful thunder to Hendrix's new band that the thin British bassist never mustered. Mitch Mitchell's amazing technical skills and ability to read the guitarist's mind made him the chosen drummer for any Hendrix group. Jimi could now blend Experience tunes with the Band of Gypsys' more experimental music. More importantly, Jimi would debut fresh compositions with a new sound.
According to Mitch, though the new band could produce great music, there would be little show. Hendrix now largely disdained his earlier histrionics and of course Billy Cox didn't go for flash. In Hendrix's mind the music should speak for itself, though many fans never caught up with him and continued to demand a "show." Behind the scenes, however, The Usual Scene commenced at high pitch. "For the Forum gig we were staying at Rodeo Drive again, at the hotel," Mitch recalled in Inside The Experience. "I had a suite there; [Hendrix] had one with his own private elevator. Talk about hangers-on. I went up to see him once during the week we were there and stayed about two minutes. I thought, 'I don't want anything to do with this.' He didn't want all these people around but he didn't know how to say no."
Nonetheless, Jimi Hendrix somehow managed to overcome the obstacles in his life and transform turmoil into productive energy. Though hardly the ultimate arrangement to fully develop his uncharted talents, Jimi's Cry of Love band would produce some of his best live music to date. In the studio his new compositions and bright, clean sound reflected an artist who had attained a new level of maturity and sophistication. In April 1970 Hendrix headed out on tour with renewed purpose, mixing as much of his new material into his set as possible and exploring the dynamics of his trio. The first show of the tour took place at the L.A. Forum on Saturday, 25 April, and the next day Hendrix & Co. flew north to Sacramento to headline an afternoon, outdoor gig at Cal Expo at the state fairgrounds. California audiences had not seen Jimi since 20 and 22 June 1969, during an outdoor festival with mixed results at the Newport Pop Festival in Northridge.
The L.A. Forum show proved to be a blistering performance that lasted a full hour and a half. The set contained most of the songs that he played the next day at Cal Expo and, indeed, on the rest of his American tour. Seven songs came from the Experience songbook, four from the Band of Gypsys, and three were completely new. Photographs of Jimi at the Forum show capture him in a distinctive, red, white, and blue headband; a dark, ruffled shirt; floral vest; faux leopard skin belt; and black pants with leather patches. It's likely that Jimi enjoyed partying after his show in L.A. Sunrise may have caught him by surprise.
Promoters for the next show at Cal Expo in Sacramento ignored Hendrix's name for his new band and advertised "The Jimi Hendrix Experience in a beautiful afternoon concert." Fans were invited to "bring a picnic lunch, a blanket & a smile." Ironically, an entity known as "Strongwinds" presented the show. Music would begin at 3 p.m. The flyer said "other groups to be announced," and by show time a group known as Blue Mountain Eagle and The Buddy Miles Express would open the event.
On 26 April Hendrix & Co. traveled to Sacramento, California's capital, eighty miles northeast of San Francisco. The state fairgrounds just east of downtown included a large, oval racetrack with a grandstand along the straight-away on the west side. For the concert promoters erected a stage at the foot of the grandstand, facing up into the seats. About 8,000 tickets were sold.
Larry Hulst, 24-years-old and fresh from service as a medic in Vietnam, had been to a Joe Cocker concert the night before in San Francisco with friends and they were a tad burned out. But they weren't going to miss a chance to see Hendrix. Hulst had begun to develop an affinity for photography and he took a camera to the show with a couple rolls of black-and-white film. He'd grown up in Sacramento and had already experienced Hendrix.
"In '67 I bought his first album," Hulst recalls today at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "Then in '68 I took the double album to Vietnam. I played it an awful lot there."
Before packing for Vietnam Hulst had caught the Jimi Hendrix Experience at Balboa Stadium in San Diego on 3 September 1968, and a week and a half later at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento on the 15th. "The first show of Hendrix was far more exciting - just to be in the building with him. He was the best in San Diego. I don't have much of a memory of it, but I thought I'd seen what I needed to see."
As for Cal Expo, Hulst recalls: "It was the largest show [ever] in Sacramento, which meant that everything was two or three times larger in scale - meaning more police, more hassle to get into the place, more area to figure out where you could stand and not be in front of somebody who'd yell at you. Back then there were two groups of people, those who sat down and those who stood up. If you stood up in front of people they would yell at you. That was their job, I guess."
Buddy Miles' opening set left no lasting impression on Hulst. As for the Cry of Love's appearance, Hulst recalls: "I remember Hendrix came in a white limousine and drove into the staging area and walked right up. He didn't have a sound-check."
Steve Avis, now 43 and still living in Sacramento, also attended the Cal Expo show. He too had already seen Hendrix. "I caught Hendrix once with Soft Machine at the Men's Gym at Sacramento State College on 8 February 1968. That was a revolutionary change in music, the best show I ever saw. We were 14 years old, went first through the door, and we got right in front of the stage. If he had reached down I could touch him. He had his Flying V leaning up against an amp. We could hear him talking to Noel and Mitch. The power went out early in the show and he said, 'Aw shucks, just when it was gettin' good.'"
"Every time I saw him I was just totally blown away," Avis adds. "He would go off for a while and you could just totally relate to that. I could relate not just as a guitar player but in a spiritual way. Those major chords made you feel kind of happy, kind of mystical."
As for the Cal Expo show on 26 April 1970, Avis recalled three years ago for Straight Ahead: "It was a sunny afternoon, but patches of clouds scattered the sky. My friend Kent and I stayed in the trailer at my parents house the night before. The next day we headed to the race track at Cal Expo for the concert. We had already bought tickets in advance for $3.75 (those were the days!)... There were a lot of people sitting on blankets and a sweet smell filled the air. The stage was directly in front of us so we sat down with some friends. They had a camera that I had a chance to use...."
"There was a long intermission at which time the stage was being set for Hendrix... A black Stratocaster leaning against one of the three Marshall stacks... Although this was my third Hendrix concert, being a guitarist myself I was anxious to see what new "tricks" he had up his sleeve... Finally they were introduced...."
Photos of Hendrix reveal him with the same choker and medallion 'round his neck and in the same floral vest as the night before. It is hard to tell if he has the same or a very similar dark, ruffled shirt at Cal Expo as at the Forum show the night before. The same red-white-and-blue scarf appears 'round his head. As it is somewhat unusual to see Jimi wear the same outfit two days in a row, there is a possibility that Hendrix did not sleep between the two concerts, nor even changed his clothes. [Note: In color slides taken by James Hill at the Cal Expo gig, Jimi is also wearing an additional red jacket - Caesar Glebbeek.]
Those in charge of stage preparations had stayed up late as well. Aside from the stage construction itself, the Strongwinds promoter (whose identity eludes us) gathered a small crew of young men to create a large, painted backdrop for the stage. One young guy named Craig Chaquico (pronounced cha-kee-so) joined the crew. "I remember going through my brother's albums and finding Are You Experienced," Chaquico says today from his home near San Francisco. "I put the headphones on and, man, it changed my life. Up until then I had been listening to the Beach Boys. I didn't know this stuff existed."
As the Cal Expo date approached, artist Mark Hensen got hired to produce a promotional poster for the concert. Miniature posters served as tickets. "Hensen was also asked to paint the backdrop and asked me and other guys to help him," Chaquico recalls. "He designed it, we helped him paint it. Ourpayment would be to keep any paint and canvas we didn't use. For starving art students that was great. So the production company bought two six foot-wide rolls of canvas, forty feet long. The original backdrop was supposed to be three segments. One segment was to be an American flag. The next was to be a big, trippy peace sign. The other side was to be the English flag, because Jimi's group had American and English musicians."
"I was like 14 or 15 years old, I'm getting backstage the night before. Part of my payment was also supposed to be free tickets too. We stayed up all night painting this backdrop and the American flag goes pretty well. The peace sign went pretty smooth. It's three in the morning. 'Okay, let's do the English flag. What does that look like again? Red with some crosses on it?' We couldn't remember exactly what it looked like. No one had an encyclopedia, it's three or four in the morning, we got to get this thing done, we're running out of time, it's all got to be set-up and no one knows what the damn English flag looks like, at least closely enough to paint it. Logic is maybe not our best asset at that point. Someone says, 'Let's draw the Vietcong flag. It's just a star with a blue and red background.' It made sense to us at that point, but we got so much shit. People either loved it or hated it. But it went up."
For Chaquico this proved to be only the first phase of his Hendrix adventure. "Back then things were not as well-organized as they are now so the promoter hadn't gotten enough crew to handle the stage set-up," he explains. "All of us kids with paint all over our hands and T-shirts got drafted at the last minute to help Hendrix's road crew carry the amps out of the truck and onto the stage. I got to be one of Hendrix's roadies for an afternoon!"
"I remember seeing a big road case with guitar cords, Wah-wah pedals, Fuzz-faces. I had never seen so many pieces of guitar equipment. I would save for months to buy just a guitar chord. Here everything was in this big box. I said something to a roadie like, 'Hey man, can I have one of those Wah-wah pedals?' He thought about it for a second, but said 'No way man! I can't give everybody one of Jimi Hendrix's Wah-wah pedals!'"
"At one point a bunch of kids, who didn't have tickets, were trying to get in over the fence. The promoter suddenly drafted us to become security and said, 'Make sure those kids don't jump over the fence.' So I ran over there and I'm looking at these guys on the other side of the fence and I think, 'What the fuck am I doing? I go to school with those guys! I'm not security, I'm outta here." By some estimates the gate-crashers nearly doubled the paid audience of 8,000.
Sometime during the break between The Buddy Miles Express and the Cry of Love someone threw out hundreds of coffee can lids, or small frisbees, which provided diversion until The Man plugged in.