Reaching the Top of the Third Stone From the Sun
55 years ago this month, Jimi Hendrix walked on stage with Eric Clapton and shared a message with the world. But without the right people on his team, it might not have been delivered.
At 23, after a rough childhood, a stint as an Army paratrooper, and time on the road with Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, Hendrix landed in New York City. Dead broke, he was playing a borrowed guitar the night Chas Chandler, bass player for The Animals, caught him at Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village. Chandler imagined the heights Hendrix could reach, offered to manage him, and coaxed him to give the British blues rock scene a try. Carrying a white Fender Stratocaster liberated from Keith Richards’ collection, Hendrix flew off to London with Chandler.
Chandler’s immediate plan for Jimi’s ascent to the top called for securing a guest spot with Eric Clapton’s supergroup, Cream. Clapton, who had been nicknamed “God” by English guitar fans, was about to meet a higher power. Hendrix joined Cream onstage and launched into Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” a tune Clapton had struggled to master. As Hendrix wailed, Chandler watched Cream’s guitarist duck backstage and, shaking, struggle to light a cigarette.
The message was loud and clear.
“He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way,” Clapton remembered later. “He walked off, and my life was never the same again.”
Over the next four years until his untimely death, Hendrix created what many consider to be the greatest body of work in popular music.
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