Rhino Factoids: Jimi Hendrix Bids The Monkees Adieu

Thursday, July 17, 2014
Rhino Factoids: Jimi Hendrix Bids The Monkees Adieu

47 years ago today, one of the most unlikely bills in rock history came to a formal conclusion, but given the way the opening act was treated by the audiences who’d come to see the headliner, it was clearly a mercy killing.

Picture it: 1967, New York, where Micky Dolenz is attending a Monkees press junket. After being informed that he absolutely must see a performance at a nearby club, where a guitarist plays with his teeth, Dolenz pops by the club and gets exactly what he’s been promised. Fast-forward to the Monterey Pop Festival, where – as Dolenz recalled in a 2013 interview with Guitar World – “I'm there watching all the acts: Ravi Shankar, the Who, and everything. All of a sudden, these three guys come on stage dressed in psychedelic outfits, and the guitar player started playing guitar with his teeth. I said, ‘Hey, that's the guy I saw in New York months ago, playing guitar with his teeth!’ We happened to be looking for an opening act, and I suggested Jimi because he was incredibly talented but also very theatrical.”

It was easy enough to sell his bandmates on the idea: Michael Nesmith had been introduced to Hendrix’s work when a tape of the guitarist’s music was playing during a dinner party he’d attended in London with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Eric Clapton, and as a guitarist himself, Tork didn’t need any swaying. If Jones had anything in particular to say about Hendrix signing on as the Monkees’ opening act, it seems to have been lost to history, but on the flip side of things, Hendrix had made his feelings clear on the Monkees in a Melody Maker interview a few months prior: "Oh God, I hate them! Dishwater....You can't knock anybody for making it, but people like the Monkees?" Nonetheless, Hendrix signed on, and it’s not hard to imagine why when you consider how many people would’ve been seeing him as the Monkees’ opening act.

Hendrix’s first gig with the Monkees was on July 8, 1967, in Jacksonville, Florida, and if you were only to go by Michael Nesmith’s reminiscences of the soundcheck, you’d think it was set to be the greatest concert of all time. “It was the first time I ever saw a Marshall amplifier stack, and they fired it up,” recalled Nesmith, in Harold Bronson’s Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees. “He played the first couple of bars of ‘Hey Joe,’ and I was moved back physically about three feet. I had no idea how I’d gotten here. It was like gravity went away for a minute. And I thought, ‘Well, this guy’s from Mars; he’s from some other planet, but whatever it is, thank heaven for this visitation.’ I thought, ‘This is some of the best music I’ve heard in my life.’ That night he opened in front of us, and he walked into the beast. There were twenty thousand pink waving arms. He would sing, ‘Foxy,’ and they would shout, ‘Davy.’ ‘Foxy.’ ‘Davy.’ Oh, man, it was a seriously twisted moment.”

The next six gigs Hendrix did with the group didn’t go significantly better. As Dolenz recalled in a piece on History.com, “Jimi would amble out onto the stage, fire up the amps and break out into 'Purple Haze,' and the kids in the audience would instantly drown him out with 'We want Daaavy!' God, was it embarrassing." No one seems able to definitively confirm if Hendrix actually concluded his final show on the tour – July 16, 1967 – by flipping the bird to the crowd, but given the treatment he received at the hands of the teenybopper-filled audience on those seven dates, it certainly wouldn’t be the most shocking revelation if it turned out to be true.

In the documentary The Monkees Story, Tork can be heard to say of the Monkees / Hendrix pairing that “it didn’t cross anybody’s mind that it wasn’t gonna fly,” which probably says more about the dichotomy between the music the Monkees were actually making and the music they wanted to be making than anything else. Nonetheless, by the time Hendrix made his decision on July 17, 1967 to drop off the tour, his departure can hardly have been a surprise to anyone.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any tracks from those shows to offer you in a playlist, so in lieu of that, we’ll at least still stick to the same general timeframe and give you a chance to listen to the Monkees’ Summer 1967: The Complete U.S. Concert Recordings, taken from the group’s performances during August of that year. Given the topic at hand, though, before you give it a spin, try listening to Are You Experienced? and then try to imagine how well those songs must’ve gone over with kids who’d come to hear “Last Train to Clarksville.”