by Caesar Glebbeek & Joel J. Brattin

The Jimi Hendrix Experience visited Detroit, the largest city in the state of Michigan (in the American midwest), for concert appearances three times between February 1968 and May 1969. In this article we look back at the October 1968 and May 1969 shows at “Cobo Hall.”

Dave Atchison: “During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s Detroit was the music capital of the US. Not only was Detroit the home of Motown, with such acts as the Temptations, the Supremes, and Stevie Wonder, but it was also the innovative center for rock – Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, the MC5 (Motor City 5), Mitch Ryder, etc. The Vietnam War was hot and some of the protest movement began in nearby Ann Arbor with John Sinclair and the White Panthers. Ann Arbor was a place during those summers for free concerts, organized, I believe, through John Sinclair, and usually featuring the MC5 and other local bands. Also, on 15 August 1967 the JHE played two shows at the “Fifth Dimension Club” in Ann Arbor [the venue became a restaurant called “The Whiffle Tree” in the ‘70s]. These days, Ann Arbor still holds an annual ‘Hash Bash’ day.

“I first heard of Jimi Hendrix a couple months after his first record Are You Experienced was released in the States. I was thirteen years old, bought the album and became an instant devotee. It’s somewhat hard to understand today what it was like back than. Stereo recordings were new and rare. Record players were HiFi. By 1967, stereo recordings were becoming the standard. It was in this transition period that Jimi Hendrix hit the US. Are You Experienced was a great leap forward and years ahead of its time. And there were few who saw that Jimi’s music was the future….

“I saw him perform twice at “Cobo Hall,” located on the north side of the Detroit River in downtown Detroit. It was the largest venue (capacity 13,000 seats) at the time in the Detroit Metro-area. And I met and spoke with Jimi for quite a while before his last show in Detroit. It was really quite easy to get to him. Such a nice guy….”

Noel Redding: “November 30 is the date Jimi nearly missed. Mitch and I caught the plane and Jimi never showed. We were met in Detroit by people from Warners and taken to the hotel. [Michael] Jeffery then phoned; “Jimi has freaked out” he says and is refusing to come. I don’t know what Michael said to Jimi but it must have been heavy, for Jimi decides to come at the last minute, though they have to hire a Lear jet to get him there on time. In spite of it all, the show is a good one. Probably played well out of sheer relief.”

Michael Jeffery’s employee Bob Levine told John McDermott the following story: “He had a gig that night in Detroit, at Cobo Hall. This was about 5pm; as far as I knew, he had left. Then in walked Gerry Stickells [into the office in New York City]. I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ He replied, ‘I’ve got a problem. Jimi’s in the car.’ ‘What car! Didn’t he leave at two o’clock?’ Stickells said, ‘I just couldn’t get him to go.’ I asked Stickells to bring him into the office. He agreed but said, ‘I’ll get him in the office but he really doesn’t want to go.’

“I sat Hendrix down in my office but just as I said ‘Jimi’ the phone rang. When the secretary said, ‘Bob, it’s a promoter from Detroit,’ I knew immediately that it was Bob Bageris from Cobo Hall. Bageris said, ‘Listen, I checked reservations at the hotel and the two boys are there with a road manager but there’s no Hendrix.’ Jimi was sitting right in front of me but I assured Bageris that he had left for Detroit some time ago. I then spoke to Jimi. ‘Jimi, I’ll tell you why you have to do this. You don’t have to do this for money. You have to do this because you are Jimi Hendrix and you have over 10,000 people in that hall waiting to see you. You owe it to them. You’ve got to be there, and you know it. I don’t know what it is you’re doing with this cute little shtick; I’m enjoying it, but I’m nervous as hell. I’ve got to be like the Pope’s emissary to get you a charter to Detroit out of La Guardia in a couple of hours.’ Jimi said, ‘Well, I don’t want to put you through all that trouble. It’s not worth it.’ ‘It’s no trouble Jimi,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to be sitting here when they’re rioting in Detroit for a promoter who has given us a lot of dates in the past.’

“After a half hour of cajoling, Jimi finally obliged, so I got straight on the phone to Butler Aviation. ‘This is the Frank Sinatra office,’ I said. ‘Oh yes, sir,’ came the response. ‘We have a slight problem here. Mr. Sinatra has been delayed and must be in Detroit via Lear Jet in the next hour or so.’ ‘Hold on, sir, I don’t know.’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. If you’re going to say no, you tell it to Mr. Sinatra. Because I’m not.’ He came back on the line after a minute and gave us a number and a gate. I knew Stickells would have access to a bag of cash once he arrived in Detroit so I sent them off in the limousine. Then the promoter called again: ‘The first group has gone on and Hendrix isn’t here.’ I didn’t tell him what was going on but I promised him that Hendrix wouldn’t let him down.” [Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight, pp. 236-7.]

Detroit, Michigan, 1 Washington Boulevard, “Arena”/”Cobo Hall” – Concert (20:30). Support: Cat Mother & The All Night Newsboys. Promoter: WKNR. 10,000 people attend.

Dave Atchison: “I was awe-struck at that concert. I remember the electricity in the crowd and the overwhelming power of Jimi’s Strat and Marshalls. It seemed that as he played, each lick sapped more and more strength from my body. By the end of that concert, I was drained. When I left, I laid down on some grass outside “Cobo Hall” looking straight up at the stars, trying to regain the strength to walk home.”

Unknown reviewer: “Congratulations, firstly, must go to Audio Arts in Detroit for the fine way in which they turned Hendrix’s thing into a superflous [sic] shamble of chaotic hostility. Special thanks to Phil Ober of Audio Arts who…denied me an interview with Hendrix (an interview arranged with Hendrix’s manager over a month before the concert) on the grounds that there wasn’t time –which there wasn’t– and told myself and a photographer with me ‘But you can stand right at the front to get some good shots!’

“We thanked him and went to the front, where two rent-a-pigs told us we had to leave. We called over Mr. Ober to clear us, whereupon he asked what the hell we were doing at the front and why we weren’t in our seats. (This is a part of the red tape of musical bureaucracy known as “lying.”)

“Our seats, which were special press review seats given to us free by WKNR, were difficult to sit in without banging one’s head on the Cobo ceiling – a slight exaggeration, but suffice it to say that we could barely see the stage let alone photograph anything on it.

“The actions taken by all concerned in charge were a hairsbreadth short of malicious. (Charlie [Aurenger] –the photographer– tried to get a little closer to the stage and was roughed up by two more rent-a-pigs and sent back to his seat.) To finish off a delightful evening, Hendrix’s show proved why they didn’t want very much publicity. I hate watching a tired band!” [The Fifth Estate, 12-25 December 1968].

The first of the two available tapes of the 30 November 1968 Jimi Hendrix Experience concert at “Cobo Hall” is 40:22 in length. The tape (marred by extreme distortion at the end, and some tape glitches early on) begins with an MC who seems to say “Mitch/Noel/Jimi Hendrix Experience”; the band gets an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Jimi suggests that it will “take about a minute and a half” to get ready, and Noel tries out a few bass runs. Jimi says “Testing, one, two, three. Oh I’m sorry, excuse me. We’re just gonna take about a minute and a half to, like, make some minor adjustments here and there, you know, like to get tuned up and things. Don’t let it be a, you know, drag; it’s part of the show.” The audience cheers, and Jimi tunes his guitar. “Since the last time that y’all seen us, somethin’ like that, like, oh, we haven’t really practiced since then, and like, we’re just gonna be jamming tonight. So you might as well just relax.”

Noel says something about how long they’ve been on the road (they’d been touring in the USA since the end of July), and, after a bit more tuning, says they’d “like to start off with a real old number, recorded a long long time ago”: “Fire.” We hear Mitch Mitchell bang his drums, and Jimi sounds a few guitar chords; the audience applauds, and Jimi jokes “Thanks for waiting. Thank you very much, and now for our next number, we’d like….”

Following a minor tape glitch, a 3:36 version of “Fire” opens the show. Jimi sings “itchin’ desire” in the first verse and “burnin’ desire” in the second, reversing the lyrics of the studio recording; he also says “stop acting so damn crazy” just before the second verse. At the conclusion of the third verse, Jimi sings “Let me stand next to your…,” letting his guitar fill in the blank. The solo begins at 1:05, followed by a somewhat extended bass and drum interlude during which one can hear a female fan cry out “Jimi!” (2:26); in the third verse Jimi sings “Let me stand next to your thing” (2:43).

Jimi says “We’re having slight difficulty, but anyway, we’d like to try to do ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ for you.” Someone on stage whistles, and the audience applauds. Noel says “Our good friend Eric [Barrett, equipment manager] is fixing amplifiers. He comes from Glasgow, you know. You’ve heard of Glasgow, Scotland, a very long ways away. He misses his mother. She’s a haggis.” Haggis is a type of Scottish soup consisting of the heart, lungs, liver, and sometimes intestines of a sheep or calf, boiled in the stomach of the animal; perhaps Noel was punning on “hag”?

Noel repeats the word “haggis” to Jimi, who replies “Oh, right. One, two, three, four,” and begins a succinct 3:23 version of “Spanish Castle Magic.” The audio quality of the tape is sufficiently good to reveal a deep sniff before the word “dragonfly” in the first verse. Jimi gives a 24-bar solo (1:25-2:21) in place of the twelve measures in the studio recording, but the outro solo, starting at 2:50, is not extended.

Jimi, possibly responding to an inaudible request from the audience, says the band would like to play “a song that we know, too. And it goes something like this here. Oh, yeah, it’s dedicated to the Black Panthers, and the American Indians. It’s called ‘I Don’t Live Today, Maybe Tomorrow.’” After a 0:40 drum introduction, the guitar enters; Jimi omits “maybe tomorrow, I just can’t say” from the first chorus. Jimi’s solo begins at 1:46, and includes some sustained feedback and whammy bar work shortly before the second chorus begins at 3:25. The song concludes at 5:53 with quiet, low-pitched guitar tones, after a nearly two-minute outro.

Jimi says he’d “like to do another song. It’s a thing done by one of the grooviest groups in the world. It’s a jam session type song; we’ll play an instrumental of the vocal that was really outasite. And, like, we’re not saying that we’re playing the song because we play it better than the other group; we’re not saying that at all. We’re saying that we dig the group, and like to do it as a memorial or some kind of –whatever you call it– a dedication or something, I don’t know. Anyway, the name of the group is the Cream, and the name of the song is ‘Sunshine Of Your Love.’”

Though Cream recorded the song in the key of D, Jimi plays it in B, starting with four statements of the familiar 2-bar tonic riff, and then switching to a more piercing, “singing” tone for four more before shifting to the subdominant, E. Jimi uses the ascending chromatic turnaround, played in unison with Noel’s bass, that characterizes his own version of the Cream hit. The second verse, which includes some of Jimi’s most creative soloing, begins with a total of six statements of the tonic phrase. At the third verse (1:46), the texture narrows immediately; by 2:15, Noel is playing grumbling, sustained chords on the bass, and Jimi is playing exclusively rhythm. There is some distortion on the tape at 4:10, followed by some sustained guitar notes and a whammy-bar dive; the fourth verse (4:40) is a shortened one, with just four statements of the 2-bar riff before the move to the dominant F# tonality. The fifth verse, like the third, is “free,” with the narrowed texture quickly moving to a drum solo (5:30-7:37). The sixth verse, like the second, gives six statements of the tonic riff, and the song ends in the seventh verse, with the Experience playing the riff increasingly slowly, coming to a conclusion on E at 9:03, three notes before completion of the seventh statement of the basic riff on B.

Jimi says “And then we’re gonna do this other song, that we did on–oh–oh, yeah, we’re gonna do another song, yeah. Anyway, dig… We’re gonna do a song that we recorded on our third LP. It’s called Electric Ladyland…” [Electric Ladyland, released the previous month in the USA, entered the charts on 19 October 1968 and reached #1 in the USA.] “Like to do a song called ‘Voodoo Child (slight return)’ though.”

Audience response is mixed, perhaps because a segment hoped for an earlier, more familiar song; Jimi adds “We’ve forgotten the words to the other songs,” and notes that though he was “really sincere” when he wrote earlier material, “we’re recording a new LP now, so we’ll play that.” The characteristic wah-wah-ed opening of “Voodoo Child (slight return)” is greeted with applause, but the song ends on this tape at 0:59, before the first vocal verse begins.

5:24 of “Red House” comes next, in a hideously distorted version: right and left channels drop out intermittently (both channels quit entirely, affording some relief, from 2:34-2:56); the speed is much too slow, and wobbles, inducing seasickness; and chipmunk voices frequently intrude. The opening of the song is missing, as are the first and second vocal verses. As a vastly superior recording of “Red House” appears on the second audience tape (discussed immediately below), we will give no more attention to this song here, beyond noting that the third and final vocal verse, concluding with “If my baby don’t love me no more, I know good and well her sister will,” is audible shortly before the tape cuts short (omitting only the last few notes).

The tape cuts directly into some horribly distorted, slowed-down noise, with chipmunk vocals in the left channel – the fidelity is dismal. After 2:17 of low-fidelity nightmare cacophony, one can hear a distorted, unaccompanied guitar playing the “Voodoo Child (slight return)” riff in the right channel (nothing, at this point, in the left), gradually slowing as if drawing to an end. At 3:36, dental soloing is evident, followed by a descent, applause, feedback, and at 4:08 an end, followed by Jimi’s badly-distorted “thank you very much.”

We are at a loss to explain the final ten minutes of this tape; the best theory is that perhaps the taper caught all of “Voodoo Child (slight return),” and then (for whatever motive) rewound his tape, recording bits of “Red House” over what he’d just captured previously.

The second tape of this same show, originally recorded on a 5-inch reel-to-reel, runs 41:05 in length and is significantly different from the first, both in terms of audio quality and musical material. Like the first tape, the second one begins with “Fire,” though this tape begins without any MC, introduction, or comments from the stage. The opening measures are clipped, too – but surely not more than the first four or five seconds of music are missing, as we have a full 0:16 before the first verse. On this tape, running at a more regular speed (Jimi is consistently tuned one half-step flat, as we would expect), the slightly incomplete song lasts 3:40, four seconds longer than the complete version from the other source; the female cry for “Jimi!” during the bass and drum interlude is not audible on this tape.

“Spanish Castle Magic” and “I Don’t Live Today” are nowhere to be heard on this tape; next up, without any introduction and with the first two-bar riff omitted, is “Sunshine Of Your Love.” At 9:27, this is some 24 seconds longer than on the other (complete) tape.

Without any introduction, and again without the opening seconds, Jimi’s original 12-bar blues “Red House” is heard, fortunately free of the tape-distortion disfiguring the version on the other tape. The opening chorus does not feature Jimi’s characteristic figure at the 10th and 11th frets of the three highest strings, but in the first bars of the second verse, Jimi alludes to his usual opening. The third chorus is the first vocal verse, which Jimi concludes by singing “I ain’t been home to see my baby in about, let’s see now, ninety-nine and one-half days.”

Next up is the second vocal verse; Jimi laughs before singing “I got a bad, bad feeling that my baby don’t live here no more.” “That’s all right; I still got my guitar” introduces chorus five, the first of six fine instrumental choruses. The fiery sixth chorus features high bent notes and some nimble double-pulloffs in the opening bars; the seventh changes the pace with quiet, jazzy rhythm work. The eighth begins with unaccompanied, slow lead playing, but the intensity picks up with Jimi’s introduction of the wah-wah pedal in the fourth measure, and the rest of the band joins in at the end of the chorus. Jimi opens the ninth chorus with a nearly complete measure of silence; the tenth chorus features some of his speediest picking. The eleventh chorus, undoubtedly the last, is incomplete: it is the third and final vocal verse, but it cuts off at the end of the second line, at “Lord, I might as well go back over yonder, baby, way over yonder, ‘cross the hill,” yielding a total time of 11:52.

The next song, also without introduction, is “Foxy Lady.” The first few seconds may perhaps be trimmed, but in any case Jimi’s feedback introduction is extraordinarily long: Jimi draws it out to 39 seconds. Jimi’s 28-bar solo (2:30-3:39) extends far beyond the length of the studio version. In the following chorus, Jimi substitutes “I’ve made up my mind” for “I’m gonna take you home”; he also omits the phrase “comin’ to get you” before the outro. The song concludes at 4:52.

After a brief gap of perhaps a second, “Hey Joe” begins. As usual with this tape, the first second or two of the song are missing, but we still have more than half of the second measure. Jimi plays a solo after the second verse, from 1:36-2:00; his outro solo includes the characteristic sound of dental enamel meeting the strings. The song concludes at 3:56, and Jimi, perhaps referring to his now very out-of-tune low E string, says something like, “Yeah, that’s what you get for playing with strings; that’s what you get.”

In response to an inaudible audience request, Jimi continues with: “Like to say, thank you for even thinking about that song; thank you very much. And now we’d like to do ‘Purple Haze.’” He then says, apologetically, “‘Manic Depression’–I wish we could do it, man. You know, like we only have about two minutes left, you know. The cat’s gonna turn off the [electricity in the] hall if we don’t get off the stage very soon, which is a very bad drag.”

Jimi tunes up, and continues: “This thing here, this song here is dedicated to all the plainclothesmen in the audience and other narcotics; it’s a thing called ‘Purple Haze.’” More tuning. “You probably notice that you hear distortion here and there. Well–it’s true; yes, you are really hearing it.” The audience laughs, and Jimi explains: “I’m only playing with about two speakers, and [pointing to Noel] like he’s playin’ with about three and a half. And like, there you go, playin’ on ashes, nothin’ but shadows. So you know… Like to say thanks very much, though, for coming. You know this is our last gig – tomorrow night’s our last gig we’ll do in the States for a long time.” [The JHE’s tour concluded the following night, on 1 December 1968, in Chicago; the band did not play another concert in the USA until 11 April 1969.] “It’s been really groovy for the last two months, you know.”

More tuning, followed by Jimi’s announcing the title again: “Purple Haze.” This 4:53 version begins with an extended statement of the two-bar E7#9-G-A progression –sixteen measures, in place of the usual four– perhaps in an attempt to wrinkle out some technical difficulty; the first verse begins only at 0:53. Jimi clearly sings “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy” (1:08), possibly pointing to Mitch. From 1:35-1:54, Jimi plays a solo very similar to the one on the original studio recording, but from 1:54-2:42 he offers another improvised one. In the outro and solo, “not necessarily stoned” is clearly audible (3:35); Jimi’s closing cadenza includes more dental playing, starting at 3:55 and ascending to the very highest pitches on the guitar (4:26) before both the song and the tape end.

FRIDAY, 2 MAY 1969
In 1969, Jimi & Co. returned to “Cobo Hall.” The band hadn’t performed for nearly a week (their last live show was on 27 April at the “Oakland Coliseum” in California, where Jack Casady joined them briefly on stage). The JHE flew from New York City into Detroit on 2 May.

Dave Atchison: “My friend and future step-brother Frank Osako and I had our tickets and we were ready and looking forward to our second Hendrix concert. What I didn’t know was that Frank had been calling downtown Detroit hotels that afternoon trying to find Jimi. Frank told me that he had found Jimi at the “Pontchartrain Hotel” (located at 2 Washington Boulevard, directly across Jefferson Avenue from “Cobo Hall”), had been put through to his suite with no questions asked, and had spoken with Jimi on the phone. And incredibly, Jimi had asked Frank to stop by his hotel room if he had some free time before the upcoming concert!

“Frank and I went to the hotel room and knocked on the door. The door opened, and there was Jimi. I was fifteen years old… I could describe it in a thousand or more words and still never could relay the feelings I had. Here I was one-on-one with the greatest electric guitarist of all time (still is!), a living legend, a man who was a rock and roll lightning rod… And here he was a few feet away, inviting us into his privacy with a smile on his face and interested in spending time with us before his concert!

“It seemed odd for some reason that the world’s greatest guitarist was asking us into his suite. Sitting on the couch in this large living room was a blonde-haired young woman (I later found out that she was the aunt of Sharon Bertolotti, a friend of mine at Cerveny Jr. High School in Detroit), watching a Detroit Tigers game on TV. It was so mundane – like walking through the front door of a neighborhood friend’s house, baseball game on TV.

“We stood there just inside the door and spoke to Jimi, asked him questions, we laughed together. He was soft-spoken, self-effacing, curious about us – a warm and generous person. Jimi was almost like a child and seemed more interested in us than we were in him. What did we think, what music did we like? We spoke like this for what must have been thirty minutes, then walked out the door. Not through yet, Jimi came out into the hall; we talked some more and he shook our hands. I remember gripping that incredible right hand, the hand that fingered the licks of music revolution. His fingers were long and thin, his grip was cool and soft.

“I was carrying my camera gear, a tripod, and a hard cover lens case for my 400mm Tele-Astranar. Jimi autographed my lens case with his address and asked that I send him some photos from the concert later that evening. I’ve still got the lens-case – it says:

Jimi Hendrix
27 E 37th St
personal & private

Then we walked across the street to “Cobo Hall,” and that night, for us, he was truly electric….”

Detroit, Michigan, 1 Washington Boulevard, “Arena”/”Cobo Hall” – Concert (20:00). Support: Fat Mattress; Cat Mother & The All Night Newsboys. 6,000 people attend.

Unknown reviewer: “In the past year Jimi Hendrix, more than any other first line star, has been promoting unknown acts which he personally liked. The first of these groups was the Soft Machine… The next was the Eire Apparent… The third group Jimi found, Cat Mother, look like they are about as close to assured stardom as any group in recent memory….

“Cop control was so tight at the Cat Mother-Jimi Hendrix concert that any attempt by anyone to get out of their seat was met by a barrage of flashlights and threats of immediate eviction. As at the last Hendrix concert [at “Cobo Hall”] when Charly Aurenger, our photography editor, was harassed by the rent-a-cops while trying to photograph Cat Mother, though this time he had a back stage pass. [When] two spectators jumped up from their seats to dance, they were literally chased out of the hall by the cops. They even tried to show their contempt for the music by parading back and forth in front of the stage with their fingers in their ears (or maybe they were just picking them).

“But anyway, Jimi answered their attempt to stifle the energy of his performance with one of the most beautiful displays of crowd-psychology I’ve ever seen any rock star use.

“Announcing he only had time for two more numbers, Jimi did a brief dedication for which he said “[it] used to be a patriotic song,” then played the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ as a guitar solo with some heavy riffs, lots of feedback and a few strains of ‘Dixie’ thrown in. The Experience then broke immediately into ‘Purple Haze,’ at the conclusion of which both Jimi and Noel Redding thanked the audience for coming down. Much of the crowd stood and began to leave and the cops started to relax. The weirdos were all going to go home now.

“Then, as if it had been carefully rehearsed, the group broke into ‘Voodoo Chile’ [sic]…and caught the efficient security control completely off guard. Too many people were out of their seats to be forced back and when many of them started running down on the main floor, the cops just freaked and rushed to the front of the stage to protect something, though I don’t think they knew just what.

“Getting everybody up didn’t really prove anything but it sure scared the hell out of most of the rent-a-whatevers.” (Creem Vol. 2 #2, 15 June 1969).

Dave Atchison: “Frank Osako had a darkroom in his basement. A week or so after the concert we developed the rolls of black & white film and made contact sheets. Then we made prints of some of the best shots and lent the whole package (negatives included) to another amateur photographer friend of ours, Clifford Crosby. About a month later he told us that everything had been stolen.

“It was a year or so later when I saw that one of my May 1969 Jimi pictures had mysteriously ended up on the front cover of a bootleg double LP with the L.A. “Forum” show from 25 April 1970, called A Portrait Of Jimi Hendrix. Well, that’s my story.”

NB Special thanks to Dave Atchison for his valuable research assistance. Also thanks to Jack Bodnar, Jon Price, Noel Redding, and Christian Nötzli.

First published in UniVibes #28, April 1998

Copyright 1998 UniVibes, International Jimi Hendrix Magazine

All Rights Reserved.

E-mail: univibes@tiscali.it