by Randy Albright

On Saturday 9 October 1965, the Isley Brothers plus Booker T and the MGs performed at Bowman Gymnasium on the campus of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. Jimmy (not yet known as Jimi) Hendrix played guitar with the Isley Brothers on that day.
An interesting snapshot of Hendrix from this event turned up in the 1966 yearbook, published the following spring. In fact, this may very well be the last ever photo of him taken while he was employed by the Isley Brothers, as just six days later (15 October) “Jimmy” signed a three-year contract with Ed Chalpin for PPX Inc. in New York City. Hendrix then went on tour with Joey Dee and the Starliters in November 1965.

I learned of the possibility of this new Hendrix photo in 2001, shortly after I started teaching a ‘Music of Jimi Hendrix’ college course at Indiana University School of Music at IUPUI Indianapolis. I was speaking to my friend Rod Kersey, whose family has owned and operated the local music store in Greencastle since the sixties. When I brought up Hendrix’s name, Kersey immediately volunteered that Hendrix had played at DePauw University in 1965. My jaw dropped!

Kersey then went on to tell me that he and his friend Steve Michael were in attendance that evening (both were students at Greencastle High School at the time). Kersey’s father dispatched Rod to deliver some PA equipment to Bowman Gymnasium, where the dance took place. Michael was there to see Steve Cropper play. Kersey also casually mentioned that there was “supposed to be” a photo of Hendrix in the DePauw yearbook for the following year.

At this point, my antenna went up. With help from my mother, a former DePauw secretary, I obtained a copy of the yearbook. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I turned to page 32, and saw the photo of Hendrix playing his heart out. I then visited the DePauw Library, and searched through old issues of the DePauw student newspaper. I was fortunate to find a mention of the “Fall Opener” dance in an announcement on the front page of the 4 October 1965 issue [reproduced below] for the upcoming (annually sponsored) ‘Derby Day’ event. I also found a subsequent review of the 9 October 1965 event, but unfortunately, the review made no mention of the bands (typical for this time).

According to eyewitnesses Rod Kersey and Steve Michael, the Isley Brothers set up on one end of the gymnasium, and Booker T and the MGs on the opposite end. This arrangement enabled the groups to alternate sets. Rod Kersey’s father owned and operated the local music store in Greencastle, and Rod was delivering sound reinforcement equipment.

Kersey: “We were kids, sixteen… I was taking a Leslie cabinet out there for my dad. When I heard Hendrix playing guitar, I was amazed. We even somehow got up the nerve to talk to him after the show. He introduced himself as James Marshall Hendrix. You could tell even then that he was something special on the guitar.”

Both Kersey and Michael agree that Hendrix was amazing on guitar, performing many of his tricks – playing behind his back, playing with his teeth, etc. They also agree that Hendrix watched guitarist Steve Cropper intently during the MGs set. Michael: “Hendrix studied his every move on the guitar. He seemed to be making Cropper kind of nervous.”

“Singers and Swingers” is the title of the photo essay dedicated to music and dancing on pages 32 and 33 in the 1966 DePauw University Mirage, their yearbook. These pages include six photos, arranged to tell the story of rock and roll on the campus of DePauw University during 1965-66.

The caption above the Hendrix photo reads, ”Let’s see now – the instruction manual said…” This photo shows him concentrating hard on the neck of his sunburst Fender ‘Jazzmaster’ guitar with maple neck. Jimmy has a Beatles haircut – a rather bad one, too! He’s wearing a white suit and black tie, with a lighter tie tack. It’s a fairly tight image – except for Jimmy and his Jazzmaster, all we see is part of a drum set, and to Jimmy’s left, part of an elbow of somebody dressed in the same color jacket as Hendrix’s.

The photo next to Hendrix shows an attractive coed, wearing shades. The caption reads, “For this DePauw Go-Go girl, happiness is a warm Friday and a combo.” She’s facing right, and appears to be looking with enjoyment at the next photo to the right (probably it’s Kelly Isley). The caption reads, “One of the famous Isley Brothers takes the mike and moves into the spotlight for a solo.” He’s got one of those Shure mics known as an “Elvis mic,” and appears to be singing right to the DePauw “Go-Go girl” to his left and downward. These two photos have obviously been arranged this way to produce the illusion that they are looking deeply into each other’s eyes in mutual admiration.

The way these six images were arranged, it seems plausible that the editors may have been trying to pass Jimmy Hendrix off as a DePauw student! Maybe the Mirage editors realized that they didn’t have enough pictures of black DePauw University students? I counted eight African-Americans among the student body in the 1966 yearbook, and only one person of color (besides Jimmy and Kelly) among the dozens of candid shots. That’s out of a student body of 500-800.

Although there were six photographers listed in the yearbook, only two were credited in subsequent coverage of the DePauw “Fall Opener” event. Eventually, I was able to track one of them down, but as James Fletcher did not remember taking the images, Daryl E. (Chris) Christianer was most likely the photographer. His last known address (in Texas) dates from 1985, and I have been unable to locate him. In the meantime, it is great to know that Hendrix stopped by in my hometown, Greencastle, Indiana, back in 1965.

First published in UniVibes #43, December 2002

Copyright 2002 UniVibes, International Jimi Hendrix Magazine

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