It’s hard to wrap your mind around such an odd pairing, but on July 8, 1967—48 years ago today—the Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for the pre-fab American pop group the Monkees, then in the middle of a national tour. It was, of course, a disaster.
There is a widely circulating rumor that the flamboyant lead singer/guitarist was unceremoniously booted off the tour for being “unsuitable” to the teen audience, but that’s not true. The sadder truth is that the teens screamed continuously for their teen idols over his masterful playing.
“God, was it embarrassing,” says Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz.
Monkees keyboardist/bassist Peter Tork recalls, “Jimi would amble out onto the stage, fire up the amps, and break into ‘Purple Haze,’ and the kids in the audience would instantly drown him out with, ‘We want Davy [Jones, Monkees singer]!’ ” Tork says the disparity between the two groups never dawned on the promoters. “Nobody thought, ‘This is screaming, scaring-the-balls-off-your-daddy music compared with the Monkees,’ you know? It didn’t cross anybody’s mind that it wasn’t gonna fly.
“And there’s poor Jimi, and the kids go, ‘We want the Monkees, we want the Monkees.’ We went early to the show and listened to what this man could do because he really was a world-class musician.”
The Monkees were such fans of the 22-year-old guitarist that they reportedly didn’t mind whether he fit in or not, they just wanted to watch him play. “The Jimi Hendrix Experience,” recalls singer/songwriter Mike Nesmith, “were the apotheosis of sixties psychedelic ribbon shirts and tie-dye, they had pinwheels for eyes and their hair was out to here ... I thought, ‘Man, I gotta see this thing live.’
“So that night, I stood in front of the stage and listened to Hendrix at sound check. And I thought, ‘Well, this guy’s from Mars; he’s from some other planet, but whatever it is, thank heaven for this visitation.’ And I listened to him play the sound checks and the concert. I thought, ‘This is some of the best music I’ve heard in my life.’“
Listen to the radio promo announcing Jimi’s appearance with the Monkees and describing him to listeners not yet familiar with his music:
Mike Nesmith talks about the pissed-off promoters, families and priests:
Hendrix had hit the charts in the U.K., but he needed to keep fanning the flames after his Monterey Pop Festival performance only weeks earlier. Promoter Dick Clark offered him the opportunity to join the Sundowers and Australian singer Lynn Randall on the Monkees’ tour and he couldn’t pass up the exposure to huge American audiences.
Hendrix made his debut on the tour at the Coliseum in Jacksonville, Florida. Seven shows later, tired of the unappreciative audiences, he asked to be let out of the contract. It was his sudden departure and complaints from the Daughters of the American Revolution about his “erotic” performances that sparked the disparaging rumor that he had been kicked off the tour. We now know that he left of his own volition, though not before flipping off the audience in Forest Hills Stadium, New York, and storming off stage.