On September 6, 1968, six months after his homecoming concert at the Seattle Center Arena, Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) returns to Seattle, but this time to play the larger Seattle Center Coliseum. The Arena show had engendered local pride but garnered mixed reviews because of the loud volume and poor audio mix. The Coliseum show would cast Hendrix in a better light, though he still failed to wow the critics. "Under the circumstances, Seattle's native son could be forgiven if his performance was less than great. It was good," wrote The Seattle Times. "Hendrix' trio has a heavy-metals blues sound. Last night, most of their numbers started in abstract fragments that grew into a rich brown gravy of beat and sound" ("Blues Show Goes On ...").
During his visit to Seattle in February 1968, Hendrix had spent most of his limited amount of free time with his family at their home at 7954 Seward Park Avenue S. This time would be different. Some of his childhood musician pals, including guitarist Pernell Alexander (b. 1942) and bassist Ranleigh "Butch" Snipes, made plans to meet him. Alexander had been a bandmate with Hendrix in the teenage Seattle combo the Velvetones from 1958 until February 1960. Snipes had been in the Sharps and had a connection with Hendrix through Sharps saxophonist Anthony Atherton, formerly in the Velvetones with Hendrix. Alexander and Snipes had been in the Boss Five together after Hendrix left to serve in the military in May 1961.
On September 6, Alexander and Snipes drove to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and when Hendrix emerged they hailed him and invited him to spend the day hanging out. He jumped into Alexander's 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood, the men howling in laughter when they saw a perplexed look on the face of local concert promoter Boyd Grafmyre (d. 2019), who had been sent by Concerts West, the promoter, to deliver Hendrix and bandmates Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding to their hotel.
Alexander told Hendrix how he and Snipes had regrouped in a new band called Juggernaut and introduced him to their new bandmates, brothers Dan Bonow (organ) and Tim Bonow (drums). Dan Bonow, who led his own popular teen-dance band, Jack Horner and the Plums, during the "Louie Louie" era, recalled: "Jimi Hendrix became a hero to me as soon as I heard the first album. I went to the Arena show in Seattle 1968 -- I can still feel the shivers that I felt as Jimi warmed up backstage" (Dan Bonow emails).
Bonow put together the Juggernaut Roll Band at about the same time. "Imagine my excitement when I heard that Pernell Alexander gave Jimi his first guitar and Pernell and Butch Snipes, along with Guitar Shorty, encouraged him that it was okay to be black and play outside the box," Bonow recalled. "Pernell had just come off the road with Little Richard and had gigged on the chitlin' circuit ... From our first time practicing it was musical chemistry. We felt our power and were riding a powerful wave of racial harmony and social upheaval. We coined an idiom: 'psychedelic soul jazz.' Our look was beat and mod, way funkier than the English invasion ... But for all that bravado, when we snatched Hendrix up at Sea-Tac -- he waved goodbye to Mitch and Noel -- I felt like a shy kid in a new school. He was so understated, elegant, kind" (Dan Bonow emails).
Juggernaut in the House
Driving Hendrix back to Seattle, the group invited him to its communal jam-pad, the "Juggernaut House" at 1646 26th Avenue E in the Montlake neighborhood, where they could chill, smoke dope, and hear Juggernaut play a set of tunes. "It was midday, we went to the Juggernaut House," Bonow wrote, but "we were in a weed drought at the time, Jimi was underwhelmed by the hay we were smoking. He sat on the floor (my wife, Elaine, stepped on his hand!) and grooved to our four-song set" (Dan Bonow emails). Confirmed Elaine Bonow: "Jimi was thirsty and asked for something to drink -- and, as I was Dan's 'Old Lady' -- I scurried to the kitchen and returned with a glass of probably lukewarm Tang. He was sitting on the floor and I remember stumbling over his hand" (Elaine Bonow email).
Alexander recalled: "I snatched him up from the airport and tried to talk to him to find out what was happenin' -- and catch up on seven years we hadn't seen each other. And, he always talked a thousand miles an hour and sort of mumbled and he kinda held his head down. Just talking. Just conversation, you know: 'howyabeen? How was the service? And Europe?' He came over to the Juggernaut House and he listened to us. We spent the whole day. And, I don't know, we never did get through. It's like being loaded on acid is like this wavy thing between ... he was just too high" (Alexander interview with author).
When it came time for Hendrix to head off to his family's home, Dan Bonow said he "gave us his new phone numbers and told us to hang on, he was getting to a place where he could help. Jimi told us: 'Don't sign anything 'til I get in touch.' We took it as a cryptic warning/promise of at least news coming from inside the industry" (Dan Bonow emails).
Like any other band with hopes and dreams, such words coming from one of the world's biggest rock stars seemed to be a profound message, one made even more potent at that evening's concert when Hendrix announced from the Coliseum stage that he wanted to dedicate his next number -- a scorching rendition of Earl King's 1960 R&B hit "Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)" -- "to my friends in Juggernaut." At concert's end, Hendrix retreated back to the Juggernaut House, where, Bonow recalled, "we smoked better weed and listened to Coltrane. The next day we went to Al Hendrix's house," where they listened to an advance test-pressing of the yet-to-be-released Electric Ladyland album (Dan Bonow emails).
The Opening Acts
By this point in his U.S. tour, Hendrix had three additional bands -- Eire Apparent, Soft Machine, and Vanilla Fudge -- to serve as opening acts. Eire Apparent, a London-based band comprised mainly of Irish ex-pats, had signed with Hendrix's managers, Chas Chandler and Michael Jeffrey, in 1967. According to The Seattle Times, they "opened the concert by hunching over their guitars and putting out a fast, hard-driving beat with a minimum of incidental singing and fuzzy instrumentations" ("Blues Show Goes On ...").
Next up was Soft Machine, a pioneering psychedelic band formed in 1966 in Canterbury, England. It also shared management with Hendrix. The Times had even less to say about them, noting that they "seemed to sing clearly, and harmoniously. They also had an organist who made interesting noise from chant to something like a tape recorder at fast forward. Unfortunately, both singing and organ were drowned out by a sloppy, badly amplified sound that sounded as if they were playing a worn-our record with a dusty needle" ("Blues Show Goes On ...").
Then came Vanilla Fudge, a psychedelic hard-rock band from Long Island, New York, that was promoting its second album, Renaissance. The Seattle Times' writer was duly impressed with them, saying that "the four have excellent control of their instruments. And they have a sense of contrast -- how to play different sounds and types of phrasing against one another to get a complex piece of music" ("Blues Show Goes On ...").
The Jimi Hendrix Experience then mounted the Coliseum stage and commenced with a wild and powerful show. "Jimi Hendrix proved he was a showman last night," The Times reported. "He played on unpurturbed in spite of a rip growing down the seat of his pants and a Seattle Coliseum with house lights turned on and sound system turned off. (Some spectators had clustered around the stage, and the police curbed the show until they sat back down.)" ("Blues Show Goes On ...").
Times critic Susan Schwartz was less than thrilled by the music, however:
"Under the circumstances, Seattle's native son could be forgiven if his performance was less than great. It was good. Hendrix' trio has a heavy-metals blues sound. Last night, most of their numbers started in abstract fragments that grew into a rich brown gravy of beat and sound. Hendrix sang over this. As a singer or blues shouter, he is nowhere near 'greats' like Little Richard or Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton (to name two recently in Seattle). But he is a good star, in the drop to your knees, shake your guitar, pluck the strings with your teeth [style]. And he definitely is the star ... his stage personality is appealing: natural, friendly, considerate of the audience. Musically though, he was outclassed by" Vanilla Fudge ("Blues Show Goes On ...").
The Experience's set list was impeccable:
- "Spanish Castle Magic"
- "Little Wing"
- "I Don't Live Today"
- "Red House"
- "Purple Haze"
- "Foxy Lady"
- "Hey Joe"
- "Come On (Part 1)"
- "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)"
- "Wild Thing"
- "The Star-Spangled Banner"
On With the Show
The tour continued the following day (September 7) in Vancouver, British Columbia. Hendrix played the Spokane Coliseum on September 8, and then the Portland Coliseum on September 9. His U.S. tour continued through December.
Meanwhile, the Jimi Hendrix Experience's third album, Electric Ladyland, was released in the U.S. on October 16, 1968 and nine days later in the United Kingdom. That same month, Hendrix and Eire Apparent went into a Los Angeles studio, where he produced their Sunrise album and playing on the tracks "Yes I Need Someone" and "The Clown." In January 1969, Hendrix contributed guitar to Soft Machine's "Rock 'N' Roll Band" single, cut in London. Five months later, on May 23, 1969, the Jimi Hendrix Experience returned to Seattle for another show at the Seattle Center Coliseum.