Let me tell you: The very first "real" concert I was ever allowed to attend as a wee Canadian tyke just so happened to be none other than the Jimi Hendrix Experience at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, May of 1969. Now I'd already been a fervent fan for a couple'a years, having spent most of my Grade 8 art class making swirly sketches of Jimi in charcoal when I should have been studying the still fruit life, plus needless to say the "Are You Experienced?" elpee was right up there (well, almost) with "Monkees Headquarters" on my Summer of Love's Most-Played List.
Fast-forwarding somewhat, Xmastime '68 was duly spent, between runs down the local tobogganing hill that is, digging all eight vinyl sides of The White Album AND Electric Ladyland and, most likely as a direct result, me and my gym-class rhythm section were just starting to assemble our very own rec-room power trio when word filtered along the groupvine that the Experience were planning to stop by our very neighbo(u)rhood in a few months as part of their possibly-Farewell World Tour.
In a word then? WOW.
So my most-trusted pal Ric somehow scored us two tickets 'way up in the Gardens' nosebleed section, I fibbed to my parents that we were off to a nice nearby hootenanny (!) for the evening and then we were, yes, away. Yet no sooner had we approached the venue that word began a'buzzin' that our hero had just been busted for carrying a batch of non-pharmaceutical druggery into Toronto Airport that morning! Undaunted, we climbed inside and skyward to find our distant Garden party seats, sat on sonic needles and pins-ah through both opening acts (the pretty cool Hendrix-"produced" Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, whose big hit "Good Old Rock n Roll" my little band was already struggling to learn, followed by none other than, uh, Fat Mattress) ...til the one and only Jimi Himself sauntered on stage, miraculously only a few minutes late.
Now considering all the man had already been through that day -- not to mention that YEAR -- I guess it was no real surprise the evening's set consisted of mainly down-cast tunes a la "Red House" ...though Jimi DID graciously treat the teenage throng of Yours Very Truly Et Al with a quick encore full of that fabled, fiery Foxey Purpleness of yore.
And then, suddenly, he was gone. Experience and all.
James Marshall Hendrix returned to town briefly that December however, just long enough to be completely exonerated of all pending narco-charges ("Canada has just given me the greatest Christmas present ever!" he rightfully exclaimed to the Toronto Daily Star), but I suppose one could certainly question if, or why, that particular life lesson was never heeded in light of future misdeeds. And I don't need to point out right about here the astonishing musical legacy he then left us behind, which shamefully continues to be picked threadbare by competing armies of step-families and legal heavies to this very day. "Meet me on the next witness stand, and don't be late," to bastardize a certain lyric I suppose.
If that wasn't already disheartening enough, last I heard Mitch Mitchell -- the only drummer who ever really did Hendrix justice, both onstage AND off -- was toiling across the Pacific Northwest as part of some bar-trawling Experience Tribute Act (PLEASE tell me this is not so, somebody!), and upon hearing of Noel Redding's sudden passing I faithfully plucked his autobiography off the shelf, noticed it had even been hand-signed inside somewheres along the way, and within mere pages was reminded how he never ever did manage to successfully sue for his fair share of his guitarist's posthumous booty ...in THIS life, at least. Maybe he should've signed on instead with Eric Burdon's New Animals circa '66 after all?
And you know, I suppose it does say something that out of all the delicately detailed minutia forever etched upon my grey matter concerning that momentous inaugural concert one long, long Toronto May ago, I can still most vividly recall EXACTLY what Jimi was wearing (all Harlem-Asbury chic all the way!), what I was wearing even (don't ask), the appropriately brilliant weather, the commuter train Ric and I snuck on after we told our parental units we'd just be folking around ...hell, I even remember the proto-Bowzer moves Cat Mother & Co. deployed whilst performing their one hit wonder!
But do I recall a single sliver of the sounds and/or stylings of the Noel Redding-fronted Fat Mattress performance of that same, utterly magical night?
No sir, I do not.
To conclude then, though he may never have rumbled quite like the Who's late bassman always did, nor ever crept into the tabloids alongside his fellow four-strung Bill Wyman, Noel DID after all manage to write a cool tune or two for Jimi (not to mention for those several long-lost F. Mattress albums ...which are, you just betcha, being ruthlessly resurrected anew upon eBay as we virtually speak). Also, the man's trademark electra-Irish 'fro and dayglo taste in jacketwear inspired at least one fashion revolution at the time down my alma mater's shop wing, I'm most pleased to finally reveal, and if Pamela Des Barres' delightful "I'm With The Band" ever does get the wide silver-screen treatment it so immediately deserves, Noel's vitally essential part in my all-time fave groupie's carnal coming-of-age will hopefully be cast most accordingly ...and fully.
Yes Mr. Redding, Jimi, Mitch, and even that Cat Mother may well have upstaged you within my distant memories good sir, but I mean absolutely no disrespect-in-retrospect. For you DID leave your mark. And after all, my high school combo eventually ended up learning "Little Miss Strange" instead of "Good Old R n R," I STILL can't help but crack a grin whenever D.A. Pennebaker's cameras land on you in "Monterey Pop," and I'd lay even-dirty-money your estate WILL finally receive each and every single Experience royalty due you after all. No, really!
And besides, wouldn't your shockingly singular hair most likely have just been thoroughly wasted in the Animals anyways?
Feel free at long last to plug yourself back in then, Noel, and give Jimi all our best between songs too if you will.