The Jimi Hendrix Experience Plays “Hey Joe” & “Wild Thing” on The Band’s Very First Tour: Paris, 1966

Jimi Hen­drix lived fast, and I don’t just mean to evoke a rock star cliché, but to get at the speed at which his career moved. He arrived in Eng­land near the end of Sep­tem­ber, 1966, at the ten­der age of 23. In less than a month, he and his man­ag­er Chas Chan­dler had recruit­ed Noel Red­ding and Mitch Mitchell into the Expe­ri­ence and booked the band’s first gig on Octo­ber 13 across the chan­nel in Évreux, France, one of four French book­ings as a sup­port­ing act for The Black­birds and John­ny Hal­ly­day. They played most­ly cov­ers, includ­ing Howl­in’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Don Covay’s “Mer­cy, Mer­cy,” and Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thou­sand Dances,” and tra­di­tion­al song “Hey Joe,” soon to become the band’s first sin­gle. It’s unclear whether any­one record­ed that first gig, but we do have some audio of the fourth, on Octo­ber 18 at the Olympia in Paris. Just above hear them play “Hey Joe” from that night, and below, they do The Trog­gs’ “Wild Thing.”

Hen­drix was already a high­ly sea­soned per­former by this time, hav­ing blown minds all over the South while tour­ing with, among oth­ers, the Isley Broth­ers, Lit­tle Richard, and King Cur­tis in the ear­ly six­ties. He had been high­ly in demand as a back­ing and ses­sion play­er, but he grew tired of stand­ing in the back and want­ed to go solo. He met man­ag­er Chan­dler, then bassist for the Ani­mals, while fronting his own band in New York. Chan­dler, writes PRI, “knew just what to do with the young gui­tarist” upon their arrival in Eng­land.

Six days after the short tour through France, the band played its first offi­cial show in the UK, at the Scotch of St. James, where the Bea­t­les had a pri­vate booth. Hen­drix pro­ceed­ed to blow minds all over Eng­land, includ­ing, of course, those of all the British gui­tar greats: “Everyone’s eyes were glued to him,” remem­bers then girl­friend Kathy Etch­ing­ham, “He looked dif­fer­ent. His gui­tar play­ing was superb. Peo­ple in Eng­land hadn’t seen any­thing like it before. It was quite… out of this world.”

Peo­ple in the U.S. hadn’t seen any­thing like it either. While Hen­drix had honed many of his sig­na­ture stage tricks on the soul cir­cuit, by the time he appeared at the Mon­terey Pop Fes­ti­val in 1967, he had ful­ly come into his own as a charis­mat­ic singer as well as a “near mirac­u­lous” gui­tarist. But in his move from R&B to rock and roll, he nev­er lost his blues roots. “Hen­drix wasn’t a typ­i­cal pop or rock musi­cian,” says Hen­drix schol­ar and Eng­lish pro­fes­sor Joel Brat­tin. He “was an impro­vis­er. So, if there are 100 dif­fer­ent record­ed ver­sions of Pur­ple Haze, it’s real­ly worth lis­ten­ing to all 100 because he does some­thing dif­fer­ent each time.” The same can be said of the songs he cov­ered, and made his own. Just above, see them play “Hey Joe” at The Mar­quee for Ger­man TV show Beat Club just months before the release of their 1967 debut album. And below, Hen­drix exhorts the crowd to sing along before launch­ing into “Wild Thing,” in a Paris appear­ance one full year after the record­ing above at the Olympia. Com­pare, con­trast, get your mind blown.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

See Jimi Hendrix’s First TV Appear­ance, and His Last as a Back­ing Musi­cian (1965)

Jimi Hen­drix at Wood­stock: The Com­plete Per­for­mance in Video & Audio (1969)

Jimi Hendrix’s Final Inter­view Ani­mat­ed (1970)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Tom says:

    Good stuff. One minor point though: it does­n’t appear to be the case that “Hey Joe” is a tra­di­tion­al song. Inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion of the ori­gins and author­ship of the song is on Wikipedia.

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