What a night that was.
Jimi Hendrix arrived in Ottawa for two sold-out concerts at the Capital Theatre and Joni Mitchell was playing at L'Hibou on Sussex Drive. They stayed at the Chateau Laurier.
Hendrix kept a diary when he was touring and, although the entries were often brief, the thoughts were clear, revealing and sensitive:
"Beautiful hotel ... Strange people ... millions of girls ... " And Joni Mitchell, coincidentally in town the same night, was "a fantastic girl with heaven words."
The diary is part of a Hendrix collection belonging to the Seattle-based Experience Music Project, whose interactive popular music museum is scheduled to open in two years. One floor will be dedicated to Hendrix and will hold the largest selection of Hendrix artifacts in the world, including 3,000 recordings, guitars he played at the Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and Woodstock (1969), handwritten lyrics and his diaries.
The March 19 diary entry was posted last Sept. 25 on the Experience Music Project website (www.experience.org/vault) and spotted there by Barbara Wheelock, an encyclopedia of information on the fledgling Ottawa music scene of the late 1960s. The Experience Music Project opened the diary randomly for a daily website feature. It was coincidence that the page fell open at the Ottawa entry on the day Wheelock was cruising the site.
Wheelock sent the item to Harvey Glatt, now president of CHEZ-FM and promoter of the Hendrix Capital Theatre concerts back in 1968.
It was more than a year before Woodstock, and Hendrix was a wild, unorthodox persona at a time when the youth counterculture was ridding itself of the social strictures of the 1950s and replacing them with anything that spoke rebellion -- often one or all of that unholy trinity of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
The Capital Theatre, at Bank and Queen Streets, held 2,300 people. Both of the Hendrix shows were sold out and fans paid $5 or $6 a ticket. For each show, Jimi got $5,000, which he shared with his sidemen, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell -- collectively The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This was a time before stadium shows and even such stars as Hendrix travelled light. Glatt rented the sound and light equipment and Hendrix was clearly happy with it. Nobody seems to remember anyone in the Hendrix entourage except the three musicians.
Hendrix took his own portable reel-to-reel recording equipment wherever he went. The Experience Music Project has more than 200 hours of tape he recorded on his travels. Somewhere among them is a recording of Joni Mitchell performing at L'Hibou.
But the Experience Music Project would be short at least one trademark Jimi Hendrix hat if it hadn't been for the Ottawa promoter.
"He had this wide brimmed black, or antique brown hat," recalls Glatt. "I think it was during the second show that he was leaning over into the crowd and someone grabbed it. I remember it was near the end of the show. He came off stage and he was very upset. He wasn't angry but like any normal person when they are missing something, he was fretting and anxious. He really wanted it back.
"I ran out into the lobby, running from person to person asking everyone if they had seen the hat. Someone shouted `it's a girl with a yellow raincoat. She's got it.' I kept looking and looking and saw this girl with the yellow raincoat leaving the theatre. I went up to her and said `do you have the hat?' She said yes, and I grabbed it from her. She didn't resist. I took it back to Jimi and he was really relieved and grateful. I don't have a clue who the girl in the yellow raincoat was. I might have invited her to the party afterwards but I'm not sure."
Hendrix had played two hour-long shows, following the opening act Soft Machine. The songs he played -- Fire, Red House, Foxy Lady, Hey Joe, Purple Haze and Wild Thing -- have become rock classics.
After his shows, and before the party, Hendrix arrived at L'Hibou coffee house.
"He was crouched at the side of the stage," remembers Glatt. "He was wearing headphones and adjusting his tape recorder while he was recording Joni's show."
The party, which raged into the early hours, was at the Motel Deville in Vanier, site of one of the city's first discos. Between the invited guests and hangers-on, there were about 30 people there.
Veteran Ottawa musician Bill Hawkins was there. He sang one of his new songs for Hendrix and Mitchell while the three of them sat cross-legged in a corner of the party room.
"It was a song called Scorpio," remembers Hawkins. "I wrote songs for every zodiac sign. Jimi asked me why and I told him it was a good way to pick up girls. I was trying desperately to hustle Joni and had been trying for years. That night she looked so radiant and was smiling a lot. She was always a little full of herself, but why not?
"Anyway, Jimi thought this idea of the songs was really funny and he laughed out loud when I told him. He laughed even louder when I told him it wasn't working on Joni. He was a little tired that night but he said the gig had gone well. He was friendly, affectionate and bent over backwards to be nice to people. We talked a lot about guitars. And he wasn't at all bent out of shape that night, which was more than I can say for myself."
Former CHEZ-FM broadcaster Brian Murphy was there too. He remembers Hendrix sitting on a bed playing a 12-string acoustic guitar.
"The party was held between two adjoining rooms," says Murphy. "He was sitting quietly by himself and I remember he was playing Hear My Train A Coming but it's been a lot of years so I may be wrong. Basically, he was playing for himself. He was a quiet guy."
Glatt met Hendrix a few times after that. "On stage he was wild and crazy with his guitar antics," said Glatt. "He played the guitar around his back and all that other stuff. And he liked to party and he loved women but I think underneath there was a very serious person. He liked many types of music, especially jazz, and would have liked to evolve more but his managers kept telling him to stick to what he was doing. It was a source of frustration to him."
Glatt understands why Hendrix would write "strange people" in his diary that night.
"There wasn't much going on in Ottawa in those days," he said. "It was just starting to evolve with an early rock and folk scene. We didn't have much in the way of restaurants and people weren't even allowed to stand up in a bar if they were drinking. The community was very cloistered and under exposed."
Only Joni Mitchell knows what happened after she and Hendrix left the party. In the morning, he kissed her goodbye and headed to northern New York, another concert, another party and more girls.
And here, the old cliche "the rest is history" can never be more appropriate.
Jimi Hendrix would have been 56 years old next month (Nov. 27). He died in London of an apparent accidental drug overdose on Sept. 18, 1970, during his third European tour.
Joni Mitchell, in town next Friday to perform with Sixties icon Bob Dylan, met Jimi Hendrix after he performed in Ottawa 31 years ago. Chris Cobb pieces together the story of that night. Hendrix, then 25, and 24-year-old Joni partied together after his concert at a motel in Vanier. They parted the next morning with a kiss. And let's not forget Jimi's black hat.
That's a big part of the story too ...
Excerpt From Jimi Hendrix Diary
Arrived in Ottawa. Beautiful hotel. Strange people ... Beautiful dinner. Talks with Joni Mitchell on the phone. I think I'll record her tonight with my excellent tape recorder (knock on wood). Hmmm ... can't find any wood ... everything's plastic. Beautiful view.
Marvellous sound on first show. Good on second. Good recording. Went down to little club to see Joni, fantastic girl with heaven words. We all got to party. OK, millions of girls. Listen to tape and smoked up at hotel.
We left Ottawa City today. I kissed Joni goodbye, slept in the car awhile. Stopped at a highway diner. The real thing. I mean a real one just like in the movies. Mitch and I discuss our plans for movie. Slight disagreement here and there but it will soon be straighten out. Went to a very bad, bad, bad tasting restaurant. Thugs follo us. They probably was scared, couldn't figure us out. Me with my Indian hat and Mexican moustach, Mitch with his fairy tale jacket and Noel with his leopard band hat and accent. G'nite all.
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