LIVE: CREAM AND JIMI HENDRIX
by Ron Newark
I saw Cream and Hendrix live, both several times and having played guitar in that same general mode for some 30 years, I would like to send along my impressions of those live performances.
I saw Cream first at the old Fillmore in August 1967, their first tour of the US. Having cut my teeth on BB, Freddy, Albert et al, Eric was a revelation, as was the band as a whole. The Bay Area bands who were hot at the time were, including the sacred Dead, a joke in comparison. From the time the lights went down and Bill Graham made the introduction till the last notes had been played, it was clear there was a new sheriff in town. Nobody had ever graced that stage with such power and musicianship and originality.
I heard them, I think, for 3 or 4 nights in a row, caught all the sets, and each night was better than the last. You could almost see the guys hit their stride as the nights went on, getting tighter and tighter and more experimental at the same time. I was struck, however, by how much better they were the second time around at Winterland a year or so later. The dynamics had improved ( they could play quietly when the moment called for it ) and the arrangements allowed for some inspired soloing, Eric especially creating spellbinding solos that seemed to ebb and flow the way great short stories do in the hands of a master writer. His tone, touch and sheer inventivness took your breath away, especially if you were, as I was, a guitarist as well.
Many of us went home after those concerts wondering if there was any point in continuing as the standard had been now set so high. I remember Steve Miller, who had dated my sometime girlfriend from that time, being just devastated after hearing Eric...he knew that he'd never get there, as the 'there' was such a unique creation...there is only one Eric.
Saw Jimi twice, once at Winterland in a memorable concert ( $3.50 a head and no security to speak of...wonder why many of us no longer stand in line for the junk that's out there ) which included John Mayall's Blues Breakers with Mick Taylor, Albert King and I believe the Big Brother and the Holding Co.'s with Janis Joplin last gig (now there's a concert!) and at Sacremento.
The Winterland gig of February [4th] 1968 was much anticipated in our group of musicians as we'd heard Are You Experienced and were wondering if this deal was for real....well, it was and it wasn't. JImi was extremely shy around the microphone, not sure of his singing, and the band seemed geared to play 'singles' not really stetching out. Jimi's playing was restrained by later standards.
Nothing any of us heard that night in February prepared us for the Sacramento gig [September 15th] where he had, by then, figured out what he thought we wanted to hear and see. By then the other guys in the band had become almost puppets for his hijinks, both visual and musical. While there were some brilliant improvisational moments, by and large it was a sideshow kind of a gig - the tongue bit, the feedback, every trick came out that night and it left me with an empty feeling afterwords....so much talent wasted on goofing around to please who knows whom.
Quite candidly, the best performance I ever saw Jimi give was on the Dick Cavett TV show some time later [7th July 1969], stripped down with the house band behind him, clean and heartfelt and soulful. By then I sensed he knew he'd wasted some of the best part of his talent on cheap tricks and had decided to take a new direction.
Both Eric and Jimi could make you shake your head in wonder at their consumate technique, tone , touch, vibrato, each had it all. Where they parted ways for me was in their approach to their craft, Eric serious and deep down in it, Jimi toying with it just enough to keep him out of your heart. Perhaps Eric wanted our hearts more than anything else and had both the technique and his own blue heart to bring to the table in a way that touched both our minds and our hearts equally. And maybe that's why he's still viable, still moving, still leaving us wanting more. Jimi, while a couple years older than Eric, was uncentered, gifted and seemingly a conduit for music from another planet, sometimes he never seemed to go for the heart of his audience...he appeared to want to entertain us, while Eric's path was to 'move' us.
© Ron Newark, 1999.
Live at Selland Arena