Missed That 1969 Jimi Hendrix Show At The Forum? Relive It Now With Never-Before Released Live Recording
In 1969, Los Angeles represented an endless sense of possibilities and modeled itself as the city of the future. The vast open sprawl, under expansive blue skies, interconnected by a dynamic network of freeways stretching to the Rocky Mountains and the crystal waters of the Pacific Ocean — all of it brimmed with wonder.
And one night, into this West Coast nexus of cultural, social, and technological change, arrived a musician who could embody all three at once: Jimi Hendrix.
A soon-to-be-released recording of an epic rock performance that took place that year at the Forum— just the third rock concert ever held at the venue — sheds new light on what it was like to experience "The Jimi Hendrix Experience."
L.A. at the time brimmed with the yearning for social change. Black communities faced ongoing struggles in parts of South L.A., which came to a head with the 1965 Watts unrest. For Chicanos, it was the East L.A. Walkouts in 1968. Before Stonewall, a gay uprising occurred at L.A.'s The Black Cat in 1967. These instances were an example of what was being felt at the time nationwide. The demonstrations represented a reckoning for underserved communities that comprised much of the city’s population.
During that time, the music industry came into its own, unleashing a new era as a business and an art form. Center stage was the incarnation of rock ‘n roll, as it jumped from '50s-early '60s acts like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard before rocketing into the stratosphere with the birth of arena rock. With those changes afoot, rock ‘n roll, based in large part in L.A., bloomed from being played in small clubs like the Whisky A Go-Go and Troubador-type venues to palatial-like structures — chapels full of abrasive sound and opportunities.
As other genres relied on LPs, rock ‘n roll artists turned to singles, wielding a broader sonic palette in technicolor sound, with gatefold cover art to match. FM radio began to take shape, allowing rock ‘n roll to come into its own through bolder sound selection and played at a higher frequency, resonating with all who tuned in. This, in turn, brought about a new type of consumer demand, with people devoting space in their houses to home stereo equipment, allowing listeners to go on sonic journeys via headphones and Hi-Fi speakers.
An Industry In Flux
Randy Lewis, who covered pop music as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times from 1981-2020 and provided the liner notes for this live recording release, says technology at the time was in a state of flux. “Stereo audio systems, high fidelity, with high-powered amplifiers, high-quality turntables to play the vinyl recordings, and large, larger, and largest speakers,” Lewis ticked off.
Before rock, live music performances followed a musical revue format featuring six to 10 groups that would perform according to their popularity, often finishing with a national headlining act. Rock performers streamlined that process, making artists the central focus, headliners with the support of opening acts. Concertgoers immersed themselves with the hitmakers of the day. Venues offered more seats, up to 20,000. “Everything is expanding exponentially during the '60s,” Lewis said.
Enter The Forum, which opened in late 1967 in Inglewood. Famed architect Charles Luckman, who had previously lent his design skills to the iconic Theme Building at LAX (1960), Madison Square Garden (1968) and countless others, headed the project. The building featured exposed columns, a modern redesign of Roman architecture. The $16 million project, backed by owner Jack Kent Cooke, brought the Lakers and Kings to L.A.
Live concerts were the next obvious choice to help fill the seats.
When 'The Experience' Came To LA
The April 4, 1969 issue of the leftist newspaper the L.A. Free Press featured an ad announcing “The Jimi Hendrix Experience At Forum” on Saturday, April 28, at 8:30 p.m. The event was billed as the “Engagement of the Year.” Tickets cost $6.
Hendrix was only the third “rock” act to play the fabulous Forum; it had already hosted a doubleheader of Cream and Deep Purple, not to mention Aretha Franklin. Hendrix represented the embodiment of those who had come before him. His style reflected both U.K. psychedelic Blues scenes that had permeated the British sound at the time and the soulful stylings of the Queen of Soul herself.
Hendrix's presence on the national stage opened up new possibilities for Black purveyors of rock 'n roll, a genre dominated by white musicians then — and today.
Along with Hendrix, the Experience included drummer Mitch Mitchell and guitarist Noel Redding. The Experience leaned into a blend of psych rock-inflected blues that Hendrix had dialed into intensely during his time in the U.K. Redding, who switched from guitar to bass to join JHE, and Mitchell, with his loud and driving beats, helped fill the open space that permeated the musical atmosphere.
What Billy Gibbons Remembers
In the audience that night at the Forum was Billy Gibbons — yes, that Billy Gibbons, who only months later would form ZZ Top and become one of the most iconic rock musicians of the last century.
Gibbons wrote the forward for the release of the “Jimi Hendrix Experience Live at Los Angeles Forum.”
The year prior to that 1969 concert, Gibbons played a string of shows with Hendrix in Texas with his pre-ZZ Top band, The Moving Sidewalks. It was part of Hendrix's first tour as a headliner, along with British (very) underground act The Soft Machine.
At a stop in Dallas, The Moving Sidewalks took it upon themselves to play their renditions of “Purple Haze” and “Foxey Lady.” That got Hendrix's attention.
"He grabbed me and said, 'I like you ... You got a lot of nerve; I want to get to know you,'" Gibbons recalled, saying came up to him afterwards.
The friendship between the two was almost instantaneous, and Hendrix took the time afterward to teach Gibbons a few tricks on playing “Foxey Lady,” a tune that ZZ Top still covers today.
Gibbons recalls the excitement that night in Inglewood. The venue had only been open a little over a year and he said concertgoers packed the house.
“The crowd was ready to get unruly and crazy,” he recalled, so much so that a group rushed the stage at various points during the performance. Hendrix used that energy to his tremendous advantage, leaning on his ability to banter with his audience — he called the group a bunch of jokers — and continued to play throughout his set.
Concert Sample And Set List
Of course, given what emanated on stage that night at high frequencies, it’s hard to judge those in attendance for any general state of disobedience.
We’re all at church tonight; pretend there is a sky above you.
Audio engineer Wally Heider and producer Bill Halverson recorded the show in its entirety. Now, 53 years later, fans and enthusiasts alike can enjoy the official release of the recording.
Hendrix took the stage, after being introduced by KRLA radio DJ Jimmy Rabbitt. He urged the crowd to use their imagination. “We’re all at church tonight; pretend there is a sky above you,” Hendrix said.
A few moments later, JHE launched into a 15-minute version of “Tax-Free,” with its slow and steady build led by Mitchell and Redding. As Hendrix enters, he casually shreds all over the place before he and his instrument take flight, dropping a sonic mushroom cloud that eclipses the landscape before returning to earth.
“I Don’t Live Today” explodes onto the landscape with Hendrix's call-and-response chorus, repeating as almost a mantra, “I don't live today!
"Maybe tomorrow/ I just can't say; but, uh/ I don't/live today!” speaking to the fragility of life and that nothing’s ever promised before unleashing a sonic assault that only the JHE could dream possible at the time.
Hendrix has long evaporated in real life. And yet, it lives on through those great recordings, and this unexpected discovery of the live performance from that fateful night in L.A. will rekindle the flame.
The trio also performed “Voodoo Child,” “Red House,” and “Purple Haze,” where Hendrix alters the lyrics on the fly with “Excuse me while I kiss this policeman.” He was referring to the nearby law enforcement officers who kept a close watch on the crowd as they continued to climb on stage throughout the evening’s performance despite the band’s efforts to keep them at bay.
"There's tension in the air this night, excitement, but the tension is, you know, what are the authorities going to do?" Lewis said, describing the scene that unfolds. "They weren’t certainly comfortable with rock music at the time. It was not institutionalized and being used in national TV commercials.”
“It's remarkable that we have the good fortune of having so many moments to reflect upon, meaning recordings,” remarked Gibbons. “Hendrix has long evaporated in real life. And yet, it lives on through those great recordings, and this unexpected discovery of the live performance from that fateful night in L.A. will rekindle the flame.”
Interview Outtakes: More Gibbons Memories
On those Fender Stratocasters: Yes, Gibbons recalls the endless supply at Hendrix’s disposal. But he says while Hendrix was known for his infamous habit of desecrating or setting them on fire, something else was taking place too. Hendrix was altering the guitar in ways that its makers had not intended. Gibbons credits Hendrix with modifying a toggle switch feature on the guitar model. Originally the toggle had three positions, but “Hendrix found out by carefully positioning the switch … he discovered the in-between, turning a three-position toggle switch into a five-way one.”
After removing the pickguard, Hendrix and Gibbons removed a spring, thereby discovering a new set of “in-between'' sounds, expanding to five sounds that he would incorporate into his repertoire. The rest, as they say, is rock ‘n roll history, even if Hendrix’s tinkering would be considered a hack by today's standards.
Other innovations: Hendrix, who played a right-handed guitar upside down and left-handed, created alternative uses for other features, like the whammy bar, taking the instrument to the limit in terms of what would help establish his legacy.
Hendrix would leave a mark beyond his caustic guitar hooks and flamboyant style. While that is part of the equation, his ability to re-think music on a compositional level is similar to Miles Davis or even Beethoven.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Live at the Los Angeles Forum will be released on November 18th, 2022 via Sony Legacy on all streaming platforms and for purchase on gatefold LP.