Pete Townshend wasn’t going to get fooled again. Earlier that year in London’s Saville Theatre, the Who had had the misfortune of following the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Now it was June 18, 1967, they were at the Monterey International Pop Festival, and Townshend, who thought Hendrix had stolen his band’s signature equipment-trashing finale, insisted that this time the Who go first. Concert organizer John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas finally flipped a coin. Hendrix lost, but he warned Townshend, ”If we’re going to follow you, I’m going to pull out all the stops.”
The Who gave a brutal performance that left the stage a pile of drums, wires, and shredded guitars. The task of immediately following them fell to the Grateful Dead, whose relatively mellow, groovy sounds (1967, remember?) turned out to be the calm before the storm.
Then Hendrix — the exile, the virtual unknown in his own land who had had to go to England to make himself heard — struck. Starting with ”Killing Floor,” ”Foxey Lady,” and a crushing version of Bob Dylan’s ”Like a Rolling Stone,” Hendrix wrung unearthly sounds out of his guitar in a furious, dazzling display of blues and feedback. He played with his teeth, behind his back, over his head, and between his legs. For a finale to his nine-song rampage, he plowed through the Troggs’ ”Wild Thing,” climaxing by bashing his guitar against his amps, suggestively humping it, squirting it with lighter fluid and roasting it alive, his fingers dancing in midair as if to encourage the flames. His Fender, which he had spray-painted in psychedelic swirls the night before, emitted terminal squeals of pain. Then he left the stage. Goodbye.
The in-Experienced audience didn’t know what had hit them, but Hendrix was instantly lionized by the West Coast press. The Los Angeles Times reported that ”he had graduated from rumor to legend.” East Coast critics, however, dismissed him as a ”vulgar parody of rock theatrics.” Esquire called him a ”psychedelic Uncle Tom.”
No matter. When Hendrix’s debut album, Are You Experienced?, was released later that month, it went to No. 5 on the charts. Hendrix was the toast of rock’s aristocracy and was raking in the accolades. But genius rarely finds the real world accommodating. Three weeks after Monterey, Jimi Hendrix embarked on a U.S. tour that would guarantee him exposure — opening for the Monkees.
June 18, 1967
At the movies, Lulu sang To Sir, With Love to Sidney Poitier, while Aretha Franklin demanded ”Respect” on the charts. William Manchester’s The Death of a President was a nonfiction best-seller, and Bonanza was tops on TV.