[Slowhand] Fact or fancy?

Kevin Wilson kevinwilson at telkomsa.net
Thu Oct 11 17:04:36 EDT 2007

I suppose anyone could claim this:


The Jam with Jimi and Eric.

For about a year and a half, during the late Sixties, I played in a band
called Observation Balloon. We had been written up in Billboard, the music
industry magazine, complete with photo. For about a year, we played four or
five sets a night in the "Café Wha?" in Greenwich Village. "The Wha?" was a
music club and was run by Manny Roth, David Lee Roth’s uncle.

One night, during our continuing engagement there, a new group came in to
play. This group was led by a very tall, thin man, who played lead guitar,
named Jimi James. His band was "Jimi James and the Blue Flame." Another
guitarist in the band was Randy California, who later started a West Coast
band with his father as drummer, and called it "Spirit."

Both guitarists were amazingly good, but Jimi was all the more impressive
due to his height and the fact that he played lead guitar with his teeth! He
also held the guitar behind his head, under his legs, behind his back - in
short, in positions in which you would think it impossible to play. No
matter how he played it, no matter in what position, he was incredible.

Early in their engagement - possibly the first night they were sharing the
stage with us, Jimi came storming out, furious. It seems that someone had
stolen his Fender Telecaster (or Stratocaster, I never remember which - I am
a drummer, after all.) He was raving about how he’d played uptown in a
disco, for a bandleader named – (remember, this was thirty years ago; my
memory ain’t what it used to be) - King Curtis. Jimi said that he had worked
his ass off to be able to buy this beauty of a guitar, only to have to go
crawling back (to the disco bandleader) to earn another one.

It was a couple of weeks until the Blue Flame came back. And, it was only
for one night.

That night, while the Blue Flame was playing and we were taking our break,
Jimi broke his E string. He asked around, and our guitarist, Robert, was the
only one with an extra. Jimi replaced his string, and finished his set. Chas
Chandler, a member of the English band "The Animals," had been in the
audience. He had come specifically to see this incredible guitar player who
made love to his guitar while playing fantastic leads. The result was that
he took Jimi to England; six months or so later, Jimi Hendrix was a big hit
in England, and came storming back to America. (A footnote - when Jimi broke
his "E" String, the one who had a spare was Robert - Bob - Kulick, who went
on to appear with numerous heavy metal rock bands. Bob was one of the most
gifted guitarists I'd ever seen! And I can say that even after having played
with Clapton and Hendrix .. but read on.)

A few weeks after Jimi’s triumphant return from England, I was hanging out
at the Greenwich Village club, Salvation. I saw Jimi on the dance floor. It
was like old home week; we greeted each other like old friends, talking
about what’s been going on. Then Jimi asked if I knew anybody who had a
loft, "where Eric Clapton and I can jam." My first reaction was to say to
Jimi "You’re full of shit! Clapton?" Jimi simply pointed across the dance
floor. There was Clapton, already (in the late Sixties) a living legend.
Because I had known Jimi, briefly, as a fellow musician from the Cafe Wha?
it hadn't struck me that he was the famous person he’d already become. And
Jimi wasn't in a hurry to act like a Big Star; he was still just another
rock musician.

I told Jimi that I had a loft where my band rehearsed. So we all piled into
a Volkswagen microbus driven by one of his friends, stopped at my apartment
to get the keys, and went to the loft. At two in the morning, Jimi, Eric and
I sat down to play. Since they were borrowing my group's guitars (Eric
played Bob Kulick's guitar, one of the now-valuable Lucilles - his was an
Epiphone, I think - from B. B. King; Jimi played Ron Umile's Fender), we
waited while Jimi switched the strings around - he was a lefty. And then the
fun began! For about two hours we jammed. We played anything that came into
their heads. As a drummer, I just went along with it all. I was in heaven.
Jimi was an incredible guitarist; Eric Clapton was equally brilliant.

Though we were in a loft on West Nineteenth Street, in an industrial area of
Manhattan, the police broke up the session. Seems that we were a few doors
down from a Firehouse, and were keeping the firemen awake. But, for two
hours or so, I played with two of the best rock musicians who ever lived!

Note: In response to a few requests about the kind of music we played,
names of songs, etc., Hash wanted to add this: When musicians in the late
60s got together for a jam, they frequently started off with a traditional
blues type of thing, 12 or 16 bar blues riffs, which were similar to old
tracks by BB King, and the like, but really were not actual songs. So, the
jam with Jimi and Eric went the same way, starting off with something like
Blue Monday, and then taking its own feel from there. We played for a long
time, with few breaks as we didn't really stop. Eric, for example, would
take the lead, and Jimi would follow. Then as something occurred to Jimi,
he'd take the lead, and Eric would follow. It went like this for a long,
wonderful time, with nothing firm, song-wise. And, according to Hash, he
was in heaven, simply going along with the other two guys, who played and
played. Hash was just happy to be where he was that night, until the police
came - they were, after all, a few doors away from a fire house and keeping
firemen - New York's Bravest - awake. He always wondered if had the firemen
known who the two guitars were, would they have told the police to let it
continue or still asked them to shut it down.


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