Music intersects with life when you least expect it
Photo credit: Courtesy Tony Paris Archives.
THEN AND NOW: Jimi Hendrix’s holiday single as first released in 1974 — and the more readily-available version today.
By Tony ParisThursday December 21, 2017 03:45 pm EST
For Christmas, 1968, my parents gave me Electric Ladyland, the third album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I may have gotten other gifts, I don’t remember. After ripping open the colorful wrapping paper, I ran into my older twin sisters’ bedroom and carefully stacked the two LPs on the record changer of their “portable” stereo record player. I didn’t leave the room until 68 minutes later, after I’d turned the two-record set over and listened to it all the way through. I was 10 years old.
I still remember sitting between the two small speakers, hearing “ … And The Gods Made Love” racing through my head for the first time. I didn’t know what it meant to “make love,” but I wanted to. After the album was over and I’d carefully put the two records back in the inner sleeves and in the album jacket, I went back into the den to rejoin my family. But I had changed.
Hendrix had played in Atlanta earlier that year, performing afternoon and evening shows at the Municipal Auditorium. I had begged my mother to let me go see him, but she insisted, “No!” She didn’t think it was a good idea.
Hendrix was scheduled to play Atlanta the following year, September, 17, 1969, again at the Municipal Auditorium. Before I could ask her to let me go, the concert was cancelled, and refunds were being issued at all of the usual ticket outlets: Jim Salle’s in Buckhead, Eller’s News in Forrest Park.
Finally, in July, 1970, Hendrix returned to Atlanta, headlining the Second Annual Atlanta International Pop Festival in Byron, Georgia. An event organized by the then-little known concert promoter Alex Cooley, who’d had some success the year before staging the First Atlanta International Pop Festival in Hampton, Georgia, Byron, with better planning and more publicity afforded such music gatherings following the notoriety of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival the previous year in upstate New York, was expected to draw even more music fans.
Again, I had no luck convincing my mother to allow me to go see Hendrix. If she hadn’t let me go downtown to attend a concert at a city-owned building, she certainly wasn’t going to let me travel over a hundred miles south to some soybean field adjacent to a raceway in the middle of what might as well have been nowhere, especially with news reports that thousands of hippies were expected to descend on the sleepy Georgia town to see the man who urged them to wave their freak flag high! Those thousands turned into hundreds of thousands that 4th of July weekend, Hendrix played to his largest-ever American audience (There’s now a Georgia Historical Society marker proclaiming exactly that at the site where the festival took place in Byron) and Cooley’s name became synonymous with concerts in Atlanta (a portion of U.S. Hwy 41 near Byron was renamed “Cooley-Conlon Highway” on December 15, Cooley’s birthday, in honor of the late concert promoter and his business partner Peter Conlon.
Two months after Byron, on the afternoon of September 18, 1970, my father came home and told me he had some bad news. Hendrix was dead. The guitarist had died in London, 27 years-old. I ran into my bedroom and turned on WPLO-FM, Atlanta’s “underground” radio station at the time. They were playing Hendrix songs one after the other. When the announcer, probably Ed Shane, came on the air and confirmed the news, I started writing an obituary for the man I never met, but thought I knew so well.
Thanks to the internet, Youtube in particular , and the emergence of rock ’n’ roll as a cultural benchmark second only to pro sports (ever notice how sportscasters refer to athletes as “rock stars” on the field?) I can spend days watching footage of Jimi Hendrix on my computer, tablet or smartphone. I own DVDs and blu-rays of his concerts, and the people at Experience Hendrix keep throwing previously-unreleased recordings of Hendrix in the studio and onstage at me in yearly increments. But nothing will equal that Christmas morning, listening to Electric Ladyland for the first time, just as no media, whether on a handheld device or in a movie theater, will ever be the same as seeing him live.
While in high school I started writing for my school’s newspaper. My mother helped me steal a blank, wallet-sized birth certificate from the Georgia Department of Public Health and forge a fake I.D. With it, I gained access to the local Atlanta clubs — Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom, the Great Southeast Music Hall, the Bistro, and Richards — seeing national acts, but, more importantly, seeing the many musicians who made up Atlanta’s local scene, who I would interview, with those conversations published in the Raider’s Digest. Glenn Phillips (who plays Darwin’s in Sandy Springs, December 29, for an after Christmas concert) was the first Atlanta musician featured, followed by Bruce Hampton, and Darryl Rhoades.
Phillips, who was influenced more by Michael Bloomfield and other blues guitarists, used to always ask me, “Doesn’t it bother you that he plays out of tune a lot live?” whenever I’d bring up Hendrix. The two guitarists were totally different in style and approach, to say the least, but Phillips was well-aware of Hendrix’s influence on popular music, as his quotes in Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Church, the documentary on Hendrix at the second Atlanta pop festival attest.
In January, 1976, Phillips played the Capri Theater (now the Buckhead Theater) with Bruce Hampton, who was then embarking on a stand-up weirdness career, opening. I was on the front row, watching the encore, Hampton and Harold Kelling, the other guitarist in the Hampton Grease Band, had joined Phillips onstage for the encore, “Rock Around The Clock.” I remember it because, at one point, I turned back to see if my mother, who had attended the concert to see just who these people were I’d been writing about, was still there. I was surprised to see her about ten rows back, standing on her seat, being held steady by people on each side of her, punching her hands in the air, rocking out, urging on Glenn and the band. Years later, after she died, Phillips released an album, Angel Sparks, named after my mother’s middle name as it had been listed in her obituary, Alice Angel Sparks Paris.
Christmas Eve, 1991, my family gathered together at the house of one of my twin sisters, cooking and preparing for the big lunch the next day. With the ham, turkey and vegetable casseroles in the oven, everyone took a break, sitting in the den, reminiscing about Christmases past. I had been making a living as a music journalist for well over a decade at that point, when, as if I had just started writing, out of the blue, my mother told me, “If I had known how much music meant to you and how you were going to spend your life writing about it, I would have taken you to see Jimi Hendrix when you were a little boy.” I was shocked, not only that she remembered it, but that she felt compelled to get square with me so many years later. I tried to brush it off. I told her not to worry about it, it was in the past. She wouldn’t let it go. I tried to change the subject, reminding her that she had taken my twin sisters to see Elvis Presley at the Fox Theater in 1956, but they were older, 14 (though, at 35-years-of-age, I’ve always suspected she did so more for her own enjoyment then for that of her two 14-year-old daughters), and that she and my Dad did give me a Hendrix album for Christmas in ’68. But she was adamant that I accepted that her regret was real.
We never had the big Christmas lunch the next day. In the early hours of Christmas morning, my mother had a massive heart attack that put her in a coma. She was admitted to the CCU of a local hospital, where she later died.
I smile now, when I think back to that last Christmas Eve we shared together, my mother confessing something that had apparently bothered her for so long. I’m glad she got to apologize, but she really didn’t have to.