True or false? The Jimi Hendrix Experience once opened for the Monkees.
In July 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience opened seven dates on the first U.S. tour by the Monkees. These took place after Hendrix’s famously incendiary set at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 18 of that year but before second single “Purple Haze” peaked at number 65 on the U.S. charts several weeks after its June 19 U.S. release (the day after the band’s startling Monterey performance).
Hendrix was already a sensation in the U.K. by then (he was invited to play at Monterey at the suggestion of Paul McCartney), but apart from his literally fiery performance at Monterey, Hendrix—a native of Seattle—hadn’t yet broke through at home in the United States. The Monkees were aware of him because of his popularity in England; they were awed by Hendrix and asked him to join the tour because they were bona fide fans who appreciated his talent and showmanship and jumped at the opportunity to watch him up close. Many have surmised that Hendrix and his manager, former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, accepted promoter Dick Clark’s invitation to join the tour because while Hendrix had already scored three top ten hits in England, he hadn’t yet charted in the United States and an opportunity to play before thousands of record-buying kids was too good to pass up.
The idea was intriguing on paper. Their wild popularity aside, the Monkees were eager to continue to dispel “prefab four” notions that they couldn’t really play very well by staging a big concert tour in which fans and press alike would see them actually playing their songs. Inviting an act as cutting-edge and theatrical as the Experience along for such a high-profile ride would further demonstrate how serious the Monkees were about presenting great music. As popular urban legends website Snopes.com notes, Monkees guitarist Mike Nesmith later said:
So, as the New York Times noted in 2006, “The Monkees wanted respect, and Hendrix wanted publicity.”
Hendrix and the other two members of the Experience—bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell—joined the Monkees tour starting with a show in Jacksonville, Fla., on July 8, 1967 and continuing through Miami on July 9; Charlotte, N.C., on July 11; Greensboro, N.C., on July 12; and three shows in Forest Hills, N.Y., on July 14, 15 and 16.
Unfortunately, however, the pairing never worked as well as hoped. It wasn’t the artists—the Monkees and the Experience got along fine. The problem was the crowds—the Monkees’ predominantly teenage female audiences never warmed to the Experience. “It didn’t cross anybody’s mind that it wasn’t gonna fly,” Monkees bassist Peter Tork later told the press. “And there’s poor Jimi, and the kids go, ‘we want the Monkees, we want the Monkees.’”
And as Monkees drummer/vocalist Mickey Dolenz later put it, “Jimi would amble out onto the stage, fire up the amps and break into ‘Purple Haze,’ and the kids in the audience would instantly drown him out with ‘We want Davy!’ (Monkees vocalist Davy Jones)—God, it was embarrassing.”
By the Forest Hills, N.Y., shows on July 14-16, Hendrix had had enough. Drowned out once again by a cacophony of screams for the headliner, his temper flared and he left the stage with a well-known parting gesture aimed at the audience. Hendrix asked to be released from his tour contract, and he and the Monkees then parted company on friendly terms.
Did Hendrix’s career suffer as a result? Not one bit. By the time of his defiant July 16 stage exit in Forest Hills, “Purple Haze” had slowly started climbing higher on the U.S. singles chart, and worldwide superstardom was mere months away. Chandler is said to have later claimed that leaving the Monkees tour was engineered to generate publicity for Hendrix.
Further, and contrary to popular belief, Hendrix was not removed from the tour because U.S. preservation organization the Daughters of the American Revolution complained that his stage conduct was “lewd and indecent.” Australian journalist and rock critic Lillian Roxon, who accompanied the Monkees tour, later admitted to fabricating the story as a tongue-in-cheek explanation of Hendrix’s abrupt departure from the tour that was printed by many as a straight news story.