Jimi Hendrix’s artistic brilliance and rapid evolution as a musician during the mid-1960s left many in awe. Amidst rumors of Hendrix having sold his soul to the devil for his extraordinary talent, Johnny Echols, co-founding guitarist of the band Love, playfully confronted Hendrix about the speculation. In a recent interview, Echols shared his recollections of their encounters and shed light on the transformative journey of Hendrix’s musical career.
Encountering Hendrix: A Journeyman Guitarist
Echols first met Jimi Hendrix in 1964 when he was performing with the house band at the California Club. At that time, Hendrix was known as Jimmy James and was playing with the Isley Brothers. Their paths crossed again during a recording session where Echols had the opportunity to speak with Hendrix. Echols remembered Hendrix as a quiet and introspective individual, whom he considered a competent but not exceptional guitar player.
During a recent interview with Mojo, Echols shared:
“I first met Jimi in 1964 at the California Club, where I was in the house band. At that time, he was just Jimmy James, playing with the Isley Brothers, and he’d come down to audition with the O’Jays. A little later, Billy Preston, Little Richard and I went to a recording session, which was the first time I really talked to him. He was a quiet, introspective person, and I would’ve called him a so-so guitar player; a journeyman.”
The Whisky a Go Go Revelation
In 1965, Love performed in San Francisco, and it was during this time that Echols and Arthur Lee, the frontman of Love, became aware of Jimi Hendrix’s extraordinary talent. A friend had informed them about an incredible guitar player, without realizing it was the same person they had worked with previously. Intrigued, they attended one of Hendrix’s performances at the Whisky a Go Go. The transformation they witnessed was astounding – Hendrix had embraced the full hippie style, complete with fringe jackets and boots. He was experimenting with innovative techniques like the Cry Baby wah-wah pedal and feedback, defying the conventions of guitar playing.
“A friend told us about this incredible guitar player called Jimi Hendrix, and we obviously didn’t put it together it was the same guy. A few nights later we went to the Whisky a Go Go to check him out, and Arthur goes, ‘Man, that’s the dude that played with us!’
“Before, he wore cardigans and skinny ties, with the processed hair. Now he’s in full hippie regalia, with the fringed jacket and the boots, and he’s onstage using this Cry Baby wah-wah pedal, which I’d tried and couldn’t figure out, and he was doing feedback, distortion – stuff guitarists just didn’t do. Incredible!”
The Playful Inquiry
During a break in the show, Echols and Lee visited Hendrix in the dressing room. Amazed by Hendrix’s musical growth, Echols playfully asked him if he had made a deal with the devil, referencing the legend of blues pioneer Robert Johnson. Hendrix responded with a smile, saying, “No, man, I made a trip to the woodshed!” It was a testament to his relentless dedication to practicing and honing his craft.
Unrealized Plans for a Supergroup
Echols also revealed that Hendrix and Lee had discussed forming a supergroup in 1970, with the inclusion of Steve Winwood as the vocalist, Buddy Miles on drums, and other talented musicians. Unfortunately, this ambitious project never materialized due to Hendrix’s untimely passing.