45 Years Ago: The Jimi Hendrix Experience Breaks Up
On June 29, 1969, bassist Noel Redding quit the Jimi Hendix Experience after a show in Denver, ending the all-too brief reign of one of rock’s greatest trios.
Hendrix managed to perform and record with in a surprisingly large number of musical outfits during his short life, ranging from early efforts in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames to later projects with the Band of Gypsys. For all of his various collaborations however, it is his work with the Experience that stands out as his most beloved and heralded.
When Jimi arrived in London in Sept. 1966, all he had was a burning ambition and the support of the Animals bassist Chas Chandler. Before he could take the world by storm, he would need a band to back him up. Auditions were held and guitarist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell were picked to round out what would be known as the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Beginning in the dank clubs around London, for nearly the next three years the Experience rose up through the rock and roll ranks to establish themselves as one of the dominant forces in the genre. Along the way they also managed to produce three albums, ‘Are You Experienced,’ ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ and ‘Electric Ladyland,’ which are still counted as among the greatest works in popular music history. As their success grew however, cracks and fissures began to widen and deepen within the band.
At the center of the discord was the growing dissatisfaction of bass player Noel Redding and his role within the band. In a later interview, Redding would relate his feeling about the direction the Experience was headed. “The band had been working for two and a half years solid, on the road, traveling all the time,” he said. “We had no sleep or days off or anything like that and then, when the band became big, Hendrix became a star and looked down at us lot.”
On June 29, 1969, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was booked in the headlining slot of the third day of the Denver Pop Festival held in Mile High Stadium. It ended up being a show that no one would ever forget for all the wrong reasons. To begin with, as related by Charles Cross in the biography, ‘Room Full of Mirrors,’ Hendrix decided to drop a half tab of acid with his friend Herbie Worthington before going on stage. Combined with the near-riot that took place outside of the venue by those who demanded that the promoters make the event free, it made for a bad vibe overall.
Midway through the set, Hendrix declared to the audience that this would be “the last gig we’ll ever play together.” Moments later, police officers fired cans of tear gas into the mass in an attempt to regain control of the event, but as the wind whipped in the stadium it blew the toxic fumes back toward the stage. With their eyes burning and their lungs choked for air, the Experience set down their instruments for the final time and fled for cover.
In an interview with Rolling Stone just five months after the chaotic scene in Denver, Redding went into detail about the events surrounding his departure. “The last straw came at the Denver Pop Festival when Jimi told a reporter that he was going to enlarge the band . . . without even consulting myself or our drummer, Mitch Mitchell. I went up to Jimi that night, said goodbye, and caught the next plane back to London. I don’t think Jimi believed I’d do it. Later on, he phoned and asked me to come back, but I said stuff it.”
Hendrix would continue to play in a new trio with drummer Mitch Mitchell and his old Army buddy bassist Billy Cox in the ensuing years – sometimes referring to themselves as the Cry of Love band or the New Jimi Hendrix Experience. But despite near unceasing rumors to the contrary, Noel Redding was gone and the original Jimi Hendrix Experience was over.