Interview With Bill Baker: Taper Of Ronnie Scott's Club Jam 9-17-70
From JimPress Magazine #87 Spring 2009
Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, London, 17 September 1970
Doug Bell and Joel J. Brattin unravel the amazing tale of Jimi's last time on stage
The guest appearance of Jimi Hendrix with Eric Burdon and War at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club occupies a special place in the recorded Hendrix legacy. Occurring only a little over a day before Hendrix's untimely death, the jam represents his last public performance. Considering that very few of Jimi's club appearances were recorded (other than those that Jimi recorded himself in the spring of 1968), the fact that this final performance would be recorded must be considered extremely unlikely. But in fact it was recorded, and parts of this recording have circulated for about 30 years. Until now it has never been known exactly how much of this performance was committed to tape, or by whom. Some guessed that a member of War had made this recording; others thought that the taper was Jerry Goldstein, War's manager at the time. But very recently the whole recording has appeared, and the man that recorded it, Bill Baker, has also stepped forward.
The first appearance of this material was on a bootleg LP, Can You Please Crawl out Your Window?, that was produced sometime in the mid to late 1970s. That LP included two tracks from the Ronnie Scott's Club performance, "Mother Earth" (9:22) and "Tobacco Road" (5:50), which closed sides one and two respectively. Of reasonable quality, these recordings represented the only portions of the concert available until a 40-minute tape of the jam came into circulation some years later. This tape contained slightly longer versions of "Mother Earth" and "Tobacco Road," and also included several songs on which Jimi didn't play: "Paint It Black," "Spill the Wine," and "Mystery Train." All of these songs were incomplete to varying degrees, and the entire tape was of poor audio quality, substantially worse than the quality of the two tracks on the bootleg LP. It was not known whether other songs were played during the show, and if so whether Jimi had played on them.
This remained the state of affairs until several months ago, when the taper of this concert came forward with his story and a complete copy of his master tape. The fan that taped this recording is Bill Baker, a resident of West London. He never intentionally kept this recording back; in fact, he gave copies to numerous people throughout the years. One of these was the source for the poor-quality tape copy that came into circulation. However, somehow the complete recording in master quality had never made it into general circulation within the collecting community.
Bill was 20 years old in 1970, and had recently become a big fan of Eric Burdon and War. He tells the story of how he came to attend and record the show that night at Ronnie Scott's Club.
"I first heard 'Spill the Wine' while on an extended holiday in Italy. When I heard it, it completely blew me away," he says. "I couldn't believe how good it was. I also heard about the Isle of Wight festival but unfortunately returned to England a week late for that. After I got back I went to a QPR [Queens Park Rangers] football game with an old friend and he told me about a free show by Eric Burdon and War in Hyde Park coming up on Saturday the 12th of September. So I went to that with a few mates. I recall that John Sebastian was also on the bill. During the concert, Burdon told the audience to make sure to go to the shows they were playing at Ronnie Scott's during the upcoming week, and to 'freak all those jazz freaks out of the place.' So I decided I'd have to be at one of the shows. I ended up deciding to go on Wednesday night, the 16th.
"I invited my younger brother to go with me, but he had to work the next day and decided not to go. I was out of work at the time. So I ended up going alone. I got there early and was just about the first into the club, so I was able to be in the very first row. Front row seat, about two feet away from the drum kit. I talked with the members of the group a bit before the room filled up. I had brought my Sony cassette recorder with me, and one Philips C-90 cassette. I set the microphone on my table right there at the edge of the stage.
"There were other groups on the bill that night; I remember a gospel group, and the Alan Haven Trio, who I liked quite a lot. There was a disco above the main room; I went up there between live acts. I recall there was lively salsa music with lots of people dancing. The live music started around 8 o'clock and ended around 2 or 3 AM Thursday morning. So War was late getting on stage, maybe around midnight, and most or all of the War performance was actually during the early hours of the 17th. I taped the first set, got a good recording of that, although the first side of the tape ran out before the end. I wanted to save the other side for the second set.
"At intermission I went back to the dressing room and talked with the group between sets. I told them I had taped the set, and they said that was fine with them. I got them to autograph my copy of "Spill the Wine" that I had brought with me. When I went out for the second set, my seat was taken so I went to the upper level. A young lady, an American, was there with a guy, and she invited me to join them at their table. So I sat with them there, right at the front and to the left of the stage, right above Lonnie Jordan, the organist for War. So the second set was taped from a different seat. The girl saw I was taping the gig, and asked me to make a copy for her, which unfortunately I never did.
"During the set the girl I was sitting with said, 'Look, Jimi Hendrix and Eric's wife!' I didn't see him enter, but Hendrix had appeared, and I saw him sit with Angie Burdon, at a table to the left of the stage. Jimi had his guitar with him. You can hear Eric invite Jimi up onto the stage for "Mother Earth." He got up and played on the song with the band, using his white strat. Near the end of that song, Hendrix left the stage to go back and sit with his girlfriend. Burdon asked him to come back, which is also on the tape. He did rejoin the band for the end of the song and also played on "Tobacco Road." The tape side ran out shortly after this song started, but I flipped it over and re-recorded over the start
of the first set on side one.
"After the show was over, Hendrix hung around for a bit and I went over to talk with him. He was sitting there with a pint in front of him, but white wine rather than beer; he offered some to me and I accepted. So we "spilled the wine" together on that night. He was polite and friendly, and happy to chat. I asked if I could record the conversation, but he said that probably wasn't a good idea. So we just talked. I borrowed a pen and asked if he would sign the sleeve that I had with me for War to sign.
He said sure, 'but take the record out so it doesn't fuck up the grooves. " I had an apple and he asked if he could have a bite, and I said sure, so he took one; in fact, I think he kept the apple and finished it. Finally Jimi got up to leave with his girlfriend and said to me, 'Hope to see you soon, man.' I left the club in the early morning hours and took a cab back home.
"I remember that there was a U.S. photographer at the show, from New York City if I recall correctly. He took pictures throughout the evening. I have no idea what became of him, or of the photographs.
"I got back home and later that day (Thursday) I made a dub of the cassette onto a 5" reel tape, since I wanted to give a copy to the group, who were staying in a hotel in London for several days. On Friday (the 18th) I went to the hotel, and found Jerry Goldstein (War's manager), Eric Burdon and his parents, Zoot Money, and some others in the upper-floor lobby. I gave Goldstein the tape dub, and talked with them and with some other people for awhile. Jerry recalls that he gave me 20 pounds sterling for the tape. When I left I took the lift down to the ground floor, and when I got out I saw a group of people standing there. Some of the girls were crying, and I recognized them from the group that had been with Eric earlier. I asked them what was wrong but they didn't answer, they just got in the lift crying. I took the tube home. It was only later that day that I read in the evening paper that Jimi was dead."
In the mid-70s, Bill approached an employee at the BBC to investigate the possibility of releasing his recording from Ronnie Scott's. He wasn't able to arrange this, but he did make copies of the tape onto 7" reels. Bill took these to a record shop owner in Hammersmith, who agreed to have LPs made. Butafter a short while he told Bill that he had decided to pull the plug on the deal, so Bill retrieved the reels from the man. However, as we know an LP did appear. What eventually came from this was the well known bootleg LP Can You Please Crawl out Your Window? This LP was a hodge-podge of material, combining material from a 1976 BBC radio show with the Reprise Christmas promo single. The LP also included nearly complete versions of three BBC recordings (the original radio show only contained incomplete versions). But the real gems on the LP were the two Hendrix tracks from the War recording. Bill never made a penny from this release, although he received some LPs from the deal. But the unpleasant episode discouraged him from ever trying again to release this in any formal way, either officially or unofficially.