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Thread: 1967-08-13 Ambassador Theater, Washington D.C. USA

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    1967-08-13 Ambassador Theater, Washington D.C. USA

    Sunday 13 August 1967
    Washington DC, Ambassador Cinema, 18th Street & Columbia Rd., USA.
    Jimi has the black Strat, the painted Flying V, the white Strat, a fuzz face and a wah-wah pedal.
    Accommodation: Shoreham Hotel, Calvert Street N.W.
    Some people seem sure he burnt the guitar on Saturday night, but reading their memoirs farther they seem less sure, others say Sunday, or even Wednesday! Someone else makes out as if it was most or every night and that Jimi smashed the same guitar every night too! Logistically and ‘artistically’ it looks (imho) much more like Sunday, with the Who in the audience – a reason for the pyrotechnics.
    The Who was opening for Herman’s Hermits at DAR Constitution Hall that night. Some fans planned to catch the Who, skip the Hermits and make it to the Ambassador for Hendrix’s second set.
    Two shows
    Mike Schreibman (Ambassador publicity): “The band caught a cab to the theater. In the dressing room, Hendrix called me over, he whispered, ‘Can you get me some lighter fluid?’ I said in a real loud voice, ‘Oh, are you going to set your guitar on fire?’ He was really upset that I had broken the secret. I crossed the street and bought the fluid at Peoples Drug.”
    Virginia Vertiz (18, a student at the time, took the 'fire' photo a.o.): “There weren’t that many people there, it was a great big hall an’ it had this wonderful, I-I think the sound was wonderful in the Ambassador Theater, because it had a sort of echoey sound and this wood floor which I thought - It was, it was always my standard for what a music hall should sound like.”
    Rob ‘Bobby Radcliff’ Ewan (“guitarist”):: "What started out as a fairly old [not that old. Ed.] working black Strat would [‘was’, it was just one guitar. Ed.]gradually be [no ‘be’. Ed.] reduced to a nailed together piece of junk [good enough to play ‘Wild Thing’, or whatever though, twice, on its final night.. ie not so much ‘reduced’ as set on fire and smashed to bits at the end].
    Support: Natty Bumpo.
    MC: Norman Wells
    Fee: $340
    Tickets: $1.50
    Aud: Mike Schreibman (Ambassador publicity): “As word spread of Hendrix’s stage magic, attendance grew night by night, until about 800 showed up for the Sunday finale.”
    Rob ‘Bobby Radcliff’ Ewan (“guitarist”): “The Washington Post reviewed the [1st] show, so by the end of the week Jimi packed them in...”

    Songs remembered:

    Sgt Peppert’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Lennon & McCartney)
    I Can’t Explain (Pete Townshend)
    Purple Haze
    a.o. unknown

    1st show? (Virtez photo): The yellow velvet suit (IMHO the suit he wore at the Central Park NYC show a.o.), [the 'Gypsy' waistcoat?], the tie-dye 'splotch' shirt; [the necklaces (below)?] the new white/rose Strat with pink floral roundels cloth strap & pink flowers in the machine head, [the painted Flying V, the spare black/rose Strat with red leather 'cowboy' strap (used for Monterey); fuzz face, wah-wah pedal?]
    Backstage (between shows? - Virtez photo): The 'Gypsy' waistcoat, the tie-dye 'splotch' shirt; the silver choker, the yellow seeds, the red & black beads & 'chandalier' necklaces a.o.; [the yellow velvet suit trousers?].
    Virginia Vertiz (18, a student at the time, took the 'fire' photo a.o.): "I had a Kodak Instamatic and that’s what I used.
    “And I remember being in the green-room and speaking to Hendrix back there.”
    “Well, I was in the green room and Jimi Hendrix came in and I wanted to take a picture of him and I was really shy and I just said, “Hi,” and he just said, “Hi,” and I took his picture.
    You know, this was 50 years ago, I don’t know [which night]. I just know I had a camera, maybe a couple of different nights. I’m not sure if he’s wearing the same clothes in these pictures, if he took off something in the green room. Ahm, I-I can’t tell you if it’s not that good...”
    2nd show? (Virtez photo and others): The satin 'dragons' shirt (see Hollywood Bowl etc.) worn as a jacket; the 'Gypsy' waistcoat worn as a shirt; the silver choker, the yellow seeds, the red & black beads & 'chandalier' necklaces a.o.; the yellow velvet suit trousers; the new white/rose Strat with pink floral roundels cloth strap [& remains of pink flowers in the machine head;?] the 'spare' black/rose Strat with red leather 'cowboy' strap (used for Monterey) - on fire, fuzz face & wah wah.

    Jimi Hendrix: "In Washington, D.C. I destroyed my guitar again. It was accidental...."

    (18 August 67): “Like I've burned the guitar three times out of 300 gigs we've performed. That's a small percentage.”
    (September 67): “Once I was playing away and there was a short circuit and the guitar went up in flames. It went over pretty well, so for three times after that I sprayed lighter fluid on it and then stamped out the burning pieces.”

    (September 67): Why does he smash his equipment?
    "Oh now listen, man, that's just not true. We've only done that about three times—out of about two hundred gigs together. You do one thing like that, and everybody thinks you do it all the time.

    (Feb 68): "That burning thing, we don't do very much. Let's see, yeah, I've done it a couple more times [ie after the 1st time. Ed.]. Just for kicks, 'cause the guitar might have been broken any*way. It would have only lasted live about or six more performances, so I might as well burn it up, as long as it's still working, so no one will think it's a fake.”

    (Aug 68): “‘Are you going to burn your guitar tonight?’ What’s that shit about? Just because we did it about three times in three hundred gigs.”

    "Virginia Vertiz (18, a student at the time, took the 'fire' photo a.o.): "...Well, I had seen, I had seen the ah, Pete Townshend smash his guitar. Ahm, so I guess that part might have been, not been that extraordinary. But he had done so many extraordinary things, he played the guitar with his teeth, he’d been, he’d been, he had slid down on his knees, I mean, even practically, ahm, horizontal to the floor and he’d played it behind his back. I, I’m not sure anything would have surprised me at that point. Ahm, again, it was 50 years ago...”
    “...And I remember standing next to a couple of members of the Who one night....”
    “You know, there, there was a detail about ahm, the Who. A friend of mine was going out with Hendrix and she asked me if I would go with her and Hendrix. She said they were sharing a plane with the Supremes and the Who, going back to London. And I mean, this is the reason that I wasn’t there more than I was, because I was on my way to undergraduate school. And I said ah, she said, ‘He-he scares me because he takes so much acid (talking about LSD),’ and I said, ‘No. I can’t, because I’m going to undergraduate school.’...
    ...Well, when I picked this [photo] up today, after having it matted and framed, I-I, I was just filled with some emotion about having been part of that time, an’ having met Hendrix an’ having been so close to him I could, well, I could have touched him in the green room. But, even when he was on stage - there weren’t that many people there....
    ...Somebody asked me if it was the black Stratocaster and it seems to be black [it is. Ed.]. I don’t know what kind of guitar it is because (laughs) it’s, it’s in flames (laughing).”

    Hullabaloo, August 1968: "That night, a little-heralded performance was given by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the Ambassador Theatre in N.W. Washington, D.C. Back then, in the dusty, gutted movie theatre that had become a short-lived hippie haven, hardly anyone really knew who Jimi was. Half of the small audience had merely come to dance and to catch the light show; the rest, with their ears to the underground, had heard the news of the evil guitar-burner who played the wildest axe in the world. The apprehension as he came out on stage that night had been high-charged."

    Nils Lofgren (with ‘Crystal Mesh’ at the time.): "First night I saw him [13 August] we were just kids and we'd just gone to see the Who - in fact there was a huge show with the Blues Magoos, Herman's Hermits and the Who. This was the original Who with Keith Moon. And they were just spectacular and then we all rushed over to the Ambassador Theatre - it's like our Ballroom here in DC to see, our psychedelic ballroom - to see Jimi. And Pete Townshend was in the audience - he had come over. And Hendrix came out and none of us really knew anything about him apart from he was supposed to be this magical guitarist. And he only had three people in his band which of course we'd never seen and then... It was funny `cause we were so naive - he announced he was gonna play `Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band'. And all of us are like, `Well, how can he play that? Where's the horns? Where's the strings? Where's all the extra guitars? What's he talking...' We were so oblivious to where Jimi was coming from and he was just such a... I mean, he was just so amazing to look at. He was just so, you know, gorgeous. Just like this animal athlete kind of thing. And he counted off the song and I'll never forget, you know... Everyone was just kind of sitting down wondering what the hell is going to happen. And he had these huge stacks of Marshall amps and, you know, you didn't really know how loud it was going to be and at the end of the count he literally just disappeared, you know. He fell on his, you know, like dropped back with his ass on his heels, guitar between his legs and just kinda went out of vision and the whole audience just leapt up to their feet and he's down there, you know, bumping and grinding doing `Sgt Pepper's [Lonely] Heart's Club Band' a la `Purple Haze' - you know, that kind of rhythm, a little bit slowed down. And it was just completely mesmerising and overwhelming and inspiring. And I've been just hooked ever since."

    “It was seeing Jimi Hendrix there that kind of struck a chord in me that maybe this was something that would be a calling or a profession. Hendrix came out and said he was going to dedicate the first song to Pete Townshend, and he was going to do a rendition of ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ Being naive, and huge Beatles lovers, a lot of us thought, ‘Well, you’re only a three-piece band, how can you play “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”? There’s all these other guitars and strings and violins.’ We just didn’t have a clue what Hendrix was really about.
    He counted off the song, and I remember he kind of disappeared. He just did one of those things where he fell to the floor, almost sitting on the floor rocking with the guitar between his legs, doing kind of a ‘Purple Haze’-‘Sgt. Pepper’ riff.
    Everyone just jumped up to try to see him, and from that moment on, everyone was standing and mesmerized by obviously the greatest guitar player that ever lived, certainly in rock-and-roll.”

    “We went to see The Who with Keith Moon at Constitution Hall and even on stage, Pete Townsend announced that he was going to rush over and see Jimi Hendrix actoss town to our version of the Fillore East called the Ambassador Ballroom [sic]. We were just teenagers and Hendrix comes out with his trio. I haven’t heard anything yet and he said, ‘I’d like to dedicate this song to Pete Townsend, who's in the audience. It's a little song called 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.' Of course, the immature teenagers we were, we thought how could he play 'Sgt. Pepper's"? It has horns, it has strings, and there's only three guys up on stage. We were all looking in the wings expecting some orchestra to parade out....
    "Jimi, to look at him, was the most beautiful performer you ever saw... He was like Michael Jordan to watch just beautiful. He naturally played at a different level....
    "He started bobbing up and down with this big grin on his face, then looked at Mitch Mitchell and counted down. 'Two, three,' and all of a sudden he disappeared. We all jumped to our feet and this explosion happened, the opening chords of the song, he's doing 'Sgt. Pep*pers' as a trio, not unlike 'Purple Haze.'
    "He's disappeared, but he was sitting down on his ass near his heels, his guitar between his legs doing his 'Sgt. Pepper' riff, chewing on this big wad of gum and grin. We were just stunned because, of course, he did it beautifully...and we got exposed to somebody who just seemed to drop out of the sky....
    There were just a lot of inspired moments like that at the Ambassador; it was this dark, beautiful, haunted, inspired room that you could go to and get lost in the light show and friends and the camradarie and the excitement of being in the audience discovering all this great new music; it was this real pivotal place in Washington, D.C. for all of the music scene, young and old."

    Carl A. Zaner (fan): "...The concert opened with a house band (at the time, the Mosaic Virus [apparently not. It was Natty Bumpo. Ed.] — basically a Jefferson Airplane clone) which played for about an hour....
    Then Hendrix walked onto the stage, with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. He wore an outfit similar to (if not the same) as the orange ruffle-collared, psychedelic-eyed outfit, as appears on the cover of the "Are You Experienced?" album cover! What a sight! [but not for every show, so which show? Ed.]
    Most of the people there had never even heard his music before coming to the concert! The word had gotten around the freak community that you had to go see this guy who could really play guitar! .... the Experience began to play ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band’... The general crowd reaction was almost one of disinterest..."Ho hum, another Beatles imitator!"
    Little did the crowd know that Hendrix traveled with a studio mixing engineer [not. Ed.], who was seated just below stage level, in what would have been the orchestra pit of a traditional theater. [After that] Jimi launched into a full-fledged performance of almost the entire "Experienced?" album, beginning with an ultra-sonic "Purple Haze". The crowd was completely mesmerized, to say the least!”

    Phil Wood (16, guitarist, now radio broadcaster): “[After seeing the Who’s Pete Townshend smash, but not burn, his guitar at Constitution Hall, me and a buddy hurried to the Ambassador. I had seen Hendrix’s Thursday show. [I was in the front row for two shows including the last night], so I knew to sit on the floor just in front of stage-right, where Hendrix would stand.
    I felt someone take a seat to his left, so close in the crowd that their legs touched. It was Townshend. Standing against the wall was the Who’s bass player, John Entwistle.]
    Hendrix walks out with his Stratocaster. He looks at Townshend. He plugs in his Strat, and without even tuning up, he starts playing ‘I Can’t Explain’ — the Who hit. Noel Redding hasn’t seen them, doesn’t get it. Like, ‘What key is this!?’ Pete laughs, Entwistle laughs. Hendrix stops and does his set...”
    “...We had never seen anyone have sex with a Stratocaster, and that’s essentially what he was doing...”
    “...And then he picks it up and he whacks it on the stage and the neck comes off and chunks of wood are flyin' out....”
    “...At the moment of combustion and destruction that last night in the Ambassador, a string popped off the instrument....”
    “...But a string broke, as they are prone to do, and it came flying and it hit me right in the chest and so I reached down, I picked it up and I curled it up and put it in my pocket and they had a... It wasn't packed. It was a decent crowd, but it certainly wasn't, wasn't wall-to-wall people. I mean, there were no chairs at the Ambassador, you just sat on the floor.
    It's burned in my memory. I mean literally, my view, it was, I was probably dangerously close as far my ears went. But it was just, it was one of those moments kind o' frozen in time."
    “...I keep it [the string, coiled in a clear plastic guitar string case] on a shelf in my office.
    For so many friends of mine who play, it’s like this relic. If they hold their hands over it, something mystical will happen. It bears a bit of char.”

    Jimmy Thackery (“guitarist”): "First, let me say that at the ripe old age of about fifteen [there was an area in the Ambassador Theatre where underage patrons were allowed] a lot of ‘memories’ have probably been shaded by the passing of years. I do recall that the hall did not seem that crowded... It was probably on Saturday night that I attended [but could easily have been the Sunday, eh? Ed.]. Jimi was doing the somersaults and the flips, lighting his guitar on fire and smashing it.
    The Ambassador Theatre was like something I'd never seen: bubble light shows, incense burning in the audience and day-glo paint all over the walls. I recall Jimi being quite animated and colorfully dressed. The color of his guitars made no impression on me, but one did come apart somehow. Whether it was accidental or not, I don't know and he did not [fully] burn it. Perhaps an accident occurred and rendered the Strat unplayable so he just finished it off for effect.
    Later on, in high school, I had a classmate, Andy Goldberg (who was also a neighbor and piano player) who told me that he had been there that night as well. Andy claimed to have wrestled the broken guitar's neck away from other audience members and kept it. I've never seen it, but I have no reason to doubt him.
    I also found out many years later that Bobby Radcliff, noted D.C. blues guitarist and friend, was there working as a soda dispenser in the upstairs balcony. We shared our impressions of that historic event and he seemed to corroborate much of what I remembered.
    Are You Experienced had not been out long [about one week], so the music from it was just beginning to make an impression on folks. Me seeing Jimi at the Ambassador was a fluke. Sensory overload to be sure for a teenage boy of fifteen. He made a big impression on me, but so did the Ambassador Theatre and the scene inside! I felt like I had walked into a forbidden adult world by mistake and was witnessing something lurid and beautiful all at once! And...I 'never heard surf music again!'"

    John Gossage (photographer; owner ‘the Disco-phile shop’): "I lived about a block and a half from the Ambassador Theatre and I got told, 'You have to come and see this guy.' It was a phenomenal show… We went the first night [?], and it was your typical Fillmore knock-off, no seats, light show, old theater with all the seats ripped out.
    Hendrix came on and just blew everybody away; it was phenomenal... No one had ever heard anybody play like that. I think he played a couple days... I saw two shows the first night... The one thing I remember is that he lit his guitar on fire, which was real unusual, apparently [if he saw this his time scale seems to be quite mixed up. Ed.]. I had a BMW motorcycle at the time, and I remember weaving down the street, afterward, to the sound of ‘Foxy Lady,’ which was still going on in my head.”

    Jimmy Cole (“guitarist”): "I attended the Saturday night [or was it Sunday? It was 50 years ago. If Saturday, what was he going to use for smashing and burning on Sunday then? Ed.] Ed.] show. I can tell you, for sure, Jimi smashed and burned a Strat! He held a can of lighter fluid at his crotch area and simulated urinating [whatever turns you on, bud. Ed.] on the guitar with the lighter fluid. I don't remember exactly how he lit it or what happened after. He was not kneeling, but rather crouched down a bit in front of the guitar. I don't remember other details [ie his memory is pretty ‘hazey’. Ed.]."

    Rob ‘Bobby Radcliff’ Ewan (“guitarist”): "Jimi used his black Strat as his prop [it wasn’t a ‘prop’ it was the real thing. Ed.] guitar to burn at the closing portions of his performance. He never entirely burned it to a crisp [that’s correct, he never did – the three times he burnt it. Ed.], he just dropped [‘dropped’, how about ‘squirted’/’poured’ eh? Ed.] lighter fluid on the body and lit a match. I don't recall Jimi throwing guitar parts from the stage - don't think he did [he doesn’t sound too sure about this 50-year-old ‘memory’. Ed.]."

    "At the end of the performance week, the black Strat was reduced to a piece of junk and left by the band in the dressing room area. Different Washington people got to scavenge the parts of the black Strat. Since the body was split apart and in pieces, nobody can lay claim to have gotten the whole guitar. It was just a bunch of parts that locals got to keep as their momento of the incredible week of Jimi Hendrix’ Washington D.C. invasion....”

    Michael Paper: "I was there when it happened. It looked like the lighter fluid was coming out of his crotch [whatever turns you on, bud. Ed.]. He would light [sic, ‘lit’] it, squeeze[d] it, and sat back for a while. There wasn't much lighter fluid [??! Ed.]. He shot it out between his legs. The lighter fluid burned out quickly but it wasn't like a fire [??! Ed.]. The flash points of the fluid was pretty good. Then that was it. He really didn't burn the guitar, you know [no??! Ed.]. Like a magician, you know. I don't think it was hot enough to do any damage. There weren't any scorch marks; the pickguard (and) everything [else] was fine.
    ...The neck was never broken off until the last day during the last encore. The last day the damn thing broke in half - the neck came off, the body came off."

    Bill Havu: "I do remember the lighter fluid can Jimi used to set it on fire. At the time I thought, how simple and relatively safe."

    Charles "Chuck" Smith (saxophone, Natty Bumpo): "I did see the act with the burning guitar and all the gyrations that went before it. The band was extremely loud and at times I had to leave the room [pish. Ed.]"

    Chris Patent (fan): "I was at the Hendrix show. A friend, Rosemary, called me: 'Chris, you have to come see this guy; he's amazing!' That night I rode the bus from VA-DC, another bus to Dupont Circle, and walked up to the theatre) in my day-glo orange rubber boots I made in 10th grade art class. He lit the guitar on fire as part of the show. His music blew my 15-year-old mind. I was amazed that the place was not even full that night."

    Brian Fisher (Working for local TV music show 'Wing Ding'): "[I was backstage with The Who, they were supporting Herman's Hermits at D.A.R. Constitution Hall. I still have one of Keith Moon's drumsticks from that show. Pete Townshend had asked me about the Hendrix show]. So John Entwhistle and myself and, and-eh, Pete Townshend we went to the, eh Ambassador which was in, eh Columbia Road. We sat right in the front, it was unbelievable. It was, it's surreal actually, thinking back on it today."

    Charles Smith (Bumpo co-founder. Now with Soundwater): “He wasn’t just playing music; he was invoking dark spirits, I believe [not. Ed.].”

    Johnson: “People in the audience went crazy, but I thought it was kind of contrived. The theatrics overshadowed the fact that this guy could really play.”

    Connie Wright: “[I saw the show with two friends from Baltimore. Backstage after the show, Hendrix said he needed a ride to the hotel with his ‘Little dolly bird,’ as he referred to the pretty young thing he was with, we provided the ride and briefly visited his room.] He was affable and sweet and unassuming. Among the topics of conversation was Winnie-the-Pooh.”

    Saturday 26 August 1967
    USA (D.C.)
    EVENING STAR (weekender, page?) After Dark 'The Abassador - Erie 'n' Weary' By John Segraves: "What with the number of flower children around town, it didn't raise many eyebrows when two enterprising young men managed to lease the old Ambassador Theater and attempt to take advantage of the situation.
    Neither of the two hippie havens, Georgetown and the Dupont Circle area, was too far for them to come from - even in their barefeet. So, book the rock 'n' roll acts, put in some of that eerie so-called psychedelic lighting with a batch of slide projectors, throw some weird pictures on the walls and give the kids plenty of room and we've got it made, was their likely theory.
    The sound? Dull, dreary, oderous and noisy beyond description. This was t [...] amplifiers on each side of the stage reverberates off the walls and even under the bench I was sitting on. No lyrics can be understood.
    One of them also likes to embellish one of the songs now and then with a blood-curdling scream. The kids sit there emotionless, staring at the group, applauding dispassionately after each number.
    It was hard for somone whose parents use to call Benny Goodman loud to figure out whether they were bored or mesmerized by what they were hearing.
    To the right of the balcony [...] the theater's [...] thus far, and probably the most bored cop in town is the one assigned to the place. When I walked by the other night he was yawning, that's what the Ambassador seems to be, Yawnsville, baby."
    Last edited by stplsd; 03-30-18 at 01:21 PM.

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