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Thread: Robbie Robertson Meets Jimmy James 1966

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    Robbie Robertson Meets Jimmy James 1966

    ROBBIE ROBERTSON (The Band) From His Book "Testimony" Page 244

    The phone rang in my room at the Chelsea. It was Brian Jones, calling to say the Rolling Stones were in New York for a few days. "What are you guys up to? Is Bob (Dylan) around?" I told him I didn't know what Bob was doing, but that we could hook up a little later if he wanted. He said he'd come down to the Chelsea around nine that night. Returning to New York and the Chelsea felt comforting, almost like going home. The manager of the hotel, Stanley Bard, had held my favorite little suite for me, Room 410. It was a bedroom, a bathroom, and a good-sized living room with a small fridge area near the entrance, and that extra space kept me from feeling boxed in. Stanley—who was known to accept art pieces, which he displayed in the lobby, in lieu of rent—was kind enough to give me a break on occasion when money was tight. The phone rang again a few minutes later, and it was John Hammond. He was playing that night at the Café Au Go Go and told me I needed to come check out his new band, which featured an incredible guitar player who'd played with Little Richard. When Brian Jones got to the hotel that night, I told him I was going to the Village to catch John Hammond's set, and he decided to check it out with me. We got there as John was going on and snagged great seats just to the right of the stage. John wasn't kidding: his new band was hot. He sounded more powerful than I'd ever heard him before.

    Then he introduced his new guitar player to do a song. "Please give a nice hand to an amazing guitarist, folks. This is Jimmy James." Jimmy played left-handed and his lanky body snaked around the instrument, like he was born with the guitar strapped on. He was young and good-looking, with hands and arms thrashing around like lightning. A bit of a show-off in the best sense. Holy smokes—this guy could wail! He sang, played the guitar behind his back, behind his head, with one hand. He ended the song playing with his teeth, which made me stand up and holler. Brian Jones looked like a ray of light had just blinded him. "This chap should come to England," he said. "He would blow people's minds." After the set, we said hello to John and his guitar man. "I gotta go crash," Brian whispered to me a few minutes later. "So jet-lagged, I can't hold my head up. Thanks, man. I'll give you a ring tomorrow." He jumped in a cab while Jimmy James and I talked about our big dreams and the songs that changed our lives, like Howlin' Wolf's "Forty Four." The following week Jimmy and I grabbed a bite and talked a lot about songwriting. "Writing songs is a mysterious thing to me, man," he confessed. "I get an idea but I don't know where to go with it. I haven't cracked that yet." "I wrote the original songs the Hawks have recorded," I told him, "and I love the songwriting process, but we're always on the road. I'm hoping to just concentrate on writing at some point." "How does Dylan write?" Jimmy asked. I smiled. "On a typewriter." "What? No shit, on a typewriter? That's weird, man. I gotta try that someday." As we wandered by Washington Square, we heard street musicians in the park, somebody preaching about the world coming to an end. "That cat you brought to the gig the other night, Brian Jones?" said Jimmy. "Well, he told somebody who must have told somebody and they want to bring me over to England, to London. Isn't that some wild shit?" He laughed. "Can't wait to check that out!"

    "That's fantastic," I responded. "Brian seems to know everybody. He's like a goodwill ambassador. Hey, at the show last week you did some extreme bends on that tremolo bar. How in the world does your Strat not go way out of tune? That's one of the reasons I play a Telecaster—no tremolo bar to make it go out." "Oh, man, I got to show you," said Jimmy. "I'm crashing over here at the Albert Hotel. Come on up and I'll show you my method." We went up to his room and Jimmy took his Strat out of its case. "I need to change strings anyway. These are getting pretty rusted out." He knelt on the bed and put the headstock of the guitar between his legs. He replaced the big E string with a new one. But before he wound it into the tuning peg, he began massaging the string toward himself, giving it long slow pulls with both hands until it had no more give, then winding it into the peg. He did this with each string, like a ritual. A guitar always falls out of tune when you first change the strings as they adjust to being stretched but this was a solution. After he tuned the guitar, Jimmy pushed the tremolo bar down, playing some crazy lick, then pulled it up. He played an A chord and it sat solidly in tune. "See, it takes more time, but it's worth it," he said. "Then the only problem on a Strat is when you break a string, the springs in the tremolo bar throw the guitar way out of tune. You gotta change the string immediately while you tell the audience a joke, right?" "I had a Strat when I was sixteen," I said, "but had to pawn it to get the money to go join Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in Arkansas." "Ow! that's a shame," said Jimmy. "Did you ever get it back?" I just shook my head. Jimmy offered me a smoke and said, "Your first name is Jaime. I saw that in the credits for Blonde on Blonde." "Yeah," I said. "They started calling me Robbie as a kid, you know, like if your last name is Smith, people would call you Smitty. What about you? Your parents called you Jimmy when your last name is James?" He grinned as he lit my cigarette. "No, my last name is Hendrix and my first name is actually Johnny. Kind of crazy, right?" We both laughed at our evolving names, and the idea that you could change them like you change your clothes.

    We had been signed to Capitol Records in 1968 and were in Los Angeles to record our first album. Albert Grossman, Mo Ostin of Warner Brothers Records, my girlfriend and I went to the Shrine Auditorium to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience. At the concert, we were positioned right in front of the PA, and after a few fantastic songs our ears were bleeding. "I think we better go" said Albert. We all agreed, but I was sorry not to get a chance to say hello to my old guitar buddy, Jimmy James.

    Page 350

    Michael Lang approached our manager, Albert Grossman, about The Band peforming at Woodstock, saying it would be appropriate if we closed things out at midnight on the festival's final night, since The Band was the only act on the bill that actually lived in Woodstock.

    We had to be flown in by helicopter on the night of our performance. The helicopter landed in a backstage area that looked like a village unto itself. As we were settling in to our little camp area, Michael Lang came over and whispered to me, "We have a slight problem." How could we not? I thought to myself. "Jimi Hendrix claims he was promised that he could close the show," Michael said, "and he won't perform unless he can go on last. I know I said you guys should close, but he's making a big stink over it. I'm sorry, but would you mind going on at nine, when it gets dark?" I thought if we could do our thing earlier and get out of here unscathed, so much the better.

    When Jimi Hendrix arrived, I was told he wanted to explain why he insisted on closing the show. I relayed that we were cool, no explanation necessary, but he wanted to say hello anyway. We hadn't really caught up in years, since back in my Chelsea Hotel days, and it was great to see him. He looked like a different person in his rock-star British garb. And so did I, he remarked. We just stood there for a moment, looking each other over and laughing. "Man," he said, "I wanted to tell you I covered that song you did with Dylan, 'Crawl Out Your Window,' and I copied your guitar lick. I borrowed it. I didn't steal it." "It's yours. It's a gift from the old days." He gave me a hug. "Your record Big Pink has changed the musical landscape. It's like you turned the music world on its head. I dig it." I appreciated Jimi's endorsement, especially because our record underplayed lengthy guitar solos. Then he reminded me of when we were hanging out in the Village together, and how badly he had wanted to learn to write songs. "I'm still working on it, baby. Don't know if I'm getting any better, but I'm trying." He smiled. "And hey, I'm sorry about this mix-up with who's going on last. I'm not doing some ego bullshit. They just told me if I agreed to be on the show, I could go on whenever I want." I assured him it wasn't in any way an issue with us.
    Last edited by RobbieRadio; 06-30-17 at 06:12 PM.

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    Re: Robbie Robertson Meets Jimmy James 1966

    Robbie Robertson on Why He Still Calls Jimi Hendrix "Jimmy James"

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