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Thread: Al Marks & Rocky Isaac Of The Cherry People Meet Hendrix

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    Al Marks & Rocky Isaac Of The Cherry People Meet Hendrix

    AL MARKS & ROCKY ISAAC - Of The Cherry People

    Excerpt from Guitar World 09/18/2013

    On the evening of April 21, 1969, Hendrix and Cox stopped by the Scene and ran into members of the Cherry People, a group that had got to Number 45 on the 1968 pop charts with the psychedelic bubblegum track “And Suddenly.” They were in town to get out of their deal with Heritage Records and had dropped by the Scene to console themselves, having failed to secure a meeting with the head of the label. Their road manager, Al Marks, himself a guitarist, had met Hendrix backstage on a few prior occasions. On the strength of this, Marks made bold to approach Hendrix’s table. Marks has vivid recollections of the evening.

    “Jimi said, ‘Sorry I don’t remember you. But hey, you play in a band? You got a drummer?’ I said, ‘Yeah, he’s right here.’ He goes, ‘You wanna do a session with us tonight?’ I looked at him: ‘You gotta be kidding. You serious?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, man, meet me at four o’clock at the Record Plant.’ He meant four A.M.”

    Marks, Cherry People drummer Rocky Isaac and guitarist Chris Grimes couldn’t believe their luck when they were buzzed into the Record Plant building and shown into the studio. Gary Kellgren was already in the control room setting up for the session. The three Cherry People were even more amazed when Hendrix himself turned up at around 4:20. He sent Marks out to park his Corvette while he set up the recording room to suit his requirements. Marks recalls Hendrix using a pair of Acoustic amps and cabinets for the session, which may have belonged to the Record Plant.

    Once everything was ready to go, Jimi asked, “Okay, who’s the drummer?” Issac was duly installed behind the studio’s kit; Marks and Grimes were assigned to play percussion. Both Marks and Isaac recall working through versions of “Roomful of Mirrors,” the Elmore James song “Bleeding Heart,” “Stone Free,” a freeform jam called “Drone Blues” and “Crash Landing.” But things didn’t go particularly well. Isaac was extremely nervous and not at all used to Hendrix’s practice of just kicking into a song and expecting all the players to follow him.

    “I went over to Billy Cox and said, ‘Billy, I’m used to learning a song first,’ ” the drummer recalls. “I don’t know what’s going on here, and I’m scared.’ And Billy said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on either, but I’ve got the advantage of having played with Jimi quite a bit and I’m able to follow him.’ I said, ‘Well, he’s not cueing me in or anything, and I keep messing up.’ He said, ‘Do the best you can.’ ”

    The evening went downhill from there. “I think it was around 10 or 11 in the morning when we got done with ‘Roomful of Mirrors,’ ” Marks says. “Meanwhile, we’d gone back into the control room after every take while Jimi stayed in the studio. He wouldn’t come out into the control room. And Gary Kellgren had a bowl full of rolled joints and an ashtray filled with cocaine. After every take, we’d light up a joint and pass it around.”

    “Anything you wanted to take was available,” Issac adds. “Alcohol, coke, speed, pot everywhere. There was plenty of everything. The whole time I’m having an anxiety attack. I couldn’t drink enough. I couldn’t take enough speed. I was falling apart. But Jimi was so generous and gracious. I felt he was disappointed. But he took me in the control room where he was mixing down ‘Stone Free.’ He sat me down at the controls and showed me how to pan the drums from left to right. Pretty soon I’m sitting there with him doing a mix.”

    Also in the control room that evening was Devon Wilson. Marks remembers her as, “very tall, very thin, very beautiful. She sat in the corner and just smoked. Didn’t talk. She was as high as the rest of us.”

    What is surprising, given the evening’s unrewarding musical trajectory, is that Hendrix asked Isaac, Marks and Gaines to return for another session a few nights later. Jimi gave the drummer $400 for the night’s work and $100 each to Marks and Grimes, with the promise of the same again when they returned. When Isaac got back to New York from the Cherry People’s D.C. home base for the second session, he garnered some further insights into his Hendrix’s life at the time.

    He met Jimi at the office of his manager, Mike Jeffrey. A hard-bitten, old-school rock-and-roll business sharpie with a reputation as a gangster—some even say that he arranged Hendrix’s death—Jeffrey didn’t welcome Jimi’s latest protégé with open arms. He clearly wasn’t pleased to fork over cash to cover hotel, meal and incidental expenses for Issac and another member of the Cherry People, guitarist Punky Meadows, who hadn’t been engaged to play on the session but had tagged along to meet Hendrix.

    “I felt like Mike Jeffrey would have rather just taken a gun and shot me than given me two dollars,” Issac says. “Jimi knew he was getting robbed, moneywise, but I don’t think that was the big thing for him. He wanted some freedom, it seemed to me. Jimi and I were talking, and he told me, ‘I’m so fucking unhappy. All the guy [Jeffrey] wants me to play is ‘Foxey Lady’ and ‘Purple Haze’ over and over and over. Everything I write he wants to sound like that.’ I think he was at a point where he had to do something. He was so unhappy with management. He didn’t say anything about being unhappy with Mitch or Noel Redding. And of course he didn’t say anything unkind about Billy Cox. But he did say that Mike Jeffrey was just about to kill him.”

    Fortunately, everybody stayed away from the control room ashtrays during Hendrix’s second session with the Cherry People, on April 24, 1969, which yielded the take of “Crash Landing” heard on People, Hell & Angels. “Jimi came in very businesslike and knew what he wanted to do,” Marks recalls. “It wasn’t the same social atmosphere as the first night. He was very direct and to the point. Apparently he had listened to the roughs. He came in and said to me, ‘Okay, if you’re going to play maracas, you need to do this, this and this. He directed each musician. He had like a bandstand thing to hold sheet music. There were blank sheets of paper on it and he was writing lyrics for ‘Crash Landing’ as he was playing. He’d tell us to keep going and he’d be writing down lyrics and starting to sing them. Then he’d say, ‘Okay, from the top…let’s go.’ ”

    “He was magical,” an awestruck Issac recalls of Hendrix’s studio performances. “Seeing him in the studio was like seeing him onstage. Maybe not quite as much theatrics as he displayed onstage, but he didn’t make mistakes. There was genius there. That’s the feeling I got.”

    “His fingers were the size of rulers,” Marks marvels. “They were huge!”

    Last edited by RobbieRadio; 07-23-17 at 10:24 PM.

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