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Noel Redding on why it was “very hard” to work with Jimi Hendrix


Noel Redding on why it was “very hard” to work with Jimi Hendrix

Following an arrest and a stint in the army, Jimi Hendrix began to put his guitar virtuosity to good use, playing in backing bands for the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. Such gigs were no small deal, but neither was Hendrix. He knew he had what it took to be centre stage, commanding a band in front of an audience of his own. In a twist of fate, the young musician bumped into Chas Chandler, bassist of The Animals.

When Hendrix and Chandler first met in New York City, Chandler was finishing up a few last commitments with The Animals but had made arrangements to leave the band. His ambition was to become a band manager and producer. After hearing Hendrix’s cover of ‘Hey Joe’, Chandler looked to end his talent scouting before it had even begun. He managed to persuade Hendrix to move to London in September 1966 on the promise that the scene was much more fertile for a musician of his vision.

When Hendrix arrived in London, Cream had already made their first moves in the nascent psychedelic rock scene. Although Chandler humoured the idea of a keyboardist during the first band audition, he and Hendrix soon settled on the idea of mirroring Cream’s three-piece set-up. Luck was clearly on their side as they enlisted the virtuosic talents of drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding.

Speaking to Nicky Gebhart in 1998, Mitchell remembered jamming with Hendrix in an audition session of sorts. He recalled a false perception of pressure to follow in Cream’s footsteps. “I came out with some facetious comment like, ‘So, you want me to try to play like Ginger Baker or something?’ Hendrix just goes, ‘Oh, yeah, whatever you want, man,’” Mitchell remembered.

Hendrix was famously nonchalant in person, which endeared Mitchell to the project. As a highly skilled jazz-inspired drummer, the last thing Mitchell needed was someone imposing on his creative approach to percussion. “It was like a feeling of freedom,” he reflected. “I don’t know if it’s a spiritual awakening. It was just a situation where I’d gone, ‘Hey, you’ve never worked in a three-piece band in your life, ever, and there is something with this player that is very, very special.’”

Indeed, Hendrix was a very special talent, and over the ensuing three years, he released three enduring psych-rock masterpieces fronting the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Though his incendiary onstage demeanour was anything but reserved, Hendrix’s peers would describe him as an introverted and warm-hearted soul. “In real life, Jimi Hendrix was nothing like the wild guy that he portrayed on stage,” The Kinks’ guitarist Dave Davies once appraised. “He was a quiet, introverted guy like Ray was. He was explosive on stage but very softly spoken off it.”

Noel Redding - The Jimi Hendrix Experience - 1967 by Bent Rej

(Credits: Bent Rej)

In June 1969, several months after the release of Electric Ladyland, The Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded, mostly due to Noel Redding’s departure. The bassist wanted to move on to the next chapter in his career by forming his own band, Fat Mattress. However, he also cited some difficulty in working with Hendrix. “Jimi is a very good guitarist, but he was very hard to work with. I think he suffers from a split personality,” he once told Rolling Stone.

Redding seemed to corroborate Davies’ assessment of Hendrix’s warm character but identified the guitarist’s problematic anxieties. “He’s a genius guitarist, and his writing is very good, but he whips himself,” Redding continued. “He gets everybody around him very uptight because he worries about everything. God knows why.”

Ostensibly, Hendrix’s worries were mostly in relation to money. Even after the Experience broke through to worldwide success, he seemed to have an irrational fear of losing it all. “I could never understand why he worried so much,” Redding added. “I mean, we were earning a fortune on the road. On three occasions, we earned over $100,000 for a single performance. In the last 12 months, I don’t think we ever copped less than $25,000 for a night’s work.”

Although the band was financially solvent, Hendrix had slipped into a difficult state of mental health compounded by the demands of fame and busy touring schedules. Naturally, the stress began to mount for the three-piece to the point that Redding described studio sessions as “chaos” and noted that gigs were “getting ridiculous”.

“The audience wanted us to play the old Hendrix standards, but Jimi wanted to do his new stuff,” he added. 

Though Redding had begun to consider a new project without Hedrix and Mitchell, the “last straw” came during a visit to the Denver Pop Festival, where Hendrix allegedly told a reporter that he intended to enlarge the Experience from its three-piece set-up. He hadn’t consulted Redding and Mitchell about these plans, leaving them somewhat upset. “I went up to Jimi that night, said goodbye, and caught the next plane back to London,” Redding concluded. “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.”

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