Looking Back

Random thoughts on the 60's Michigan rock scene.



Jimi Hendrix Experience at Cobo Arena, Detroit, 11/30/1968 by Jim Nash

From "Eyewitness, the Illustrated Jimi Hendrix Concerts, 1968" [link]

I was living in Michigan, attending college, and playing in a rock band. In my neighborhood every block had more than one rock and roll band. Some of the bands never made it out of the basement. The band I was in was lucky enough to work teen clubs, Ann Arbor frat parties, and the occasional showcase gig at the Saginaw Auditorium. We managed to cross paths with Iggy and the Stooges, the Frost, Bob Seger, and the "revolutionary" MC5. When the band didn't have gigs - about half the time - we went to watch other bands play. The Grande Ballroom in Detroit was the venue that we kept driving back to. In a few months time in 1968 we inhaled the Grande's heavy incense and saw the Who, the Yardbirds with Jimmy Page, the Cream, and most importantly the MC5. The Grande Ballroom wasn't big enough for the bands who were really big. Those bands played at Olympia Arena or the newer "air conditioned" Cobo Arena. Cobo was built for basketball, but the Stones (1965 and 1966), the Doors (1968), and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968 and 1969) used it for their concerts. Cobo was not intimate, did not have a light show like the Grande, but did have females in attendance, but I didn't care because I went there for the music.

How big was Hendrix? In my life he was the biggest. By reading the trade rags I knew that he was huge in England. I special ordered Are You Experienced? before it hit the racks in mass quantities. Thanks to coverage in Hit Parader magazine I knew that I had to have a Fender Stratocaster. I knew the sound I wanted from my instrument. All I had to do was see Jimi and figure it out. So I saw him. First in March of 1968 in Flint, Michigan and then again on November 30, 1968 in Detroit. I drove a car 200 miles to see the show. With more than 10,000 fans in attendance, it was close to being a sell out. I do remember looking around the arena and seeing only one black person. Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys opened the show. They played their Good Old Rock 'n' Roll medley and my friend - a drummer - and I nodded at each other acknowledging that yes the groove was there. Cat Mother - unusual as an oriental rocker - finished his set to polite applause.

Jimi, Mitch, and Noel took the stage. We counted the amps. Some people were naive enough back then to say "if we had that many amps..." I did not suffer from that delusion. Jimi's records were masterpieces (and still are by today's standards). The big question was can he deliver THAT SOUND live? From my seat 20 rows back on the main floor of the arena the answer was no. Jimi appeared to be weary. My friend the drummer wanted to hear Little Miss Lover with Mitch's cool drum part. It didn't happen. Red House was good (played on a white Gibson), but we expected the sound of the records and didn't get it. I do remember that the band spent a fair amount of time between songs. Noel - apparently restless - started clowning and singing the Small Faces' Renee The Docker's Delight (a humorous story about a prostitute from the Ogden's Nut Gone Flake album) off microphone between songs. Jimi and Mitch seemed slightly amused but annoyed with Noel's behaviour and cut him off. A sign of things to come. A heckler kept bothering Jimi to play Hey Joe and he finally did dedicating it to "the guy over there with the toilet paper mouth".

The band left the stage, we drove home to Saginaw with our ears still ringing, and - of course - I still hadn't figured out how to get Jimi's sound out of my Stratocaster.

photo credit: "Eyewitness: The Illustrated Jimi Hendrix Concerts 1968"

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