Friday, September 21, 2007
Hendrix Plays Harlem...Grant Reid Reflects
September of 1969.....Muammar al Gaddafi had seized control of Libya, the My Lai Massacre had just occurred in "Nam", the "Chicago Eight" were being brought to trial, and Jimi Hendrix was taking Harlem by storm. No stranger to soul music he had a few years earlier, recorded with both the Isley Brothers and Harlem legend Lonnie Youngblood.
"Its Friday afternoon September 5th and a community sound truck races through the streets announcing the United Block Association's Street Block Party Festival at west139th street between 5th and Lenox. It would feature radio DJ Eddie O'Jay, The 128/129th Street Block Ass'n Steel Bands,The Lovemen LTD,Funny MC Chuck-A-Luck, The Sam and Dave Band, Jimmy Brooks, J.D.Bryant, Big Maybelle, The Fabulous Miss Maxine Brown and The Great Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Jimi Hendrix y'all... Rock star wild man who had to go to England to make it! With six "million selling" albums and working on a seventh, brother Jimi is coming home,man, to be with his brothers and sisters. In search for truth and peace, he has now added justice and he's bringing a message to the ghetto, to the people.... and for free!
The sun goes down and thousands of people crowd 139th street. Rooftops,windows and fire escapes are full with community people. Not one sweet little flower child in sight.
Time passes and the other acts play and go home. Mothers close their apartment windows, and only a few hundred people stay out late on the magical night. But it is worth it.
Outside, under the Harlem sky, Jimi and a four man band play. Noises never heard by the human ear blast out of his guitar, speakin' and cryin' to the priveledged and patient.
With a playful, bashful defiance in his eyes,pop goes Jimi , and he breaks out his kaleidescopic and very plugged in version of "Fire" along with Juma Sultan, Jerry Velez, Larry Le, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell.
Its almost 3 o'clock in the morning and Jimi, ever the showman, caps off the festival with "Voodoo Chile Babe". Its a bitchin' rendition and, the mass relates to that extra something spiritual,that extra voodoo inner drive that has kept us black people going since bondage. Hendrix fades into "Machine Gun" and you could feel the ghosts of all the black Vietnam War dead. Everyone agrees that Jimi's a "down brother".
As Jimi enter his limo, he promises to come back to Harlem, and passes three little poor black boys who should be home in bed. The kids wave goodbye as they play their invisible electric guitars.
Jimi never leaves. Jimi never left. Grant Harper Reid