By Armond Blackwater as told by Ron Russel. Edited by Jillian Martineau.
Hendrix worked a grueling schedule in 1969 leading up to the pinnacle show of his career at Woodstock where he played 17 songs in the set, returning to play Hey Joe as an encore. His output fell off after that: 7 songs at Lennox Avenue, New York on September 5th, recorded two songs at ABC Studios in LA on September 9th, recorded 3 songs the very next day at the Salvation in Greenwich Village, NY, (ever fly coast to coast?), a forgettable set at Jai-Alai (pronounced Hi-Lie) in Miami, Florida on the 21st, a disastrous show in Clearwater on the 22nd where threw down his guitar in disgust and chastised the audience, which a pregnant Cindi Middleton Halisky (wife of legendary keyboardist Mark Halisky) remembered as hugely disappointing. He met Ron Russell the next day.
A month later, Jimi was free of all addictions for the first times in years, except for one. Music. Creativity skyrocketed, songs were flowing swiftly, his inventiveness returned. He was eager to follow his exciting new path.
But first, he had to make some money. Electric Lady Studios was an enormous drain on his cash resources. And strong suspicions that manager Micheal Jeffrey was stealing vast sums ensured that Jimi would not be signing a new contract. Jimi agreed to play a short tour of Europe to immediately raise necessary cash.
Jimi invited Ron to drum for him on the tour, replacing Mitch Mitchell who Jimi saw as limited in his abilities as a drummer. Mitch was a highly excitable individual, prone to violent outbursts if crossed. Ron had several confrontations with Mitch and, “they weren’t pretty,” according to Ron. “We almost came to blows on one occasion.”
Unfortunately, Ron didn’t have a passport and there wasn’t sufficient time for him to secure one before Jimi’s final European tour began. Ron had to pass on the offer, a fact that haunts him to this day. Had he accompanied Jimi on tour perhaps Jimi would not have died.
Jimi was left with but one alternative. Do the tour with his old drummer Mitch Mitchell.
Mike Jeffery feared people like Ron Russell because they threatened his hold on Jimi. Jeffery didn’t like Jimi to have friends who would putting ideas in his head and giving him strength. He preferred Jimi to remain isolated. The only people allowed close were those that Jeffery could use to influence and manipulate him. He gleefully promoted the conflicts between Mitch Mitchell and Ron Russell. He was manipulating Mitch, too.
Jimi Hendrix left for the European tour. There was much prep work to do, rehearsals, booking venues, lining up hotels and transportation. Usually, Jeffrey’s people took care of those details, but Hendrix was determined to take back control of his career and life.
Jimi called frequently to talk to Ron Russell about song ideas for the album that they would record when he returned to the States. Jimi sounded very happy. He had met a jazz pianist in Minneapolis, Minnesota that he invited to join the band. He jammed with Bobby Lyle, as he had with Ron, and thought him the ideal fourth member to complete the band.
Ron’s heart could feel the change that had come over his friend. Jimi wrote a dozen or more new tunes during the tour. He would play and sing them over the phone. His playing took on a new purpose as well. As if he was already playing with the new band.
On September 18th, 1970, Ron was teaching a Head Start class at Manhattan Middle School in Tampa. Ron’s best friend, Martin Luther King, had started the Head Start program and Ron felt compelled to help forward his friends vision. “I had thirty little black kids there and they were all precious,” Ron recalls.
Early that morning, the principle of the school came down to get Ron. “Jimi Hendrix is on the phone for you,” the principle said. His voice belied his initial disbelief that the real Jimi Hendrix was actually calling the school. Ron smiled and said, “Cool. It’s ok, he’s a friend of mine.”
*end of part 4*