By Armond Blackwater as told by Ron Russell – Edited by Jillian Martineau
In the early morning hours of September 18th, 1970, Ron Russell was teaching a Head Start class at Manhattan Middle School in Tampa. Ron’s best friend, Martin Luther King, created the Head Start program. Ron felt a duty to forward his friends vision, “I had thirty little black kids there and they were all precious.”
Early that morning, the principal 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.”
Jimi sounded very good to Ron’s ears. Hendrix was in London at the flat of his girlfriend and new soul mate, Monika Dannemann. Jimi was in good health and spirits. Jimi and Ron talked for a few moments about the upcoming sessions at Electric Lady Studios in New York. Jimi would be returning to New York in a few days and was eager to get his new band into the studio. Ron and Wally Dentz were ready to fly to New York to join their friend.
Suddenly, Ron heard a familiar voice enter the London flat.
The mood quickly turned ugly. “Is that that fucking drummer from Tampa,” Ron recognized the voice as that of Mitch Mitchell. “You tell him that he’s never gonna record with you. He’s never gonna play with you. He’s never gonna get any money out of you.”
The hair on Ron’s body stood on end in alarm. Ron felt a terrible wave of dread.
“Jimi, get out of there, man. I’m getting’ a bad feeling about this.”
Hendrix laughed off Ron’s warning, “Ah, don’t worry about him, he’s just crazy. I’ve handled him before.” Ron heard wrestling in the room
Before Ron could respond he heard Jimi cry out, “Ouch. Man, he just jammed me in the temple with a needle.”
Ron cried out, “Jimi?”
Ron heard the telephone receiver fall to the floor and Hendrix with it. He could hear Jimi choking and vomiting. Ron was horrified. He was helpless. He was an ocean away and couldn’t help his friend with whatever was happening to him. Ron came to a sickening realization: he was listening to his friend die a horrible, agonizing death.
Then, Ron heard the voice that he had immediately recognized moments before, the voice of former Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell. The voice said to an accomplice, “Get those pills and jam ‘em down his throat.”
Michael Jeffrey confided to James “Tappy” Write that he ordered Mitch to pour wine down Jimi’s throat as he twitched on the floor.
In an interview, Tappy expanded, “The second point is that both the ambulance drivers and the doctor who attended Jimi at the hospital say that Jimi was in a real mess. Dr John Bannister was the surgical registrar on duty that day. When Dr Bannister read my book he wrote to me from Australia: ‘The very striking memory of this event,’ he wrote, ‘was the considerable amount of alcohol in his larynx and pharynx… I recall vividly the large amounts of red wine that oozed from his stomach and his lungs.’
Yet the toxicology report revealed an alcohol blood level equivalent to about four pints of beer – and in any case, Jimi had an unusually low tolerance to alcohol.”
“As a person regurgitates they naturally inhale and influx anything in their throat,” Ron described. Mitch Mitchell and Michael Jeffrey were setting up the cover story:Rock Star Dies Of Overdose.
And then, there was silence.
Nothing more was heard from Jimi Hendrix. For a time there Ron heard no sound the London flat save for some shuffling and dragging sounds.
At the other end of the wire Ron was pleading, “What is going on? Jimi? Jimi? Are you there? Are you alright?”
Jimi didn’t reply.
Following a desperate eternity, the receiver was picked up. Ron absolutely identifies that it was the voice of Mitch Mitchell.
“The nigger is dead! And I’m coming for you next,” Mitchell coldly stated.
In shock, Ron responded, “Come on. I live in Tampa, Florida. I’m waiting for you.” Then, the line went dead.
Ron was confused, dazed, shocked. What had just happened? Could it be true? Did he just hear his good friends’ murder? What should he do? What could he do?
Ron called Martha Brown, Jimi’s aunt. He described to her what happened. Martha was shocked by the news. She excused herself to call Jimi’s father, Al Hendrix, with the tragic news. Ron expected that authorities would contact him for his statement about the murder. He was never contacted.
“I can’t say for sure who the other person in the room was, but I strongly suspect that it was Michael Jeffery,” Ron states. “I can’t prove that Jeffery was there,” Ron pauses, “But I can prove that Mitch Mitchell murdered Jimi Hendrix!”
If Mike Jeffery could exert the kind of control that Monika and others have described over a mega-star like Jimi Hendrix, how could Mitch Mitchell refuse to do his bidding? Mitchell’s income source would dry up as well if Jimi made his intended change in musical direction. With Jimi dead they had enough material recorded to release Hendrix albums for decades.
That is in fact what happened. Jimi Hendrix holds the dubious distinction of having released the most posthumous albums of any artist.
To normal folks this would seem a shortsighted approach at best. To literally kill the goose that was laying the golden eggs. Jimi Hendrix had already revolutionized the world of rock and roll as well as the art of guitar playing. Had he just been allowed to follow his own inspired course he surely would have continued to lead rock in new directions. After all, isn’t that what really made him the star that he was?
Mike Jeffery was far from typical. He bragged that he had served in the British Secret Service. He fancied himself as a James Bond, a secret agent for M126. He told all who would listen that he was a specialist in all sorts of devious tactics. He claimed to know all the tricks of the trade. He claimed to have killed before. Early on in his career he had purported connections with the Newcastle crime scene.He had become involved with the New York Mafia. He was deeply indebted to mobsters.
If he lost Jimi’s revenue, he would be killed.
Immediately after Jimi’s death, Jeffery promoted the story that Jimi Hendrix, like other rock stars of his generation, had died of a drug overdose.
Just another rock star that got too high; a black man who sang of voodoo. Jeffery could depend on the fact that officials wouldn’t look too closely for foul play in this matter. He didn’t underestimate the indifference with which authorities treated Jimi’s demise despite the fact that the physical evidence did not support the manufactured story.
The autopsy reports the discovery of an “unknown substance” in Jimi’s blood, but no narcotics and a minimal blood-alcohol level.. Ron Russell states that, “they injected Jimi in the temple, behind the hairline.” A normal autopsy would not have discovered the tiny puncture mark obscured by Jimi’s thick Afro. “I believe that whatever that unknown substance was, that it is what killed him,” Ron declares.
Ron Russell fell into a deep funk of nearly overwhelming depression. Another close friend had been murdered. A little over two years before on April 4th, 1968, Ron’s best friend, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, had been murdered. Ron had been devastated by Dr. King’s death. And now, he had lost his dear friend Jimi Hendrix.
Ron drew within himself fearing to get close to anyone lest they be murdered too.
The natural question is: Why didn’t Ron speak out about this murder sooner?
The answer is quite simple: The pain of remembering was too great. Ron buried the memories deep within his mind.
Ron suppressed his memories for over 25 years.
Why Ron has decided to tell his story after so many years is perhaps the hardest question to answer. Ron has a very successful career going as percussionist for singer Bertie Higgins’ Band of Pirates. The band is about to start a lucrative long-term gig at the Paradise Hotel in Las Vegas; a fat payday, living in the lavish lap of luxury – all expenses paid. Going public with his murder allegations leaves Ron with nothing to gain and literally everything to lose. Perhaps, even his life.