Missing for Years, Recordings and Footage from 1968 Miami Pop Fest Represent a Bright Spot for Jimi Hendrix Experience

by Alan di Perna
Posted Dec 11, 2013 at 11:40am

This is an excerpt from the January 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus the Beatles' 50 Greatest Guitar Songs, Andreas Kisser, Mark Tremonti, a guide to new signature model guitars and John Petrucci's monthly column — check out the January 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

Sunshine State: Missing for years, a set of newly released recordings and footage from the 1968 Miami Pop Festival reveals the Jimi Hendrix Experience at a bright spot in their brief and troubled history.

By mid-1968, the hippie movement was in full flower across America. Young people were growing their hair out, dressing and thinking in new ways, tuning in, turning on and dropping out to the beat of a wild new style of psychedelicized heavy guitar music as performed by colorful groups like Cream, the Who, Blue Cheer and, of course, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

And so it came to pass on a breezy May day in 1968 that Jimi Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell mounted a makeshift stage atop a flatbed truck at the Miami Pop Festival.

Held at the Gulfstream Park horse racetrack, Miami Pop was the first big rock festival to take place on the East Coast of the United States. It was a heartfelt emulation of California’s Monterey Pop Festival, the event that had hosted the Experience’s explosive U.S. concert debut the year before.

As they climbed onto Miami Pop’s unconventional stage, Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell were seriously wacked on STP, a powerful, speed-spiked hallucinogen. The festival organization itself was shambolic at best. Yet despite these factors, the trio turned in an exemplary performance at both their afternoon and evening shows that day, and it is remembered as one of the historic Jimi Hendrix concerts.

Resplendent in a frilly white shirt and wearing an outsized medallion and a big floppy hat, Hendrix stroked, humped, caressed and brutalized his Olympic White maple-neck Fender Stratocaster, teasing anguished cries and fiery torrents of feedback frenzy from it.

The 50,000 or so rock fans in attendance that day witnessed a performance that few of them would forget. But this great Hendrix concert was almost lost to history. Multitrack audio tapes and film footage of the event went missing in the messy aftermath of the Miami fest, when the event’s second day was rained out and things turned ugly, and they remained missing for decades.

But now they’ve resurfaced, newly and pristinely remixed and restored by longtime Hendrix engineer and co-producer Eddie Kramer, the man who recorded the Miami gig in the first place. The new album Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival captures the sound and fury of that momentous Florida day in all its glory.

The set appears in tandem with a new PBS American Masters biography of Hendrix that is arguably the best film documentary on the late guitarist ever assembled. The public-television documentary will also be released on DVD under the title Jimi Hendrix—Hear My Train A Comin’. DVD bonus footage will include two complete songs from the Experience’s Miami set, surviving snippets of other live songs and in-depth interviews with both Eddie Kramer and Miami Pop Festival organizer Michael Lang.

“The Miami concert was one of the legendary lost Jimi Hendrix performances,” says Hendrix historian John McDermott, the man responsible for unearthing the Miami film and tapes. “The cool thing about the material is that it captures the Experience at a great time. They’re excited. They’re up. The crushing intensity of their first U.S. tour—where they did 66 shows in 60 days—had passed. They’d survived that. They’d had a little bit of a break in April and had just started work on the album that would become Electric Ladyland.

“And here in mid May, they go down to Florida and have a good time. They stayed at the famous Castaways hotel.” The Asian-Polynesian-themed resort complex was the go-to playground for both visiting celebs and vacationing Americans in the Sixties and Seventies. “They jammed at the hotel bar,” McDermott says. “Mitch Mitchell took a lot of eight-millimeter movies of them hanging out at the pool. So I think it is a nice payoff for all the hard work they had done since coming to the U.S. in February of ’68.”

What makes the music from Miami and these scenes of band camaraderie even more poignant is the fact that the Jimi Hendrix Experience would soon cease to exist. The Experience split up a little over a year after Miami Pop, in June 1969, and when Hendrix appeared at the Woodstock festival that August he had a different group behind him, one appreciably less tight and dynamic than the Experience.

The mobile truck belonging to Florida’s famed Criteria Studios had been engaged for audio recording. “It was an eight-track setup, pretty primitive,” Eddie Kramer recalls. “We just got a feed from the stage. We were using the P.A. mics to record. It certainly gave me a taste of what was to come at Woodstock.”

Photo: Ken Davidoff/OldRockPhoto.com

For the rest of this story, plus the Beatles' 50 Greatest Guitar Songs, Andreas Kisser, Mark Tremonti, a guide to new signature model guitars and John Petrucci's monthly column — check out the January 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

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