“WHEN a musician’s instrument is stolen, it is not just like a theft of a tool from a shed – an instrument is an extension of that human being’s soul,” says Jerry Velez, who was Jimi Hendrix’s percussionist.
Jerry wasn’t with Hendrix that fateful night in Darlington 50 years ago, but he did feature, on bongos, on Hendrix’s seminal performance at Woodstock in 1969.
And, like the rest of the planet, he reads Echo Memories.
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Last week, Memories told of the night of February 2, 1967, when Hendrix, at the start of his fame, played before 200 bemused yet enthusiastic people at the Blue Pad Club in Darlington’s Imperial Hotel.
It is, perhaps, the most famous night in the town’s music history – especially as it is believed that Hendrix’s black Fender Stratocaster guitar was stolen. In a story of legendary proportions, it is said that the guitar disappeared down a back staircase, was sprayed cream overnight and sold on High Row the following morning.
As it was such hot property – Hendrix regularly set fire to his guitars – it has been in hiding ever since, although the strong rumour is that it is still in town.
And the Jimi Hendrix Family Foundation would like it back, perhaps to use in the foundation’s work of educating youngsters away from guns, drugs and gangs.
It has to be said that the communications following last week’s article have had a rather surreal haze to them – who would have thought Hendrix’s bongo player would be emailing a North-East local history supplement from America?
“Jimi's guitars were precious to him because he was such an unorthodox player, and he managed to create such magic because of his distinctive style of playing,” says Jerry. “Stealing a guitar like that is like stealing an artefact from a museum that belongs to us all. We should rejoice in the incredible gift given to us for all time by that spirit that was so prolific in only four amazing years before Jimi was taken from us to be the main guitar player in heaven!”
And in a call to the Memories desk from Vancouver, the foundation’s president, Gary Karlsen, said that Hendrix probably came to England in late 1966 with three black Fenders, one of which has never been traced, although its serial number is recorded.
Or Eric Clapton could have given Hendrix the guitar.
“There’s a lot of Sixties Strats out there, but this one would have certain marks on it – because Jimi was left-handed, he reversed the strings so the nut at the top would have been removed,” says Gary. “There might be some other identifying electrical changes, and we believe we have the serial number for it.”
So where is the guitar? If you have any theories, please get in touch (see top of page). No names, no pack drill. The rewards could be huge – we may even be able to put a charity concert featuring Jimi’s cousin Regi on left-handed guitar and Jerry on percussion. It would certainly be another night to say “I was there”.
ALSO reading last week’s Memories was Van Morrison’s army of fans. We suggested that their man had also appeared in Darlington in the 1960s. However, their records have no knowledge of the gig. So was anyone there? Could it have been in his early career, when he was in the band Them, famed for their July 1964 song, Gloria? Please let us know.