“THE air smelled of tobacco smoke, spilt beer, sweat, and an over-generous application of perfume and aftershave,” writes James Vasey in his new book, painting a picture of what happened on the most famous date in Darlington’s music history.

“The deep thump of drumbeats and bass guitar resonated in Billy's chest while the squealing guitar feedback from the amplifiers had the same effect on his ears,” he writes. This is February 2, 1967, when the most colourful and charismatic rock guitarist of his generation is playing to 200 teenagers crammed into the ballroom at the Imperial Hotel.

“All this combined to overload the naive teenager’s already confused senses. He needed to vomit. And to do it now…”


The Northern Echo: Hendrix in darlington.The Jimi Hendrix Experience, photographed by Ian Wright for The Northern Echo moments before they went on stage at the Imperial Hotel in 1967

The only way out of the heaving club that drunken Billy can see is a fire escape sign behind the red, patterned carpet that the band – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – were using as a “stage”. He stumbles incoherently past the singer, knocks over the bassist’s microphone stand, bursts through the backing curtain, trips over a tangle of wires and smashes against the fire escape door which flings him out into the rain of the dark Darlington night.

He vomits.

The door slams shut. There’s no way back in.

He gets to his feet, and he discovers that a black guitar – a Fender Stratocaster – has fallen out onto the Northumberland Street pavement with him.

“Still drunk, Billy was drawn to the instrument like a magpie,” writes James. “Something compelled him to pick it up and run.”

In terms of unexplained disappearances, there’s Shergar the racehorse, Lord Lucan the nanny-murderer, and there’s Jimi Hendrix’s stolen Strat.

The Northern Echo: A black Fender Stratocaster

Everyone in Darlington seems to have a theory about what happened to it, about what colour it was sprayed and on what street it was hurriedly sold on. There is hardly a garage, an out-house, an attic or pigeon cree in the district that has not, at some time in the last 50 or so years, been suggested as the place where this hot property was stored.

But it has never been found. It’s as if Darlington’s Imperial Quarter was really the Bermuda Triangle.

The Northern Echo: Pete Bulloch, aka author James VaseyPete Bulloch, aka James Vasey, and his new book, Hope the Dude Can Play

“I got tired of hearing everyone’s ridiculous stories and never really believing any of them,” said Pete Bulloch, who writes under the name of James Vasey, as he launched his book on Tuesday in the very cellar bar on Grange Road where Hendrix had a drink after the gig.


“And it is quite a negative story. Hendrix would later mix with a million people in the chaos of the Isle of White Festival and Woodstock without losing a single instrument, and yet Darlington has become famous as the place where his guitar was stolen.

“As we will never know the truth of what happened, I thought why not turn this into a positive story.”

The Northern Echo: The Imperial Hotel on January 24, 1963. This corner, on the Great North Road, was said to have had the first traffic lights ever installed in Darlington.The Imperial Hotel on January 24, 1963. This corner, on the Great North Road, was said to have had the first traffic lights ever installed in Darlington. It was in the hotel that Hendrix's guitar was stolen on February 2, 1967

So Billy, too afraid to face the music, hides the guitar down his allotment until, decades later, he realises that now is the moment that it could transform his autistic son’s life. The story unfolds, by twists a love story, a story of redemption that becomes a tale of hope that provides an explanation for the town’s most enduring mystery.

The Northern Echo: Jimi Hendrix . Picture was taken in 1967, just moments before Hendrix went on stage at The Imperial Hotel, Darlington.Jimi Hendrix . Picture was taken in 1967, just moments before Hendrix went on stage at The Imperial Hotel, Darlington

Bob Smeaton, the Grammy Award-winning director of a documentary about Hendrix, says in his foreword: “When a friend suggested I read this book, I have to admit that I was slightly reluctant having read more books about Jimi Hendrix than any other musician. Ten pages in and I was hooked – this is not yet another take on the Jimi Hendrix story.”

Pete, a former magazine editor and internet entrepreneur, was born in Darlington and now divides his time between here and Italy, where his previous novels, the Seborga Trilogy, were set. The producer of an Oscar-winning film is scheduled to turn them into a movie in 2025 while his detective stories set in Genoa are due to become an Italian film.

And there is film interest in Pete’s new Hendrix story, which was launched in what in Jimi’s day was the Bolivar bar but is now Miss Ruby’s Kitchen and Cocktails. It was here that the news was broken to Hendrix that one of his three guitars had been stolen.

Some witnesses say he flew into a terrific rage, blaspheming as evocatively as only an American guitarist could.

Others, though, say he was mor phlegmatic, taking the news in his stride, and his response gave Pete the title for his book, as he said: “Well, I hope the dude can play.”

The Northern Echo: Hope the Dude Can Play, by James Vasey

• Hope the Dude Can Play by James Vasey is available from Amazon for £7.99

• The last time Memories wrote about this fantastic story, in 2017, we got a call from the Jimi Hendrix Foundation in Canada which has the serial numbers of every guitar Hendrix ever owned. They know that he brought three guitars with him on his early 1967 tour of the UK but they only know what happened to two of them. The story of what happened in Darlington explained to them the fate of the third.

• If you have Hendrix’s Strat in your shed or attic, or if you have any information about its whereabouts, please let us know.