Posted by therra cathryn gwyn
I’m not the kind of person (but have nothing against those who are, mind you) who gets the image of an idol tattooed on my body. I don’t have tat of Jesus, or Buddha, or MLK or Lennon or Che or (in one extreme case I saw on television recently) Weird Al Yankovic. But if I did have a forever drawing of someone on my person, that person, without a doubt, would be Jimi Hendrix.
Ah, Jimi. Beautiful, electric Jimi. We hardly knew ye. But with the release of a new book by Steve Roby and Brad Schreiber there’s another delicious chance for devotees or the merely curious to delve into the life of the guitar legend. The book, now out on Da Capo Press/Perseus Books is “BECOMING JIMI HENDRIX: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius.” I wondered, is there really anything left “untold” about Jimi Hendrix at this point? Surprisingly, there is. Roby and Schreiber take us back into the early days of Hendrix’s troubled and short-lived military career. They give the reader the opportunity to follow him as he learned his craft while traveling and recording on the South’s well known and well worn “Chitlin Circuit”, all the way to the verdant 1960s Greenwich Village scene where his musical identity was furthered with the help of Keith Richard’s then girlfriend. There’s also much ado about his time in Nashville, which influenced Jimi far more than many of us realized. We all know where Jimi finally ended up – on the radio, on the stage, in the history books, in our hearts. What many don’t know is how he got there. “Becoming Jimi Hendrix” can help you with that.
Rolling Stone liked it and so do I. They gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars.
I often prefer to let writers talk about their books rather than talk about them myself. By the time a book is researched, written, re-written, edited and released authors are so intimate with the subject matter it’s as much a part of their DNA as hair and eye colour. I slightly know co-author Brad Schreiber. Among the many things this tireless author/journalist/career multi-tasker does is sponsor The Mona Schreiber Prize for Humorous Fiction and Non-Fiction, a yearly literary award given in memory and honor of his mother. In 2008 I entered the literary contest, my first, and won 3rd place for Humorous Non Fiction. I was thrilled to place in any capacity and Brad was so nice, encouraging and in the single conversation we had I recognized him as a generous and energetic spirit. I was really jazzed to be in touch again to ask him about this new work chronicling a man and talent the likes of we’ll not see again anytime soon. We get to see Halley’s comet, with its 75-79 year trek around the sun more often than we see than a talent like Hendrix.
Therra C. Gwyn: You have a varied catalog of books you’ve written and I could talk about those all day, but I’m especially interested right now in why you decided to write a book about guitar great (some say god) Jimi Hendrix. He’s been written about fairly exhaustively, although he is still a mystery to many. What can you and co-author Roby add to what is already out there?
Brad Schreiber: For starters, we learned that Jimi and fellow band member Billy Cox were arrested at a lunch counter civil rights demonstration in Nashville. There is a strong strand on Jimi’s racial identity that has never been fully explored in other work. Also, we have many great stories about his life on the road and his split identity between Harlem and Greenwich Village in New York City.
Therra: Why do you think it took England to recognize Jimi’s genius? Why didn’t America catch on faster?
Brad: Jimi had not fully realized his singing and songwriting potential until he got to England. Also, the English newspapers reached more readers than a New York Times of 1966. And manager Chas Chandler knew that England would love both his technique and his blues acumen.
Therra: You write in your book about Jimi’s early days touring in the South. How do you think this shaped the performer he was to become in a few short years?
Brad: Jimi said himself that playing in Nashville really improved his technique because the competition was so fierce. Touring with DJ Gorgeous George also taught Jimi how to deliver an engaging stage show while playing guitar.
Therra: Tell me a little about your sources for this book.
Brad: Steve Roby interviewed over 100 people as sources. I came in on the last dozen or so but loved talking to Richie Havens and Jimi’s younger brother Leon, who lives here in LA. Most importantly, Steve has exclusive info from Lithofayne Pridgon, Jimi’s girlfriend when he lived in Harlem. Much of what she told us has never been published before.
Therra: Are you aware of the book by James Wright (former roadie for Hendrix) that makes the claim that Michael Jeffery, Jimi’s manager, murdered the star? He claims that Jeffery confessed this to him in a drunken moment a year after Jimi’s death. Any thoughts on this?
Brad: I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I’m a conspiracy scientist. There is strong forensic evidence he was murdered, as his lungs were filled with red wine, something he could not have accomplished by himself. I believe Jeffery and others forced the wine and sedatives down his throat because Jeffery knew Jimi wanted to end their association. The presiding doctor in London who first examined Jimi’s body confirmed the lungs were filled with wine and also suggested foul play.
Therra: When is “Becoming Jimi Hendrix” going to be released and how can fans get a copy?
Brad: It’s available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk right now and in stores the first week of September (2010). I have tour schedule, videos, informational posts and pictures at:www.redroom.com/author/brad-schreiber
Therra: Thanks much, Brad!
Brad: Many thanks, Therra, for letting me spout off about a great musician/composer and compassionate man who was taken from us too soon.