Image credit: The Northern Echo
February 2, 1967 will forever be remembered as a milestone in the musical history of Durham County. It was the night that The Jimi Hendrix Experience played at the Blue Pad Club in Grange Road’s Imperial Hotel Complex. Fortunately for the club managers, the large but relatively unknown market town of Darlington had been chosen as part of Jimi Hendrix’s England tour.
Unfortunately, the record company Hendrix was under had different plans, offering the club £300 to cancel the gig instead. Sea Angling Reports recalls the negotiations that happened behind the scenes. At the time the gig was booked, Hendrix was just an up-and-coming name in blues-rock. But as rock history remembers, he had a short, but rocket-fuelled, rise to legendary status. As the gig approached, the band’s single Hey Joe had already climbed to the top of the charts at number four. Speculation varies on why the record company tried to back out of the deal – they could’ve commanded a higher rate for their most successful new artist, or Hendrix’s unprecedented success would’ve made more of an impact had they shifted the gig to London. Whatever the reason, the Blue Pad Club and the Imperial Hotel insisted that the band fulfil their contract. Meanwhile, Hendrix’s manager refused to cancel the gig they’d already signed on for, so it went on as advertised: “Don’t miss this man who is Dylan, Clapton, and James Brown all in one!”
There are different accounts of what happened and how many were in attendance, but a report from The Northern Echo puts the headcount at 200. The club was filled to capacity. The Experience’s Noel Redding wrote in his diary that minutes into the gig, two of the band’s amplifiers broke down and took the entire hotel’s main fuses with them. After overcoming the technical problems, the band forewent their original plan of playing two sets with a break in between, and just played for two hours straight in order to stick to the schedule. Apart from a couple backstage shots of Hendrix and the band via photographer Ian Wright, no live shots or footage of the gig exist.
It’s just one of the countless stories that have cemented the legend of Jimi Hendrix. Apart from his obvious virtuosity in breaking the electric guitar’s mould, it was events like this that made him one of the most influential rock musicians of all time – an influence that continues to manifest decades after his death. To this day, you can’t set an electric guitar on fire without summoning Hendrix’s ghost. Even on Google Play, contemporary Hendrix fans can get to know the man through a number of apps featuring his lyrics, songs, and quotes. New fans have come to discover Hendrix through the multiple digital games that feature him. His music is brought to life on FoxyCasino’s Jimi Hendrix slot title, which features a number of his famous songs. The game even digs deep into his catalogue to feature relatively unknown songs that are hits in their own right, like Crosstown Traffic and Little Wing. Outside of gaming and blues-rock, Canadian crooner Drake has recently admitted to being inspired by Hendrix in creating the look and feel of his recent world tour. In short, the man is a certified cultural legend and icon.
And Darlington, Durham County will forever be known for having the honour of hosting Jimi Hendrix during one of the most transformative eras in blues-rock history. Perhaps one of the most glaring impacts of his career is that 50 years later, Durham continues to be a favourite venue for some of the best blues acts around.