They said it was just an urban legend, Jimi Hendrix opening for The Monkees in concert. Except that this urban legend was true. I know, because I was there. And got paid for it.
1967 was called “The Summer of Love.” Personally, I wouldn’t know. I never enjoyed the company of some blond hippie shiksa with flowers in her hair. Not that summer or ever.
While Scott McKenzie sang about going to San Francisco, we moved to Miami Beach from New York. It had been my folks’ dream for years, mostly motivated by health concerns.
In July, we were still living out of suitcases at The Copacabana Hotel on 36th and Collins Ave. Johnny Rivers described the period in “Summer Rain”:
All summer long, we sat groovin’ in the sand
Everybody kept on playin’
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
He was right. But next to The Beatles, it was Monkeemania that was raging. Their third album, Headquarters, was #2 on the charts just below Pepper. The TV show that launched them had won two Emmy awards.
Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith were derisively but accurately called “The Pre-Fab Four,” because they were assembled for just that reason: to be America’s answer to A Hard Day’s Night.
It came as a shock to many, then, when they went out on the road that summer and showed they could hold their own on stage without the studio musicians who actually performed on the records.
The Monkees played a successful first concert at The Hollywood Bowl in June, and then went to England for five shows at Wembley’s Empire Pool. Billboard Magazine had to admit, “The Monkees demonstrated they could carry a live show and maintain the level of excitement throughout.”
The Monkees were to kick off their U.S. tour in Jacksonville, Florida on July 8, and come down to the Miami Beach Convention Hall the following night.
I could walk there from our hotel, and thought, why not? My father, however, had other ideas.
“Six dollars to see The Monkees on stage? That’s crazy! You see ‘em on TV for FREE!” Continuing his unimpeachable logic, my father held up the local newspaper Want Ads. “Look here: ‘Miami Beach Convention Hall needs people to sell concessions.’ You can see the show and make money, too.”
So I did walk over there, but it was earlier on the day of the concert, to get hired as a popcorn vendor. A popcorn vendor.
“You go out there with this tray and walk around the main floor before the lights go out, and then again after the opening act,” said the head vendor guy. You could recognize his position of authority because he wore a hat that said “Head Vendor Guy.” Not really, but it would’ve been funny.
Ten thousand girls came to get a live look at Micky, Mike, Peter and Davy. I weaved through the lucky ones on the floor level, meekly shouting “Popcorn here!” as they giggled amongst themselves in nervous anticipation. After managing to sell all the buckets on my tray, I retreated through a side door to restock. Before I could get back out, the lights came down and the screams came up. Way up.
I watched from the wings as three musicians appeared on stage, each in multicolored hippie garb. They were not The Monkees. A wild-haired, black guitarist plugged his instrument into a massive amp, held it upside-down, and launched into a series of ear-splitting sounds totally alien to an unsuspecting audience of teenyboppers.
“Ladies and Gentlemen … The Jimi Hendrix Experience!”
Purple haze all in my brain,
Lately things don’t seem the same,
Actin’ funny but I don’t know why,
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky
Before The Monkees had left London, Beatles manager Brian Epstein gave a party in their honor. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, The Who and Eric Clapton were there.
Years later, Mike Nesmith recalled that John was late. “When he came in he said, ‘I’ve got something I want to play you guys.’ He had a handheld tape recorder and he played ‘Hey Joe.’ Everybody’s mouth just dropped open. He said, ‘Isn’t this wonderful?’ So I made a mental note of Jimi Hendrix, because Lennon had introduced me to his playing.”
Micky Dolenz, in his autobiography, noted, “I’d actually seen him before, in New York, when he was a sideman for John Hammond, and he was known as Jimmy James. He was introduced as the guy who plays the guitar with his teeth. Then, months later, he went to England and picked (drummer) Mitch (Mitchell) and (bassist) Noel (Redding), and … put together the Experience. Then I was at the Monterey Pop Festival (in mid-June), and they came on stage. I was like, ‘Hey, that’s the guy who plays guitar with his teeth!’”
Mike and Micky lobbied for Hendrix to join the tour. He was, by then, a star in England but unknown to the record-buying public in his native United States. That would all change, of course, but not on this night.
As Hendrix overwhelmed the Convention Hall with the deafening feedback of “Purple Haze,” the screams ceased abruptly, followed by a puzzled murmur and a unified chorus of “We want the Monkees! We want the Monkees!”
Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding struggled through a piercing and sensual “Foxy Lady” (Here I come, baby—comin’ ta GIT cha) and then stopped. Leaning into his microphone, the flustered guitarist spoke to a disgruntled crowd: “I want to apologize, especially to the moms out there. I guess we’re not what you expected. Goodnight.”
The trio walked off, the lights came up, and I sold more popcorn.
Monkee Peter would later say that “It didn’t cross anybody’s mind that it wasn’t gonna fly. And there’s poor Jimi, and the kids are going, ‘We want Davy!’ God, it was embarrassing.”
The Monkees, meanwhile, proceeded to put on a great show.
After five more concerts, three of them at Forest Hills Stadium in New York, it was mutually agreed that The Jimi Hendrix Experience would be better off playing to a different audience. That was okay with both acts; The Monkees got respect and Hendrix got publicity.
And I got paid six dollars—exactly the price of admission. When the Head Vendor Guy asked if I wanted to come back and work again, I turned away and said, “’scuse me, while I kiss the sky.”