went on The year I Hendrix tour with.
HE'S the ground-breaking guitar genius who changed the course of music in the 1960s.
A legend, whose reputation has grown since he died in 1970 aged just 27.
Jimi Hendrix, who could make his instrument sing, squeal, and even cry in anguish and confrontation, continues to fascinate new generations of music fans.
Long-lost recordings are still being released by his estate, while Andre 3000, of hip-hop stars OutKast, takes the lead role in a new biopic about the great man.
But Hendrix has taken many years to win over a Wolverhampton musician who joined him for an entire UK tour in 1967.
For the sensitive ears of Mick Brookes, boss of One Way Music guitar shop in Salop Street, the pedal-laden, distortionlaced Hendrix sound was all a bit much at the time.
Now aged 66, Mick was then a callow youth in city outfit The Californians, who brought a touch of West Coast American surf to the Black Country, gently caressing Beach Boys classics as well as perfecting Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' polished harmonies. Their boss Roger Allen, dubbed 'Wolverhampton's Del Boy' by Mick, somehow managed to squeeze the group onto a varied tour line-up that included the Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens, oldies' favourite Engelbert Humperdinck, backed by The Quotations... and Jimi, then about to release his debut LP Are You Experienced? They did 25 dates, beginning with Finsbury Park Astoria on March 31, and taking in the Gaumont Theatre in Wolverhampton on April 13 - a homecoming for Mick and bandmates John O'Hara (vocals), Peter Habberley (bass) and Keith Evans (drums).
"We dropped our wage to do the tour, and were paid PS25 each a week, for a 12-minute spot," recalled Mick, who used a Gretsch guitar identical to one played by his idol George Harrison.
Ticket prices at the Gaumont, whose site is now occupied by a branch of home store Wilkinson, ranged from seven shillings and six pence to 15 shillings.
"For us, the Gaumont was the best because it was our home ground," said Mick.
"A lot of local fans saw the show so we had a really great night."
There was more to follow after the 6.30pm and 8.40pm shows finished that evening: The Californians were booked in for one of their regular cabaret stints at The Kingfisher Country Club in nearby Wall Heath.
"Most people from the tour went over there and we finished up having a big jam session. After we did our set at the King-fisher, John Maus (John Walker) of the Walker Brothers got up with us because he played guitar, and Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, both from Hendrix's band, got up as well.
"And then Hendrix got up. Eventually it just became a dirge - a continuous three-chord bash!" It would be fair to say that Mick found Hendrix, his music and his antics difficult to get the hang of.
"I never got to know him well," he admitted.
"We spoke, but I got on so well with Noel and Mitch, and they were such interesting and fun characters.
"Jimi tended to spend more time with Gary Leeds, the Walkers' drummer. We were on a different wavelength. I didn't really appreciate him at the time because we were doing music that was so different from each other.
"We [The Californians] were all rehearsed and controlled because we were doing harmony stuff which had to be bang-on.
"His was blues and rock-based, improvised, and he would sometimes change a number halfway through - just stop a song, and start playing something he hadn't played before.
"Looking back, he was so innovative, but I didn't realise it at the time because it was different and I didn't know if I liked it. He was incredible - he had great ability. He was doing things on the guitar you didn't think were feasible."
Mick, who has welcomed thousands of Hendrix idolisers to his shop in the last 31 years, has had plenty of time to reflect on the left-hander's technique. "Because of the high cost of buying a lefthanded instrument, he took a right-handed guitar, a Fender Stratocaster, and strung it as left-handed.
"In doing so he created a tension totally different from righthanded guitars, which meant you could bend the strings more easily, and push strings anywhere.
As technicians ourselves, we now know that to do that alters the feel of a guitar totally. On a Stratocaster it makes a phenomenal difference to the feel."
The unlikely tour lineup, which also called in at Birmingham Odeon on April 19, very nearly didn't make it past the opening night due to Hendrix's taste for pyrotechnics, remembers Mick, who continued playing with bandmate O'Hara until ten years ago.
"At Finsbury Park, Jimi shoved a petrolsoaked rag under his guitar at the side of the stage. I didn't know what he was up to.
"He grabbed it on the last number of his set, went back on stage, and when he was playing, he struck a match and it just went up - and so did the curtains!
"What a dangerous thing to do! He had a fight with the tour manager, who was going to kick him off the tour. But he didn't in the end, and the rest is history."
Did you see Hendrix at the Gaumont, or at Birmingham Odeon, on the 1967 tour? Email steve. email@example.com
Mick Brookes in his shop and, below, The Kingfisher, where Jimi Hendrix joined in a jam after the night's main show.
Jimi Hendrix in action in the late 60s and, inset, the line-up at the Gaumont, where he played.
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|Publication:||Birmingham Mail (England)|
|Date:||May 24, 2013|
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