My friend Debi (not Ville—she was only 8 months old at the time) lived in Goleta, just a mile from the UCSB student village, Isla Vista. Despite the block-after-block layout of mid-century apartment buildings, it was the hippies who hung out at Peoples Park, the political activism, and the strip of coffeehouses, mod boutiques, and headshops that had earned it the unofficial title of Haight-Ashbury South. It was a place cool enough that Edie Sedgwick chose to spend the end of her young life there. Today, it is best known for the riots of 1970 during which the Bank of America was burned to the ground, but before that happened, Isla Vista was a great place to hang out, promenade in your hippie finery, enjoy live folk music in one of the several coffeehouses, and crash a party. I often spent weekends at Debi's house, and we'd spend most of our time at IV...
Debi was a model with the La Belle Agency and through her I sometimes modeled petite fashions for affluent mothers who lunched in El Paseo in Santa Barbara. We also modeled together for students at the Brooks Institute of Photography, but while I was Twiggyish and fit in with the Mod look of Swinging London, she was the quintessential California Girl: blond, tan, and sexy. And she knew how to use it.
On February 11, 1968, we went to the Jimi Hendrix concert in UCSB's Robertson gym. Debi was on a strict schedule of phenobarbital. She must have had epilepsy, but she never spoke of it. I remember that her mother came into the bedroom every night and woke her up to give her a pill, which I thought was kind of weird. That week she'd foolishly saved a couple of them up for the concert and, as soon as we were dropped off at the gym, we found a water fountain. I'd never taken anything like that before and it knocked me into a hypnotic stupor that made everything around me move very slowly. At that point in my life I'd only smoked a little pot; this was entirely different.
|This is the exact view I had of|
Jimi. (Photo credit: anonymous,
taken at UCSB, 2/11/68.)
The concert was fantastic and despite the drug, I have a vivid memory of Jimi's performance. Just as the Experience launched into their encore, a guy came up to us and told us to come backstage with him. Being on drugs for the first time, I immediately became paranoid, afraid that "they'd" figured out we were high (yeah, right. Two hippie-looking girls in a gym full of Hendrix fans...), and were going to turn us over to the police. Funny, now that I'm older. Debi and I looked at each other, eyes wide, and followed him. Mostly, I was pissed because I was missing Jimi's performance of "Foxey Lady".
The guy led us into a large back room in which a long table had been set up as a buffet. I didn't understand what was going on, but in a few moments the doors opened again and my friends, Ernie & the Emperors walked in. They were the most popular band in the tri-counties area and were well-respected by the Lovin' Spoonful, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and most of the really great bands of the Sixties. I first met them at the Dolphin Club in Solvang, a facility that held teen dances with live bands on Saturday nights. Because I was a musician and my brother was a drummer in another band (and sometimes sat in with them), the Emperors and I had become friends. We'd also met up backstage at a Lovin' Spoonful concert at Earl Warren Showgrounds, so seeing them enter the room wasn't much of a surprise. We spoke a little bit and I noticed that drummer Mitch Mitchell had drawn Debi away and was chatting her up. What was happening began to dawn on me: he'd seen her in the audience and told one of the roadies to bring us backstage.
There was a stir at the door and in walked Jimi. He was a small man—probably no taller than 5' 4" and slight of build. Actually, all three of them were small, but Jimi possessed an enormous presence. He looked around the room, said a word or two to a couple of people, then walked right over to where I stood. If I was surprised that Mitch had noticed Debi and wanted to meet her, I was absolutely gobsmacked that Jimi had wanted to meet me! He was quiet—almost shy—and he began talking to me in a soft voice. He asked me if I was a "Santa Barbara bunny" and I replied that I couldn't even swim, much less surf. He laughed, his entire face turning nearly angelic.
I told him I was a singer/songwriter and he was immediately interested, asking me questions about my style, my influences, and my goals. After a while he asked me if my girlfriend and I would like to go to a party with him and the band and, like the naive 16 year-old that I was, I explained that my friend's dad was picking us up at ten. Jimi perceived immediately that I was an innocent, and he was very sweet and very respectful as he steered the conversation back to music.
Ernie met Jimi as well and had a friendly talk in the dressing room that led from the room large room we were in. Later, Ernie told me about Jimi's down-to-earth and magically humble qualities as he leaned against his dressing room mirror conversing with him.
When I learned of his death at the age of 27, I was sad for a long time. Despite his wild reputation, Jimi Hendrix was a gentleman in the purest sense of the word who will always own a warm corner of my heart.