This coming Friday is Jimi Hendrix’s birthday. In honor of that event, guest blogger Adam Ganderson contributed this bit of heavy metal history to Dangerous Minds.
Jimi Hendrix gave his final performance on September 6, 1970 on the Isle of Fehmarn, Germany at an event called “The Love and Peace Festival.” By most accounts, the fest was a disaster. Heavy rain had delayed Hendrix’s performance and when he did play it was on the following day and at a much earlier time slot than expected. There were reports that the ticket office was robbed and the promoter’s trailer burned to the ground. In the audience at the show was a fourteen-year-old guitar player named Ulrich Roth. His father, a photojournalist for a German paper, had hooked the kid up with a free pass. Roth had a camera with him, and he took photos of the event, though none have ever been published. Eventually the kid found his way backstage to try and meet Hendrix, who was there in the middle of a chaotic scene surrounded by various hangers-on and bikers. Thinking there would probably be another opportunity to meet Hendrix at an upcoming show in Hanover, Ulrich held back on approaching the guitarist.
The Hanover show never happened, because thirteen days later, on September 18, Jimi Hendrix was dead. He had been in London at the apartment of his girlfriend, a young German artist and former professional figure skater named Monika Dannemann. She took photos of him on the afternoon of the 17th, drinking tea and holding the Fender Strat he had named “Black Beauty,” supposedly his favorite guitar, and the one he had played at most of his 1970 concerts, including Fehmarn. He spent that night at Dannemann’s flat, having dinner, talking. But on the morning of the 18th, something had gone terribly wrong. Hendrix exited the third rock from the sun.
Jimi with Black Beauty photographed by Monika Dannemenn on her patio.
Several years after Hendrix’s death, Ulrich Roth, soon to be called Uli Jon Roth, became fixated on a guitar style that combined classical music structures with the outer space blues transmissions pioneered by Hendrix. He also formed a band called Dawn Road which eventually took on the name Scorpions after merging with guitarist Rudolf Schenker and singer Klaus Meine. Scorpions made four albums with Uli Jon Roth including what many consider to be their best, 1977’s Taken By Force.
In 1976 Roth met Monika Dannemann in London and the two became close, bonded by a connection with Hendrix. For Uli the connection was purely musical, the beginning of a philosophy damn near impossible to pin down with words, but that was deeply influenced by Hendrix and classical music. Even though there is maybe no other guitarist as well versed in the sonic language of the Hendrix musical realm, Uli’s style is more a continuation of what Hendrix started, rather than an imitation. Dannemann, for her part, believed she had been imparted with a kind of mysterious spiritual message from Hendrix, a message that she wanted to share with Roth and which he, already a Jimi fanatic, embraced to such a degree that it eventually led to him leaving Scorpions to form Electric Sun, a band where this higher level classical/Hendrix vibe could be more fully expressed.
But before all that, in 1977, Scorpions went into the studio to record Taken By Force, a pivotal album for the band that marked a transition to the more direct tactics required for conquering the overseas (i.e. American) market. Simpler lyrics, more straightforward assault, more METAL. It was an approach initiated in part by drummer/lyricist Herman Rarebell and rapidly embraced by the other members, though the album still holds some of Roth’s most famous eclectic bizarro rock compositions, including the evil flamenco saga “Sails Of Charon.”
The second track on Taken By Force is a song called “Burn The Sky.” Most of the music was written by rhythm guitarist Rudolf Schenker, with leads by Roth, and lyrics by Monika Dannemann, who by this time had become inseparable from Uli. It’s a tune that weighs in at several different classes all at once. Lyrically, it is what Roth has described as “Monica mourning for Jimi” but at the same time it used phrases that act as a negation of the finality of death. More pathos than any typical flower power hippie jam. Not stoned, but H-E-A-V-Y. This song is the dark melodic hard rock at the heart of Scorpions’ central nervous system, the elemental stuff from where their sound circulated outward through the mid 70’s to their greatest commercial triple entendre sex anthems of the 1980s.
Roth and Dannemann lived together for around seventeen years during which time she continued writing and became an accomplished painter. Eventually they split and she became entangled in a court battle with a woman named Kathy Etchingham which basically consisted of the two trading accusations and casting aspersions about who was the “real” girlfriend of Jimi Hendrix. It was a mess that culminated with Dannemann being held in contempt of court. In 1996, two days after that verdict, she was found in her car, a victim of what was ruled suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning.
As for what happened at Monika Dannemann’s apartment on the September 17th and 18th of 1970, there is no way to know any more than what has already been said. Uli Jon Roth has always maintained Dannemann’s version of events as she told them to both him and Scotland Yard. Basically, that there had been a tragic accident. Unable to sleep, Hendrix had taken some pills called Vesparax, a very strong German barbiturate that had been prescribed to Dannemann. The recommended dose for that stuff is one pill. Unaware of the potency and apparently without her knowledge, he took nine.
Following the death of Jimi Hendrix, the Black Beauty Strat fell into the care of Monika Dannemann. Today, like a magic sword guarded by an acolyte, it’s in the stewardship of Uli Jon Roth. There has been occasional speculation by some whether Roth actually has the instrument, but roughly two years ago he confirmed to me in a phone interview that he was, in fact, “the guardian of the guitar” though it was in a vault because “too many people were after it.” He then said he is hoping to one day exhibit it as part of an event that would also incorporate Monika Dannemann’s paintings.
This year, Scorpions are celebrating their 50th anniversary and though Uli Jon Roth is no longer a member, he tours with his own band and has become an innovator in guitar design and instruction. Through seminars called Sky Academy he teaches guitar via a technique derived from the philosophy he began imagining years ago, a type of musical metaphysics. The rough explanation of it would be imagining how emotion is affected by vibrating frequencies, frequencies in an octave, with each octave represented by a color. Strange? Guitar players are weird people. But maybe it’s not so weird if one were to consider certain theories. Like a theory where the entire world, down to the movements of the smallest particle, is a form of music. A type of six string theory, if you will. It’s even less weird if one were to consider that a manifestation of these moving particles, these frequencies, is an instrument, a guitar, a device constructed to broadcast sounds through speakers, over crowds, through time, and onto the fields of an outdoor concert where trailers get burned down, and ticket offices robbed, and a guitar player walks backstage hoping to meet his idol. Now can you dig it?
After the jump, Scorpions perform “Burn The Sky” on German television in 1977…