Please, Jimi, don’t sabotage my TV show…
In 1969 the producers of pop singer Lulu’s BBC variety show thought it was a great idea to book The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Lulu was typecast as a squeaky clean, non-threatening, sweet entertainer who had multi-generational appeal. Despite her disapproval of marijuana, which prompted her then-husband Bee Gee Maurice Gibb to fling the windows of their home open for several minutes in all weather prior to her arrival, she was cooler than she was given credit for, even before her cameo appearances on Absolutely Fabulous. This is a woman who, in addition to a brief fling with David Bowie in the ‘70s, had the guts to scream at John Lennon for ignoring his first wife at a party to flirt with other women.
Hendrix had enjoyed recent success in the U.K. with “Hey Joe,” and the idea was for Lulu to sing the last few bars with him as a duet on her January 4, 1969 show before transitioning to her usual closing song. The producers had even suggested the unthinkable possibility of Jimi and Lulu singing a duet on “To Sir With Love,” her biggest hit.
Things didn’t quite work out that way.
Hendrix and the band were horrified at the idea of a duet with Lulu. The unflappable bassist Noel Redding wrote in his autobiography Are You Experienced? The Inside Story of The Jimi Hendrix Experience that the band tried to relax by smoking a lump of hash in the dressing room, which they accidentally dropped down the sink. Redding said:
I found a maintenance man and begged tools from him with the story of a lost ring. He was too helpful, offering to dismantle the drain for us. It took ages to dissuade him, but we succeeded in our task and had a great smoke.
After playing “Voodoo Child” as planned, Jimi allowed a blast of feedback to “accidentally” interrupt Lulu’s introduction of “Hey Joe.” The by now baked band played a few minutes of song before Jimi stopped abruptly. “We’d like to stop playing this rubbish,” he told the straight, ordinary, respectable, and totally bewildered audience. He then announced an impromptu tribute to Cream, who had just disbanded, and flew into an instrumental version of “Sunshine of Your Love.”
Lulu’s show producer Stanley Dorfman paused his nervous breakdown long enough to repeatedly point to his watch as they played out the show. Redding said:
Short of running onto the set to stop us or pulling the plug, there was nothing he could do. We played past the point where Lulu might have joined us, played through the time for talking at the end, played through Stanley tearing his hair, pointing to his watch and silently screaming at us.
As a result of this prank Hendrix was banned from appearing on the BBC. Eight years later when Elvis Costello was similarly banned from Saturday Night Live for stopping in the middle of “Less Than Zero” and playing “Radio Radio” instead, he admitted that he was copping Jimi’s move.