As any self-respecting rock fan knows, Jimi Hendrix’s electrifying performance at the June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival made him a star. During the years leading up to his fame, Hendrix was a sideman, playing live and recording in the studio with such acts as Little Richard and the Isley Brothers. An R&B singer named Curtis Knight was another performer Hendrix worked with, becoming a part of the singer’s backing band, the Squires, in 1965 (in 2015, we first told you about the Knight/Hendrix association). In October of ’65, Hendrix played his first recording session with Knight. That same month, Knight introduced Hendrix to Ed Chalpin, a producer who also owned an independent record company. Jimi then famously signed a three-year contract with Chalpin for $1—a decision that would later result in major legal battles for Hendrix, which went on for the rest of life, and continued for decades after his death.
Hendrix and Knight on stage at the Cheetah in New York City, circa May 1966.
Once Jimi hit it big, Chalpin licensed the Knight songs Hendrix played on to a myriad of record labels for singles and albums, which were subsequently issued in a number of countries. A tune called “Ballad of Jimi” was frequently amongst the track listings of these releases, including the widely distributed 1968 edition of Get That Feeling on London Records. The LP was credited to “Jimi Hendrix and Curtis Knight,” and featured a photo of Jimi shot at Monterey Pop. Knight received songwriting credit for “Ballad of Jimi,” also known as “Ballad of Jimmy” and “My Best Friend.” The lyrics concern a girl that the singer of the song (Knight) and his best friend both dig. The girl goes out with the buddy, who dies in a car wreck on their first date. The singer later marries the girl on the fifth anniversary of his best friend’s death.
For the track, Jimi used a wah-wah pedal, and his guitar playing can be heard throughout.
Hendrix overdubbed the part when he reunited with Knight and Chalpin for two session dates in July and August 1967. Inconceivable, considering Chalpin was, at the time, attempting to legally stop the release of more Jimi Hendrix Experience albums. Studio chatter captured on tape reveals Hendrix telling Chalpin “You can’t use my name,” in relation to the recordings they were making, to which the producer laughs and tells Jimi not to worry about it.
Danish picture sleeve, 1968.
Hendrix died on September 18, 1970. By years’ end, “Ballad of Jimi” had been re-released as a single.
Dutch picture sleeve, 1971. The photo of Knight and Hendrix was taken at the July 1967 recording session.
After Jimi’s death, Knight and Chalpin went back into the studio and re-cut’s Knight’s vocal (which isn’t particularly good on either version), and the lyrics were altered. The focus of the song was now the best friend, Jimi/Jimmy, a guitar player who foresees his own demise (“Five years, this he said.”). As evidence that the track was cut five years—to the day—prior to Hendrix’s passing, an alleged copy of the session log was included with a German pressing of the “Ballad of Jimi” 45.
Putting aside the distastefulness of the endeavor, there are quite a few holes in this fantastic story. First of all, Hendrix first went into the studio with Knight and Chalpin in October 1965, weeks after the September 18 date. Secondly, “Ballad of Jimi” had been already out a few years, with significantly different lyrics. Thirdly, the wah-wah pedal didn’t hit the marketplace until early 1967—well after the claimed 1965 date.
Experience Hendrix, the company owned and operated by the Hendrix family, now has the rights to not only the Curtis Knight recordings Jimi played on, but all of the tapes that had been controlled by Ed Chalpin.
A few more images from the July 1967 session:
H/t: Early Hendrix
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The numerous groups that pretended to be Steam, the ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ band