It’s pretty much impossible to fully tell the tale of Jimi Hendrix’s ascendance to the guitar-god pantheon without invoking the names of a Harlem R&B singer known professionally as Curtis Knight (née McNear) and a producer named Ed Chalpin. Knight was a veteran of R&B and Doo Wop groups like the Ink Spots and the Titans, who struck out on his own as a talented but only modestly successful bandleader. Knight happened to live in the same building as Hendrix, then still “Jimmy” Hendrix, a struggling journeyman, and after a fateful meeting in their building’s lobby, Knight brought Hendrix into his band the Squires, and introduced him to his manager, the aforesaid Ed Chalpin. It was around this time, October of 1965, that Chalpin signed Hendrix to an infamous exclusive three-year contract with a $1 advance and a promise of 1% royalties. Hendrix was already under contract with Sue Records (prophetic name, given what was to come), and maintained that he signed with Chalpin under the misapprehension that he was merely signing a session release for his work as a sideman. He remained under that belief for long enough that, when he was famously discovered by the Animals’ Chas Chandler, the Chalpin contract was the only one Chandler never bought out. That blunder haunted Hendrix’s career even beyond his death, and the legal knots surrounding those three years have only just been untangled last year.
Over the decades, Chalpin has released much Curtis Knight and the Squires material, misleadingly, under Hendrix’s name, but often in truncated form, or in crummy sounding editions meant to be passed off as “lost” Hendrix material to rake in quick bucks—one such opportunistic LP was even released in between Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love, tricking some fans into believing it was the second Jimi Hendrix Experience LP! All of which is a DRAG, as the Squires’ music deserves consideration on its own merits. Though they would likely have remained almost entirely unheralded were it not for the Hendrix connection, Curtis Knight and the Squires were a good band. Their original work was right in place with much of the energetic, guitar-based R&B of the time, and thrillingly, you can plainly hear Hendrix’s signature style throughout it all.
Now that all those Squires songs are in the hands of Experience Hendrix, the legitimate shepherds of the guitarist’s legacy, a new compilation called You Can’t Use My Name begins the endeavor of properly contextualizing Curtis Knight and the Squires’ material. The cheeky title refers to Hendrix’s insistence that his name be left off of any releases made from a session he recorded with the Squires after his star began to rise, a demand that was, of course, summarily ignored. Out of 33 studio tracks in existence, the comp features 14 songs from Hendrix’s tenure with the band, all tidied up, restored to their original form, or otherwise rescued from the inferiority of the exploitative releases they’ve lived on until now, all by the hand of the Experience’s recording engineer Eddie Kramer. A dramatic example: “No Such Animal” was a 1966 Squires recording, released after Hendrix’s 1970 death as a Jimi Hendrix single. (In sight mitigation, it’s a Hendrix composition, but still, cheap move.) It’s never been released in once piece—it was split into two parts for the single, with half the song on each side, little thought spared to where it was cut, and ultimately, it was for no good reason! One side of a 7” can accommodate a five-minute song with time to spare if it’s mastered for 33 1/3 RPM. Here it is, restored to its whole form and spruced up for the first time ever. Shit gets to gettin’ mighty hectic around 01:20:
Here’s “Gloomy Monday,” the 1967 recording Hendrix specified, repeatedly, that he wanted his name left off of—a demand that was actually preserved in this recording! But even if his wish for anonymity had been accommodated, somebody would have figured it out quickly, as there is simply no mistaking his guitar tone and the feel of his playing—in fact, I think this context throws his singularity into even sharper relief.
I tried mightily, dear reader, to dig up motion footage of Hendrix actually performing with Knight, but I got nothin’. What I was able to turn up from around that period was this raucous 1965 version of Junior Walker’s “Shotgun,” performed by a duo called Buddy & Stacey on the Nashville TV show “Night Train,” with Hendrix visible playing guitar in the background. I wish I could promise you a transcendental lead that gave an early clue to his promise, but the song heavily features sax over guitar. Because it was by Junior Walker.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
When Jayne Mansfield met Jimi Hendrix
The Jimi Hendrix blooper reel
Before Bad Brains, there was Pure Hell, the first African-American punk band
Jimi Hendrix’ eye-popping receipts from legendary NYC shop Manny’s Music