Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to participate in many memorable jam sessions with the likes of Peter Green, Muddy Waters, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan, Van Morrison and Dr. John – the list is endless, and thankfully I’m still adding to it – a recent memorable session in London involved Stevie Wonder’s Band. But I’ve also been able to attend a number of memorable jam sessions as a member of the audience. Quite often these sessions seemed to materialize out of the ether, other times they would be pre-planned and everyone would know that something was about to happen.
On the evening of Tuesday October 17th 1967 (yes I’ve kept ALL my diaries) I made my way to Klook’s Kleek, a nondescript room above the Railway Hotel in West Hampstead, a pleasant North London suburb, where every Tuesday night one could hear the best of the nascent British Blues Revival in action. Two years later I would attend the premier gig of Jimmy Page’s New Yardbirds (shortly to undergo a name change to Led Zeppelin) but on this particular night it was to hear and see the monthly appearance of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. I’d been going to their gigs all around London since Eric Clapton was the guitar star, then followed Peter Green and now it was the young Mick Taylor’s gig. Having followed both Cream and Fleetwood Mac (also regulars at Klook’s Kleek) my friends and I were anxious to hear how Mick Taylor filled the not inconsiderable shoes of his predecessors. The first inkling I had of something extraordinary on the horizon was bumping into Mick Ralphs. Our paths had crossed in Italy that summer where he was playing with a UK soul band named Doc Thomas, who were now transforming themselves into Mott The Hoople. (Mick later went on to play with Bad Company). Klook’s was basically a medium sized room and most of the bands appearing there would pack the place out (literally there was a huge crush). Mick made his way from behind the stage area and gestured towards an unmistakeable figure hovering behind the amps. ‘Jimi’s going to sit in tonight’ he confided to me. Sure enough, at the start of Mayall’s second set, Mick Taylor handed his guitar to Hendrix, who proceeded to re-tune it and set it up for playing left handed. He kicked off Red House with the powerful Mayall band backing.
I hadn’t seen Hendrix perform without Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding since the early days after he arrived in London not knowing a soul, and had turned up in every club at every gig anxious to jam and meet people. Now he was a major star and he cruised, showboated, posed and generally horsed about onstage through several choruses. However the Klooks audience were far more knowledgeable and discriminating than the normal pop music audience and a voice soon rung out from somewhere near me ‘play some blues dammit!’ Jimi grinned his familiar expansive grin, took a half step backwards, and unleashed six or seven choruses of some of the greatest blues guitar playing I have ever heard before or since! There was nothing left for Mick Taylor or anyone else to do to follow that – and the whole room was abuzz with excitement. I looked for Jimi but he’d vanished into the North London autumnal evening – the next time I was to see him was a disastrous gig in Brighton where his pay was docked! But that’s another story – I’ll never forget those six choruses I heard that October evening 45 years ago!