It was Thursday January 5th 1967.
I was a 22 year old East End kid trying to make it as a West End photographer.
Terry Hornet the editor of Rave phoned me at the Covent Garden studio I worked out of. “Mike, have you heard ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix? It’s just entered the top 40 at 34.”
As it happened I’d heard it on the radio in my car on my way in to the studio.
I joked, “But Terry, you promised me the Stones.” “No chum, but Jimi is going to be near you at three o’clock and he’s only got 20 minutes. He’s got to get to our interview immediately after, can you do it?”
It was one of my first magazine shoots. I set up the lighting not knowing what to expect, he was only a voice on pirate ‘Radio London’. But ‘Hey Joe’ was cool, different, bluesy more of an album track and I wondered if it was too good to make it into the top 10.
The perfume hit the studio as Jimi walked in. I think it was Petunia.
He was imposing at 6 ft in boot heels and an extra foot of Afro. He was a vision wearing a crimson Napoleonic velvet jacket – he was 24, very shy, polite and hardly said a word. His skin was light, that is not very black with a hint of gold and red. I thought he must of have been part American Indian, just a guess at the time. Looking through the camera, I saw a quiet innocence and a strange serenity.
There was something special about this guy, he had some mystical quality. He was still and tranquil, he floated gracefully somewhere above the moment. He didn’t say much he just flowed with magical energy.
My sensibility told me to take care with the lighting, to separate his black hair from the dark blue background. At the same moment I felt instinctively that he needed a halo, I backlit his big Afro, then went for broke and put a deep red theatrical filter on the flash head to echo the hue of his jacket. I was acting on an instinctive gut feeling that I had been learning to trust. I could match the Hendrix showmanship.
Jimi connected with the camera. Maybe he was dreaming of the success that was coming to him. He was going to conquer this strange rainy British land full of pomp, ceremony and rock and roll. It was as if he knew all along he was going to be known as the electric voodoo warrior.
Jimi liked the Polaroid I showed him. That polaroid remained in my mind years later, that was how I wanted the picture to look. I shot 3 rolls of Ektachrome. I took the film over to Rave at Tower House. Naively I believed them when they said they’d give me some back, but they never did.
Fortunately I kept one transparency for myself.
Years later I was told the Tower House basement had been flooded and invaded by rats. The prints and transparencies residing there including the whole of the Sixties bands including my shots of Hendrix and other photographer’s work from the Beatles, Stones, Cream, The Animals, Zeppelin, Monkees et al, were all eaten by rats.My career as a busy fashion and advertising photographer took off and I lost sight the one remaining Hendrix photograph.
In 1970 Jimi died. We were all shattered.
In the early ’70′s I did a swimwear trip to Kenya. The girls I took were also hired to shoot some art nude work once the fashion was done. One of the girls was Uschi, a beautiful and sexy German girl in her early 20′s. Uschi didn’t know I had photographed Jimi Hendrix and I had no idea that Uschi had a love relationship with Jimi.
By the late ’70′s the polaroid of Jimi had also disapeared. This time someone had taken it from my plans chest. At this time I was moving over to moving film, I was directing and photographing TV and film commercials. By ’84 I was shooting in New York and opted to open a company in Los Angeles. I packed everything up including my slides and film. We looked through the thousands of slides and loose film for the Hendrix picture but no sign of it.
About that time advertising was going celebrity. I always mentioned Jimi at the top of my list of well known people I had photographed but would always add, “Don’t ask to see it, the only transparency is missing”
In 1994 we experienced a violent earthquake in Los Angeles. The ceiling came down in our storage facility, we had to throw a lot of work away and there was a lot of damage. I took most of the boxes of slides home. My partner Robby also took a box known to be rejects and store for me. We left for the UK but after 10 years in London it was back in Los Angeles where we wanted to be.
I had given up ever seeing the Hendrix picture, though sometimes I remembered how the photograph looked and dreamed in my sleep of finding it.
When I made contact with Uschi she was thrilled to see Jimi’s picture and her own together with his. She told me her story and I saw Jimi’s love letter to her. From her I got a better understanding of why Jimi succumbed at the end of his short life.