The Day Jimi Hendrix Set His Guitar on Fire for the First Time
Distinguishing yourself in the colorful musical climate of 1967 wasn’t easy. Merely being one of the most innovative and exciting musicians to ever play the guitar wasn’t enough. Jimi Hendrix had to literally destroy the instrument.
According to manager (and former Animal) Chas Chandler, Hendrix’s guitar carnage began during a European tour in early 1967. The performer had accidentally cracked his ax when climbing back on stage and decided to pull a Pete Townshend and smash the thing. It would become a repeat stunt, depending on Hendrix’s mood and the moment.
In March, when the Jimi Hendrix Experience joined a crowded British tour — which included the Walker Brothers, Engelbert Humperdinck and Cat Stevens — Hendrix and Chandler cooked up an entirely new way to get attention from fans and the press. And it had to do with a new song the Experience were playing at their shows: “Fire.”
Chandler, Hendrix and rock writer Keith Altham were hanging out before the tour’s first show on March 31 at London’s Finsbury Park Astoria, when the journalist suggested that it would be cool if the guitarist played “Fire,” then actually played with fire. A roadie was sent out to buy some lighter fluid and Chandler concocted the plan.
After the Experience concluded their opening set with “Fire,” Hendrix put down his guitar by the amplifiers and sauntered back to the front of the stage as Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding continued to jam. While Hendrix was distracting the crowd, Chandler doused the Stratocaster in the fuel. Hendrix grabbed the guitar, knelt beside it and, after a few burnt matches, set it alight.
Due to the amount of fluid on the instrument, the flames soared to a height of four feet, burning the guitarist’s hands in the process. The emcee, rushing to extinguish the fire, also suffered minor burns. Although Hendrix was able to perform the finale on another guitar, he was later treated for his injuries at the hospital.
The headlining Walker Brothers weren’t thrilled about being upstaged by this upstart and, reportedly, treated Hendrix and friends rather poorly for the rest of the tour. Hendrix didn’t set any more guitars literally on fire on that tour, although he would repeat the stunt during his band’s legendary performance at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival a few months later.
In 2008, after spending decades in storage, the scorched 1965 Fender Stratocaster that Hendrix used on that March night sold for more than $450,000 at auction. That’s a chunk of change to spend in order to stand next to (the remnant of) Jimi’s fire.
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