One of the greatest mismatches in rock history took place in July 1967 when the Jimi Hendrix Experience embarked on a massive U.S. tour opening for the Monkees — and promptly ended eight days later, with Hendrix departing the ill-fated trek on July 17, 1967, after playing a mere seven shows.
It was not for a lack of effort or affection on the headliners’ part. Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork had both seen Hendrix deliver a star-making performance at the Monterey Pop Festival one month earlier. While Tork later admitted that he “didn’t get it,” Dolenz was positively enamored and urged the Monkees camp to reach out to Hendrix’s team about bringing the guitar hero on the road with them.
“I mentioned to our producers at the time — we were looking for an opening act for our first big world tour — and I said, ‘How about these guys?’ Because they were very theatrical,” Dolenz told UCR in 2021. “Let’s face it, the Monkees were a theatrical act. I guess they liked the idea and we liked the idea, and there you go.”
Listen to the Monkees Play ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ Live in 1967
It was a bold move for the Monkees, the squeaky-clean, made-for-TV pop-rock group whose audience largely comprised teenage girls and exasperated parents chaperoning them. Hendrix attracted an older, rowdier and decidedly less white-bread crowd with his blistering, psychedelic hard rock, hippie regalia and (literally) pyrotechnic stage antics. The two artists mixed as well as oil and water.
Speaking of water: “Oh, God, I hate them! Dishwater,” Hendrix told the New Musical Express several months earlier when asked about the Monkees. “I really hate somebody like that to make it so big. You can’t knock anybody for making it, but people like the Monkees?”
Despite Hendrix’s open disdain for the Monkees — and the fact that nobody in his camp besides manager Michael Jeffery, knowing a good publicity stunt when he saw one, was enthusiastic about the tour offer — the trek commenced on July 8 in Jacksonville, Fla. It went exactly as poorly as any reasonable observer would have expected.
“Jimi would amble out onto the stage, fire up the amps and break into ‘Purple Haze,’ and the kids in the audience would instantly drown him out with, ‘We Want Davy [Jones]!!’ God, it was embarrassing,” Dolenz wrote in his autobiography, I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music and Madness. “The parents were probably not too crazy about having to sit through a Monkees concert, much less see this Black guy in a psychedelic Day-Glo blouse, playing music from hell, holding his guitar like he was fucking it, then lighting it on fire.”
Watch Jimi Hendrix Play ‘Wild Thing’ at Monterey Pop Festival
Hendrix had at least one fan in the audience each night: Michael Nesmith, who used to sneak down to the front of the stage and bask in the Experience’s distorted, acid-washed guitar squalls.
“First time I ever saw him was in North Carolina. It was the trio,” Nesmith said in a 1986 MTV interview. “These guys came out, their hair was like 9 feet across, and it was all backlit so it looked like they were on fire. And Jimi flips the guitar over and starts playing the opening lines to ‘Foxey Lady.’ I’d never heard anything like that in my life. It brought me to my knees, moved me back 3 feet. So every night I’d sneak down to the stage, and I’d sit hidden with all these people screaming, ‘We want the Monkees!,’ listening to this exalted music that this guy was making.”
Nesmith didn’t get to listen for long. By the time the tour reached New York for a three-night stand at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Hendrix had had enough. “There was a sea of waving pink arms saying, ‘We want the Monkees,'” Nesmith recalled. “And he finally flipped everybody the bird and muttered an expletive and walked off. Bless his heart.”
After the third New York date and seventh overall, Hendrix asked the Monkees to be released from the tour. To cover up the reason for his departure, music critic Lillian Roxon, who was traveling with the tour, issued a tongue-in-cheek press release claiming the Daughters of the American Revolution had pressured concert promoters to drop Hendrix from the bill, complaining that his music was “too erotic” and “corrupting the morals of America’s youth.” The undiscerning press reported it as fact, and the lighthearted PR masterstroke became an indispensable, albeit untrue, part of Hendrix’s mythology.
Listen to the Monkees Cover Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’
Despite the chilly reception from the teenybopper crowd, Hendrix’s stint opening for the Monkees was ultimately beneficial, helping to raise his profile in the United States just in time for the stateside release of his debut album, Are You Experienced?, the following month. The album became a sensation on underground radio, peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and sold 5 million copies, turning Hendrix into a superstar. Within a year, the guitar god was headlining packed arenas and stadiums. The Monkees, meanwhile, continued paying tribute to him on their tour by playing a snippet of “Purple Haze” every night.
Hendrix’s meteoric rise was inevitable, given his revolutionary guitar playing, but the Monkees still liked to claim a little credit for helping to elevate his U.S. profile. “I’m quite sure that Jimi Hendrix would have done very well with or without the Monkees,” Dolenz told UCR. “But I’d like to think that maybe it gave him a little bit of a leg up.”
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