The Monkees singer first saw the future guitar legend playing in New York‘s Greenwich Village. “He was just known as this amazing guitar player that plays guitar with his teeth,” Dolenz tells UCR. “That’s how I remember him being introduced.”
A year later, Dolenz came across Hendrix again, this time at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. By this point, the Seattle-born guitarist had teamed up with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell as the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was still playing guitar with his teeth, and as Dolenz noted in his autobiography, I’m a Believer, “he had graduated to setting it on fire as well.”
“He walks onstage and I recognized him,” Dolenz recalls. “I said, ‘Hey, that’s the guy that plays the guitar with his teeth!’ He blew everybody away, of course.”
The incendiary performance at Monterey sparked an idea: The Jimi Hendrix Experience would be great tour mates for the Monkees. “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,” he says. “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.”
From the start, the pairing was “weird,” Dolenz admits, because Hendrix “wasn’t well-known at the time” – not exactly hit with the group’s audience of “mostly 12-year-old little girls.”
Despite the apparent mismatch, the members of the Monkees hit it off with Hendrix right away. Dolenz says he and Michael Nesmith “were absolutely entranced with him and his performance. He was a wonderful guy. He was very young, maybe only a year or two older than I was.”
Hendrix packed away his wild stage persona when he wasn’t performing, Dolenz recalls. “He was very quiet and shy – he was nothing like the character that he played onstage at all,” he notes. “Jimi was very quiet and shy, very streetwise, but a little naive about everything else, [including] the business.”
In between shows, Dolenz says they spent a lot of time hanging out. “We’d sit around the hotel room and play and stuff,” but then things started to get “pretty crazy.” “The fans were there to basically [just] see the headliner. You hear stories about that kind of thing all of the time.”
But Hendrix was “not just your ordinary opening act,” as Dolenz wrote in his book. “It was evident from the start that we were witness to a rare and phenomenal talent. Jimi was virtually the only act I ever made a point of getting to the hall early to see. I would stand in the wings and watch and listen in awe. I felt incredibly lucky just to have been there.”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Monkees tour lasted for just seven shows that launched on July 8, 1967, and flamed out soon afterward following three New York City dates. “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 Daaavy [Jones],” Dolenz recalled in I’m a Believer. “God, was it embarrassing.”
His limit reached, Hendrix allegedly gave the young audience at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium the finger as he left the stage at the close of his final performance opening for the Monkees. It wasn’t long before he became one of the biggest artists of the era.
“I’m quite sure that Jimi Hendrix would have done very well with or without the Monkees,” Dolenz says now. “But I’d like to think that maybe it gave him a little bit of a leg up.”
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