This article originally appeared in the May 1994 issue of Straight Ahead magazine.

"Steppenwolf's frontman talks about his encounters with Hendrix and other sixties legends."

Nashville, Tennessee is probably best known for the likes of Vince Gill, Reba McIntire, and Johnny Cash, but Music City USA is also the home of several still active and very notable stars of the "Classic Rock" era.

Billy Cox, Steve Winwood, Al Kooper, Tracy Nelson, Felix Cavaliere, and John Kay are all people that recorded with or performed shows with Jimi Hendrix.

In this interview we feature John Kay. This is not really so much an interview as it is a conversation. In the end this turned out to be even better. John recently visited me in my home and checked out my archives. He agreed to reminisce while the tape rolled and it proved to be very interesting. What follows are excerpts from our conversation.

  David Pearcy: Can you tell us about the first time you saw Hendrix perform?

John Kay: Before the Wolf and Sparrow  played the Whiskey regularly, we played there with other groups like John Mayall, Hugh Masakela, and the Sir Douglas Quintet. One time the Sam and Dave Revue was playing and my wife and I were big fans. After their first set, during intermission, the dance floor was raised to serve as a make shift stage. So Mario, the club owner, gets on the microphone and says, "and now ladies and gentlemen, direct from his triumph at the Monterey Pop Festival, the Jimi Hendrix Experience!" He then walked out on stage doing "Hey Joe." I said, "What the hell is this?" This was before  Monterey Pop the movie came out.

D.P.: Did you know of Jimi at that point?

    J.K.: We had heard of him.L.A. was a buzz-they mentioned a few people like the Who and Hendrix that really tore it up at the festival. I was digging it! One of our bass players in later years also told me about a time Hendrix played the Experience Club in L.A. Apparently one night Jimi showed up dressed practically all in white and sat in with somebody. While he was onstage, in walks Johnny Winter dressed totally in black. The two of them jammed and to see them both play that night it was like watching negative/positve,..positive/ negative. He said it was a trip to watch.

D.P.: I understand you also met up with Hendrix at the Scene Club. Can you tell us about that?

J.K.: We (Steppenwolf) were the baby act, the opening act. It was the last night with Mike Bloomfield and the first night for their (the Electric Flag's) new guitar player-they were both  playing that night. We then had a week at the Scene. The first night we played at the Scene was over lapping with the last night of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. It was one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen.

D.P.:  Did he do his flaming helmet act in the little Scene Club?

J.K.:  YES! He comes out behind a cubicle on to the postage stamp size of a stage  at the Scene with a big robe and the head-dress crown thing ablaze. He's singing...."Fire!"  While waving his arms, one of his sleeves goes over his head and catches fire and he doesn't notice. So one of his roadies, trying to remain unnoticed, slides on his knees and starts to beat the flames off him. Arthur continued to sing, but his facial expressions were like--what are you doing?  The next day we were joined by Mose Allison. We really enjoyed that because I'd always been a fan of his. It must have been the second or third night we were playing and Jimi walked in with Buddy Miles, whom we had known from before because Buddy was still with the Electric Flag at the time, one of the McCoys, and a keyboard player whose name escapes me, and they wanted to jam. So we said fine! It was this kind of a mix and match kind of thing...our guitar player stayed up for a little bit...everybody sat in on a rotating manner. At one point we just got off the stage and Jimi and his buddies had the whole stage and dug the whole thing. Later that night, Teddy was ready to shut the club down and we all left. Jimi was in a Corvette outside. He asked me to come over and we chatted briefly...something about thanks for letting us play. That would have to have been early or mid summer of '68 I would imagine. Later that year we had "Magic Carpet Ride" out and I didn't see Jimi again until we had been invited to the Factory which was a private club in L.A. across the street from the Troubadour, and there was a party being thrown by of all people, ...Kirk Douglas and Mama Cass! The party was being thrown for Donovan. My wife and I went, then decided to leave. On the way out of the place we passed a table where Jimi was sitting. My wife poked me in the ribs and said that's Hendrix over there and he's waving at you...she was sort of my seeing eye person. He asked us to join him and we did. We got into this long conversation. I had some THC and some Black Russians to drink...God knows what Jimi had.

D.P.: How did that go?

J.K.:  We were talking about how our physical limitations, no matter how well trained our fingers are, keep us from realizing the music we hear in our heads.

After awhile Jimi said, "Do you want to go over to our house", which was in Benedict Canyon...a rented house. We did, and he and I sat in a room with a lot of records and a TV. It was fairly late...the thing that struck me about this was---here was this guy that was a guitar god and he goes..."Who came up with this?" and he plays a tune off our second LP...the riff from "Don't Step On the Grass Sam".. which is one of the simplest riffs known to man next to John Lee Hooker playing a lot of e-chords on "Boogie Chilin.'"..I said, I did...it's  just a thing. I thought to myself,.... here's a guy that can play rings around the 100 best guys in town, and something simple like that tune impressed him enough to inquire about it.

D.P.:  What happened next?

J.K.:  My wife wasn't feeling well so we decided to leave and go home.  I kind of regretted this because I was on the verge of  getting to know Jimi the person. This was on his turf with no distractions. It was relaxed and quiet.

Another year or so went by. we had played several places on the same bill together, the Newport'69 festival and the Randall's Island festival. During those concerts, unless we were playing back to back, it was "Hi, how are you doing--see ya next time" kind of thing. When we stayed in New York we did have some of the same female aquaintances.

D.P.:  Did you know Devon Wilson?

J.K.:  Oh yeah.

D.P.: You smiled when you said that.

J.K.:  (laughs) The whole interchangeable thing between groups was a convenient arrangement for all concerned--men and women. The mood was--this is who I am, this is who I am with at the moment. It was a different era. During one of those trips to New York we would see Noel Redding fairly regularly. We would hang, not like tight buddies, but more as drinking partners. It was around the time of his group Fat Mattress. One time when we were at the Scene Club, Noel said, "Jimi is cutting some stuff at the studio and he would like to see you...would you like to come along?"

D.P.:  Was this at the Record Plant or the Hit Factory?

    J.K.: I don't think it was the plant. As we walked into the booth Jimi was on the other side of the glass doing guitar and vocals, both live. It was obviously still in an exploratory stage...he then saw us and said hello. He then listened to his playback and went back out and cut another one. I realized this was going to be an all night thing with him so we waved  through the glass and said our goodbyes. This was the last time I saw him alive. About a year later I  remember hearing the reports of what happened in London and coming to terms with that.

Me (David) and John Kay

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