Jimi Hendrix Arrives in London in 1966, Asks to Get Onstage with Cream, and Blows Eric Clapton Away: “You Never Told Me He Was That F-ing Good”

Jimi Hendrix arrived on the London scene like a ton of bricks in 1966, smashing every British blues guitarist to pieces the instant they saw him play. As vocalist Terry Reid tells it, when Hendrix played his first showcase at the Bag O’Nails, arranged by Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler, “there were guitar players weeping. They had to mop the floor up. He was piling it on, solo after solo. I could see everyone’s fillings falling out. When he finished, it was silence. Nobody knew what to do. Everybody was dumbstruck, completely in shock.”

He only exaggerates a little, by all accounts, and when Reid says “everybody,” he means everybody: Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Jeff Beck, Paul McCartney, The Who, Eric Burdon, John Mayall, and maybe Jimmy Page, though he denies it. Mayall recalls, “the buzz was out before Jimi had even been seen here, so people were anticipating his performance, and he more than lived up to what we were expecting.” In fact, even before this legendary event sent nearly every star classic rock guitarist back to the woodshed, Jimi had arrived unannounced at the Regent Street Polytechnic, and asked to sit in and jam with Cream, where he proceeded to dethrone the reigning British guitar god, Eric Clapton.

Nobody knew who he was, but “in those days anybody could get up with anybody,” Clapton says in a recent interview, “if you were convincing enough that you could play. He got up and blew everyone’s mind.” As Hendrix biographer Charles Cross tells it, “no one had ever asked to jam” with Cream before. “Most would have been too intimidated by their reputation as the best band in Britain.” To hear the story as it’s told in the clip above from the BBC documentary Seven Ages of Rock, no one else would have ever dared to get onstage with Eric Clapton. Clapton, as the famed graffiti in London announced, was God. “It was a very brave person who would do that,” says Jack Bruce.

Actually, it was Chandler who asked the band, and who also tried to prepare Clapton. Jimi got onstage, plugged into Bruce’s bass amp, and played a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor.” Everyone was “completely gobsmacked,” Clapton writes in his autobiography. “I remember thinking that here was a force to be reckoned with. It scared me, because he was clearly going to be a huge star, and just as we are finding our own speed, here was the real thing.” Fear, envy, awe… all reasonable emotions when standing next to Jimi Hendrix as he tears through “Killin’ Floor” three times faster than anyone else played it (as you can see him play it in Stockholm above)—while doing the splits, lying on the floor, playing with his teeth and behind his head…

“It was amazing,” writes Clapton, "and it was musically great, too, not just pyrotechnics.” There’s no telling how Jimi might have remembered the event had he lived to write his memoirs, but he would have been pretty modest, as was his way. No one else who saw him felt any need to hold back. “It must have been difficult for Eric to handle,” says Bruce, “because [Eric] was ‘God,’” and this unknown person comes along, and burns.” He puts it slightly differently at the top: “Eric was a guitar player. Jimi was some sort of force of nature.”

Rock journalist Keith Altham has yet a third account, as Ed Vulliamy writes at The Guardian. He remembers “Chandler going backstage after Clapton left in the middle of the song ‘which he had yet to master himself’; Clapton was furiously puffing on a cigarette and telling Chas: ‘You never told me he was that fucking good.’" Who knows if Hendrix knew Clapton had struggled with “Killin’ Floor” and decided not to try it live. But as blues guitarist Stephen Dale Petit notes, “when Chas invited Jimi to London, Jimi did not ask about money or contracts. He asked if Chas would introduce him to Beck and Clapton.”

He had come to meet, and blow away, his rock heroes. “Two weeks after The Bag O’Nails,” writes Classic Rock’s Johnny Black, “when Cream appeared at The Marquee Club, Clapton was sporting a frizzy perm and he left his guitar feeding back against the amp, just as he’d seen Jimi do.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A New Collection of Official, Authorized Prince GIFs!

Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash, podcaster, music historian, and advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Digital Strategy, knows his way around Prince’s catalogue.

Less than a year after the iconoclastic musician left the planet, Dash created a guide to help newbies and casual listeners become better acquainted with his oeuvre:

The nice thing about Prince’s work is that there are no bad starting points; if you don’t like what you hear at first, he almost certainly made a song in the complete opposite style as well.

He assembled playlists for the Prince-resistant, reeling ‘em in by catering to various tastes, from “riff-driven rock tracks” and electronica to “Prince for Redbone fans.”

(Those playlists are also a great service to those of us whose attention wandered in the decades following Prince’s 80’s heyday.)

Dash’s latest contribution to the Purple One’s enduring legacy is an official archive of high-quality Prince GIFs, taken from his music videos.

Prince was notoriously protective of his image, and wild as it is, the GIF archive, a collaboration with GIPHY, Paisley Park and Prince’s estate, colors within those lines by steering clear of unflattering reaction shots culled from interviews, live performances, or public appearances.

There’s still a broad range of attitudes on display, though best get out of line if you’re looking for an expression that conveys “lack of confidence” or “the opposite of sexy.”

The archive is arranged by album. Click on a song title and you’ll find a number of moments drawn from its official music video.

Any captions come straight from the horse’s mouth. No backseat caption jockeys can has cheezburger with Prince Rogers Nelson’s image, thank you very much.

Begin your explorations of the Prince GIF Archive here.

via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday always stood at the back of the line, a smile beneath her nose. Ayun is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Famous Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci Celebrated in a New Series of Stamps

No special occasion is required to celebrate Leonardo da Vinci, but the fact that he died in 1519 makes this year a particularly suitable time to look back at his vast, innovative, and influential body of work. Just last month, "Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing" opened in twelve museums across the United Kingdom. "144 of Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection are displayed in 12 simultaneous exhibitions across the UK," says the exhibition's site, with each venue's drawings "selected to reflect the full range of Leonardo's interests – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany."

The Royal Collection Trust, writes Artnet's Sarah Cascone, has even "sent a dozen drawings from Windsor Castle to each of the 12 participating institutions." They'd previously been in Windsor Castle's Print Room, the home of a collection of old master prints and drawings routinely described as one of the finest in the world.

Now displayed at institutions like Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery, Sheffield's Millennium Gallery, Belfast's Ulster Museum, and Cardiff's National Museum Wales, this selection of Leonardo's drawings will be much more accessible to the public during the exhibition than before.

But the Royal Mail has made sure that the drawings will be even more widely seen, doing its part for the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death by issuing them in stamp form.

"The stamps depict several well-known works," writes Artnet's Kate Brown, "such as The skull sectioned (1489) and The head of Leda (1505–08), a study for his eventual painting of the myth of Leda, the queen of Sparta, which was the most valuable work in Leonardo’s estate when he died and was apparently destroyed around 1700. Other stamps show the artist’s studies of skeletons, joints, and cats."

While none of these images enjoy quite the cultural profile of a Vitruvian Man, let alone a Mona Lisa, they all show that whatever Leonardo drew, he drew it in a way revealing that he saw it like no one else did (possibly due in part, as we've previously posted about here on Open Culture, to an eye disorder).

Though that may come across more clearly at the scale of the originals than at the scale of postage stamps, even a glimpse at the intellectually boundless Renaissance polymath's drawings compressed into 21-by-24-millimeter squares will surely be enough to draw many into his still-inspirational artistic and scientific world. To the intrigued, may we suggest plunging into his 570 pages of notebooks?

Note: If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, consider attending the new course--The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci: A 500th Anniversary Celebration--being offered through Stanford Continuing Studies. Registration opens on February 25. The class runs from April 16 through June 4.

via Colossal/Artnet

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Telecaster Made Out of 1200 Colored Pencils

A couple weeks back, Burls Art dared to make a Stratocaster out of 1200 Crayola colored pencils. Now comes a Telecaster-style guitar, which Fender first put into production back in 1950. You can watch it get made, from start to finish, in the 11-minute video above.

On a more serious note, anyone interested in the history of the electric guitar--particularly the Strat, Tele and Les Paul--should spend time with the new book by Ian S. Port, The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll. It offers a pretty rich and lively account of the inventors and instruments who created a new modern sound. If interested, you can get The Birth of Loud as a free audiobook if you sign up for Audible.com's free trial program. Find details on that here.

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800 Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Are Now Online: Browse & Download Them Courtesy of the British Library and Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant begins with an immersive depiction of what it might have been like to live in a European village during the middle ages. Or what it might feel like for us moderns, at least. The couple at the center of the story spends several pages fretting over the loss of a candle, their only one. Without it, their nights are pitch black. In the day, they wander in a fog, unable to remember anything. Though the cause of this turns out to be dark magic, one can’t help thinking that a smartphone would immediately solve all their problems.

This was a time not only before mobile video, but when images of any kind were scarce, when every book was painstakingly copied by hand in careful, elegant script. Many of those rare, scribal copies were not illustrated, they were “illuminated.” Their pages shone out into the darkness and fog. Most of the population could not read them, but they could, in rare instances when they might catch a glimpse, be deeply moved by the colorful, stylized images and lettering.

For the intellectual classes, illumination constituted a language of its own, framing and interpreting medical, classical, and legal texts, gospels and works by the church fathers. Not all books received this treatment but the “most luxurious,” notes the British Library, were “literally ‘lit up’ by decorations and pictures in brightly coloured pigments and burnished gold leaf.” For centuries, despite the explosion of image-making technologies of every kind, most of us, unless we were scholars or aristocrats, were in the same position vis-à-vis these stunning artifacts as the average medieval peasant. Medieval manuscripts were locked away in rare book rooms and seen by very few.

The situation has changed dramatically as libraries digitize their holdings. Last November, hundreds more rare, valuable medieval manuscripts became available to everyone when the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France launched a joint project, making “800 manuscripts decorated before the year 1200 available freely” online, as the BL blog announced in 2016. Both institutions provided 400 manuscripts each for digitization. Some of these are currently on display at the wildly popular, sold-out British Library exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. Now they are also virtual public property, as it were, thanks to a grant from the Polonsky Foundation.

That these fragile artifacts have been so inaccessible, kept under glass and well away from insects, thieves, and vandals, now means they are in a condition to be digitally copied and uploaded in high resolution for close viewing, comparison, and careful study. Medievalists.net describes the complementary websites the two libraries have launched:

The first, France-England: medieval manuscripts between 700 and 1200, has been created by the Bibliothèque nationale de France based on the Gallica marque blanche infrastructure, using the IIIF standard and Mirador viewer to make the images held by the different institutions interoperable and enable them to be compared side-by-side within the same digital library or annotated. The second website, Medieval England and France, 700-1200, is aimed at a wider public audience, and has been developed by the British Library to showcase a selection of manuscripts as well as articles, essays and video clips.

The French site has ports of entry according to theme, author, place, and century, and many links to resources for scholars. The British Library site features curated selections, introduced by accessible articles. Laypeople with little experience studying medieval manuscripts can learn about legal, medical, and musical texts, see how the writings of the church fathers received special attention in monastic culture, and learn how manuscripts circulated before 1200. Those who know what they are looking for can conduct advanced searches at the Medieval Manuscripts site, and download a full list of all 800 manuscripts here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When Fred Rogers and Francois Clemmons Broke Down Race Barriers on a Historic Episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1969)

Last year’s Fred Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, propelled François Clemmons—better known to generations of Mister Rogers Neighborhood viewers as Officer Clemmons—back into the international spotlight.

One of the most striking anecdotes in the doc concerns a 1969 episode in which Mister Rogers, who was white, invited Officer Clemmons, who is black, to join him in soaking his bare feet in a backyard baby pool on a hot summer’s day.

It was one of those giant leaps for mankind moments that passes itself off as a homey, fairly unremarkable step, though as Clemmons told his friend Karl Lindholm in a StoryCorps interview, Rogers understood the powerful message this gesture would send.

Likewise, his choice of Clemmons to embody a friendly cop for his television neighborhood, a part Clemmons, who played the role for 30 years, was initially hesitant to accept:

Fred came to me and said, “I have this idea, you could be a police officer.” That kind of stopped me in my tracks. I grew up in the ghetto. I did not have a positive opinion of police officers. Policemen were sicking police dogs and water hoses on people. And I really had a hard time putting myself in that role. So I was not excited about being Officer Clemmons at all.

Rogers, who had met Clemmons in a Pittsburgh area church where the trained opera singer was performing, prevailed, stressing the impact such a positive portrayal of a black authority figure could have on the community.

Officer Clemmons, the first recurring black character on a children’s series, paved the way for the multiracial casts of Sesame Street and The Electric Company, also on PBS.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a song can also pack quite a wallop. It’s hard not to get choked up hearing Clemmons sing “There Are Many Ways to Say I Love You,” above, a tune he reprised in 1993, for his final appearance on the show, below.

Such sentiments are a natural fit in programs aimed at the preschool crowd, whose love of their families is reinforced at every turn, but it’s still unusual to see these feelings articulated so purely when the only people in sight are grown men.

Clemmons learned not to doubt Roger’s sincerity when he said, “I like you just the way you are.”

And Rogers grew to accept his friend’s sexual orientation, though this embrace came a bit less naturally. In an interview with Vanity Fair’s Chris Azzopardi, Clemmons was philosophical, recalling his “surrogate father’s” request to steer clear of gay clubs so as not to endanger the show’s wholesome image:

Sacrifice was a part of my destiny. In other words, I did not want to be a shame to my race. I didn’t want to be a scandal to the show. I didn’t want to hurt the man who was giving me so much, and I also knew the value as a black performer of having this show, this platform. Black actors and actresses—SAG and Equity—90 percent of them are not working. If you know that and here you are, on a national platform you’re gonna sabotage yourself?

I weighed this thing, the pros and the cons. And I thought, I not only have a national platform, I’m getting paid. I was also getting a promotion that I simply could not have afforded to pay for. Every time I did the show, and every time Fred took us across the country to do three, four, five personal appearances, my name was being written into somebody’s heart—some little kid who would grow up and say, “Oh, I remember him, I remember that he could sing, I remember that he was on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I didn’t have the money to pay for that, but I was getting it free. There were so many things that I got back for that sacrifice that I kept my big mouth shut, kept my head down, kept my shoulder to the plough.

Students at Middlebury College, where Clemmons was a long time faculty presence, were well acquainted with the self-proclaimed “Divaman’s”’ flamboyant side:

Clemmons has added color and soul to the Middlebury College scene for nearly 25 years. As Alexander Twilight Artist in Residence and director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir, he is known by many names: the divo, the maestro, the reverend, doctor-madam-honey-man, sportin’ life, and even black magic. He has played the role of professor, choirmaster, resident vocal soloist, advisor, confidant, and community cheerleader. Yet his purpose is singular: to share hope through song.

Listen to StoryCorps podcast episode #462 about Mister Rogers’ and Francois Clemmons’ famous foot bath, as well as an incident that took place five years prior where protesters staged a “wade in” at the “Whites Only” pool at St. Augustine, Florida’s Monson Motor Lodge.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City on March 11 as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Lucille Ball Demos a Precursor to Peter Frampton’s “Talk Box” (1939)

Decades before Peter Frampton made the Talk Box come alive on songs like "Do You Feel Like We Do" and "Show Me the Way," another legend, Lucille Ball, experimented with its forerunner, the Sonovox. Invented by Gilbert Wright in 1939, the Sonovox "used speakers pressed into [a performer's] throat to produce mechanical talking sounds." And the sounds could then be modulated by the tongue and lips.  Above, in a 1939 newsreel clip called "Machine Made Voices!," Ball puts the Sonovox on display. This marked one of her earliest appearances on film.

The Sonovox would later feature prominently in radio station IDs and jingles. Bela Lugosi would use it to "portray the voice of a dead person during a seance." And it would even make an appearance on The Who's 1967 album, The Who Sell Out--all before the modern Talk Box arrived on the scene.

via BoingBoing

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Watch the Trailers for Tolkien and Catch-22, Two New Literary Films

For decades, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings wondered if the books could ever become a film. The Beatles and John Boorman both tried to get adaptations off the ground in the 1960s and 70s, and animator Ralph Bakshi came up with his own cinematic interpretation, if only a partial one, in 1978. But now we live in a world rich with Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Rings-related material on film, thanks to the efforts of director Peter Jackson and his collaborators on not just the adaptations of The Fellowship of the RingThe Two Towers, and The Return of the King, but three whole feature films bringing the relatively brief tale The Hobbit to the screen.

What remains for the Tolkien-inspired filmmaker today? None, so far, have proven brave enough to take on the likes of The Silmarillion, the forbiddingly mythopoeic work published a few years after the writer's death. But the Finnish director Dome Karukoski, whose last picture told the story of male-erotica illustrator Tom of Finland, has found material in the writer's life.

Going by the trailer above, Tolkien deals not just with the writing of The Lord of the Rings, described by star Nicholas Hoult as "a story about journeys, the journeys we take to prove ourselves," about "adventures" and "potent magic, magic beyond anything anyone has ever felt before."

It's also, says Hoult-as-Tolkien, a story about "what it means to love, and to be loved." That fits with another apparent storyline of Tolkien itself, that of the man who dreamed up Middle-Earth's relationship with Edith Bratt, the girl he met as a teenager who would become his wife — not long after which he received the letter summoning him to France to fight in the First World War, where he managed to survive the Battle of the Somme. An equally skilled writer of another temperament might have produced an enduring novel of the war, but Tolkien, as his generations of readers know, went in another direction entirely. A generation later, Joseph Heller proved to be that skilled writer of a different temperament, and sixteen years after coming back from the Second World War, he produced Catch-22.

Heller's novel has also made it to the screen a few times: Mike Nichols directed a feature-film adaptation in 1970, the pilot for a television series aired three years later, and now we await a Catch-22 miniseries that will air on Hulu this May. Christopher Abbott stars as Captain John Yossarian, the hapless bombardier with no aim in the war but to stay out of harm's way, and George Clooney (also one of the series' directors) as Lieutenant Scheisskopf, one of the book's cast of highly memorable minor characters. The series' six episodes should accommodate more of that cast — and more of the forms Heller's elaborate satire takes in the novel — than a movie can. If, as a result, you need to consult Heller's large-format handwritten outline for the book, by all means do — and have a look at Tolkien's annotated map of Middle-Earth while you're at it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Six-Hour Time-Stretched Version of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports: Meditate, Relax, Study

Writing in his 1995 diary about his seminal ambient album Music for Airports, Eno remembered his initial thoughts going into it: “I want to make a kind of music that prepares you for dying--that doesn’t get all bright and cheerful and pretend you’re not a little apprehensive, but which makes you say to yourself, ‘Actually, it’s not that big a deal if I die.’”

Created in 1978 from seconds-long tape loops from a much longer improv session with musicians including Robert Wyatt, Music for Airports started the idea of slow, mediative music that abandoned typical major and minor scales, brought in melodic ambiguity, and began the exploration of sounds that were designed to exist somewhere in the background, beyond the scope of full attention.

For those who think 50 minutes is too short and those piano notes too recognizable, may we suggest this 6-hour, time-stretched version of the album, created by YouTube user “Slow Motion TV.” The tonal field is the same, but now the notes are no attack, all decay. It’s granular as hell, but you could imagine the whole piece unspooling unnoticed in a terminal while a flight is delayed for the third time. (Maybe that’s when the acceptance of death happens, when you’ve given up on ever getting home?)

Unlike Music for Films, which featured several tracks Eno had given to filmmakers like Derek Jarman, it took some time for Music for Airports to be realized in its intended location: being piped in at a terminal at La Guardia, New York, sometime in the 1980s. And that was just a one-time thing.

The album seemed destined for personal use only, but then in 1997 the modern ensemble Bang on a Can played it live, translating the randomness of out of sync tape loops into music notation. Over the years they’ve performed it at airports in Brussels, Holland and Liverpool, and in 2015 the group brought it to Terminal 2 of San Diego International. Writing for KCET, Alex Zaragoza reported that “crying babies, echoes of rolling suitcases and boarding passes serving as tickets to the concert failed to remind anyone that they were, indeed, at one of the busiest airports in the country. Even the telltale announcements were there: Airport security is everyone's responsibility. Do not leave bags unattended.”

And then in 2018, London City Airport played the original album in a day-long long loop for the album’s 40th anniversary.

As site-specific multi-media art builds popularity in the 21st century with increasingly cheaper and smaller technology, we might hope to hear ambient drones, and not classic rock or pop, in more and more landscapes.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.





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