Un concert mythique - au sens propre du terme de Jimi Hendrix. Il a en effet été donné le lendemain de l'assassinat de Martin Luther King. Le témoignage de Mark Boyle (Soft Machine) dans le livre de Shapiro & Glebbeek (Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypspy) contribue certainement à ce mythe :
Hendrix came out to enormous applause and said, "This number is for a friend of mine," and he abandoned completely his normal set. The band played an improvisation which was absolutely hauntingly beautiful. Immediately everyone knew what this was about. This was a lament for Martin Luther King. And within minutes the whole audience was weeping... Old redneck stagehands came on the side of the stage and they were standing there with tears running down their faces. The music had a kind of appalling beauty. Harrowing music. When he came to the end there was no applause. He just put down his guitar, the whole audience was sobbing, and he just walked quietly off the stage.
Le site officiel revient lui aussi sur ce fameux concert :
When the Jimi Hendrix Experience pulled into Newark, however, it was like nothing any of them had seen before. "I remember this vividly," recalls Experience bass player Noel Redding. "We got down to Newark, to the venue, and there were tanks in the street. It was the first time I'd actually seen that."
That night, the Jimi Hendrix Experience only played one short set and canceled the second one. Many assumed it was Hendrix's reaction to Dr. King's violent death. After all, Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, Sidney Poitier, and Diahann Caroll had all already announced they would not participate in the following Monday night's Oscar presentations in deference to the death of Dr. King.
"My impression of that Newark thing, it was that we came and saw tanks on the street," Redding continues. "We were supposed to do two shows. The police and the Army advised us to do one show and get out of town. So we did exactly that."
"I've got my diary in front of me," he adds. "It says, 'All riots. Only did one show instead of two. We came back to the hotel and went clubbing. Went to bed at 6 a.m.'"
"The city administrators said, 'You can't do a concert here now because it's volatile,'" reflects Velvert Turner, a longtime friend of Hendrix's. "Jimi was accepted by the white majority in terms of the rock 'n' roll establishment. When you talk about having a concert in Newark, the next question would be, 'Who would attend the concert in Newark, which is a predominantly black constituency, as well as Town Hall being in a black neighborhood? Who would need to come there?' Jimi's acceptance at that time was among predominantly white rock 'n' roll fans. You are asking white rock 'n' roll fans to walk into a beehive of activity, a powder-keg that was just exploding."
"I come from Bloomfield, New Jersey, which is the next town," notes Bob Cianci, author of Great Rock Drummers of the Sixties and correspondent for Modern Drummer and Blues Review, who was at the show in Newark. "There had been riots in Newark that past summer. Of course, being in the next town, I knew what was going on back there. The night of that show, however, I didn't see any tanks, I didn't see any crowds, I didn't see any problems."
"We went on and did one show," Redding recollects. "It was very short as far as I can recall, probably about 45 minutes. There had been a lot of rioting going on."
"I think we were going to take the bus down to Newark," Cianci says. "And then, of course, Martin Luther King was killed. There was a lot of trepidation on the part of our parents about us going down to Newark to see this show. So my friend's father somehow bought a ticket the day of the show. He drove us down to Newark and took us to the show. I think, if he hadn't done that, we probably would not have been able to go."
In keeping with Hendrix's following at the time, as well as Turner's comments, the audience that night in Newark was "overwhelmingly white," Cianci says, adding that the hall was half or two thirds empty. "As soon as Jimi came on, he said, 'Everybody c'mon and move down to the front.' I can tell you some of the songs they did do. They did 'Fire.' They did 'Foxy Lady.' They did 'Red House.' And I know they ended with 'I Don't Live Today.' I don't have total recollection of this. It's been thirty years. I remember quite a bit of it. They did a lot of the first album."
Ironically, Redding recalls, "We did the one show, which was more of a jam as far as I can recollect, than one of our proper shows. We basically played a load of blues for 45 minutes, then we went straight back to New York."
"I don't think it was much more than a 45-minute set," Cianci agrees. "I don't recall whether he mentioned (about the assassination). The thing I remember most about their performance is that it was very subdued. There were no histrionics, at least not until the end of the show. Jimi just kind of stood there and played. He really played that night. I feel I was kind of fortunate to see him doing that, under unfortunate circumstances. But to see him hang back and play...
"At the end, there was the big feedback guitar thing, and I remember Jimi taking his Strat off and throwing it into his Marshall amps. He had one of these coiled guitar chords and pulled it back. I remember him stretching that all the way out and then just flinging his guitar into the amps. And then he turned around, grinned at the audience. I think that was the end of the show.
"I can tell you with confidence," he concludes, "that there was no violence. There was no trouble. We didn't hear or see anything that would lead us to believe that there was going to be trouble that night. It was just an enjoyable experience. No problems at all."
Turner knew there wouldn't be. While the police and the National Guard might have had concerns about the ability of Hendrix's music to incite the crowd, Turner discerned the truth. "My experience with Jimi was the music had the ability to unite and to heal. It acted as a balm as opposed to a bomb," he says, adding, "Jimi might have been a person who philosophically would say the place you need to be the day after Martin Luther King's death would be Newark."
Then, philosophically, maybe not. Hendrix took an aggressively apolitical stance. "Jimi was a musician first and foremost," says Cox. "He believed that musicians should be musicians, politicians should be politicians."
"None of us were really political," his predecessor, Redding, agrees.
Hendrix gave money to the King Memorial Fund, but did not offer his services. He felt that might be counterproductive for everyone. "I just want to do what I'm doing," is how Hendrix himself explained his feelings on the matter to Melody Maker's Alan Walsh, "without getting involved in racial or political matters."