The Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young legend Graham Nash has recalled a time he witnessed rock ‘n’ roll legend Little Richard upbraiding a then-unknown Jimi Hendrix for upstaging him.
Speaking to UK newspaper The Times [paywalled], Nash remembered the incident, which reportedly occurred during his first trip to New York with The Hollies in 1965. That night the group were playing a support slot on a bill with Little Richard at Brooklyn’s Paramount Theatre.
“I remember watching the end of Little Richard’s show,” says Nash. “And he came off screaming [at his guitarist], ‘Don’t you ever play your fucking guitar behind your head again, don’t you upstage me, I’m fucking Little Richard.’’
That guitarist was Jimi Hendrix, reveals Nash. Hendrix was then serving as part of Little Richard’s touring band – a role he was not due to hold much longer. Indeed, he was fired by Little Richard in July of that year.
It was not the guitar icon’s first sacking, either. Hendrix did stints on the road and in the studio with the likes of Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Ike & Tina Turner, Curtis Knight, The Isley Brothers and Jackie Wilson, among many others. It was a touring circuit that saw young guitarists hired and fired with equal ease.
“Hendrix got dumped plenty of times,” writes Charles Shaar Murray in his definitive Hendrix tome, Crosstown Traffic. “He would behave for as long as he could, but after a while he would either upstage the star or miss the tour bus.”
Getting kicked out of Little Richard’s band, though, would likely have been a more meaningful parting for Hendrix, as Shaar Murray notes:
“It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of Little Richard as a formative influence on Jim Hendrix,” notes the author. “On his arrival in England, Hendrix told interviewers, ‘I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice…’
“Inevitably, Richard and Hendrix fell out. Hendrix later claimed that Richard had given him a hard time for wearing a ruffled shirt on stage, and had fired him by announcing, ‘I'm the only one allowed to dress pretty.’ Richard, much incensed, insists that Hendrix was fired for persistent lateness after missing one bus too many.”
Either way, Nash clearly witnessed the beginning of the end.
“I’m incredibly sad, I miss the music, I miss the man,” says Nash. “At the end we were actually talking, he left me a voicemail saying that he wanted to apologise for shooting out his mouth. I set up a FaceTime time so we could see each other…I waited, and I waited, and he never called back, and then he was dead.”
Nash also says that he doesn’t think his band will be remembered over the long term, or at least not in the same breath as the guitarist he saw upbraided by Little Richard in 1965.
“I think in 50 years when people look back at what happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s they will remember the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and they’ll remember Joni [Mitchell],” concludes Nash. “I don’t think they’ll ever remember CSNY [Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young] at all.”
We doubt that, but then we suspect he’s right about Hendrix. Indeed, only weeks ago, Steve Vai led 7,968 guitarists in a world record-breaking performance of Jimi Hendrix classic Hey Joe.