Rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix during a performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970.
John Ridley is a screenwriter and a commentator for Morning Edition.
Jan. 16, 1970.
The greatest rock guitarist to ever play the instrument, Jimi Hendrix, has eight months and two days to live. He spends part of the day at New York City's Record Plant laying down some tracks. After a few busted takes, Jimi launches into one of the most amazing instrumentals that few people have ever heard.
Hendrix called the piece "Sending My Love to Linda," and the first time I heard this rarity, I was blown away. It felt to me like this artist who had always owned an amazing ability to express himself through his music was truly working through something. Despite being a Hendrix fan, I had to go back and find out more about who this Linda was.
What I found out goes something like this: One night in May of 1966, a beautiful girl walked into a bar. Really. The bar was the Cheetah Club in New York City. The beautiful girl was Linda Keith.
It's the beginning of one of the most amazingly under-told stories in rock history. A story that Linda, who rarely speaks about her Hendrix connection, agreed to recount to me over the phone.
Back then, she was just 20 years old, a model and the girlfriend of Rolling Stone Keith Richards.
She went to the Cheetah with friends and caught a band that she recalls as fairly mediocre -- except for a backup guitarist who played his right-handed guitar left-handed, upside down and strung backward. Linda invited the guitarist, who at the time was performing under the name Jimmy James, for a drink. They struck up an instant friendship over their mutual love of the blues.
From there I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Linda made it something of a mission to introduce the world to the man whose real name was Jimi Hendrix. Despite his own concerns about his voice, she encouraged him to sing. And maybe most significantly, she played Hendrix a promotional copy of a record just cut by singer Tim Rose.
Though rebuffed by the first few music managers and label reps she brought round to see him, Linda eventually convinced Chas Chandler, bassist with the Animals, to listen to Hendrix. Chas agreed, and the guitarist played his own cover of the Tim Rose song "Hey Joe" -- one Hendrix later made very much his own.
When I asked Linda why she didn't care to talk more about her time with Hendrix, she told me that it was because the press generally “turned [these interviews] into something that wasn’t quite accurate." They were more interested in the cliches of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll than the man himself. The Hendrix she remembers was a prodigious worker who was rarely without his guitar. The music meant more to Jimi than the artifice for which many remember him. "Just listen, and you'll hear," Linda told me he would say.
No truer words. Just listen and you'll hear Jimi's enduring gratitude for Linda.