After arriving in LA, our manager Bob Hinkle took us to Warner Brothers to meet Mo Osten, Executive Vice President of Warner/Reprise Records, and the staff members who would be involved with our recordings and promotions. Warner's and Mo Osten had assigned Russ Shaw as our promotion agent and we met Russ that first day. Russ was obviously a talented promotion man, because Warner's had also assigned to him Jimi Hendrix. Of course by that time in June of 1968 Jimi was a huge star, and had already released his first two albums Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold As Love. That summer of 1968, Russ called us and told us to get dressed, that we were going up to meet Jimi Hendrix. Russ was gearing us up to be the opening act for Jimi's new tour. We drove up to a palatial home in Benedict Canyon above Hollywood, and after getting cleared at the gate, went inside. We stood there in the living room looking around and on the wall was a group promo picture signed by the Beatles. It was the very recognizable picture with them in the gray collarless jackets, Paul with a cigarette in his hand. We found out that the house belonged to the guy that owned Cadillac Steel, and that he leased the house to many of the stars when they were in town. Pretty soon Jimi came out, dressed in a red bathrobe and looking pretty sleepy. Jimi was a very calm, laid back guy, very normal considering his stardom. I felt really calm around him, although the earlier anticipation of meeting him had initially made me a little nervous. After all of the introductions and shaking hands, he asked "Where you guys from?" Then, very quickly, he said "No, let me guess. Just talk a little." So we chatted a bit and he said "You're from Alabama." Well, we couldn't believe he knew, and all anxiously answered, "Yeah, how'd you know?" He said, "Just keep on talking." So we chatted some more and he said, "You're from Montgomery, right?" Well that was almost spooky, and someone said "How did you know that?" He started telling us that he'd been stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia when he was in the Army and used to come up to Montgomery and jam with B.B. King at the Lakos and Elks Clubs, two very popular black clubs in Montgomery. He went on to say that South Alabamians had a completely different accent than North Alabamians. We didn't even know that! So we sat there talking and he reached over and grabbed an acoustic guitar. He said "I bet you've never seen this." He turned the guitar over and showed us where he'd broken the guitar body right behind the neck, so that when he put the guitar in his lap, like playing a dobro, he could push down on the top of the body and the whole neck would de-tune. He asked if anyone had a lighter, and I had this old Zippo, so I gave it to him. He started playing some slide blues that had the most incredible sound, nothing like I'd ever heard. There was the slide sound, but then he would push down the body and the whole thing would de-tune, producing a very dark, bluesy sound that is beyond description.
Rusty remembers, "Also, I think a few days before, I heard a few songs on the radio from his new album, Electric Ladyland. I think he was there for his west coast tour to promote the new album. The only conversation I took part in & remember was about All Along the Watchtower (a B. Dylan song). I told him it was a masterpiece, so many different guitar styles in one song...he said, "Thanks man, it wasn't easy." It is still one of my most favorite guitar songs of all time."
We just hung around for a while, and met some of his roadies. They were all English cats, and they were consuming mass quantities of tallboys, cans of beer. We had a beer and then left.
On the 18th and 19th of October, 1968, Cream played at the Forum in LA in what was billed as the Wheels of Fire Tour, but also was known as their Farewell Tour. Keith and I were sitting at the house in Studio City and Russ Shaw showed up at the door. He asked where the other guys were, and we told him that Rusty and Ed had dates, and Townsend was shacked up in his room with his girlfriend Lisa. He said to get dressed quick; we were going to a party. We hurried up and jumped in his car and took off toward the canyons. We arrived at Jimi's house, and after being cleared at the gate we went in. Jimi was throwing a party for Cream's Farewell Concert, and we were lucky to have been invited. We went in and there were lots of folks, some eating the finger food, some with drinks. As I stood there I saw Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. Jack was playing this M or L model Hammond organ, and Ginger was nervously knocking things off the tables. Keith remembers, "Ginger still had a couple of teeth in his head and he looked a little unstable, but I think that was his normal appearance." Keith and I just mingled as much as we could, but didn't really fit in that crowd. There was a room off the living room downstairs that had a pool table, so we wandered down there. Keith started playing pool with this skinny guy and I sat down on the fireplace hearth, my elbows on my knees. I was looking down and saw two legs walk up, wearing high top black Converse All-stars and tuxedo pants. I looked up and it was George Harrison. I just about went into shock! As he walked by, I got up and watched him go outside and climb up on a large rock waterfall that connected to the swimming pool. He sat up there and just gazed at the stars.
After a couple of hours Russ brought us back to the house. Keith remembers, "Right before we left the party, some guy came downstairs where me and this guy were playing pool and said, 'Hey Jeff, let's go. We're all going somewhere to jam.' It was only then that I realized I'd been shooting pool with Jeff Beck."
A day or so after this night, we were rehearsing a new song, and Townsend, in his condescending manner, started harassing Rusty about the part he was playing. Rusty said,"I'm gonna go up stairs and work on this for a while." Townsend said, "You're such a mama's boy, why don't you just go back home and work on it." Now, Rusty Crumpton is probably the most easy going, emotionally steady, laid back guys I've ever known. In all the years I'd known Rusty, traveling on the roads in the South and playing all those gigs, and even enduring some pretty harrowing situations rumbling with the local rednecks, I had never known Rusty to loose it. But that night he did! Rusty wasn't a very big guy when the band started, and after being out in LA where we were practically starving to death, Rusty was even smaller. When Townsend made that "Mama's boy" crack, Rusty totally lost it. He went in the kitchen, which was close to our practice room and got a steak knife, and came back into where we were practicing, and lunged at Townsend. Lucky for Townsend that Kim Payne, our road manager, was close by and grabbed Rusty before he inserted that knife in a vital part of Johnny's body. Kim said, "Rooster you can't kill him," and Rusty, struggling, said, "I'm not gonna kill him, I'm just gonna cut him a little." Man what a scene! The ironic thing is that Townsend had said that sort of passive/aggressive thing to everyone in the band, condescending snipes and insults that were sort of jabs below the belt, and we all had probably thought of doing the same thing to him that Rusty had just been stopped from doing. Shortly after this night Rusty went back home to Alabama. Rusty had been accepted to attend college at the University of Alabama and he figured that since we were starving, not playing much-at least not enough to validate staying out there, weren't recording as much as signed artists of Warner Brothers should be, and playing music that was so far from what our roots in music had led us to be playing, he'd just go on back to Alabama. As Keith tells it, "We had a great band, when Sonny played in it, and we played nothing but R&B and Soul music. Now, Townsend was writing all that crap he thought was gospel music, like 'The Train' and 'Someone Somewhere' (two of Johnny's originals that were what I call milk toast music). We'd lost our basic sound and the heart of our music was gone."
Johnny had been planning to replace Rusty for some time as evidenced by a phone conversation overheard by Keith and Rusty where Johnny was talking Tippy Armstrong into coming out and playing with us, and after Rusty left, Tippy did come out to be our guitar player. Russ Shaw booked us to open up for Jimi at the Bakersfield Civic Center. We played our set and got off stage so Jimi could come on and do his show. I went up to the dressing room to change, and then went back down and stood at the side of the stage. Jimi played a couple of songs, and then started his rendition of "The Stars Spangled Banner". Not many people know this, but Jimi was very patriotic, he even supported the war in Viet Nam. He was also Airborne certified.
But back to the story.
The manager of the Bakersfield Civic Center was an old WWII veteran, and of course he was very patriotic too. When he heard Jimi playing "The Stars Spangled Banner" the way only Jimi could play it, the guy got so pissed off, that he went back behind the stage and cut off the power. All that was heard was Mitch Mitchell's drums ringing through the auditorium. Well, Jimi went back behind the curtains and said, "Who turned off the power?" The WWII vet said "I did." Jimi went over to him and slugged this guy in the face, knocking him off the stage. Of course, all HELL broke loose, and cops and Warner Brothers executives were everywhere. The cops were going to arrest Jimi but after some negotiations, and a $5000.00 check Russ Shaw made out to the guy, the concert was stopped, and Jimi got in his stretch limo with his two white girlfriends and went back to LA.
This is the true EXPERIENCE we had with Jimi Hendrix. We never saw him or played with him again.
Bobby Dupree with Rusty Crumpton and Keith Brewer