The former guitar player of legendary Canadian hard rock band Triumph, Rik Emmett, recalled hearing Jimi Hendrix play live back in the day. Emmett saw Hendrix once, and it was most likely the show that took place on February 24, 1968, at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. However, according to what he said in a recent interview with Ultimate Guitar, Hendrix was, at the time, struggling to stay in tune.
Asked to recall this concert, Triumph’s guitarist offered with a laugh that, according to what he believes, “there had been a lot of drugs involved.”
“And he was struggling a lot at the shows to keep his guitar in tune,” explained Emmett, recalling this particular show.
Nonetheless, Emmett doesn’t take away one bit from Hendrix’s greatness:
“He would have moments that would be surpassing – because he was Jimi Hendrix. And he had sort of figured out that he was this larger-than-life kind of character.”
In addition, these were different times. Not only were approaches to live shows more laid-back and casual compared to now, but the equipment wasn’t as reliable as it is today, and, obviously, the lack of affordable guitar tuners was a major issue as well. Rik added:
“But we’re talking 1967, 1968. Guys, they didn’t think about a set, like, ‘OK, we’re going to make a setlist.’ Guys would just kind of wander out, be tuning on stage, and he’d finish a tune and he’d be using the wang bar a lot, so now the guitar was out of tune.”
“It wasn’t that kind of a world where guys sort of understood, ‘OK. Bring a string up to pitch, give that string a little bit of a tug as it’s going through the nut and under the retainer on its way to the tuning peg.’ He would be tuning and he would be starting from above and coming down.”
“Now, back then, I didn’t know,” Emmett added. “I was just going, ‘It sounds a little out of tune to me.’ But now I realize — there were no Floyd Rose systems back in those days.”
Another issue could also come down to incredibly loud amps on stage. These days, volume can be kept under control and amps would be miked up, or guitar players would just use digital modelers, and it would all go through the PA directed towards the audience. As Emmett adds, Jimi had Sunn amps for that show, which practically served the purpose of a stage monitor and his guitar sound getting to the crowd.
“And the time I saw him,” he recalled, “there was one at the Coliseum in Toronto, and he had these Sunn amps. I’m not sure if they were tube amps or not, but they sounded crazy loud.”
“And here’s another thing where I look back and go, ‘I don’t think they had mics on any of the cabinets. And I don’t think they had any mics on the drums.’ You literally just sort of played. I’m not sure if he was just using the house PA.”
On top of all that, Emmett points out how there were no sound guys in the same capacity as there are today. Therefore, it was incredibly challenging to get a good sound for the show back in the late 1960s. He continued:
“I think back on it now and I just remember being in this Cow Palace kind of place, and I went, ‘Man, the sound in here is just [makes warbling noise].’ So, it wasn’t like you had some of soundman who figured out, ‘Oh, we’ll do a soundcheck and we’ll tune the room.’ The frequencies were just kind of flying around.”
On the other hand, there were things that Emmett was really impressed with. After all, Jimi really was ahead of his time, utilizing elements that all of other players of his era never would have thought of:
“Now, having said that, there were moments where he would get feedback happening, and it would be like a talking saw. And you’d go, ‘OK. I’ve never seen that before. That’s amazing.'”
“But the influence that he had, Hendrix was doing things that no guitar player had ever done – throwing it down on the floor and playing it behind his back. I shouldn’t say that, because T-Bone Walker had been somebody that many guitar players had modeled certain stage moves on.”
“But I’d never seen it before. As a teenaged kid, I’d never seen T-Bone Walker. I’d never even seen Chuck Berry do a duckwalk. So, Jimi seemed to have this sexuality about the way that he dealt with the guitar physically.”