The musty pile of cloth that Bob Terry holds delicately is anything but impressive: Its faded floral pattern—withering in an aqua-blue field—reveals a tackiness that time cannot conquer. It resembles a motel drape stained by nicotine breezes, now ready for the garbage or a grandma’s crazy quilt.
Terry paid thousands of dollars (he won’t say exactly how much) for this drab garment, which he unfolds as if it were the Shroud of Turin. But it isn’t. It is a kimono, one of the less-blatant fashion casualties from the flower-power era.
The 40-year-old electrical engineer treats it like a holy relic because it once allegedly belonged to Jimi Hendrix, who sported it—apparently quite often—during the summer of ’69.
“He didn’t just wear it once and throw it away,” explains Terry, admiring the unveiled kimono in all its glory. He reels off the places where the legendary guitarist displayed these silk threads: the Newport Pop Festival and two installments of ®MDUL¯The Dick Cavett Show®MDNM¯, among other public appearances. Even more crucial to Terry, though, is the fact that Hendrix also wore it when he ®MDUL¯wasn’t®MDNM¯ performing: outside his New York apartment. On the porch of the house he rented at Woodstock when he was rehearsing with his band. Just hanging around, being Jimi—he probably even slept in the damned thing.
“He wore the kimono a ®MDUL¯lot®MDNM¯—obviously, he felt very comfortable in it,” says Terry. “He loved it, his friends say he loved it.”
It meant something to Hendrix; now Terry can touch it and smell it and, most important, own it. That’s all that matters.
There is no doubt about the kimono’s authenticity, says Terry: After all, he bought it from Hendrix’s father Al, who still lives in Jimi’s hometown, Seattle. Besides, there is extensive documentary evidence—photos, videos, testimonies, etc.—to confirm the sartorial match.
He points to several splotches on the inside of the kimono near the neckline: “Look at that—it’s even got the original sweat. It’s never been washed. That’s Hendrix’s sweat—his DNA.”
Clutching his quarry, lost in rhapsody, Terry displays the triumph of the true collector: a one-of-a-kind ®MDUL¯objet d’Jimi ®MDNM¯that no one else can claim to own. Even better, he can proudly display the kimono to an admirer, someone who can confirm that the splotches certainly do look like sweat stains.
Just moments before, Terry was visibly nervous about showing his collection of Hendrix memorabilia to a stranger; only a handful of people—family and friends—have been allowed the privilege. Hidden in the basement of a nondescript house in a nondescript D.C. suburb, this treasure may very well be the largest of its kind in the world, making its owner a bit paranoid, especially about rival collectors.
“What if some fanatics find out where I live and come over with shotguns?” he mused quite seriously as he opened the door to the basement. “I’m baring all my stuff and I’m very worried about losing it. I don’t want vans driving up with screaming people.”
Despite his fears, he had decided to show off his collection. Downstairs in the murky darkness crouched a mound (big as a baby whale) covered with a tarp: “That’s the stuff I couldn’t fit in the room,” he explained, as he gestured to a corner sanctuary specially built for the collection, which his wife won’t allow upstairs.
Then he flicked a switch and shed some light on a lifelong obsession.
The Egyptian pharaohs may have been honored more grandly, or perhaps more devotedly, but certainly not as meticulously: Along the walls and lurching into the room’s center, crammed from floor to ceiling, are thousands of artifacts that have taken two-and-a-half decades to amass.
The one thing they have in common is Jimi Hendrix.
The collection ranges from the cheesiest merchandising bombast to the most mundane minutiae: an oversize styrofoam cutout figure of the rock star (rescued from a Seattle clothing store); the electric gypsy’s Pan Am travel bag; his black address book filled with the names of groupies; an empty Salem cigarette pack whose former contents Hendrix supposedly smoked.
Recordings of all kinds are squeezed into sturdy pine shelves: Hendrix LPs and 45-rpm singles from countries around the world; reel-to-reel, eight-track, four-track, and cassette tapes; compact discs; laser discs; videos; films. Many remain pristine, still sealed in their packages. Also preserved—in zip-locked plastic bags—are original two-track master tapes of unreleased studio jams, with labels scrawled on by Hendrix himself.
A minilibrary of books, magazines, and newspaper clippings. Posters (including a pro-literacy banner of a smiling, stoned Jimi wearing a “Go Places With Books” button) and a framed, autographed photo. Musical instruments and equipment. These are the most visible items of an accumulation so sprawling—and continuously growing—that Terry has never bothered to make a full inventory.
“In my 30 years in the [music] business, I’ve never seen any collection as far-reaching and intricate as Bob’s,” says Skip Groff, owner of Yesterday & Today record store in Rockville. “He’s definitely the most dedicated collector I’ve ever dealt with.”
An expert on rock rarities, Groff is one of the select few who have actually seen Terry’s stash: “Without a doubt, there is no Hendrix collector in the world that approaches Bob’s collection. The variety, the depth—he has so much one-of-a-kind stuff that no one else could duplicate it.”
The upside of the surge in the lucrative Hendrix industry (which shows no sign of letting up) is that the relics—and thus, collections such as Terry’s—are worth more than ever. Lately, Big Money is getting into the act: Seattle billionaire Paul Allen plans to open a Jimi Hendrix Museum to honor the hometown hero, and the Microsoft co-founder has already acquired more than 5,000 Hendrix-related objects to exhibit to an adoring public.
For Terry, though, the mainstream popularity of his hero only means more competition for the ever-dwindling supply of Hendrix memorabilia. At Sotheby’s and other fancy auction houses, where rock relics often outsell impressionist masterpieces, Terry now has to bid against such high-rolling customers as the Hard Rock Cafe.
So what if he already owns more than 3,000 collectible Hendrix ®MDUL¯records®MDNM¯ alone—that’s just the LPs—not to mention the crushed-velvet pants that Jimi is said to have worn at Woodstock. He wants—no, he ®MDUL¯has to have®MDNM¯—more. He’s a collector, an insatiable collector—but only of Hendrixiana: “I try to get anything in my field of vision” is the way he puts it.
This is no recent conversion: He has been a Hendrix collector most of his life, ever since he was a teen, bought a copy of ®MDUL¯Are You Experienced?®MDNM¯, and first heard the guitarist he considers the world’s greatest. After that, he started buying posters and anything else he could find and simply never stopped.
“I want to show that he wasn’t just the wild, stoned hippie that a lot of people think he was,” says Terry. “I’m trying to present the most accurate representation of Hendrix as a human being and this is the best way I know how—get everything available….It’s really been a big part of my life for 25 years—if anything, it’s picked up more now than when I was a kid because I can afford it, and a lot of this stuff wasn’t around then—it was all hidden away with [Hendrix’s] management and friends. I see more stuff out there now than ever.”
His hunger to nab newly surfacing ®MDUL¯objets d’Jimi®MDNM¯ has grown as well.
In fact, that’s why he has decided to go “public” with his holdings for the first time: It provides the perfect opportunity to open up his world to other Hendrix collectors, thus making it possible to acquire more and, in his words, “to fill in the holes.”
For, as any serious collector will tell you, no collection is ever complete.
Terry cautiously folds up the kimono and returns it to its protective bag. Though he obviously adores the kimono, he doesn’t dare display it. Even if there was space (which there isn’t), he considers the garment too fragile and precious to be exposed to the ravages of moths, or even air for that matter.
Then he reaches for another package nearby: “Let me show you the pants Hendrix wore at Woodstock….”
From Skulls to Smiley Faces
®MDUL¯Collectors themselves—dedicated, infatuated, beset—cannot explain or understand this often all-consuming drive, nor can they call a halt to their habit. Many are aware of a chronic restiveness that can be curbed only by more finds or yet another acquisition. A recent discovery or another purchase may assuage the hunger, but it never fully satisfies it. Is it an obsession? An addiction? Is it a passion or urge, or perhaps a need to hold, to possess, to accumulate?®MDNM
—from ®MDUL¯Collecting: An Unruly Passion®MDNM¯
The child empties a pocketful of pebbles. The oldster counts out pennies and hoards memories. Everyone is a collector of one kind or another.
The need to sort and collect is no doubt deep in our genes. Before primitive man hunted, he was probably busy gathering. In fact, many animals show a similar instinct. Only humans (and ravens) however, collect things just for the hell of it.
But this rather bland generalization cannot explain how a sweat-stained kimono can become worth thousands of dollars. Nor can it illuminate the amazing variety of collections that people have amassed through the ages: From skull-and-bone galleries of Capuchin monks and New Guinea headhunters to the smiley-face collection of an enthusiast living in Silver Spring who was profiled in ®MDUL¯Washington City Paper®MDNM¯ a couple of years ago (see “Artifacts,” 10/16/92).
What incredible passions lurk in these collectors? A cursory roundup of favorites would have to include that venerable triumvirate of rocks, stamps, and coins. But beyond looms a vast array of collectibles as individual as their admirers: Fiesta ware, beer cans, seashells, barbed wire, teddy bears, Civil War relics, postcards, cookie jars, folk art, dolls, guns, military ribbons—the list is literally endless.
The “people and their things” feature has long been a journalistic staple; for years, the ®MDUL¯Washington Post Magazine®MDNM¯’s “J Street” has served as a sort of public-sympathy forum for D.C.-area men addicted to toy trains. Always presented as harmless eccentrics, these profiled collectors serve as surrogates for readers, who likely have collections of their own. People love to read about these bizarre accumulations, which seem to have no rhyme or reason.
In these articles, there is little mention of the pathology of collecting. After all, a puff piece wouldn’t seem the proper place to dwell on the unknown, perhaps dark, impulses that cause law-abiding citizens to dedicate their life to collecting, say, every object with a pineapple motif—from a pineapple welcome mat to a pineapple pendant.
In his study ®MDUL¯Collecting: An Unruly Passion®MDNM¯, author Werner Muensterberger offers psychological perspectives on the subject. Predictably, he traces the emotional source of obsessive collecting to childhood trauma; thus, the objects function as reliable substitutes for love and affection missing from the collector’s early years.
“It would be an oversimplification to view the collector’s longing for objects as an irrational passion,” writes Muensterberger. However, he continues, “Objects in the collector’s experience, real or imagined, allow for a magical escape into a remote and private world….But it is not enough to escape to this world only once, or even from time to time. Since it represents an experience of triumph in defense against anxiety and the fear of loss, the return must be effected over and over again.”
While a psychologist would obviously ruminate on the pathology of collecting, the aesthete takes a different stance on the practice. One thinks of Vladimir Nabokov and his butterflies, for example.
In his novel ®MDUL¯Utz®MDNM¯, Bruce Chatwin describes a Czech scientist who makes a lifelong hobby of collecting the flies—®MDUL¯Musca domestica®MDNM¯—buzzing around Communist-era Prague: “He confessed to being enchanted by the vitality of the fly. It was fashionable among his fellow entomologists—especially the Party Members—to applaud the behaviour of the social insects: the ants, bees, wasps and other varieties of ®MDUL¯Hymenoptera®MDNM¯ which organized themselves into regimented communities. “But the fly,’ said the scientist, “is an anarchist….He is an individualist. He is a Don Juan.’ ”
Besides the obvious political symbolism of his choice, the scientist collects flies simply because he admires them. By collecting flies, he pays homage to their essence—their rebellious, independent nature.
Like Chatwin’s scientist, like any serious collector, Bob Terry is doing much more than simply gathering a collection of related objects. He is building a sort of monument to an idea, in his case a (quite logical) reconstruction of Jimi Hendrix—the person as well as the legend. Terry craves the grocery lists as much as the guitar solos.
The appeal of a project such as Terry’s is that it can never be complete. It remains a work in progress.
Birth of an Unruly Passion
®MDUL¯Hi Bob. This is Sharon from California. I’m calling five major Hendrix collectors about some things I’ve just come across. These are from Jimi’s New York apartment and there are two lots. One is a blue lapis and gold Dunhill lighter that Jimi was very proud of because it was given to him by Sammy Davis Jr., and it comes out of a desk drawer with a piece of paper Jimi had written the name of the movie and the theater and the time. And the other lot is a gold, sort of mesh necklace he used to wear onstage, and I don’t think it’s real gold but it’s kind of neat….®MDNM
—from a phone message left on
Before he had ever heard of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Terry already had a collection.
As an adolescent growing up in Warwick, a suburb of Providence, R.I., Terry, like many boys, developed a fascination with war toys. By junior high, he had a large collection of military relics and equipment, mostly from ®MDNM¯World War II. He hoarded the gadgetry of modern battlefields: grenades, helmets, guns (a German-made Luger was a favorite), and weapons of all sorts. Displaying a mathematical bent, he admired the sheer technology and engineering beauty of these precise machines.
But he was already becoming bored with this boyhood fancy (which is all it apparently was—he owns not a single war relic today) when he heard the music of Jimi Hendrix.
He was barely 14 when he heard ®MDUL¯Are You Experienced?®MDNM¯, Hendrix’s first LP, which was released in 1967. Like any other teen rock fan, he had a roomful of posters and some records, but the flamboyant guitarist really bowled him over.
“There was no one in the Stones or the Beatles that could play the guitar like Hendrix, and even ®MDUL¯they®MDNM¯ said they’d never seen anything like him,” recalls Terry. “I liked good guitarists and there was no one that could hold a candle to Hendrix.”
®MDNM¯This boyhood revelation has become one of the few undisputed verdicts in rock history. Hendrix’s astonishing talents were already on full display on his debut album of mostly original songs, which took the electric guitar places it had never been before.
Hendrix himself simply called his music “heavy” and indeed it was, a stunning sonic brew of metallic R&B, jazz rhythms, and sci-fi imagery—rooted in the blues, but bursting in aural Technicolor. The graffiti may have proclaimed “Clapton Is God,” but it was Hendrix who sounded like the brother from another planet (even Eric himself admitted to worshiping him). Of all the so-called “classic rock,” Hendrix’s music has perhaps dated the least. (A recent alt-rock tribute featured mostly pallid, pointless covers.)
The focal point of the Jimi Hendrix Experience was, of course, Jimi’s guitar playing, which sounded like no one before him.
Hendrix was a small man with large hands and spidery fingers like those of bluesman Robert Johnson, another revolutionary, sui generis guitar legend. Though a lefty, Hendrix—a self-taught musician—used right-hand ®MDNM¯model guitars (restrung backwards) and played them upside down. He conjured fuzz-tone feedback like a wizard; he was a master of volume modulation, not to mention king of the wah-wah pedal. His intuitive grasp of studio technology was years ahead of its time but, more remarkably, he could duplicate these effects live.
The late guitarist Mike Bloomfield recalled hearing Hendrix perform early on: “H-bombs were going off, guided missiles were flying—he was getting every sound I was ever to hear him get right there in that room with a Stratocaster, a twin [amp], a Maestro fuzz tone….how he did this, I wish I understood.”
Virtually every major guitarist, whether or not they saw him perform live, has paid homage to Hendrix, but none have ascended to his creative heights; some have spent entire careers wrestling with the music’s myriad implications. (It’s been argued that, except in jazz circles, Hendrix’s music is a cul-de-sac that traps followers.)
“Nobody really knows how he worked his magic,” wrote rock critic John Morthland, “not the equipment managers who looked after his tools, not his fellow guitarists, not the musicians he jammed with.”
All that 14-year-old Bob Terry knew was that Hendrix was ®MDUL¯it®MDNM¯: “I decided I wanted to concentrate on Hendrix. I said, “This is the guy that I want to get as much stuff of as I could.’ ”
Thus was launched a lifetime obsession that has only increased as the years go on. It was no hippie trip: Terry never found God in a Hendrix guitar solo. And it’s not nostalgic: He wasn’t even in high school when he got hooked.
At this early point, Terry’s search was confined to merchandise and recordings. In the mid-’60s, collecting rock-star memorabilia was a typical teen activity. It was mostly a market for fan clubs and the like; no one could have predicted it would later become a multimillion dollar industry.
What made Terry different from the average ®MDUL¯Tiger Beat®MDNM¯ reader was the remarkable commitment he brought to his mission.
Like an enraptured connoisseur, he scoured magazine ads and traveled around his region in search of Hendrixiana. He became a regular at a head shop in Providence, which received shipments of rock ‘n’ roll merchandise every week or so; he’d take the bus into the city and buy an armful of posters (at just $1 apiece) each visit. He earned his money by mowing lawns and shoveling snow; he also worked as an electrician’s apprentice. His parents tolerated his hobby. “I wasn’t going too crazy with it. I was staying in school, and they did appreciate Hendrix’s talent.”
®MDNM¯Hendrix did his part as well, making rock history with his follow-ups, ®MDUL¯Axis: Bold as Love®MDNM¯ (1967) and ®MDUL¯Electric Ladyland®MDNM¯ (1968) released within 18 months of each other—a pair of aftereffects of the Big Bang. The guitar god proved himself a superb composer and arranger, as well as an accomplished, Dylanesque lyricist.
Terry, ever the devout fan, followed every move, from tour itineraries to gossip about Hendrix’s insatiable appetite for sex, drugs, and most of all, music. (“Jimi never went anywhere without his guitar,” says Terry.) When Hendrix played a spring 1969 show in Providence, Terry—now a high-school sophomore—was sitting in the fourth row to worship his hero.
®MDNM¯The concert was better than he could have imagined: Hendrix had abandoned his guitar-smashing shenanigans and flashy pyromania and focused solely on the music. Terry’s only regret is that he didn’t record the show (he later secured a bootleg cassette of the performance). Parked in his Oldsmobile Cutlass (mellow yellow with vinyl roof), Terry’s dad waited outside the auditorium for his son. He watched as Hendrix and his ®MDNM¯bandmates—a trippy trio crowned by frizzy Afro halos—darted from a side door into a waiting limousine a few feet away. When his son finally exited with the crowd, his dad had some news: “I saw that Hendrix guy you like,” he announced.
For young Terry, the drive back to the suburbs was like coming back from a journey to Neptune.
The Providence gig was one of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s last shows; soon after, bass player Noel Redding quit. Drummer Mitch Mitchell stayed on for a short while to perform that summer with Hendrix at the Woodstock festival, where Jimi ruled. Soon he shed Mitchell, but continued to tour relentlessly, stopping only to record. He was always on the move, burning at both ends.
A year later, he was dead.
Ashes From a Volcano
®MDUL¯Once you’re dead, you’ve got it made®MDNM¯.
The death of Hendrix in September 1970 gave birth to a moneymaking industry that has yet to lose fire.
Unlike other ’60s rock martyrs (and waste cases) such as Joplin and Morrison, Hendrix died with a promising career still ahead. He was to his era what Buddy Holly or Glenn Miller had been to theirs—star-crossed, doomed wonder boys who made their final exit with musical reputations intact. Hendrix is more popular than ever, and most important, Hendrix has remained hip, no matter the trends. The Experience’s original albums, recently reissued with additional tracks on CD, bring in millions annually; his estate continually cranks out unreleased material; his name was invoked at the Woodstock anniversary; his songs are used on TV commercials to peddle Camaros (whose sales have reportedly skyrocketed).
But when Hendrix died, he didn’t leave behind a Graceland or some such rock-star mansion, only fragments of a musician’s life on the road—the scattered debris of a brief, volcanic life. His various apartments in the U.S. and U.K. were ransacked, and his belongings stayed underground for years, trading hands in the black market. (Terry would spend many years chasing down these lost items.)
Hendrix’s demise hit the young fan hard. He remembers hearing the bad news from a schoolmate at the bus stop and refusing to believe him: “That was a black day.” The tragedy only heightened his desire to collect more Hendrix stuff. In fact, Terry had his own copy of the death certificate (“suffocation due to inhalation of vomit”) just months later.
“I was collecting Hendrix when he was alive,” he says. “Unfortunately, he died, and I kept on collecting.”
Terry enrolled at the University of Rhode Island, and when he wasn’t attending engineering classes, he burrowed deeper into his archaeological work on Hendrix. He was branching out now, tracking down releases from other countries that gauged Hendrix’s worldwide impact “[The collection] was starting to blossom,” he says. “I knew what I was looking for.”
One of his first big scores happened in ’71 in England, where Hendrix had first found fame; it proved fertile soil for a Hendrix devotee. On a college sightseeing tour in London, Terry went on the hunt and hit the jackpot. “I was walking down Carnaby Street, buying buttons and necklaces and things—anything with Hendrix on it,” he recalls with satisfaction. “I came back [to the U.S.] with, like, 50 posters and 40 records.”
A cash-strapped student, Terry began to do without in order to procure desirable, but expensive, Hendrix items. He saved funds to spend at record conventions, such as one held in New York City: “I went up the day before, but I didn’t want to waste any money on a motel, so I stayed up all night just hanging out in the streets—I wanted to be there as early as possible the next day.”
But if Terry had become ever more obsessive, so had many others.
The early ’70s ushered in a new era of rock music collecting: It wasn’t just for kids anymore, because the kids had grown up. Collectors such as Terry had reached adulthood and indulged their passions even more as the supply reached new levels. These vinyl junkies now had disposable incomes to purchase collectibles they only dreamed of as teens. In 1974, ®MDUL¯Goldmine®MDNM¯ magazine was launched; crammed with ads for the most obscure records and detailed discographies, it soon became the Bible for serious collectors.
Collectors began assembling at “rock relics” shows, and that’s where Terry met other Hendrix collectors who made the pilgrimage from all over the country. Terry realized he wasn’t alone in his quest. He was part of an underground network of collectors like himself, who lived double lives.
Besides reveling in this new-found fellowship, though, he did what any serious collector would do—he used the new contacts to get more Hendrix stuff. He wanted to have the most comprehensive collection possible. Nothing could stop him.
“There’s a lot of outlandish things you have to do,” he admits. “Like staying up until 2 in the morning to talk to a guy in Australia, or taking your last $10 that you would prefer to have eaten with the next day, but that record just looked too tasty.”
One such tasty item that struck Terry’s fancy was the album ®MDUL¯Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space®MDNM¯ (on the Dot label) ®MDNM¯autographed by Leonard Nimoy himself. Terry paid $85 for it at a record show in the early ’70s—not because he is a ®MDUL¯Star Trek®MDNM¯ fan, but because Hendrix and Noel Redding had also apparently signed the record. “I was young, and I really took a chance on that record,” he now says. “But it was worth it—it’s probably worth thousands now.” Years later, Terry found a reference in Redding’s tour diary mentioning that he and Jimi both met Nimoy at a hotel in Cleveland in ’68. He also discovered a photo of the meeting. For Terry, these bits of evidence authenticated the autographs.
(Of course, like a true collector, he’s never even bothered playing the album, which features song titles such as “Music to Watch Space Girls By” and “A Visit to a Sad Planet.”)
®MDNM¯In the mid-’70s, after graduating with a B.S. in engineering, Terry was hired by the federal government as an electrical engineer. He moved to the Washington area, where he has resided ever since; needless to say, he brought his collection with him. His professional income allowed him more money than ever to spend on Hendrix; even better, his new job allowed him to make frequent business trips to Seattle, where Hendrix’s father still lived.
®MDNM¯By now, Terry had a gargantuan Hendrix collection; he had even purchased a left-handed model Stratocaster that Hendrix allegedly used in rehearsal. But for the most part, his stash consisted of records (official and bootleg releases) and scads of merchandise: coat hangers, jigsaw puzzles, games—just about every kind of souvenir imaginable, except lunch boxes. (“He was never ®MDUL¯that®MDNM¯ mainstream back then,” Terry explains.)
But there was a void at the center of his collection. As extensive as it was—the records and posters alone numbered in the thousands—it consisted of Hendrix ®MDUL¯product®MDNM¯. Terry wanted more, much more. He wanted the ®MDUL¯real®MDNM¯ Jimi, along with the rock legend. He literally wanted to touch—well, own, anyway—the hem of Jimi’s ®MDNM¯garments, among other personal effects.
Through a collector acquaintance in Seattle, Terry got to know Al Hendrix; he visited the old man, took him to dinner, and talked about Jimi. It was on these excursions that Terry bought some of the most precious items in his collection: the kimono, the Woodstock pants, bandannas, and other one-of-a-kind treasures.
Terry says Al Hendrix gave away much of the money to local halfway houses and Planned Parenthood groups; Terry in turn often presented the frail old man with gifts, such as a 12-album box set of Jimi’s music released on a German label: “Surprisingly, he didn’t have many of Jimi’s records,” says Terry.
By no means a rich man, Terry was able to secure these rare items because he was one of the first on the scene. In the late ’70s, rock memorabilia didn’t fetch the exorbitant prices it does now. (The world-record price for a rock collectible remains $2.3 million for John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce Phantom V, purchased in 1985.)
By the early ’80s, when Hendrix’s management let loose a cache of Hendrix personalia, much was auctioned off at several Sotheby’s sales, and Terry bought some items he’d heard rumors of for years (Hendrix’s black address book, for one); still, the price hikes had made many of the pickings beyond his reach: In the most extreme case, Hendrix’s white Woodstock Stratocaster was auctioned for more than $300,000.)
But Terry’s early-bird buying had already launched him into the forefront of collecting circles. Not only did he have an assortment of Jimi’s clothes through his relationship with Al Hendrix, the unstoppable Terry also had garnered most of Noel Redding’s Experience-era wardrobe, including his leather pants, buckle shoes, and wire-rimmed spectacles. (“I’m lucky to have what I do,” he says thankfully.)
Fellow collector Ken Voss got to know Terry during these boom years. From his home in Indianapolis, Ind., Voss operates the Jimi Hendrix Information Management Institute (JIMI), a sort of clearinghouse for recordings, clippings, and paraphernalia. He watched in awe as Terry became one of the foremost Hendrix collectors in the world.
“Bob has really gotten deep into the authentic Hendrix memorabilia,” says Voss. “I think there is a true love for Hendrix there—most people are doing it for the dollars.”
Voss himself concentrates on JIMI, which publishes a Hendrix quarterly, ®MDUL¯Voodoo Child®MDNM¯, to keep fans abreast of the latest in the ever-changing Hendrix industry. A recent issue had an update on the “Jimi Hendrix Death Probe,” featuring news of Scotland Yard’s recent reinvestigation of the case. The newsletter also offers various collectibles for sale: Jimi Hendrix “Ramsess” greeting cards ($1); Jimi Hendrix CD clocks ($15); Jimi Hendrix Wah Specials “w/audio taper pot for easier sweep” ($99.94); among other items.
“I’ve backed off from [serious collecting],” says Voss. “The prices have gotten outrageous, ever since Hard Rock Cafe bought a whole bunch of Jimi’s clothes.”
In 1989, Voss appeared in ®MDUL¯People®MDNM¯ magazine as the ultimate Jimi fan; he was shown in a Hendrix T-shirt cavorting with his wife around a house filled with Hendrix records and posters (most of which are for sale through the newsletter).
Terry scoffs at the notion that Voss is a serious collector: “He’s just a retailer.” Though Terry owns more than 200 Hendrix T-shirts, he claims he hasn’t worn one in more than a decade. Parading his infatuation isn’t his style; he finds it vulgar, if not downright offensive.
He remained stubbornly underground, while high-profile fans such as Voss got all the press. He had decided to keep a low profile. Until now.
The Varieties of Hendrixious Experience
®MDUL¯Jimi Hendrix was the flower generation’s electric nigger dandy—its king stud and golden calf, its maker of mighty dope music, its most outrageously visible force. That he was also a revolutionary musician—perhaps the only one, in the end, to come out of the whole mid-Sixties psychedelic explosion—was often obscured by that all-consuming image.
Like Bob Terry, Cordell Dickerson is another Hendrix fan who has made a pilgrimage to Jimi’s hometown of Seattle. He too met with Al Hendrix, to pay his respects, exchange stories of Jimi, and visit the famous burial site to which people flock from all over the world.
But the only souvenir that Dickerson brought back was a container of dirt from the grave.
“It’s useful for certain spiritual operations,” he says. “Dirt from the grave of an ancestor is imbued with the energy of that body lying there—it is very important.” For Dickerson, Hendrix was more than a great guitarist and rock star; he was a great spiritual leader, a modern version of Dickerson’s patron African saint, Shango, the god of fire and thunder and electricity.
®MDNM¯Dickerson doesn’t approve of the pop commodity that Hendrix has become. “People still think of him as the psychedelic super spade, and that’s unfortunate,” says Dickerson, who is trying to revamp the popular image of Hendrix as the ultimate ’60s rock freak. To this end, the 41-year-old Dickerson has operated the D.C. Hendrix Society out of his apartment in Washington since 1992.
His Afrocentric organization is quite different from Ken Voss’ JIMI, or from any other Hendrix group, for that matter. The society claims one major goal: to reconnect Hendrix’s legacy to its African heritage. “This isn’t some Jimi Hendrix fan club,” he says. “We put it together because we noticed that there was no exegesis of Hendrix from within his own community that linked his music with African culture. It’s almost the end of the century—Jimi left us in 1970—and there’s been no major analysis of the music from that angle.”
Dickerson wants to rescue Hendrix from his status as a “classic rock” (read: white) icon and re-establish the musician’s place in the African-American blues tradition (indeed, Hendrix learned his chops on the early ’60s chitlin circuit). As a black guitar hero for a largely white audience, Hendrix’s career has always been a paradox that alienated him from black listeners. Commercial black radio rarely played Hendrix’s music then or now.
As a boy growing up in New Orleans, Dickerson became a Hendrix convert about the same time Terry did. (“I first heard Jimi on the radio in our kitchen,” he remembers. “It knocked me over.”) Like Terry, he became a fan for life; Inspired, he played the title track from ®MDUL¯Are You Experienced?®MDNM¯ over the P.A. system of Xavier Prep School.
®MDNM¯The song didn’t get a chance to finish; a school official made him take the record off the turntable. But it didn’t matter. The song had already worked its magic on the teen. From the start, Dickerson heard not only Hendrix’s flashy guitar, but the music’s message, which he took as an invitation to spiritual discovery.
Dickerson says the guitarist is a prophet who was born enlightened. “When Hendrix played in New Orleans in ’68, a lot of the elders wanted to go see him play because they believed he was “born with his head open’—that he didn’t have to go through the prescribed stages of initiation….The things that he was saying showed that he had had a vision.”
After years as a fan and an amateur guitar player, Dickerson decided to dedicate himself to sharing Hendrix’s vision, mostly with the African-American community. One of the society’s upcoming projects (besides a celebration dinner on Hendrix’s birthday, Nov. 27) is a “spiritual investigation.”
“We’re getting ready to put out an ad in ®MDUL¯Rolling Stone®MDNM¯,” he says. “We want people’s accounts of any dreams that they’ve had about Jimi. We’re particularly interested in accounts that African-Americans have had, because we believe that the cultural bent operating on conscious and subconscious levels will lead to some revelations that are not common.”
Because of his group’s shoestring budget, the plan remains unrealized. It costs money to advertise in ®MDUL¯Rolling Stone®MDNM¯. With just a two-person staff, the D.C. Hendrix Society can barely manage—through sheer hard work—to publish a newsletter, ®MDUL¯Eleven Moons®MDNM¯. Other projects, presenting nationally known black artists and musicians to workshops and lectures, remain dreams for now. Dickerson says he would like to add to the society’s collection of rare Hendrix recordings and articles, but the group lacks the funds.
Although Dickerson believes that blacks have been deliberately shut out from the continuing Hendrix legacy, he doesn’t go as far as did Ishmael Reed in his 1972 novel about white appropriation of black art, ®MDUL¯Mumbo Jumbo®MDNM¯. In ®MDUL¯Mumbo Jumbo®MDNM¯, a band of revolutionaries liberates sacred African artworks from the museums and private collections of the Rockefellers and Morgans with the goal of awakening the spirits they embody to the benefit of Africans everywhere. (Shades of Paul Allen!) Dickerson does maintain, however, that the almost exclusively white circle of collectors has rejected him and his phone calls because he doesn’t have the big money to get a place at the dealing table. “Much of Hendrix’s legacy is not in our community,” he says. “As much as a hard-core fan as I am and as long as I can hold forth on him, with authority, chances are I’m not going to come into possession of those things.”
Indeed, except for actor Eddie Murphy, who recently purchased Hendrix memorabilia, including bandannas, there are virtually no major African-American Hendrix collectors.
Instead, there are moneyed enthusiasts such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who plans to open in Seattle by 1997 the Jimi Hendrix Museum, a multimillion-dollar facility, complete with interactive computer exhibits and a recording studio, as well as a gallery devoted strictly to rare Hendrixiana. Museum planners refuse to discuss the specific contents of the Allen collection.
“As a policy, we don’t discuss the contents of the collection,” says Susan Pierson, director of communications for Vulcan Northwest, the Allen firm planning the museum. “We’re trying to keep it as mysterious as possible, so it will be a big surprise when we open the museum.” Pierson allowed that Allen now owns the famous white Stratocaster that Hendrix used at Woodstock; otherwise, she offered only a list of categories of objects in the 5,000-piece collection: records, clothes, handwritten notes, and other items.
Dickerson, who is writing his own book-length interpretation of Hendrix, ®MDUL¯Modern Shango®MDNM¯, acknowledges that the collecting game is for high rollers, but admits that he still wants a piece of the action.
“We’d like to have some of [the Hendrix artifacts] in the African-American community—in the hands of a group of people who are able to work with those things spiritually,” he says, warning Hendrix collectors about their hoardings.®MDNM¯ “I would like to be able to touch these things….These things are spiritual icons. They are the personal belongings of one of our great spiritual leaders. I would caution [collectors] to be very careful, because strange things happen.”
Terry says he agrees there should be more African-Americans involved in collecting Hendrix—or at least appreciating his music. Though his collection would seem to belie his intent, Terry says he is trying to humanize Hendrix rather than enshrine him.
“I don’t feel that Hendrix was a god or a saint,” says Terry. “I think he was a humble person who thought of himself as a simple guitarist, which makes him even greater to me. With his talent, he could have acted like an obnoxious SOB, because he was the best.”
Both Terry and Dickerson are in complete agreement on at least two matters: Hendrix was a musical genius, and his greatest music was still to come. Both devote most of their Hendrix listening time to rare and unreleased performances on bootleg tapes and records, such as late-career jam sessions with avant-garde jazzman Roland Kirk; they are constantly searching for the next (previously unknown) Hendrix guitar solo.
Hammers of the Gods
®MDUL¯The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition passes over them….One has only to watch a collector handle the objects….As he holds them in his hands, he seems to be seeing through them into their distant past as though inspired.®MDBO¯®MDNM
®MDUL¯I don’t put no value on money at all. That’s my only fault. I just get things that I see and want and try to put it into music.®MDNM
What to the untrained eye is a room filled with records, instruments, books, and clothes, is to Bob Terry a vast hierarchy of irreplaceable ®MDUL¯objets d’Jimi®MDNM¯.
Showing a visitor around the sanctuary, he explains that there are distinct levels to the collection that go beyond mere category. Furthermore, his ranking system has no direct relation to the value of an object (whether it be how much he paid or what it might now be worth); nor does it even bear on any sentimental attachment.
(And by no means does Terry claim a “favorite” item: “Do you have a favoritefinger?” he replies sarcastically when asked to pick a fave.)
Instead, the collection’s intricate hierarchy has to do with what the objects meant to Hendrix, as best as Terry can figure it.
Despite the reverence that Terry reveals for the kimono, it comes as no surprise that the “most important” items of the collection are pieces of musical equipment.
Still, the first he mentions comes as a bit of a shock: Noel Redding’s Fender jazz bass. Hanging from the wall, the 30-year-old instrument’s banged-up body only inspires more affection in Terry: “That was Noel’s battle-axe. That bass was played on every record and at every show the Experience did….It was less than 20 feet away from Hendrix’s burning guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival…and Hendrix used it a lot in the studio—he played it hundreds of times.” He points to a chest-high Marshall amplifier, also purchased from Redding, in the corner: “And that amp was used for every show.”
Terry claims to have the paperwork to validate these treasures; he even keeps the packages in which Redding has sent other items (“to document the whole [purchasing] event”). The return address is Redding’s home in County Cork, Ireland. He considers Redding a friend more than a business acquaintance: “I’ve helped him put an addition on his house,” says Terry of the money he’s spent.
Another top-level ®MDUL¯objet d’Jimi®MDNM¯, kept locked in a black case, is Hendrix’s rehearsal Stratocaster. (Unlike Redding, Hendrix went through hundreds of instruments.) Terry bought it from a former engineer at Hendrix’s Electric Lady studios along with many other items, including the two-track master tapes of Hendrix guitar jams—the only copies known to exist.
The next echelon of the collection includes clothes and other personal belongings. The wardrobe features the kimono and Woodstock pants (worn as an outfit at the Newport Pop Festival); a duplicate of the leather jacket from Woodstock; a few shirts; a pair of pink bell-bottom pants that Hendrix sported for his last show in Germany just weeks before he died; a pair of fringed leather boots, and various bandannas.
And there are the handwritten notes that Hendrix scribbled on hotel and airline stationery, including ®MDNM¯fragments of song lyrics and doggerel that have fetched $1,000 per page at Sotheby’s. Terry is interested in writings that even the most devout collectors considered ephemeral, such as jotted-down financial accounts: “The [writings and personal notes] I like don’t necessarily have anything to do with the songs….They tell more about what Hendrix was like as a person.”
Terry also has the original lease agreement on Hendrix’s $740-a-month apartment in Greenwich Village.
Then there’s the “little black book” in which Hendrix kept the names of groupies on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the names of fellow musicians such as Clapton and Billy Cox. And a letter a young Hendrix wrote to his father in 1961 describing his injury from a parachute fall, a mishap that spurred his discharge from the Army and freed him for his musical career. And the empty Salem packs.
Terry shows off several “letters of provenance” that he says legally authenticate these objects, many of which he purchased for thousands of dollars.
These documents reveal some of the odd workings of the collecting world: Accompanying the cigarette packs, for example, is a hand-typed letter signed by a former Hendrix girlfriend who vouches for their authenticity. “My friend Jimi Hendrix smoked the cigarettes in these empty Salem packs during 1970,” she wrote. “The empty packs were found in a bag of his belongings he gave me to store for him during that year.” That is the extent of her documentation.
Terry says he has received so many other genuine Hendrix objects—tour itineraries and personal notes—from this woman that her claims are quite credible. Hers is the voice on the answering machine offering the Sammy Davis Jr. lighter and the necklace Jimi owned; Terry says he will check photos and books to make a match with the snapshots of the objects she sends.
“She has provided a lot of things that only someone that knew Hendrix personally could have,” he says. “She’s got boxes of his stuff, and when she finds something interesting she calls me….She also has some Lynyrd Skynyrd stuff—she knew somebody in the band.”
Ultimately, though—as with the relics of the saints—Terry admits that it comes down to faith.
Not that he ever gets sentimental—that’s a shallow emotion for amateur collectors. Though he still has the album that launched the collection, the rare mono LP copy of ®MDUL¯Are You Experienced?®MDNM¯ isn’t that special. “I like it the same as the other dozen copies [of the record] I have,” he says.
With all this Hendrixiana crammed into the sanctuary, there is barely enough space for a La-Z-Boy swivel chair.
From this movable perch, his collection is literally at his fingertips. Also, it provides a resting spot. A year ago, Terry was stricken with multiple sclerosis; these days, he has to struggle down the basement steps, and he needs the help of a cane to get around. His illness has only strengthened his resolve and given him more time than ever to attend to his collection. On leave from his job, he stays home while his wife works and his young daughter attends school.
He vows that his treasure trove will continue to grow; as long as he can pay the bills and keep up with mortgage payments, there’s money for more ®MDUL¯objets d’Jimi®MDNM¯. It has always been this way®MDNM¯—a few new finds a week—and there’s always tomorrow. “There was never one day when the collection transformed from being little to big. It was a gradual thing. I’ve never gotten 500 things at a time. It’s always been five records here, two there, trade for three here, 10 there. Still, to this day, I’m still getting dribs and drabs of stuff. It’s never-ending.”
Allen’s plans for the Jimi Hendrix Museum in Seattle leave Terry unimpressed; his opinion of the billionaire collector (whom he’s never met) is what you’d expect: “All I know is that [Allen] has a lot of money and he just recently got into [collecting Hendrix.] I don’t know if it’s love, or something that’s popped out of the blue now that Hendrix is hip—he certainly hasn’t been doing it for 25 years….When I started, people would say, “Why do you want that Hendrix stuff?’ Now they’re auctioning it off for millions.”
Terry’s deepest affections remain with the strange finds that have never made their way to Sotheby’s’ auction floor. He points to his beloved styrofoam cutout of Hendrix: “If [Allen] saw that he would pay an absolute fortune for it,” he says. “That’s the kind of thing he’d want because it’s made in Seattle—it’s an icon of [Hendrix’s] hometown.” A sign on the display figure proclaims: “Jimi Hendrix, Seattle Great” and boasts a brief bio, which states that Hendrix was given the keys to the city after a 1968 concert there.
Terry remembers the hassles he had moving the item across country: “We had to ship it freight on Northwest Orient. It ended up costing, like, $500 total. I had to go down to Dulles to pick it up. It was the same thing with Noel’s amplifier—that was crazy….I was able to get [the cutout] because I was out there and no one was into Hendrix then, or very few people were.”
Then Terry remembers something he forgot to show. It only takes him a few moments to retrieve it from the piles around him; he reaches into a package and pulls out a box.
Inside are a bunch of keys to hotel rooms: one from the Sherwood Motor Lodge in Seattle, another from the El Tropicano Hotel in San Antonio, among a handful.
These keys, says Terry excitedly, belonged to Hendrix, who kept them as souvenirs from the road. They reminded the electric gypsy of good gigs from his endless tours; Terry bought them from the same woman who had sold him the empty packs of Salems. “Jimi gave away guitars and money left and right,” says Terry. “But he liked to keep all kinds of little trinkets—guitar picks and keys and stuff.”
It seems that Hendrix was a collector, too.
Terry admits that, especially since his illness, he sees his collection as something that will live on long after he’s gone, something that will last—his memorial to Hendrix. “The fundamental thing with collecting is you have to do it ’cause you love it,” he says. “If it’s worth a lot of money or everyone thinks it’s great, that’s nice, but that’s not the reason you should do it. If I sold all this and got money, “OK, now I’ve got money.’ But you can get money by working or whatever, but you can’t find Noel’s bass—there’s only one. And there’s only one kimono.”
Even more precious, however, than the items in the collection, are those yet to come. These unknown treasures are what drives Terry onward.
“The fun is thinking about getting some new thing, something you never even would have dreamed existed, like an acetate of ®MDUL¯Are You Experienced?®MDNM¯ I just found that came out in ’67 in South Africa that I had never seen, or even heard of.”
The record is now safely ensconced in its proper place on the shelf space reserved for African Hendrix LPs.
There’s always room for more.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Darrow Montgomery.