Hendrix Auction May Be Reason to Get Excited


A "Purple Haze" made Jimi Hendrix rich and famous before a drug-induced haze ended his life in 1970. Now, the Voodoo Child's former girlfriend is selling Hendrix memorabilia to raise money for a drug awareness group.

"Are you experienced?" Hendrix sang back then. He was experienced with drugs but not knowledgeable about them, former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham would say. Etchingham, who lived with Hendrix in London in the late 1960s, believes that the rock star didn't have enough information about the barbiturates and alcohol that killed him.

"A lot's been said about Jimi and drugs and how he knew what he was doing and everything. But obviously he didn't know what he was doing. Otherwise he'd still be here," Etchingham said.

Whether that's true, Thursday's auction, devoted exclusively to Hendrix memorabilia, will offer fans and collectors a chance to buy unique bits of rock history. In addition to dozens of vintage photographs and psychedelic concert posters, the auction features some of Hendrix's possessions that reveal his flamboyant taste and musical passion: his Stars-and-Stripes stage shirt, necklaces, an Epiphone guitar, a Marshall amplifier, furniture and artwork from his London apartments.

But only sales of eight of the auction's 214 lots will benefit DrugScope, the London-based research center that focuses on drug education and public policy. Sales of the jewelry, photos, books and pillow that will benefit the group are expected to total between $2,000 and $4,000.

Memorabilia Offer Peek at Performer's Life

Hendrix, born and raised in Seattle, was discovered in New York by a British band manager, who brought him to London. There the guitarist formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience band and wrote the songs that made him a star in Europe and back home. The odds and ends on sale offer glimpses of his short life, which ended in a drug-related choking incident at age 27.

He owned the Epiphone acoustic guitar from late 1967 until the spring of 1970, when he gave it to a friend. "Jimi bought that when he made some money from his first tour of the U.S., when he left England to do Monterey [Pop Festival]," Etchingham said.

She recalled him playing the guitar in their bathroom, which had the best acoustics in the flat. Etchingham said Hendrix did most of his composing in England on that instrument, which he always kept within reach. The guitar, which Hendrix bought secondhand for $25, is expected to fetch between $75,000 and $90,000 at the auction.

In spring 1970, as the Vietnam War ravaged Southeast Asia and protests raged in the United States, Hendrix, a former Army paratrooper, performed in a shirt with the American flag motif. In Hawaii that summer, he lost the shirt in a game of pingpong with actress Melinda Merryweather, who was filming "Rainbow Bridge." The two played for the shirts off their backs. Hendrix lost and handed his Stars-and-Stripes shirt to Merryweather, who has owned it since.

The shirt sleeves are frayed because Hendrix trimmed them so that they wouldn't catch in his guitar strings. Alexander Crum Ewing, head of the rock and pop department of Bonhams & Brooks entertainment, which is holding the auction, expects the button-down shirt to be the most sought-after item, selling for about $20,000.

Albums, Photos, Posters Among Items to Be Sold

Hendrix's record collection, which includes albums by Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, the Beatles and James Brown, also is on the block. Among many pictures for sale are photographs by Linda McCartney and a poster designed by psychedelic artist Rick Griffin.

Ewing said the poster art of the late 1960s has become very valuable. "That's one of the great contributions America has paid to the antiques world in the last two decades," he said. The auctioning of rock posters "has elevated the status of what used to be just graphic art to actually a work of art on paper."

The Griffin poster, advertising a Jimi Hendrix Experience show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, is expected to sell for between $600 and $750.

Furnishings from the two apartments Hendrix and Etchingham shared in London give a feel for his eclectic taste: an afghan rug, a Moroccan cushion, a mahogany bedside table, an embroidered sofa throw and a large glass ashtray (no, no roach clips). These items are expected to sell for between $300 and $1,500.

Some of the quirkier items for sale are Hendrix's black-and-blue beach towel depicting two hitchhiking skeletons and a cardboard coat hanger cutout in the likeness of the guitarist.

While the items for sale evoke the bohemian lifestyle of yesteryear, those who shared that life with Hendrix appear to have changed with the times. At an auction preview last week, Etchingham, in short hair and heavy makeup, looked pristine in a white blouse and high-heeled sandals. Noel Redding, bassist in Hendrix's band, had traded his frizzy mop of hair and striped bell-bottoms of the 1960s for a close-cropped style, a brown suit and black loafers.

But perhaps some things never change for those who have found a formula for success. Redding wore his signature rose-tinted glasses, though not the vintage pair on sale at the auction.

Rock stars may not age as well as wine, but their belongings certainly do. Those close to Hendrix must have known that. Some of the scraps for sale--directions to a concert scrawled on a hotel note pad, a postcard to a fan, a note about concert lineups--show that sentimental value is quickly trumped by cash value. If Hendrix had built "Castles Made of Sand," they wouldn't be falling into the sea. More likely, they would be up for sale.

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