“If you brought a time machine to my house, I'd leave right now.”
Fifty years ago tonight, Jimi Hendrix was sitting on the floor inside a small, nearly empty house in Linden enjoying a post-concert glass of red wine. No, not London. Linden. As in the working class neighborhood of northeast Columbus.
Lynn Wehr doesn’t remember much about the show itself. Neither does Barry Hayden. The two were members of the Dantes, arguably the most popular local band in Columbus at the time. The Dantes served as the warmup act for Hendrix that night, March 3, 1968, at Vets Memorial Auditorium on West Broad Street, just across the Scioto River from City Hall.
Wehr, now 71 and living in Delaware County as a retired T. Marzetti Co. executive, thinks he watched the flamboyant rock guitarist from the side of the stage. “I don’t even remember what he played,” says Wehr. “I remember there was a cover or two. I believe he did ‘Hang On Sloopy.’ ”
Hayden says he couldn’t even see Hendrix. “I was stage left, between the second or third curtain,” says Hayden, now 70 and retired in Powell after arranging guided tours of the Ohio Statehouse for nearly 20 years. “I had a straight-on shot of Mitch Mitchell’s kick-drum foot. It was the fastest kick-drum foot I’d ever seen,” Hayden says of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s drummer. “I watched that all night and couldn’t believe how he did it.”
But before the show and after—that they both remember.
Before the show, all the bands on the bill—including Soft Machine, progenitors of England’s prog-rock scene, and Four O’Clock Balloon, another local Columbus favorite—shared the same dressing room. Hayden, the Dantes’ boyish, blond heartthrob of a lead singer, remembers that he wore a silk scarf around his neck that night. When Hendrix entered the dressing room, he, too, was wearing a scarf. “But it was tied differently,” Hayden says. “I kept looking at it, trying to figure it out. I finally went over to him and asked him about it. He says, ‘You’re tying it like an American ties it.’ I did the crossover thing, like a necktie. He says, ‘Let me show you how the British tie it.’ And he showed me. And I tied it like Jimi forever after that. What the hell? If Jimi Hendrix says this is the way you’re supposed to do it, that’s the way you do it. It’s not open debate.”
After the scarf-tying lesson, Wehr, the Dantes’ rhythm guitarist, remembers, “Barry said, ‘Hey, we’re having a party afterward. Would you guys like to come?’ Mitch Mitchell and [Hendrix bass player] Noel Redding immediately said, ‘No.’ But Hendrix said, ‘Yes.’ We were like, ‘Wow. OK.’ ”
After the show, Wehr arranged to pick up Hendrix at the Christopher Inn, the city’s iconic cylindrical hotel on Broad Street, where the Experience was staying, and take him back to the house on Howey Road, a couple of blocks south of Hudson Street, that the Dantes used as a party house and rehearsal space.
“We get to the Christopher Inn—I think Jack White, the drummer for Four O’Clock Balloon was with me—and it’s late, probably after midnight, and there’s one guy at the desk,” Wehr says. “We told him we were there to pick up Jimi Hendrix. Here we were, a couple of guys in polka-dot pants and long hair. I’m sure we looked like groupies. And the guy at the desk says, ‘He’s not staying here.’ But we were like, ‘Look, we just were on the show with him at Vets, we told him we’d pick him up.’ We must have been convincing enough, because the guy picks up the phone and makes a call. Then he turns around, kind of sheepish like, and tells us, ‘He’ll be right down.’ ”
“Not five minutes later, the elevator doors open and out steps Hendrix, colorful, flowing clothes, a big hat with a big feather in it, completely dressed the part,” says Wehr.
Hendrix climbed in the passenger seat of the Dantemobile, a blue Chevy Caprice station wagon with “Dantes” in letters down the side. “We started down High Street, and when we got to campus, students were still out doing their thing,” says Wehr. “Every time we’d stop at a stop light, they’d see the Dantes car, turn and look and see Hendrix sitting in the passenger seat, and start running. The light would change and I’d speed away before they could catch us, until the next light, and the same thing would happen. We were like the Pied Piper, with kids running after us down High Street.”
The Dantes’ Howey Street house wasn’t much—nothing but a few mattresses thrown on the floor, egg cartons stapled to the walls of the basement to help muffle the sound during rehearsals. “We basically had nothing to offer him,” says Wehr. “We asked what he’d like, and he said he’d enjoy a glass of red wine. We all kind of looked at each other and thought, ‘What do we do now?’ Fortunately, one of the girls there said she lived close and could get a bottle. In short order, she came back with a bottle that she probably took from her parents. We sat around on the floor and talked and drank the bottle.”
“There were no drugs of any kind, nothing crazy,” Wehr says. “He was really soft-spoken, nice, mild-mannered—nothing like the guitar-burning wild man you’d see on stage. I think we just talked about music. He wasn’t put out. I think he genuinely wanted to be there. It was a scene.”
“After about an hour or so, he says, ‘Hey, I’ve really enjoyed being with you guys but have to get up early,’ ” Wehr says. “I think he had a gig in New York the next day. So we got in the car and I drove him back to the Christopher Inn.”
Both Wehr and Hayden say there was no idol worship—no photos, no autographs. They weren’t starry-eyed teens. They were in their early 20s, only a couple of years younger than Hendrix. They’d opened for other big names, had toured the country and had enjoyed their share of success. Their first single, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” had cracked the Billboard Top 40 nationally and had become the No. 1 song in the Columbus market in 1966, pushing “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” by the Righteous Brothers off the mark.
“I looked at it like we were all peers,” says Hayden. “It was another gig. We were happy about it for sure, because we liked him. But we basically had the same clothes, the same gear.”
They thought it would last forever. It didn’t. Within two years, Hendrix was dead of an overdose, and the Dantes were done. “I realize now, in later years, it was a big deal. It’s cool. I’m glad I get to talk about it now,” says Hayden. “But I miss it. It’s not the same now as it was. I liked it better then. I feel bad for anybody who didn’t grow up when we did. Being a teenager was just about the best thing you could be. We ruled. To be truthful, if you brought a time machine to my house, I’d set it for 1964 and leave right now.”