Pop Culture

Jimi Hendrix telegram to Paul McCartney in 1969: Join my super group

Graham Page / Today
Jimi Hendrix performs in this 1969 image released by Sony Records.

LONDON -- Miles and Jimi. Jimi and Miles. Fans of the late trumpet and guitar masters have long known that Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix had been making plans to record together in the year before Hendrix's sudden death in 1970.

But less attention has been paid to the bass player they were trying to recruit: Paul McCartney, who was busy with another band at the time.

This tantalizing detail about the super group that never was — jazz standout Tony Williams would have been on drums — is contained in an oft-overlooked telegram that Hendrix sent to McCartney at The Beatles' Apple Records in London on Oct. 21, 1969.

"We are recording and LP together this weekend," it says, complete with a typographical error. "How about coming in to play bass stop call Alan Douglas 212-5812212. Peace Jimi Hendrix Miles Davis Tony Williams."

The telegram, advising McCartney to contact producer Douglas if he could make the session, has been part of the Hard Rock Cafe memorabilia collection since it was purchased at auction in 1995. Still it has only generated attention in recent months with the successful release of "People, Hell & Angels," expected to be the last CD of Hendrix's studio recordings.

"It's not something you hear about a lot," Hard Rock historian Jeff Nolan said of the telegram, now displayed at the restaurant in Prague. "Major Hendrix connoisseurs are aware of it. It would have been one of the most insane supergroups. These four cats certainly reinvented their instruments and the way they're perceived."

French promoter and Hendrix fanatic Yazid Manou, who has researched the telegram, says it offers a glimpse of what might have been.

"It's amazing because of the names of the people," he said. "Of course that didn't happen, but the telegram brings us something to dream about. This is a document, proof that they had an idea to do an album."

The telegram raises more questions than it answers. It's not clear if McCartney was even aware of the unusual, apparently impromptu invitation to rush from his London base to New York for the planned session.

Beatle aide Peter Brown replied on McCartney's behalf, telling Hendrix the following day that McCartney was on vacation and not expected back for another two weeks.

The invitation came at an extremely awkward moment for the Beatles' bassist. It was sent the same day a prominent New York City radio station gave wide exposure to a rumor that McCartney had died in a car crash and been replaced by a lookalike. The bizarre story, supposedly supported by hints on Beatles records and album covers, briefly gained worldwide credibility. Its dark nature apparently prompted the exasperated McCartney to retreat with his family to their farm in Scotland.

Paul McCartney in 1969.

It also came at a time when the Beatles were falling apart due to business and artistic conflicts that likely would have been exacerbated by McCartney appearing on a record with Hendrix and Davis. McCartney was also still bound by a songwriting partnership with John Lennon that might have further complicated the release of any McCartney-Hendrix-Davis compositions.

And then there is the question of what the proposed group would have sounded like. Davis was moving away from his jazz roots toward a fusion-based sound. He said in his autobiography that by 1968 he was listening primarily to James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and, particularly, Hendrix — musicians joined by a love of syncopated funk not found on Beatles' tracks.

It is not clear either how McCartney's melodic, subtle bass playing would have made its presence felt in a band that included Hendrix' guitar and Davis' trumpet.

"At first, though, it sounds really weird and off the wall. But on second thought it makes perfect, Hendrix-type sense to chuck in someone who's a great musician but comes from a different tradition," said Hendrix biographer Charles Shaar Murray. "I regret this never actually took place. ... it would have been magnificent."

McCartney is the only one of the four musicians who is still alive. His spokesman, Stuart Bell, said the former Beatle is too busy on his world tour to comb his memory for his thoughts about a telegram sent more than four decades ago.