Jimi Hendrix Got Rejected by the Same Decca Producer Who Turned Down The Beatles
Imagine working for a record label and being the guy who turned down The Beatles. Dick Rowe, an “A&R man” at Decca Records in the ’60s, did just that after the group (then with Pete Best on drums) auditioned for Rowe’s label on New Year’s Day 1962. But Rowe went beyond passing on The Beatles.
According to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, Rowe went so far as to disparage the brand of music they played. “Guitar groups are on their way out,” Epstein quoted Rowe telling him in A Cellarful of Noise. Rowe later denied saying this, but the quote has lived in infamy every since.
If the story ended there — with Rowe rejecting the biggest band of all time — that would be more than enough. But Rowe had another monumental blunder still to come. When the manager of Jimi Hendrix and his Experience approached Decca with the group’s first recordings, Rowe whiffed again.
Decca’s Dick Rowe turned down the Jimi Hendrix Experience about 5 years after rejecting The Beatles
When Hendrix arrived in London with manager Chas Chandler in late ’66, he made almost an instant splash. Chandler knew Hendrix could deliver a knockout punch to any guitarist on the scene, so he asked Cream if Hendrix could jam with the group at one of its shows.
Hendrix blew away everyone — Eric Clapton included — with the version of “Killing Floor” he played the night of his London debut. But while Hendrix had limitless potential, he still needed a backing band, original material, and a record deal to get started.
In Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight (1992), John McDermott describes how Chandler and co-manager Michael Jeffery put the wheels in motion. Chandler (formerly of The Animals) had auditions for a drummer and bassist. They eventually settled on Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums).
From there, the outfit needed music to secure a record deal. The group recorded “Hey Joe” as the first single of the newly minted Jimi Hendrix Experience. But when Jeffery approached Rowe at Decca, the label’s A&R man passed on the Experience.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience signed with Track Records, run by The Who’s managers
With Rowe having passed on the Fab Four and Hendrix within five years, Chandler and Jeffery continued their search. Chandler succeeded by using the same tactic he’d used to get Hendrix noticed by the audience and Cream. He simply had people hear Hendrix play on stage.
Kit Lambert, the flamboyant manager of The Who who’d just launched Track Records, got the full Hendrix experience at a small-club show in London around that time. “Kit was [at the gig] and nearly knocked over the tables trying to get across to me,” Chandler is quoted saying in Setting the Record Straight.
After Hendrix and Lambert signed a deal on “a beer mat” on a bar table, Hendrix had his first real recording contract. As for “Hey Joe,” the Experience’s debut single, it went to No. 6 on the U.K. charts in Jan. ’67. Once again, it didn’t take long for Rowe to be proven dead wrong.