Why Jimi Hendrix Played So Brilliantly During the Disastrous ‘Rainbow Bridge’ Shoot

You can’t blame longtime Jimi Hendrix fans for preferring to hear just about any track over “Foxey Lady.” That early Hendrix hit got more than its fair share of space on Hendrix studio albums and live shows that provided material for his concert LPs. But you’d be missing out if you passed up hearing Hendrix play “Foxey Lady” on Maui.

The same goes for the Maui version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” which sounds like Hendrix communicating directly with outer space life. And that’s only the beginning. In the two sets Hendrix and the Experience (Billy Cox, Mitch Mitchell) played as part of the Rainbow Bridge film project (a B-picture at best), the trio burned through tracks both familiar and fresh.

Given the circumstances of the shows — little planning, poor conditions, a bizarre film sketch — the quality of the performance stands as quite a feat. However, Cox considered those factors an advantage. Hendrix enjoyed himself so much on Maui he cut loose and delivered, in Cox’s eyes, one of the best shows of his career.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience played so well on Maui because they were free of stress

Jimi Hendrix Experience performing inside a TV studio in 1969
Jimi Hendrix Experience on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ in September 1969 | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Hendrix had a lot on his mind in the final two years of his life. To finance the building of his Electric Lady studios, Hendrix had to tour with the original Experience lineup despite his issues with Noel Redding. That didn’t exactly spell creative fulfillment for Hendrix.

Meanwhile, he had to beat a drug rap in Toronto and needed to deliver the Band of Gypsys (1970) live album to settle contract issues with his record company. All that took time away from Hendrix’s work on his next album, which proved difficult given Jimi’s increasing inability to self-produce recordings.

So the Rainbow Bridge project might have become yet another distraction. Michael Jeffery, Hendrix’s manager, had made the deal for his star client to deliver a soundtrack (and possibly appear in the film). But Hendrix and the Experience showed up and began enjoying themselves on Maui in July ’70.

When it came time to play two sets on the side of a volcano, the band felt loose. They weren’t headlining a long festival lineup; they didn’t have to save Jeffery’s poorly planned film. If you watch the footage, Hendrix is positively giddy as he practices his guitar pyrotechnics. To bassist Billy Cox, it all came down to the vibrations that day on Maui.

“[Hendrix] had no distractions whatsoever, nothing really bothering him,” the bassist said in a February ’21 conversation with Brad Tolinski. “Outside on that stage, there was no stress.”

Hendrix loved the vibe of the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ experiment

Close-up of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar on stage at an outdoor festival, 1969
Jimi Hendrix performs onstage with his Fender Stratocaster in 1969. | Vince Melamed/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While Hendrix had foam covers on the microphones to dull the impact of 40-mph winds, he didn’t face the typical ugliness of a tour date in a big U.S. city. “You get stressed out when there’s some jerk who gets high and wants to come up on stage. That’s stress,” Cox told Tolinski. “Then you got a cop or roadie who wants to hit Jimi over the head. That’s stress.”

The Experience didn’t have any such problems on Maui. Though they were recording, they didn’t have to battle the elements. (Engineers had that problem.) And when they looked out at their audience of hippies, surfers, and healthy-lifestyle practitioners enjoying the free concert, they saw nothing but love.

“All the things that happen in live audiences did not happen there,” Cox told Tolinski. “Everyone was into their own thing — whatever it was. They were dancing, they were together, and they didn’t care about giving us stress. They were active participants in listening and enjoying the music.”

Those good vibes traveled right onto the stage, where Hendrix felt free to dance, gyrate, wag his tongue, and, sure, even play with his teeth a bit. The band was utterly in the zone. “That transferred from them to us,” Cox recalled of the crowd vibes. “Jimi was completely free of stress. He was free to play and be himself. Mitch and I were, too.” The results (heard on the Live in Maui box set) are near impossible to top.