Jimi in Ann Arbor
When Hendrix played on Huron St.
by Jas Obrecht
From the December, 2017 issue
On the northeast corner of W. Huron and First streets, across First from the RelaxStation, lies a gravel parking lot. A half-century ago, this unassuming plot of land held the Fifth Dimension, advertised at the time as "One of Michigan's newest and finest young adult clubs (16 to 21)." For two years, the venue echoed with the reverberations of local rock bands and headlining international acts, notably The Who, Cream, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, the Yardbirds, the Jeff Beck Group, the Mothers of Invention, and--most significant of all--the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Built in the 1950s, the building originally housed the Twentieth Century Lanes bowling alley. In the mid-1960s architect Rich Ahern acquired the property and redesigned its interior with hippie splendor. As described by Frank Uhle on the Ann Arbor Chronicle website, when the Fifth Dimension opened in the fall of 1966 concertgoers entered "a psychedelic showplace with trippy pulsating lights, a huge spinning op-art wheel at the entrance, splatter-painted wall panels, carpeted sitting mounds, a sunken soda bar, and a mod clothing store." Ahern converted the bowling alley's pro shop into a dressing room directly behind a small stage that was so low that fans could stand within arm's reach of the performers.
On Saturdays the Fifth hosted matinees with local acts such as Our Mother's Children, Bob Seger & the Last Heard, the Prime Movers, the Scot Richard Case, the MC5, the Stooges, the Talismen, and the Rationals. (Seger and Stooges' singer Iggy Pop would later become headliners themselves.) The first international acts to play there were the Yardbirds in December 1966, followed by The Who in June 1967.
Then, on the night of August 15, 1967, the Jimi Hendrix Experience came to town. Just two months earlier the trio had given their historic performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival. The Fifth Dimension concert would be the group's only non-coastal appearance during their first American tour.
Two shows were scheduled for that Tuesday
evening, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Two bands opened: The Hideaways, a group of Ann Arbor High students who specialized in covers of R&B and rock hits, and Kalamazoo's The Thyme. After their opening sets, the Experience came onstage.
Hendrix, bedecked in tight gold pants, a colorful jacket, and beads and scarf, played a white Fender Stratocaster for most of his thirty-minute sets. As Hendrix biographers have been quick to note, he also used his Ann Arbor appearance to test-drive two new additions to his stage setup: a Gibson Flying V guitar, which he'd just acquired and hand painted with psychedelic swirls, and a Vox wah-wah pedal.
Hideaways lead singer aL Jacquez [his spelling] vividly remembers the performance: "The Experience opened with 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' which was such a cool thing to do! I remember them playing 'The Wind Cries Mary,' 'Foxy Lady,' and 'Purple Haze.' They sounded good! Hendrix was loud, but not excessively, ridiculously loud. The drummer, Mitch Mitchell, did not play hard at all--he had a very light touch." Other attendees remember that the group also played "Hey Joe" and "Fire."
Jacquez, who as lead singer for Savage Grace would open for Hendrix several times in 1970, was especially impressed with Jimi's demeanor that night in Ann Arbor: "He was very relaxed. He had a humbleness about him, a shyness, and he smiled a lot. As the group played, you had the sense that they were having fun. They were looser and freer than the bands we were used to seeing. Jimi did have amp problems during one of the sets. At one point he unplugged the guitar from his amp and plugged into Noel Redding's bass amp. But he wasn't a diva about it at all--he struck me as real mature."
The Detroit Free Press sent its Teen Editor, Loraine Alterman, to cover the performance. Headlined "Hendrix Wows Crowd in Ann Arbor," her review was partially reprinted in the September 16, 1967, issue of Billboard magazine. "Playing at the Fifth Dimension in Ann Arbor recently," Alterman wrote in the Freep, "the Jimi Hendrix Experience proved themselves to be a tremendously exciting act both in the recording studio and, possibly, more so while onstage.
"Onstage, Hendrix, with hair a la Dylan, puts on a show with his brilliant guitar work and electric stage presence. While performing, he swings his guitar in back of him and plays it resting on his back. He also zings the strings with his teeth and falls to the floor, playing each chord seductively while on his knees and on his back. In Ann Arbor, when his amplifier blew, he flung the amp to the floor at the end of his last set and jumped up and down on top of it. Paradoxically, he never blows his cool. While he's frantic, he's casual. As he's hurling the instrument around, a gleam of humor comes through. He's hip without being a hippie--that is, he's without the pretentiousness and pomposity which afflicts too many hippies ...Hendrix's voice has that tough soulful quality that reflects his roots in the blues. The group is tight and musically disciplined, while their music is freed from traditional constraints."
Backstage that night, Jimi chatted with a female fan. He handed her his beads and wrote his name and London address on a half-sheet of lined notebook paper, inviting her to look him up if she ever made it to England. In December 2015, this dashed-off document was purchased at a Bonham's auction for $6,267.
The day after the Experience's Ann Arbor appearance, Hendrix, Mitchell, and Redding were on a plane to Los Angeles, where they'd play the Hollywood Bowl before returning home to London.
The Fifth Dimension continued for another fourteen months, with the MC5 and the Stooges playing its final show on October 6, 1968. The building was next converted into the New Odyssey bar and then in 1973 became the Whiffletree restaurant, which burned down in 1988 and was razed.
Today, memories of the Fifth Dimension live on in those lucky enough to have seen shows there a half-century ago. As Hendrix concertgoer Kurt Wagner details, "The 'Fifth Dimension' was the perfect name for this place. The time was right for us to expand our minds in every way we could, and exposure to the energetic new forms of music was a huge part of that.
"I am so glad I had the opportunity to be there and to have seen Jimi Hendrix. It changed my life."
Jas Obrecht's next book, Stone Free: Jimi Hendrix from London to Monterey, will be published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2018.
[Originally published in December, 2017.]
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