Jimi Hendrix died the morning of September 18, thanks to a casual helping of wine and sleeping pills. Drugs, exhaustion & carelessness silenced his guitar. With his habit of taking any quantity of any drug he was given, it's somewhat amazing he lasted as long as he did - (like other guitarists we could name....)
Though he and the Dead traveled in very different circles, their paths crossed a few times.
Musically they were nothing alike; though sometimes when the Dead were playing with noise (for instance on 2-14-70, in the second-set Feedback or the first-set space section in Dark Star) they could sound a bit like Hendrix. Their brief Foxy Lady jam on 4-21-69 is well-known; there's also an interesting moment about 17 minutes into the Lovelight on 4-11-70 - as the Lovelight breaks down they start another Foxy Lady-type riff, and Garcia wails in with a long sustained Hendrix-style feedback note almost like he's been possessed for a moment.
The Dead played before Hendrix at Monterey. Though Hendrix spent hours after the shows backstage jamming with others like John Cippollina, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, the stories differ, and though some claim he played with Garcia, it seems he never did. There's a famous story about how the Who and Hendrix tossed a coin to see who would go on first.....somehow it always gets left out that the Dead went on in-between them. In practically every Monterey account I've seen, the Dead's performance is either dismissed or forgotten entirely - by their refusal to be included in the film, they pretty much deleted themselves from that moment in musical history. (Though at the time they may have been more well-known in the US than Hendrix was - Are You Experienced didn't come out in the US until August.)
Film director Pennebaker also said, "We were trying not to use up all our film on any one band, so we figured one song per group -- that is, until we started shooting Hendrix and The Who and then just threw everything into the pot. The Grateful Dead presented another problem. They got started and didn't know how to stop. They purely outlasted us. After ten minutes they were still on their first song [Viola Lee], and we simply ran out of film and lost them."
Their set hasn't been released; Hendrix's set seems to be re-released every decade.
In early February '68 Hendrix's tourings took him again to San Francisco, where some of his shows on Feb 3-4 were taped - the Dead were on their Northwest tour. But in October '68 he returned for three more nights at the Winterland, while the Dead were playing three nights at the Avalon. By then he was a superstar - much as the Dead had their huge 'family', Hendrix also had his own entourage, a 24-hour party that followed him everywhere. He taped his shows at the Winterland for possible use in a live album, but decided they weren't good enough. (A selection was released in the '80s, and some of the sets can be played over at Wolfgangs Vault: http://concerts.wolfgangsvault.com/arr/jimi-hendrix/3342.html ) He used the occasion to bring on a number of San Francisco artists to jam with onstage, including Jack Casady - he was starting to get fed up with playing 'the hits' and was doing longer solos and instrumentals in his shows. Nonetheless, pressured by his management, he would always play mostly 'the hits' and the same few songs, and hardly ever did the kind of freeform shows he could have done - only in '69 did he sometimes play extended improvisations, so he had a very different approach to his shows than the Dead did.
Hendrix had constant troubles with his amplifiers through the Winterland shows; on October 12 they burned out completely mid-song, resulting in a long drum solo while they were fixed. The 12th had probably the weakest shows of the run, with Hendrix sounding despondent and constantly apologizing for the equipment trouble while his amps were fixed: "It's just too bad that we're having all this trouble tonight.... We'd like to come back here again to make up for these last two nights where we've been having very bad equipment, because we want you to hear us the way we really are....and make up for this junk we have behind us.... You must all be really tired, cause I really am, I'm sorry, I really am tired."
But, tired as he was, it seems it was on October 12/13 that Hendrix had his chance to jam with the Dead - Chet Helms tells the sad story:
"Hendrix is back in San Francisco and he calls me and asks me to put together a jam with him and Quicksilver and the Grateful Dead. He said he really enjoyed jamming at Monterey and would like to do it again... I told him, "Sure, I think I can set it up." I made a few calls and got it together....I set it up for Quicksilver and the Dead to show up and jam with Hendrix.... I called Hendrix back and told him to meet us at the ferry boat in Sausalito at 2 am, and we would jam all night. We go out to this place [October 12], and the Dead are beat and dead tired because they had just played the Avalon, but after all, it's a jam with Hendrix. We sit there from 2 am until morning, and Hendrix never shows. Everybody in Quicksilver and the Dead were pissed.... The Dead played again at the Avalon that night [October 13] and Hendrix shows up there while the Dead were playing. [His shows were through and he had the night free.] Hendrix comes up to me and I told him that the Dead and Quicksilver and I were waiting for him all night in Sausalito, and I asked him what happened. Hendrix says, "Oh, I met this broad, and we dropped acid and we fucked all night".... Hendrix said, "Can I jam with the Grateful Dead tonight on the stage?" and I said, "It's OK with me, but it's their gig - if they want that to happen, it's fine with me." I brought Hendrix into the dressing room and told the Dead that Jimi wanted to jam with them, and they're saying, "Great! We'll do it!" The Grateful Dead go back out onstage to do their last set of the night and start playing. And keep playing. I tell Hendrix and everybody that no matter what, I'm pulling the plug at midnight. [The Avalon had a strict curfew, so Dead shows there had to be kept short, which accounts for the rushed endings we hear at some of their shows there.] What happened was the Dead kept telling him to wait, and played out their set.... So Hendrix never jammed with the Grateful Dead, and the bottom line is they were pissed at him."
This is the show Hendrix waited through:
The Dead and Hendrix played famous sets at Woodstock in '69. The Dead's set is famed for being terrible - with delays, high winds, rain, a collapsing stage, radio signals in the speakers, and electric fireballs of death onstage - though they held together pretty well. Hendrix didn't arrive til the next day, and his set was also fairly chaotic what with an unrehearsed band, more sound problems onstage, and having to wait til 8 am to play to a sleeping, mud-drenched audience; but by the end of the show he got it together enough to perform a remarkable improvised, mostly instrumental medley that's perhaps his finest moment - and also the closest he came to a Dead-style medley that takes the listener on an emotional arc from rock to noise & feedback to a flamenco-like passage to a wordlessly fragile, melancholy finish. Afterwards Hendrix fled to a hotel, tired and unhappy with his performance and wanting to get away from everyone, and passed out.
The Dead's show of course hasn't been released (until a few selections this year) - Hendrix's show has been re-released several times.
The last time they appeared together was on May 16, 1970, playing a bill at Temple University in Philadelphia along with Steve Miller. Miller saw Hendrix backstage and says, "He was really sick. He looked like he was really strung out. He had a bunch of Mafia thugs who were working with him. The Grateful Dead played, then we played, then Jimi. When Jimi came out and walked by me, he smelled so bad it almost made you sick. He and Mitch Mitchell had just shot up a whole lot of methedrine and he was completely wigged out. They were both in really bad shape." A tape was made of Hendrix's show and it's one of the poorest shows of an erratic year for him - he's obviously quite wasted. Audience members also started taping the Dead's show until they were stopped by a mean Sam Cutler:
On September 19, 1970, while the Dead were in their Fillmore East run, Led Zeppelin were playing at Madison Square Garden, and Robert Plant took a moment to say to the audience: "Yesterday something happened - Jimi Hendrix died and we're all very sorry because he contributed a lot to the current music thing, and we'd like to just hope that everybody thinks it's a real shame."
The Dead, as far as I know, never commented, but Garcia in an interview shortly after Janis Joplin's death (which he called "a dumb fucking accident") complained about "that celebrity bullshit": "You can't get away from it....so it leaves the human things just completely fucked up and that's one of the things that has never been successfully handled in society.... The whole star system is not something that really happens; it's something somebody invented and laid on the public. It's responsible for all the evils in the music business, that whole trip, in terms of what it does, in terms of why people turn to downs or drugs and stuff like that just to get away from the shit for a while. I mean, Jimi Hendrix lived with it. I never saw him without a half-dozen weird people hanging around him - vampires and shit. It's just a bummer."