Friday, December 27, 2019

When Jimi Hendrix Appeared on My Father's Live TV Show in Lafayette, Louisiana, January 1965

I am indebted to Steve Rodham of the Jimi Hendrix fanzine Jimpress for permitting me to reprint my below article from the Summer 2020 issue (Issue 117). I have added additional images and adapted the article's style and formatting to this blog. Back-issue and subscription information for Jimpress can be found here. I am also obliged to noted Hendrix scholar Joel J. Brattin, professor of English at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, for sharing his research with me and for putting me in contact with Steve at Jimpress. Finally, I thank Brett Judice, Danny Alvarado, and KLFY-TV 10, Lafayette, La., for providing me with a high-resolution scan of the photo that inspired this article.



The Summer 2020 issue of Jimpress,
the Jimi Hendrix fanzine.





HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT:
“A MILLION MILES AWAY . . .
AND RIGHT HERE IN YOUR PICTURE FRAME”* —
A PREVIOUSLY UNNOTICED JIMI HENDRIX PHOTOGRAPH, 1965

*lyric excerpt from Jimi Hendrix, "Voodoo Chile," Electric Ladyland (1968).

by Shane K. Bernard

In early 1965, an as-yet-unknown Jimi Hendrix appeared on my father's weekend teen-age dance program called Saturday Hop. Hendrix, however, did not sing or play guitar on the show. As far as anyone knows, he merely stood there, at attention, dressed as a British soldier of the "Queen's Guard" (to use the unit's formal name). He wore a dress tunic, dark pants, and a tall bearskin hat. Fortunately, a black-and-white still photograph captures the occurrence — but only in late July 2019 did anyone realize Hendrix appeared in that image. Until then, his presence there, at that time, in that TV studio, in that fantastic costume, was entirely unknown. How this photographic revelation came to be is a complicated story — one that takes some time for telling and for Hendrix to take center stage.


The Photograph. Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix on the set of my father's live-TV dance program, 1965. Hendrix is the faux British guard at far left. (Courtesy Brett Judice, Danny Alvarado, and KLFY-TV 10, Lafayette, La.)

In orange lingerie?

The story began, for me at least, in mid-March 2017 with an unexpected phone call from best-selling crime-fiction novelist James Lee Burke. His imaginary Cajun detective, Dave Robicheaux — played on the big-screen by Alec Baldwin and Tommy Lee Jones — routinely solves crimes in and around the real-life town I call home, New Iberia, Louisiana.


James Lee Burke's first novel,
The Neon Rain (1987).

As a fellow writer (I pen non-fiction) I claim only to be an acquaintance of Burke. I've never met him in person, but we've corresponded or spoken by phone a few times over the years. Oddly, we've never discussed writing and on that occasion two years ago we spoke about music. It was then that Burke related this story: in the mid-1960s, long before he published his first novel The Neon Rain (1987), Burke worked in Lafayette as a reporter for the Daily Advertiser newspaper. At that time, my father, "swamp pop" musician Rod Bernard — who scored a national hit in 1959 with the ballad "This Should Go On Forever" — held day jobs as both a deejay and program director at KVOL 1330 AM of Lafayette. 


Rod Bernard performing on the Saturday Hop
set, poster advertisement, ca. 1965.
(Author's collection)

Every Saturday, however, Dad hosted an American Bandstand-style live-TV dance program variously called Saturday Hop, The Rod Bernard Show, and later The Shondells (after Dad's band, not to be confused with Tommy James' better-known group of the same name). Burke explained that Dad once managed to snag a performance by Little Richard, who had come to Lafayette for a live concert elsewhere in town. When Dad introduced Little Richard to the teen-aged dancers and to the viewers at home, the flamboyant rock 'n' roll icon, surrounded by an adoring, flag-waving entourage, promptly marched onto the low-budget set dressed in women's clothing. As I recorded after my conversation with Burke: "Little Richard came out dressed in drag, wearing orange lingerie and earrings, and behind him was his 'posse,' dressed in bellhop uniforms and waving an American flag in one hand and a Little Richard flag in the other."(1)


Dad and fellow swamp pop vocalists Warren Storm (center)
and Skip Stewart (right) on the Saturday Hop set, ca. 1965.
(Author's collection)

Now this was the mid-1960s in south-central Louisiana: the deepest of the Deep South. A place where Brown v. Board of Education would not be heeded until around 1969 — about fifteen years after the U.S. Supreme Court issued that decision ostensibly ending segregation throughout America. Certainly, thought Burke as he watched the show unfold on TV, this would not go down well with Lafayette's many white, generally conservative inhabitants.


Little Richard on Dad's show, 1965.
(Courtesy Brett Judice, Danny Alvarado,
and KLFY-TV 10, Lafayette, La.)

On the Monday after the show Burke called my father and asked if KLFY had received any complaints. "No," Dad replied, "there had been no complaints" — meaning, he added, Lafayette viewers were either unconcerned about the spectacle "or no one watches my show."

The wonder of social media

In July 2019, more than two years after Burke told me this story, a life-long friend, Alan Benit, sent me a screen shot of a photo that, to my astonishment, captured that very appearance — Little Richard lip-syncing on Dad's show. Alan had spotted the black-and-white image in a recent Facebook posting by Cecil Doyle of KRVS 88.7 FM, a public radio station at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Doyle had originally posted the image on Facebook in 2010. He, in turn, had obtained it at least nine years earlier from music scholar and Lafayette native Ryan Brasseaux (now on faculty at Yale University). Brasseaux cannot offhand recall his source, but a print of the image hangs in KLFY's lobby — the same station that broadcasted my father's show in the 1960s. And that print may very well be the ultimate source of the digital image circulating on the Internet.(2)


Local swamp pop/soul band Lil' Bob & the Lollipops,
 on the set of Saturday Hop, ca. 1965.
(Courtesy the Johnnie Allan Collection,
 Acadiana Manuscripts Collection,
University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Regardless of provenance, no one seemed to realize that an entertainer even more legendary than Little Richard appeared in the image. It certainly did not come to mind on my first viewing: I thought only of Burke's story, with its references to bellhops and orange lingerie. Clearly, I reasoned, Little Richard and his entourage had either changed costumes during the program — quite an effort for a regional show in a small to medium market — or Burke had misremembered, and there had been no bellhops or orange lingerie. But one cannot fault Burke: already in his 80s when we spoke, the novelist was, after all, recalling an obscure event from over a half-century earlier. Besides, Burke's memory contained more than a grain of truth: Little Richard had, as usual, dressed extravagantly for the show (albeit in dark slacks and a shiny lamé jacket), and his entourage had, in fact, carried flags and worn uniforms. (Moreover, early in his career, Little Richard had indeed performed in drag.)(3)

I soon posted the Little Richard image on my own Facebook page, dedicated to south Louisiana history. I also posted photographs from the period showing my father and other musicians on the same dance program set. And clearly it was the same set: the theatrical "flats" (oblong wooden frames covered in canvas) sporting musical motifs — a trumpet here, a guitar and a musical note there — were definite giveaways. A careful study of those images, including the one featuring Little Richard, reveals that some of the flats had been autographed by Dad's musical guests. (One can only wonder what happened to all those autographs.)


Dad performing on the set of Saturday Hop, ca. 1965.
(Author's collection)

Hendrix – on Dad's show?

The Little Richard image proved extremely popular on my Facebook page and attracted the attention of Scott Longon. As is often the case on social media, I'd never met Scott and, in fact, I didn't know anything about him. Regardless, Scott saw the Little Richard image and in response posted this intriguing question: "Shane, could the picture be from January 1965 when Jimi Hendrix was playing in Little Richard's back[ing] band?" Scott followed up with the comment, "Hard to tell if Hendrix is in the picture with those hats" — referring to the tall bearskin hats of the Queen's Guard. Scott was skeptical, posting again a short time later, "Well, further research indicates the guys in the uniforms were extras and not with the band."(4)

But I was not so sure: I scanned the faces of those ersatz British guardsmen standing stiffly at attention around Little Richard. And it struck me: Jeez, that guardsman on the far left sure as hell looks like Jimi Hendrix!


Detail of Hendrix in British guard uniform,
Dad's show, 1965. (Courtesy Brett Judice,
Danny Alvarado, and KLFY-TV 10, Lafayette, La.)

It was Jimi Hendrix — at that time spelling his name Jimmy Hendrix and performing under the pseudonym Maurice James. And despite initial doubts, it was Scott who had found crucial evidence proving, or almost proving, it was Hendrix. As unlikely as it seems, Hendrix's official Facebook page had once posted, and still had in its timeline, front and back scans of a postcard Hendrix had mailed to his father from Lafayette. Postmarked January 25, 1965, and advertising the Lafayette Holiday Inn (only six months earlier the Civil Rights Act had guaranteed black Americans equal access to public hotels), the postcard read in Hendrix's own hand, "I'm playing with Little Richard. . . . We're in Louisiana now."(5)



Postcard mailed by Hendrix from Lafayette, La.,
on January 25, 1965.
(Source: Jimi Hendrix Facebook page)

That postmark date, January 25, 1965, happened to be the same day Little Richard played a concert in Lafayette. This show fell three days after "Little Richard and his Royal Show" had performed at the Bamboo Club in not-too-distant Lake Charles, Louisiana — and only two days after Little Richard could have appeared (with Hendrix in tow as a British guardsman) on Dad's live Saturday TV show broadcasted from Lafayette.


Advertisement, Lake Charles American Press,
January 22, 1965.

Incidentally, no ads for Little Richard's Lafayette show of the 25th appeared in newspapers, perhaps because it was, as a German fan site records, a strictly "Private Function." Someone who attended the show, however, recounts it took place at a recreation hall run by Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Catholic church serving primarily African American congregants. The church property sat then, as it does today, on the corner of Surrey and 12th streets in Lafayette.(6)


Immaculate Heart of Mary, corner Surrey and 12th, Lafayette, La.
(Source: Google Maps)


To further remove doubt about the image actually showing Hendrix, one need only consult Joel J. Brattin's article in the June 2011 issue of UniVibes. In that issue Brattin — a professor of English at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a noted Hendrix scholar — published a fuzzy screen shot of Hendrix in a British palace guardsman uniform. As Brattin wrote, "Three of Little Richard's band members (including a 22-year-old Jimmy Hendrix), attired in (red?) uniforms and wearing tall bearskin hats intended to remind viewers of British guards, stand stiffly at attention in the background, never moving at any point."


Hendrix in British uniform
on American Bandstand,
March 6, 1965.
(Source: UniVibes magazine)

Captured nearly six weeks after Hendrix would have been photographed on my father's show, the image Brattin described shows Hendrix with Little Richard on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Like that image, the newly identified Saturday Hop image of January 23, 1965 (the inferred date Hendrix and Little Richard appeared on Dad's show), will help to flesh out a murky period in Hendrix's life — a period just before his swift rise to true rock 'n' roll royalty. On a more personal level, however, I'm now able, every so often, to glance over at my teen-aged son — himself a budding rock and blues guitarist — and remind him anew each time of the stranger-than-fiction epiphany: "Dude, Jimi Hendrix was on your Paw-Paw's show!"(7)





Notes


(1) Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., to Shannon E. K. Bernard, New Orleans, La., 5 March 2017, email correspondence.

(2) Cecil Doyle, Facebook posting, 1 August 2019, www.facebook.com, accessed 4 August 2019; Brett Judice, Assistant Chief Engineer, KLFY-TV 10, Facebook posting, ca. July 2019, www.facebook.com, screenshot [image and text] sent to Shane K. Bernard by Alan Benit, 25 July 2019; Ryan Brasseaux, to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 12 August 2019, email correspondence.

(3) See for instance Richard Harrington, "'A Wopbopaloobop,'" Washington Post, 12 November 1984, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed 14 August 2019. As Harrington noted, "Little Richard had started his career performing in drag at southern roadhouses. . . ."

(4) Scott Longon, Facebook posting, 29 August 2019, www.facebook.com, accessed 4 August 2019.

(5) Jimi Hendrix Facebook page posting, 25 January 2013, www.facebook.com, accessed 6 August 2019.

(6) Tour information for various musicians including Little Richard, 1965, on the website "Celebrating the Life and Times of Chuck Berry — Mr. Rock 'n' Roll," http://www.mbhomepage-design.de/tour1965.htm, accessed 17 August 2019. This site lists Little Richard as performing at a "Private Function" in Lafayette, Louisiana, on 25 January 1965. Advertisement for "Little Richard and His Royal Show," Lake Charles (Louisiana) American Press, 22 January 1965, p. 1; Francis Pavy, to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 31 July 2019, Facebook private message. A noted Lafayette-based visual artist, Pavy is acquainted with a source who attended Little Richard's concert of 25 January 1965 at the church hall.

(7) The local newspaper's TV listings confirm that my father's live dance program, called Saturday Hop, did indeed air on Saturday, 23 January 1965, on KLFY from 12 to 1 p.m. Television listings, Daily Advertiser (Lafayette, La.), 22 January 1965, p. 12.

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