Interview with King George from Univibes - The Jimi Hendrix Magazine

George Clemons grew up in Virginia (Southern USA). During the 60's he moved up to New York and started singing in clubs in Harlem. In 1965 he performed several times at the legendary Apollo Theatre with Don Covay. George sang background vocals on the Don Covay single "Have Mercy". After leaving Don Covay and the Good-Timers, George started his solo career as King George. He recorded "Drive on James" with part of the Ray Charles Band including Bernard "Pretty" Purdie on drums. About this time George was going around jamming in small clubs (Smalls Paradise, Harlem etc.) with among others the King Curtis Band The Kingpins. On one of those occations, George met Jimi Hendrix. At the time Jimi had left the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. Jimi was playing on and off with King Curtis and Curtis Knight during that period.
King George & Jimi Hendrix backstage
 
Jimi and George hung out quite a bit. Together they saw the Mc Coys; George once jammed with Jimi, together with drummer Jimmi Castor (later of Castor Bunch "fame"; George was also present when the Rolling Stones came to see Jimi perform in New York City on 2 July 1966 after the Stones concert at Forest Hills Stadium.

Scandinavian agents heard King George and offered him a contract to come to Europe to sing with an all-black soul band, called the Harlem Kiddies. They arrived in Stockholm in 1966 for three months but ended up touring around two years instead. At that time Chas Chandler brought Jimi to England. George was proud of the fact that he did have a contract, while Jimi didn't. Later, of course, it turned out that Jimi did a lot better than him. Jimi and George ran into each other in Scandinavia, where the Harlem Kiddies warmed up for Jimi Hendrix. George met Jimi again when the Experience played in Copenhagen (21 May 1967). George had two bands during the period: the Harlem Kiddies (playing R&B) and the King George Discovery (playing more psychedelic stuff). After that, George met Jimi a few times in Sweden. George claims that he wasn't too found of Noel Redding, but liked Mitch Mitchell a lot more. George also knew Buddy Miles from his Wilson Pickett period, and also met Billy Cox. When George asked Billy where he came from Billy answered, "we're a band of Gypsies, we come from everywhere."
These days George still lives in Scandinavia where he performs quite regurlarly. Last year the King George Band (KGB) toured Holland and UNIVIBES had the chance to interview him twice - 3 December 1989 at "O42" in Nijmegen and 17 June 190 at a blues festival in Wijchen. During both shows George, who has a great Rhythm & Blues voice, added some of the lyrics of "House Burning Down", "Foxy Lady" and "Purple haze" into his performance.

UV: Your history goes back a long time. It was a whole jazz scene then. That was quite another cup of tea, wasn't it?
King George & Jimi Hendrix get together in Stockholm
 
KG: Yeah, that's what happened with the Harlem Kiddies, when we came here I was singing soul music, but it was a jazz band, and we had a jazz approach to playing the funk. We didn't have a bass player, we only had an organ, drums, and two horns. Foot pedals weren't used that much. "I Got My Mojo Working" was a big tune then. We used to do some old Sam & Dave tunes, stuff like that. Our drummer was interested in jazz, so we ended up doing some Ray Charles things that was quite nice. His idol was Buddy Rich. Imagine him playing funky music with these big rolls, you know.

UV: You also played with Jimmy Castor in the States?

KG: Yeah, I guess he's still around in New York. We all used to be up in Smalls Paradise. When King Curtis didn't have tours enough he would probably be the house band in Smalls Paradise, and that was about the heaviest place you could go. And then there was the Apollo Theatre of course. But that's a different scene with Ben E. King, people like that. They used to be there quite regularly, so I started picking up my ideas and influences there.

UV: Tell us about the first time you met Jimi.
KG: First time I saw him was in 1964, but we started to speak to each other in 1965. I saw him in Virginia, backing up. I don't remember, either it was the Isley Brothers or some (other) black band. And when I went to New York, Jimi was one of the first people I started to talk with. In fact, we were living next door to each other. He used to loose his key and come and sleep in my house. Jimi turned me on to Bob Dylan. I hadn't listened to him before. We were living at the edge of Harlem, we really didn't live in Harlem, but our musical activity was going on in Harlem. And in Harlem at the time they were only playing soul music, that was hip. Even though some people knew about Bob Dylan, I didn't. Jimi brought in a record and said "You've got to listen. This guy is really great." I didn't think very much of his voice. And then I found out that he was more or less a poet, where Jimi was getting into. He was right into these poetic things, that a lot of people around him didn't seem to understand. Especially in the black community.
Jimi Hendrix, Georges daughter Ditte and her mother Kerstin
 
Once Jimi came into a black club, and they were playing Wilson Pickett. So Jimi takes it off and he puts on a Bob Dylan record, "Blowin' in the wind". So all the black guys standing there are saying, "what are you doing? Are you crazy!" to many blacks back then, Dylan sounded like a Hillbilly, a red-neck. And Jimi didn't care about this, so he played that record. So this guy told him,, "I'm going to cut your throat". So I said, "wait a minute now, stop, we take the record off." And I took Jimi into this other room, and I said, "why are you doing that? You know there is gonna be trouble about that." He said, "these people in Harlem have to learn. They can't go around like this without knowing what's going on."

Jimi's approach to music was to learn as much as he could. So he started to hang out down in the village a lot. He had some kind of creative freedom there. One night, that was the last time that we saw eachother in New York, Jimi was playing with Curtis Knight, and I just came from the studio doing a record, feeling really good... Curtis was on his case for playing too loud, putting the guitar behind his head, and all that, so Jimi snaps out his plugs and says (at the end of that show) "That's the last time I played this shit. To hell with him, I'm going to England." So I asked him, "do you have contracts?" "No, I don't have a contract, or nothing. But I know this guy in the Animals and he is going to help me out." So I said, "yeah, well, I'm going to Sweden, so I meet you in Europe." So during his first tour to Sweden he called me up and they put me on as a warm-up band, and we had a jam session etc. And this went on in Sweden, I think he came a total of three or four times. I only saw him with Billy Cox (once), which was the last gig. Jimi talked to me about the States, because he went back to the States in between. He said, "to hell with it, I'm through with that, now I'm going to stay here (Europe). And shortly after that, he died. It was terrible.

UV: Do you remember the club where Jimi played at the last time in New York? Ondines?
Jimi Hendrix mistakes Ditte for being his son
 
KG: There was a little club called the Lighthouse. I think it was on 69:th Street/East Park Street. It was not Downtown and it was not Uptown. It was off Central Park. It was a little teeny stage up over the bar. He played there for four of five days. I don't imagine that this place is there any more. But there also used to be places in Downtown where we used to hang around... There were a lot of musicians. Lonnie Youngblood also blew a little saxophone on some occations. There were a lot of creative things going on. Like Gary U.S. Bond. He had a night club in the Village himself where he used to perform.sometimes, and Jimi performed there a lot. So the last place I saw him play live was in one of them little clubs in New York. The next time I saw him was in Copenhagen (21 May 1967).

UV: You were on the same show as Jimi?

KG: He sort of mad the arrangement for that. He was able to pick the warm-up band.

UV: Was that your name in those days, King George? Or did you start out as George Clemons?

KG: I tried that once but it didn't work. I thought I'd put it backwards, Ben E. King. B.B. King, Freddie King. Well, okay, not George King. King George, because that's simple.

UV: Well, you had a King Curtis.

KG: Yeah, I admired him, he played good. I had the oppurtunity to watch him play a lot.

UV: Did you see Jimi with King Curtis?

KG: Actually, I didn't pay attention to what was being recorded at that time, but I saw Jimi play in he studio with King Curtis two or three times. At least one song.

UV: Did you go back to the States again after you went to Sweden?

KG: Yeah, I was out in California. I met Buddy Miles there. Jimi had a lot of buddies in California. Next stop from Seattle (for Jimi) was California.

UV: Did you also meet Jimi in the United States?

KG: From the time I went to Sweden and he went to England I didn't meet him in the States any more. He went back, but during that period I didn't meet him.

UV: But you met him at his last concert in Stockholm (31 August 1970)?
Jimi Hendrix on stage at Gröna Lund, Stockholm
 
KG: That picture with my daughter, I guess, is the last kid he had in his arms before leaving us.
UV: Eva Sundqvist was also around, and she has a son by Jimi.

KG: Yeah, that's who Jimi thought Ditte was (note: when Jimi saw George's two years old daughter Ditte backstage he said, "that's my child" Ditte was a bit afraid of Jimi and said, "that man makes the guitar scream.") So when Ditte came in he started, "oh I foud my baby, come in, must be mine. I can see this one is mine."

UV: But it was yours actually. Didn't Eva bring her son with her?

KG: No. Her son was elsewhere in Sweden. I used to talk to Eva. But okay, her son he looks just like Jimi. He knows who his daddy is. I got talking to Eva once (a few years after Jimi died), because she was trying to collect some money for her kid. I understood it, but it seemed such a long court battle. I just didn't want to be involved. I can prove that she knew him, but I can't prove that she and he went to bed. How the hell should I know that? I wasn't there. I said, "yeah I believe you, but it's a hard thing. He didn't leave a will. What are you gonna do?"

UV: Let's go back in time a little. Did you see some of the jams with Hansson & Karlsson in Sweden?

KG: We had a place in Stockholm called Club Filips. I played drums there. There was a jazz drummer, but he didn't wanna play with Jimi all the time. He is a quite famous Swedish jazz drummer nowadays, called Hootch or something. But anyway, he left the drums. So I went up and played them. I'm good for two songs. Jimi also played with the organ player Hansson, yeah. Hansson recorded this on tape. He still has it, but he won't give it up. I got tired of asking him about it. He kept telling me, "I got the tape". And I kept saying,"give it to me", but he never gave me nothing. So now I just don't ask him. Jimi had Mitch, he came down. The bass player was anti-social. One of the other guys that came with Jimi, he is a TV star in Sweden now, that's Karlsson. He got his own TV show in Sweden now. He does these big band shows. He doesn't play drums at all any more. He visited my home one night to talk about old times, and we got drunk. And I had a set of drums in my living room. And he sounded terrible. He was all out of shape. I said. "look at you now, you are a big star and you don't play the drums no more.

UV: Did you see Jimi a few months later in Stockholm? Because he returned in September 1967 and then in January 1968.
Jimi Hendrix with the mother of his son and Georges daughter Ditte
 
KG: Every time he came, there was this girl. I don't know if I should mention names or not, but there was a house were Jimi used to stay. Okay, I guess it's safe enough, her name was Barbara. She had a little house just outside Stockholm. We used to meet there. Jimi was there when he wasn't doing concerts. Usually every time Jimi was here. Everybody knew it. And every time he has been there, I have seen him. Well, actually I didn't see him every time... when he smashed up the hotel (4 January 1968), I didn't see that.,

UV: Do you remember some of the subjects you talked about with Jimi?
KG: Poetry. I didn't see the combination in the beginning, how to combine poetry and music. Of course it's an automatic thing. It is just that a lot of people who start out in this business, they don't think about it. You've got a lot of, what I call no-singing singers. Tom Waits is a good example of that. Joe Cocker is a little bit of an example. This is where the poetry comes in. And we discussed that. And he was writing for "Axis: Bold As Love" This thing about "Castles Made Of Sand", before he recorded that I saw some of those lyrics, but I couldn't understand a thing what he meant. But when he'd put it to music, I could understand. "Axis: Bold As Love" was very tight, that was a plan. He made a plan that worked. So those were the discussions that we had most of the times. I don't know, him and I related to each other, when we saw each other we related to each other. Maybe for two minutes we thought we were brothers or something. We are alike, but at the same time we are not alike, but at the same time we are very much alike, you know... it has to do with the Indians... cross-breeding we call it...
Rinus van der Schans & Kees de Lange Univibes
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