(click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on July 22, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on July 25, 2021)
Jimi Hendrix makes his final home run at Sick’s Stadium
By Jean Sherrard
On Sunday, July 26, 1970, it was a typical outdoor Seattle scenario, rainy but right.
In our early teens, my friends and I hunkered on Tightwad Hill, the steep and legendary bluff across Empire Way (today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Way) from Sicks Stadium. Generations of baseball fans had preceded us there, finding catbird seats for minor-league games in Rainier Valley.
Today, however, rock was the draw. Two groups, Cactus and Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, opened the show. But we were there for the headliner — Seattle’s own Jimi Hendrix, playing his fourth-ever hometown concert.
Raised in the Central District, the throbbing heart of Seattle’s Black community, self-taught Hendrix had never learned to read music. Left-handed, he turned his guitar and the world upside-down. In just four years, he’d become a superstar, astounding audiences with revolutionary (sometimes incendiary) musicality. At 27, he was one of rock’s greatest instrumentalists, though the pressures of his meteoric rise were mounting.
Inside the post-Rainiers, Angels and Pilots ballpark, thousands of eager fans including today’s “Then” photographer, 16-year-old Dave DePartee, were watching from the muddy infield. This column’s founder, Paul Dorpat, then a concert promoter and underground newspaper publisher, stood backstage.
From Tightwad Hill, the stage was a postage stamp, but the loud rock pummeled us. Fans repeatedly tried to sneak over chain-link and wood-slat fences, painfully confronted by rent-a-cops spraying mace from catwalks. Barriers were breached only once, by a trio who lifted a fence and slid under to Tightwad huzzahs.
Just before Hendrix began, harder rains fell from a steel-wool sky. The mix of water and electric instruments was worrisome, but after rubber mats were installed, the show resumed.
And here’s where the narrative flips. Consider, if you will, an exhausted, moody Hendrix playing before a home audience, the backstage jammed with family, friends and obligations. What followed was a note of generosity echoing from Jimi’s youth.
On Sept. 1, 1957, Elvis Presley had played Sicks’ Stadium for an ecstatic crowd of 16,000. Short the buck-fifty admission, 14-year-old Hendrix watched the show perched atop — you guessed it — Tightwad Hill.
Thirteen years later, Hendrix instructed the stadium crew to throw gates open and let in hundreds of young cheapskates, including me, from the same bluff. Roaring approval, we scrambled down the incline and inside, thumbing our noses at the defanged rent-a-cops.
Tragically, this was Hendrix’s last concert in the continental United States. Less than two months later, on Sept. 18, he died in London of an accidental drug overdose. His sonic earthquake continues to shake and inspire to this day.
A handful of treats, including Jean’s 360-degree video accompanying this column, recorded on location at Lowe’s Home Improvement (not far from the stage in Sick’s centerfield). To see it, click right here.
Also, check out David Eskenazi’s artwork for the poster printed by Tower Records on the 10th anniversary of Hendrix’s death.
And if we ask nicely, Clay Eals may relate the story of his letter which appeared in Life magazine. (Happy birthday, Clay!)
= = = = =
Clay here on July 29: Thanks, Jean, and I apologize for posting this section a week later. My daughter’s six-day visit from Philly to celebrate my birth put a lot of stuff on hold, and I’m just catching up!
Indeed, as anyone who was around in fall 1970 can well remember, the overdose deaths of counterculture rock stars Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin hit hard and stirred a range of emotions. In particular, the essay below by Albert Goldman struck a chord, in part because it appeared in well-known and well-read Life magazine . (Click the image to enlarge it.)
On a whim, I decided to write a letter for Life to consider publishing. Imagine my delight to receive this hand-signed reply:
Imagine my further delight to receive this letter four days later:
Then came publication of the Nov. 6, 1970, edition of Life magazine itself. (The cover featured then-President Richard Nixon in youthful days, holding a violin.) My letter appeared at the top of page 21:
Particularly in retrospect, my letter seems inartful. (Why did I use the word “thing”?) But I’m sure my 19-year-old self was trying to drill down to the emotions of the matter. I suspect the Life editors printed my missive because it had a more positive tone than a previous letter from someone else who slammed the Goldman essay.
Only two years later, Life magazine (which had started up in 1936) shut down. It rebounded in 1978 but shut down for good in 2000. This means that there are people in their mid-20s who have never seen a copy of Life magazine on a newsstand. In our short-attention-span society, surely many don’t even know what Life magazine was.
Much the pity. Large-format, photo-filled Life magazine was once a big deal, certainly a pace-setter. Where is today’s Life magazine? Probably in a zillion pieces spread out all over the internet.
Reminds me of a joke told from the stage by Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary. His arms spread wide, he said the most important magazine used to be Life. Narrowing his arms, he said the most important magazine became People. Narrowing his arms further, he said People had been supplanted by Us. And he predicted the future’s most important magazine would be — you guessed it — Me!
9 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Jimi Hendrix plays Sick’s Stadium, 1970”
I attended this event with my girlfriend. I remember another band that appeared on the stage that day. Might anyone else remember RUBE TUBIN and the RONDONNAS with BILLY SCREAM on vocals? I still have a handbill from the show. Hendrix appearances in Seattle were always epic events.
I do remember reading something about this group being onstage that day!…the person whose letter I was reading, had said that his ex-wife was a member of that group!…But I have no memory of the guy who wrote about that group. They were not listed on the posters of the event….one suggestion would be to look up a website that lists the history of all Northwest Rock groups, from the 50s on up to the 80s. That group was a local one, and should be listed.
Is there any chance that the Sicks Stadium Sign on the corner could get cleaned? I think it would be a tribute to Jimi Hendrix and show the place where the stadium stood if it was cleaned
Thanks for Jean Sherrard’s excellent article on Jimi’s last concert in Seattle at Sicks Stadium. I did not realize there were few photos of that wonderful concert. I was there, standing in the front “row”. I also had my Nikon 35mm camera and shot a number of photos on Tri-X. Would they be of interest to you?
Thanks for all of your wonderful journalism,
Your photos of Jimi at Sick’s would be of great interest to me for usage. Please contact me asap. Thanks, Barry
A guy I worked with at the Post Office in Seattle, casually mentioned to me that he had shot some color, 8mm silent film of Jimi at this gig!…I told him to post it on Youtube, as it had to be a rare film!…He did do that, and it was there for several months, but then was removed…I never found out what happened to that film, but I would guess he sold it to the Hendrix family business.
Wow, cool. There are 2 different 8mm films so far in circulation. The 3rd made by Al Hendrix which yet to be seen or circulated. Maybe the estate hasn’t acquired it (yet).? Is there a way for you to hook me up with your Post Office friend? I am a name credited film, photo and audio consultant on 99% of the releases put out by EH over the last 25 years. Thanks in advance!
I have a contribution for this post. In 1968 I was lucky enough to see the Jimi Hendrix experience show twice, February in the center arena and September in the center Colosseum. Jimmy was at the top of his game and the shows were spectacular. In 1970 when tickets went on sale for the Hendrix outdoor concert I immediately scored two tickets. I was very familiar with the venue Sicks stadium in the Rainer Valley. Two years earlier I had a Job two blocks away at Dags drive-in selling $.19 hamburgers.
Sicks stadium was very old in 1970. It had been home to the Rainers then the Pilots baseball teams. My new girlfriend was a stewardess for Northwest Airlines, she had just moved here from Minneapolis. This concert was shaping up to be the highlight of the summer for both of us. We arrived in the afternoon to watch the opening acts. The stage was set up against the centerfield wall there were no chairs so we sat on the grass between second base in the centerfield position.
The crowd was a blend of hippies, students and a lot of neighborhood kids from Franklin and Garfield high schools. Sitting on a blanket behind us were some older well-dressed hipster couples. No old denim and sandals for them. What really set them apart was the guy rolling joints in purple papers and graciously passing them around. To us this was over the top and greatly enhanced the concert for all of us.
The stadium acoustics were pretty bad and left a lot to be desired Cat mother in the all night news boys were a mediocre hippie band with a cool name. All their songs were too long. Cactus was better with a heavy guitar/drum boogie thing. A small local band Rube Toobin and the Ron Donnas played well. For some reason they were not on the bill. There was the usual long wait for takedown set up between bands and we experienced a summer shower. Jimi Hendrix was good but nothing like the previous 1968 EPIC concerts. Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding were absent, poor acoustics and too many hangers on must’ve been a distraction.
For my generation of rock ‘n roll baby boomers Jimi Hendrix put us on the global map. An international superstar playing at old Sicks stadium was no small event.
Steve Wilk 09/02/22