Seattle Now & Then: Jimi Hendrix plays Sick’s Stadium, 1970

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Little did 16-year-old Dave DePartee, standing near the front of the centerfield stage, know that he would be snapping one of the few surviving photos of Jimi Hendrix’s final Seattle concert on July 26, 1970. Over Hendrix’s shoulder, apartments with a view into Sicks Stadium stand atop Tightwad Hill. At upper right, a corner of the stadium scoreboard advertises Chevron gas. Jimi’s orange-red outfit provides the sole splash of color on a gray day. (Courtesy Dave DePartee)
THEN2: Erected in 1938 by Rainier Brewing Company owner Emil Sick for his Pacific Coast League baseball team the Seattle Rainiers, Sick’s (then Sicks’, then Sicks) Stadium stood between Rainier Avenue and today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Way. This view looks west from Tightwad Hill on June 15, 1938, when the Seattle Rainiers played their first home game in the new stadium. (Courtesy David Eskenazi)
NOW: In a southeast section of Lowe’s Home Improvement on Rainier Avenue, Dave DePartee, playing air guitar with an axe, and local sports historian David Eskenazi pose near the original location of Hendrix’s stage. Eskenazi is also an artist and Hendrix fan. In 1980, while attending the University of Washington, his original pencil drawing was made into a poster by Tower Records to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hendrix’s death. (Jean Sherrard)

(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.

WEB EXTRAS

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.

Tower Record sold many hundreds of these posters. Dave recounts that Jimi’s brother Leon and father Al Hendrix stopped by and added their own signatures at a signing event
A Seattle Times article about David’s poster scribed by rock critic Patrick MacDonald
More original art by David Eskenazi
There must be some kind of way outta here / Said the joker to the thief…

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.)

Essay by Albert Goldman in the Oct. 16, 1970, edition of Life magazine.

On a whim, I decided to write a letter for Life to consider publishing. Imagine my delight to receive this hand-signed reply:

Oct. 26, 1970, letter from Life magazine’s A. Mate Scott to Clay Eals.

Imagine my further delight to receive this letter four days later:

Oct. 30, 1970, letter from “RFG” at Life magazine to Clay Eals.

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:

Letter by Clay Eals published in Nov. 6, 1970, edition of Life magazine.

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!

4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Jimi Hendrix plays Sick’s Stadium, 1970”

  1. 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.
    SteveArthurW

  2. 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

  3. 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,

    Scott

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.