Great Moments in TV Music History: Jimi Hendrix on The Tonight Show Starring Flip Wilson

Those of a certain age remember back when television options were limited; it was always a treat to see live music pouring out of the TV. At first, there were lots of lip-sync shows such as Where the Action Is, and Shindig and Hullabaloo! seemed like a mixture of live and lip-synced performances.
By 1967-1968, there were more opportunities for real live music from artists who were changing the face of music, such as The Smothers Brothers Show and The Dick Cavett Show as well as the various late-night programs.

Special performances are the ones that grabbed you by the lapels and wouldn’t let you go; they are burned forever into the brain.

Flip Wilson

One of the first of these for me occurred on July 19, 1969, when Flip Wilson was guest-hosting The Tonight Show for Johnny Carson. Of course, second banana Ed McMahon was along for the ride. Sadly, this is audio only; I have not been able to find any video of the show. 

Joe Tex

Wilson had already welcomed great soul singer Joe Tex on as a guest. Tex brought him a watermelon from his truck farm, and the watermelon sat on Wilson’s desk the remainder of the show. Then he invited out Jimi Hendrix; this was five weeks before the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. Wilson and Hendrix rapped about spirituality, and then it was time for Hendrix to play. Late-night shows such as The Tonight Shows often had musical guests of interest to “the younger crowd,” and this night was a great example. Also, try now to imagine Carson in 1969 having as guests Joe Tex and Jimi Hendrix. Not happening.

Billy Cox

Hendrix introduced his new bass player, Billy Cox. Hendrix and Mitchell had split company for the time being, and so Tonight Show band drummer Ed Shaughnessy sat in… and did an admirable job. Hendrix announced the tune as “Here Comes Your Lover Man.”

Shortly into the song, Hendrix blew his amp. Cox and Shaughnessy kept up a spirited duet for a moment or so, then just Shaughnessy briefly. Wilson explained that they were searching for another amp and nervously kept asking if they had found one and said he just had to keep talking until the situation was resolved.

Ed Shaughnessy — (Photo by: Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

When it briefly seemed like they were ready, Wilson started to speak but realized all was not yet in place. With that trademark voice of his, he intoned (and I remembered every word of it 51 years later):




All fixed, they restarted and successfully completed the song. The glory days of show biz!

(Obviously, this image has nothing to do with the audio clip.)


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