Recommended Playlist - C’mon, it’s Jimi Hendrix we’re talkng about. What do you want me to tell you? You should probably just put on a pot of coffee and spend the whole night watching live Jimi clips on YOUTube until you think your head is going to explode. Some of it will be weird but none of it will suck. Call in sick for work. Repeat
of Jimi Hendrix
The history of rock n' roll is full of myths and legends,
and perhaps no one attracted more of them than
It's become a cliche of 1960's rock biographies for every has been, and
never was, to relate the time the saw Jimi in a small club and got up to
jam with him. I can still remember being shocked with stories about the
guitar legend sticking tabs of acid in his head band so he could trip out
as he played.
Some of these things were based in some version of the truth but Hendrix wasn't really a wild man off stage and was usually described as shy and reserved. Jimi was such an incredible talent during his short life that strange stories have stuck to him like gum on a boot heel, and have only gotten stranger since his death in 1971.
One of the weirdest tales told about the guitar virtuoso is the one about Jimi, a couple of wannabe wiseguys, and a kidnapping gone wrong. There are a number of somewhat dubious sources that mention this supposed incident but the most direct account come from John Roberts (formerly know as John Riccobono) a former New York wiseguy and prolific former cocaine smuggler. According to the former gangster, in late 1969 he met Jimi when the guitarist was living in New York and frequenting clubs operated by the mob. This part of the story is actually very easy to believe as mobsters have always had a dirty hand in the music business. The gangster and the guitar player became pals when Jimi was forced to play a stint at the Salvation club, a big step down for an artist then at the peak of his post Woodstock fame.
The second aspect of the Riccobono story, and one that is a bit more suspect, is that Jimi Hendrix was a heroin addict at the time and was getting drugs from some of the low level mob associates at the club. This part of the story is a bit tougher to swallow. It is well known that Jimi Hendrix liked to drink and definitely partook in marijuana, cocaine, and the psychedelic substances of the day. It may seeme like a small distinction, but most people who knew him say he wasn't a smack junkie. According to this story though Jimi was hanging out at the club looking to cop when a pair of enterprising local thugs got a big idea. They decided to kidnap the music star and hold him, not for a traditional ransom, but for the lucrative opportunity of owning part of his career. Many mobsters had earned well by taking an interest in show biz and the low level would-be gangsters saw Jimi as a golden goose.
The kidnappers let Jimi shoot up and then, with promises of more to come, loaded him into their waiting car. The rock star was driven to a small cabin upstate New York, plied with enough drugs to keep him useless and compliant and was ultimately tied to a chair to keep him out of trouble. At this point the plan began to unravel. The young crooks called Jimi's more than slightly shady manager, Mike Jeffery, and made some muddled demands. Jeffrey called his mob contacts in New York, and soon Riccobono was told to sort it out. Kidnapping a high profile celebrity was not considered to be a very intelligent business move. The mob survived by keeping a relatively low profile, and if this sort of thing got out it was bound to bring extra pressure from the feds. Unbeknownst to Riccobono and the other goons, someone from Jimi's entourage had already contacted the FBI and soon they would be breathing down everyone's neck.
After making a few calls Riccobono found out the names of the kidnappers and tracked them down to their hideaway near Woodstock. He managed to reach out to them and explained that they had made a grave mistake. They were warned that if Hendrix wasn't returned immediately their would be hell to pay. Not surprisingly, the young crooks realized the error of their ways and made arrangements to return Jimi, stoned and confused but otherwise relatively unharmed.
Did any of this actually happen? I'm not sure. It isn't an impossible tale for the times and some versions have even offered a more sinister explanation for the whole thing. It is well known that Jimi was struggling creatively at the time, trying to redefine himself in the wake of Woodstock and get a solid band together. He was also having doubts about his manager Mike
John Riccobono (second mustache from the left) with members of the Gambino crime family in the early 1970s
Jeffrey, and had even talked to friends about firing him. Another version of the story remembered by some of Jimi's bandmates had Jeffrey himself showing up with a couple of gun toting tough guys and personally collecting his client. Was Mike Jeffrey really the one behind the whole thing? He was known to be a ruthless businessman and clearly had ties with dangerous people. He had previously been accused of ripping of The Animals, and seemed to be doing the same with Jimi. Had he set up the “kidnapping” so he could take credit for saving Hendrix and thus convince his client to stay with him?
Whatever the reasons behind it, the plot to kidnap Jimi Hendrix didn't work out for anyone. According to the Riccobono account, the foolish kidnappers were tracked down a few days alter and beaten within an inch of their lives. The FBI started sniffing around the Sanctuary club and soon found evidence that the mobster was involved in murdering Mike Jones, a coke dealer who had supposedly supplied Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix, the man at the middle of everything, would be found dead from asphyxiation less than a year later on September 18, 1970 after too much wine and sleeping pills. After Jimi's death there were whispers going around that Mike Jeffrey might have been involved, and he certainly profited from Jimi's death with music licensing and post-humous releases. If he was involved he'll never be able to admit it though, since he was killed in a rare mid-air collision over Nantes France in 1973.
p.s. To escape murder charges Riccobono went on the run, changed his name to Roberts, and moved to Miami. In the mid-70s he became business partners with the Medellin cartel, eventually helping to smuggle something like $2 billion of cocaine into the States. When he was inevitably caught he turned stool pigeon and avoided any significant prison time. Roberts died of natural causes in 2011, aged 63. (OK... so I guess it did kind of work out for him).