The Mystery of a 1969 Jimi Hendrix Photo Gets Solved
There’s just something about this picture.
It all started with a French music promoter and self-professed Jimi Hendrix fanatic, Yazid Manou. Over the years, Manou has helped organize some of the biggest tributes and events built around the legendary guitar player. Additionally, for more than 20 years, he's worked with artists as storied as Taj Mahal, Steve Winwood and Led Zeppelin. But for him, nothing compares to Hendrix.
Manou has even become a bit of a Jimi Hendrix detective, researching rare performances and photos. He was the first one to reveal the now-famous telegram that Hendrix sent to Paul McCartney in October 1969. In 1998, he gave B.B. King a copy of a jam that the blues great had played with Hendrix 30 years earlier; a sonic artifact that King had never heard before. He also presented Eric Clapton with shots of he and Hendrix that Clapton had never seen before.
One of his favorite Hendrix performances is the much-bootlegged Royal Albert Hall show from London, filmed on Feb. 24, 1969. The show has never been released commercially but has always been popular on the underground circuit.
A famous moment in the film occurs near the end of the concert, just before Hendrix burns through "Purple Haze." A young child, a boy perhaps just three or four years old, adorably emerges from the wings and bustles over to Hendrix, who bends down as the child appears to whisper a message to him. Seemingly happy that his mission is complete, the child then toddles off the stage.
Manou saw a photo from that moment posted on a private Jimi Hendrix Facebook group. Intrigued at whom the child might be, Manou embraced this as yet another new challenge. He posted the photo across a variety of other Hendrix discussion groups and several days later he had his answer as to the child’s identity.
It wasn’t just any hippie-era kid. The youngster was none other than Charlie Weber, immortalized (along with his family) in the Robert Greenfield book, A Day in the Life: One Family, the Beautiful People, and the End of the Sixties. Weber's parents, Tommy and Sue (nee Coriat) Weber, were one of the most fashionable, striking couples of the mid-'60s “Swinging London” era. Tommy, a race car driver, eventually made his way into the music scene, shooting films with Hendrix, the Beatles and other stars of the day.
Charlie and his brother Jake led a strangely colorful and nomadic life through their formative early years. When their parents split up in the late '60s, the boys stayed primarily with the father while taking occasional quixotic excursions with their mom.
Watch Jimi Hendrix Perform at Royal Albert Hall on February 24, 1969
As for Manou, once he found out the child's identity, he reached out to Weber via email and made contact. Weber, now in his 50s, had never even seen the photo before. Manou put Ultimate Classic Rock in touch with Weber, now living in Turkey, who told us just how shocked and pleased he was to see the photo.
“To open up an email and see piece of your past looking at you like that was just extraordinary," he said. "I've never seen the picture before, but I remember very clearly being backstage before the photo happened. My father introduced me to Hendrix. Of course they were all doing ridiculous amounts of chemicals when we met. But Hendrix put me up on his shoulders. He was just a lovely guy; a beautiful guy with lovely energy.”
Even at that young age, Weber had an instinctive fondness for Hendrix. “He was my hero. That’s why I was so excited to watch that performance. My father had shot a film of him so I was familiar with the music and his style. He was just the master. He spoke to me deeply at a very early age.”
And he remembers the moment he walked out onstage. “If you look at the shot, it’s like a fantasy image; like something from Alice in Wonderland, he continued. "Back then, in that era, a child wandering out was not all that odd, I suppose. Nobody tried to stop me. A year later, I did a similar thing at the Isle of Wight concert when Donovan led me and Julian Jones, Brian Jones’ son that Donovan was raising, out onstage. But nothing was like going out to see Jimi.”
As to what he told Hendrix once he got out there, he’s not completely sure.
“What do you say when you see a musical hero? I suppose I would have said, 'I really love your music,' or something in that vein. Or, 'Could you play ‘Foxey Lady?'’ If you watch the clip you can see, in the midst of all that was going on, he managed to be very human. He was very engaged and patient. Looking at me like, hey, this kid here, he's as important as anyone else. Hendrix’s values were 100 percent. You see the warmth and his normalcy.”
Of course there were other musical icons layered into the young boy's life.
“George Harrison was very lovely. He would stay at our house and I distinctly remember going to wake him up to meet him. All of this excitement. There's a Beatle in the house!"
And there were the Rolling Stones. In his book, Greenfield pays close attention to Tommy Weber's relationship with the Stones. After his work in film and music, he became a bagman of sorts for the band. Infamously, he taped cocaine packets to both of his sons so that they could be specially delivered to Keith Richards, who intended to make the dope a wedding gift for Mick Jagger upon his marriage to Bianca Perez-Mora Macias in 1971.
Richards was then ensconced at Nellcote, his mansion in the south of France where the Stones were working on their album Exile on Main St. In 1971 the Webers moved in and, in May, the entourage made their way to the Byblos Hotel in St. Tropez to get ready for the big Jagger wedding. “I remember that quite fondly," he said. "The wedding was the biggest rock 'n roll party in the history of the world. It was just the flashiest thing you could imagine. And for us kids it was really fun. I remember at the hotel, Anita Pallenberg coming to get us and telling us, 'Come on kids, were going to throw Jagger in the pool!' I thought it was Mick she was talking about, which made me a bit nervous since I knew he was like the boss. But it was actually Mick’s brother, Chris, who back then was identical to him. He was sleeping in a chair by the pool and so we tossed him in.”
Serving as a pageboy at the wedding along with his brother and Richards' son Marlon also prompted a memory. “I remember hearing that Keith was not so crazy about the wedding because he thought it might eventually get in the way of the band. I think Marlon must have picked up that vibe because just before the wedding, we page boys were all to kiss Bianca. Marlon refused, so I kissed her twice. Once for me and once for Marlon.”
Tragically, Weber’s mom Sue committed suicide shortly after, while the boys were still within the Rolling Stones’ Nellcote lair.
In years to follow, Charlie would go through a dark period of drug abuse but then eventually settled down as a successful musician and documentary filmmaker, among other creative endeavors. His brother Jake Weber is a popular film and TV actor. Tommy died in 2006.
“The situation with the Rolling Stones was very bittersweet,” said Weber. It was dark on the one hand because my mom passed away while we were staying there in France at Keith Richards's house. But there was a magic to that time right before that happened. There’s nothing like the Rolling Stones.”
And what of the man that actually shot the image that started this story? Manou also tracked down photographer Eric Hayes, who also spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock.
A Canadian who made his way over to Europe in the late-'60s, Hayes found himself in the thick of a thriving cultural movement to which he had an all-access pass. He told us, “If you were a photographer with any sort of decent credential back then, there was nothing that you couldn't shoot, it seemed.”
Unfortunately, many of Hayes’ negatives were lost after he returned to Canada in 1970, but a tour of his website still reveals many classics. Hayes had a brilliant eye for the British music scene back then whether he was shooting the Stones, the Beatles, the Who – or Hendrix. “I was at the Royal Albert Hall a week or so before that concert,” he shared. “I spent some time talking with the band and shot some photos backstage. It was all so casual and intimate. There was really no security and photographers were free to do pretty much whatever they wanted. I had built up a lot of trust by then by shooting some big shows. So I knew who I had a talk to to get access. And then once I had the access, I was just set free to shoot what I wanted.”
Hayes wound up in London in a rather strange way. Back in Los Angeles, he’d gone to the Hollywood Bowl to photograph a concert featuring Indian music. While there, he bumped into George Harrison, who allowed himself to be photographed. Soon after, Harrison’s people asked Hayes if he would join them in Bombay to shoot some photographs. Hayes was going to be traveling over there anyhow and so he took them up on their offer. After that, he and his girlfriend traveled through the Middle East and wound up in London. From the moment he arrived, through a mix of fate, skill and just plain good luck, he began capturing the era as well as any other photographer of the day. Does he remember the photo of Charlie?
“Absolutely," he recalls. "I remember the whole sequence of what happened. I was in front of the stage shooting. If you’ll notice the angle of the photo, I’m actually on the stage at that point. I had seen Hendrix’s set before and knew that when they did ‘Wild Thing,’ that he would start humping the amplifiers at the back of the stage. To keep the amps from falling down, he would have some guys back there propping them up. I thought that would make an interesting shot. So I got up on the stage a couple of songs early just to get ready. That’s when Charlie decided to wander up. Just the fact that we are talking about this confirms something I’ve always believed as a photographer. There is a story behind every photo. Back then, a kid could get up on stage and nobody freaked out. That was just sort of the relaxed hippie culture.”
And like Weber, Hayes also has some vivid, if less lurid memories of the Rolling Stones. “In 1968, I went over to the Rolling Stones office to ask if it was possible to shoot them. I just went in and asked. I was a young kid and an equally young kid, in his mid-20s, who was running the office, told me that the Stones were in fact looking for some new photos. So the next day I was sent over to Olympic Studios where the band was recording Beggars Banquet.' I ended up staying there for two nights in a row. What really surprised me is that it wasn’t the drug haven I was kind of expecting. The band actually seemed very businesslike and was just getting down to making music. That said, Brian Jones was really struggling at that point. He asked me to play an E on the piano so that he could tune his guitar to it. At one point when I was in the control room, one of the engineers told me that while Brian thought he was being recorded, that actually they had everything turned off that he touched. They were just humoring him in a sense, making him think he was making music. But I guess he was too far gone at that point to do anything too productive.”
And so there you have it. The story of a simple image that captured a charming pause in the eye of the psychedelic hurricane. Clipped from an era when, as Charlie Weber so aptly put it, “We were walking with gods.”