Chitlin Circuit

Jimi Hendrix: The Man in the Music (Part 3)

Jimi and the Chitlin Circuit

This post may blow away your image of Jimi Hendrix or at least show you a completely different side of the Age of Aquarius Icon.

Most of us have the image of a Jimi Hendrix who is a flashy-dressed lead guitarist singing and making his guitar talk.  Very few of us knew much about the Chitlin Circuit – Jimi’s training ground.

Jimi trained in the southern rhythm and blues of the south.

During the three years after his discharge, he played with at least two dozen bands in more than a hundred cities.  He seldom led a band during those years.

King Kasuals

It began when Jimi became stranded after discharge from the Army (yes, the US Army we will get to that in another post).   Not having enough money to get home to Seattle,  he moved to nearby Clarksville, Tennessee, with Billy Cox where they formed “The King Kasuals”.  The clubs did not pay much there, so they moved to Nashville and became the house band at the “Club del Morocco”.

The King Kasuals did not give Jimi the exposure or money he desired.  He left the group and joined the Chitlin Curcuit.  During the segregation era in the United States, black entertainers and their fans were not welcome in “whites only” venues.  Back as early as the 1800’s an informal circuit, later overseen by the Theatre Owners’ Booking Association (TOBA), was developed.

It was the Chitlin Circuit that was Jimi’s real training ground in the years before ‘freaked’.  The same training ground that served for the formation of Count Basie, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis, Jr., Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, The Jackson 5, Redd Foxx, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, John Lee Hooker, Lena Horne, Etta James, B. B. King, The Delfonics, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Wilson Pickett, Richard Pryor, Otis Redding, Little Richard, Smokey Robinson, Ike & Tina Turner, The Four Tops, The Isley Brothers, The Supremes, The Temptations, Tammi Terrell, Muddy Waters, and Flip Wilson.

Jimi played with R&B, and blues musicians, including Chuck Jackson, Slim Harpo, Tommy Tucker, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson.

The term “chitlin’ circuit” is derived from a popular item that appears on many Southern soul food menus: chitterlings. Chitterlings, also called chitlins, are pig intestines meticulously cleaned and then stewed or fried. Chitlins have become closely associated with black culture in the United States, although in fact, they are popular among Southern whites as well.

Noted theaters on the Chitlin Circuit included the Royal Peacock in Atlanta; the Cotton Club, Wilt’s Small Paradise and the Apollo Theater in New York City; Robert’s Show Lounge, Club DeLisa and the Regal Theatre in Chicago; the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C.; the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia; the Royal Theatre in Baltimore; the Fox Theatre in Detroit; the Victory Grill in Austin, Texas; the Hippodrome Theatre in Richmond, Virginia; and the Ritz Theatre in Jacksonville.

The refinement of his style and comfort with playing blues came on the Chitlin Circuit, but it did not take him long for his flamboyance to get him in trouble with band members.  He would sometimes steal the spot light from Little Richard.  These episodes were a sign of what was to come when in Jimi’s hip and over the top stage wear and antics in later years.

chitlin circuit

Jimi Hendrix Playing Guitar with His Teeth

While still in Seattle Jimi saw Butch Snipes play with his teeth.  On the Chitlin Curcuit Alphonso “Baby Boo” Young was doing the same.  Jimi soon learned to pick with his teeth.  He said, “… the idea of doing that came to me in a town in Tennessee. Down there you have to play with your teeth or else you get shot. There’s a trail of broken teeth all over the stage…”

In April of 1963 he returned to Nashville and joined another R&B band called The Imperials.A few months later the King Kasuals came back together for a short time.  Ultimately, Jimi returned to the Chitlin Circuit to do a tour backing up Slim Harpo, Carla Lewis, Ironing Board Sam, and Nappy Brown. After the tour, Jimi joined Bob Fisher and the Barnesvilles.

Jimi playing in the background on a TV show while on the Chitlin Circuit.

Keith Richard’s girl friend Linda Keith caught Jimi at The Club Cheetah one night with his band. She was impressed and later brought Chas Chandler to see him. Chas Chandler was the bassist for The Animals and was looking to begin managing and producing.   Jimi was finally discovered. The rest is history.

This article is an installment in the Jimi Hendrix Series on 60s Folks:

By Chowning

Richard Chowning was a teenager during the 60s. Being a Southern California resident during those years, he experienced many of the events and trends that distinguished those times.

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