Arriving in Toronto for his drug trial on Dec. 7, 1969, Jimi Hendrix did what any self-respecting rock star of the era would do: He scored some grass. “It was a couple of joints,” says Linda Goldman, whose best friend supplied the weed. The young women not only shared their stash with Hendrix, they spent time with him.
It was 50 years ago this month, but Goldman remembers the trial and a hotel-room visit with the iconic guitarist well, and if any details are foggy she has diary entries to fill in the blanks. Her story is not of the typical sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll kind, even if those components were all in play.
Characterizing herself as “innocent” at the time, the 18-year-old Goldman was an art-school student at Toronto’s Central Technical School. She remembers Hendrix as “sweet, gentle and shy," despite his sexually charged showmanship.
Above all, Goldman recalls Hendrix as worried, which he had every right to be. He had been arrested earlier in the year at Toronto International Airport on the charge of being in the possession of hash resin and heroin. A possible jail sentence hung over him like a black cloud for the months leading up to the trial. He was “bummed out,” according to the retired library supervisor, who spoke to The Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview at a Toronto restaurant recently. “I don’t think he was very happy. He was one of the world’s biggest rock stars, and everybody wanted something from him.”
The drug bust
On the morning of May 3, 1969, Hendrix with his band and entourage arrived from Detroit, where the Jimi Hendrix Experience had played the previous night, for a performance at Maple Leaf Gardens that evening. After it was determined by authorities that Hendrix’s carry-on bag contained illegal drugs, a Toronto lawyer was secured.
“I was minding my own business, when the phone rang,” recalls John O’Driscoll, a trial lawyer before a prominent career as an Ontario judge. “I was asked if I would be interested in defending Jimi Hendrix. I didn’t know who he was. That’s how square I was.”
The musician was booked, with bail set at $10,000. “I persuaded the Gardens to front the bail money from the gate receipts,” says O’Driscoll, now retired.
There was concern the arrest would cause the cancellation of the Toronto concert, but those fears were quickly alleviated. “My kids have got tickets for the concert,” a detective told the band’s manager, according to the Hendrix biography Electric Gypsy. “They’ll kill me if I don’t get him out.”
The gumshoe was as good as his word; the 70-minute concert (attended by Goldman and her friend) went off on time and without a hitch. During a version of the blues number Red House, the guitarist ad-libbed “Soon as I get out of jail, I wanna see her."
In August, Hendrix headlined the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Goldman, whose summer job was selling flowers at the corner of Bay and Queen streets, made the trip to the festival. On the morning of Aug. 18, Hendrix closed his set and the festival as a whole with the moody rock standard Hey Joe. The next time Goldman would hear the song performed would be in Hendrix’s Toronto hotel room.
Hendrix and a small entourage arrived in Toronto on Dec 7. After checking into the Four Seasons Motor Hotel, a stylish three-storey facility at Jarvis and Carlton streets, the musician phoned Goldman’s friend and invited her over. Goldman accompanied her friend to the rock star’s room, with her diary entry setting the sartorial scene: “He looked so beautiful in grey elephant pants with buttons down the side and a black shirt with puffy sleeves and a pattern on it," Goldman wrote.
In the room having dinner with Hendrix was Sharon Lawrence, an American music journalist who would be a star witness for the defence.. After Lawrence left, Hendrix, Goldman and her friend chatted about music – no politics or Vietnam War raps. At one point, Hendrix finished off a pack of Kool menthol cigarettes and tossed the package in the garbage on his way to the bathroom. Goldman retrieved the refuse. The two women sneaked a peek at the guitarist’s little book of phone numbers, which included the contact information for fellow musicians such as Billy Preston and Eric Clapton. “We were so impressed,” Goldman says. “But, then, it was Jimi Hendrix.”
While Hendrix strummed a guitar, Goldman mentioned the song Hey Joe. “He then played the whole thing for me,” Goldman says. After modest quantities of weed and wine, and with the hour getting late, Goldman called her mother to let her know she and her friend would be staying the night with the world’s highest-paid rock act. “Don’t worry, the girls will be fine,” Hendrix assured mom, after playfully grabbing the phone.
“My mother was very cool,” Goldman says. “She was thrilled out of her mind that we were getting to see him.” While Hendrix and Goldman’s friend got further acquainted, Goldman pretended to be asleep in the dark.
Conservatively dressed in a blue blazer and grey trousers, Hendrix entered the courtroom at Old City Hall to face drug-possession charges on Dec. 8. “It was serious business,” says O’Driscoll, who argued that his client didn’t know he was in possession of the found narcotics. “All trials are crap shoots, but I did think I had the law on my side.”
Witness Lawrence corroborated Hendrix’s story that a fan in Detroit had gifted the musician a vial of white powder, which he mistook for a vial of Bromo-Seltzer antacid. After a three-day trial, the jury deliberated for eight hours before coming back with the verdict: James Marshall Hendrix, “not guilty.”
According to O’Driscoll, the guitarist was very thankful. “I liked him. I thought he was a very intelligent young man. I wasn’t all that intrigued with the entourage that went with him, though.”
Hendrix told reporters the court’s decision was “the best Christmas present I could have.” Goldman, who attended the trial and chatted briefly with Hendrix during a break, declined a newspaper photographer’s offer to pose with the guitarist. “I was supposed to be in school,” she explains. “I didn’t want people to see me on the front page of the newspaper.”
Goldman never saw Hendrix again. Some nine months later, on Sept. 18, 1970, the guitarist aspirated on his own vomit and died of asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates. “I heard the news on the car radio,” Goldman says. “I started to cry.”
She eventually lost track of her best friend, but still has a journal of the time spent with Hendrix, along with his empty cigarette package. “It was one night of a teenage girl’s life,” Goldman says. “And even though I treasure the memory, I’ll regret not being photographed with him for the rest of my life.”
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.