Published on August 28th, 2023 | by AlexandreG.0
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “French Tour”: Iconic Opening for Johnny Hallyday
The 1960s were a decade of musical experimentation and groundbreaking evolution. Among its most intriguing chapters is the unlikely alliance that formed between Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Hallyday. In 1966, The Jimi Hendrix Experience made their French debut, lending their psychedelic vibes as the supporting act for the renowned French Yé-Yé superstar, Johnny Hallyday.
Johnny Hallyday, often referred to as the ‘French Elvis’, was a monumental figure in French music. Selling over 100 million records in a career that spanned five decades, he became one of France’s most celebrated rock icons. Born Jean-Philippe Smet, by 1966, under his stage name, he had transformed into a cultural sensation, drawing parallels with rockabilly greats like Elvis Presley.
His knack for infusing French chanson with American rock rhythms quickly elevated him to national acclaim. His stage charisma, coupled with his talent for adapting international hits into French, not only made him a musical legend but also influenced French pop culture and fashion. His collaborations, notably sharing the stage with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, underscored his vast appeal and pivotal role in the global music arena.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience French tour: a debut to remember
Johnny Hallyday, reminiscing about the initial encounter, shared, “You know, he was my opening act for a while. I discovered him in London at a club one night. I was with Otis Redding, and we were eating at the restaurant of the club, and we heard that incredible guitar. We went to see who was playing, and it was Jimi. I was about to start a tour in Europe, and I needed an opening act and said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ So he toured with me for six months, and we became friends.“
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with its magnetic energy, debuted in Évreux, France, on October 13, 1966. Spanning four iconic dates known as “The French Tour,” the band played alongside Long Chris, The Blackbirds, and culminated their journey supporting Johnny Hallyday. Their final act was at the renowned Parisian venue, Olympia, on October 18, 1966. This wasn’t just another concert; it was the first time the world would hear The Jimi Hendrix Experience on record!
While the setlists from the initial three dates remain a mystery, they’re believed to have featured covers like “Hey Joe”, “Killing Floor”, and “Land of a Thousand Dances”. Concluding the tour with a bang, the band played “Wild Thing” at the Olympia, sealing their place in rock history.
Johnny’s soulful French ballads, such as “Noir c’est noir”, provided a stark yet harmonious contrast to Hendrix’s raw energy. Both acts together presented a sonic experience that was both diverse and electrifying.
Why Jimi hendrix tour with Johnny Hallyday?
Credit: Rue des Archives
Johnny Hallyday was a massive star in France and other French-speaking countries. In 1966, Hallyday invited Jimi Hendrix to be the opening act for him on a French tour. At that time, Hendrix was not yet the legendary figure in rock history as he is known today, but he was quickly garnering attention for his virtuosic guitar skills and stage presence.
The decision to have Hendrix as an opening act was somewhat of a promotional move by Hallyday’s team. The intention was likely to boost the tour’s appeal by including the explosive and exciting act that was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The collaboration exposed Hendrix to a wider French audience and gave him a platform to showcase his talents in a country that was just getting to know him.
After these gigs in France, The Jimi Hendrix Experience returned to London, and between the late 1966 and first months of 1967 they recorded their first three singles (“Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary”), all of which clinched top spots in the U.K. sales charts. This swift ascent was punctuated by the release of their debut album, “Are You Experienced,” widely hailed as one of the most exceptional debut albums in rock history.
Their stint in Paris, despite having only been a band for a few weeks, proved invaluable. It not only seasoned them as a cohesive unit, facing and conquering significant challenges but also expanded their audience beyond the U.K. shores. This international exposure laid the groundwork for their legendary 1967 return to the French capital, where they headlined their show, further cementing their status as a transformative force in rock music.