Unseen photos of Jimi Hendrix's greatest performances

Published 21st June 2017
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Unseen photos of Jimi Hendrix's greatest performances
Written by Gin Sexsmith, CNN
The Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 cemented rock 'n' roll as an art form to be reckoned with. It was also where a Seattle-born, 24-year-old guitarist named Jimi Hendrix would make his US debut and set the standard for what it meant to look -- and sound -- like a rock star.
Donning a ruffled shirt, velour vest and bright red pants, with a scarf around his forehead, Hendrix commanded attention as he stepped on stage with the Fender Stratocaster that he would later douse in lighter fluid and set ablaze in one most iconic performances in rock history.
As Hendrix's guitar went up in flames, 17-year-old Ed Caraeff, who was crouched on a chair at the front of the stage, snapped the shot that would later appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine not once, but twice. Hendrix was so impressed with the photos that he invited Caraeff to shoot his future gigs.
"There was nothing like him. You'd never seen anything like it. I mean, I've seen some incredible people and he was the real deal," recalls Caraeff. "I actually should've been down in LA going to school, but I skipped out for two days to go to Monterey -- or maybe more, who's counting?"
It's no wonder Careaff has chosen the photo as the cover for his new book, "Burning Desire: The Jimi Hendrix Experience Through The Lens of Ed Caraeff." Released in June to coincide with the festival's 50th anniversary, the book contains never-before-seen photos of Hendrix -- both on and off stage -- between 1967 and 1969.

'The coolest you could be'

Born and raised a 12-minute drive from the Sunset Strip, Caraeff grew up on the streets of Hollywood. But the Monterey International Pop Festival, 400 miles from his Hollywood home, was the furthest he had ever traveled without his parents.
He and his friends wandered -- sometimes alongside Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, and Nico, the Warhol superstar and famed collaborator of the Velvet Underground -- from motel room to motel room, surrounded by the sound of guitars and clouds of marijuana.
"It was a whole different time back then. It was the Summer of Love," he said.
Offstage, Caraeff describes Hendrix as "very quiet, and the coolest you could be. He was a real sweetheart." But when he stepped onto the stage, he transformed.
"He was so natural. So natural. [But] here again, this was someone who couldn't handle the drugs, alcohol, the lifestyle."
Caraeff, meanwhile, stayed focused. He didn't have his first drink until his 20s, and dressed plainly to avoid being seen as a distraction.
"I was just totally into trying to get the best angle and thinking about photography. I didn't hear any of the music," he says.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience performs at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 14, 1968
The Jimi Hendrix Experience performs at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 14, 1968 Credit: Courtesy Ed Caraeff/Morgan Media Partners
For 14 years, Caraeff dedicated himself to music photography, shooting for The Doors, Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton, Iggy Pop, Elton John and Bob Dylan among others.
Although he was successful, the thought of being a photographer, let alone a rock and roll photographer, was never something he yearned for. Caraeff got out of the music industry when he felt that his work had became more of a business than a passion.
"I appreciated it all. Even when I had a house in Beverly Hills and two Mercedes parked in the driveway. I'd sit with my friends and they'd say 'This is so great,' and I'd say: 'It is, but I know I'm not going to be here forever."
Caraeff went from the music industry, to becoming an executive chef, to his current passion: traveling across America in the 80-square-foot vintage Volkswagen Westfalia Camper Vanagon that he's called home for the last two years. Having started work at such a young age, he feels an urge to make up for lost time.
It took Caraeff a year and a half to decide that he wanted to lead the 'van' life full time. It took another year and a half to find good homes for his pets, and to sell all his possessions and his house in Santa Monica. The sale of his entire professional photography archive -- some 300,000 images -- was his final move.
"I've been there, done that, now I'm on my bucket list trip," he says. "I've had lots of adventures and hopefully I'll have a few more!"