Since this issue has stirred up so much controversy over the years, Mike has put down in writing everything he can recall about it. Here is his actual story about Jimi and the Big Muff that he recollected around 2007 for a Japanese magazine article.
“Back in 1969…we plunged into production (on the V1 Big Muff) and I brought the very first units up to Henry, the boss at Manny’s Music Store on 48th Street, NYC. About a week later, I stopped by at Manny’s to buy some cables, and henry yelled out to me “Hey Mike. I sold one of those new Big Muff’s to Jimi Hendrix.”
Now let me tell you a little history of me and Jimy. Back in the mid 60’s I was a concert promoter. I had the Isley Brother, Coaster, Drifters, Cadillacs, Lovin’ Spoonful, Young Rascals, Byrds, Turtles, Shirelles….and many more acts. I booked Chuck Berry for two nights, and was looking forward to this gig…especially because Chuck traveled alone and the promoter had to get the back up band. I decided to play keyboards, and got some buddies of mine who mostly did Chuck Berry covers to back up Chuck. A week before the gig, that agent who sold me Chuck called me and said “Hey Mike, I need you to do me a favor and book another band…. I can give you one that will play three nights for $600.” I said “Bob I don’t need another band. The crowd is coming to see Chuck Berry and I’d just be spending another $600 for nothing.” Bob said “Please, I need this favor. You can have them for three nights for only $500, and they have a guy that can play guitar with his teeth.” I figured, ok, and booked them, and in the future Bob owed me the next favor. The name of this band was Curtis Knight & the Squires.
When Chuck played, and me and my guys backed him up. I was a little burnt out after the first set and went to check to see how much money came in so far at the gate. Curtis Knight’s band was now playing and I didn’t pay much attention until my guitarist that backed up Chuck, Steve Knapp, came running up to me and said “Hey Mike, you gotta catch this guitar player. He’s a gas.” Well, that guitar player was Jimmy James. His style at the time was strictly loose R&B. We became best friends and I snuck out of my day gig several times a week, as a computer salesman for IBM, to go to his hotel room where we rapped music talk. Jimmy was quiet dude, and lived in a rundown narrow hotel room with no private toilet. He usually had his hair set with pink hair curlers.
One night I went to see him play with Curtis at a club in the upper west side called the Lighthouse. Now, Curtis Knight was a real gangster. Mainly a pimp, running a big operation. At that gig Jimmy hung with me at the breaks and told me “Mike I gotta get away from this dude. I wanna form my own band and headline it.” I said “Jimmy, if you’re going to be the front man, then you have to sing.” Jimmy said “Yeah, that’s the problem. I can’t sing.” I said “If you really wanna sing, all you gotta do is practice and you’ll be cool. Look at Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan. they can’t sing but they can phrase their asses off and project dynamite soul.” Jimmy said “Yeah, you got a good point. I’ll work on it.”
Soon Jimmy formed his own band, the Blue Flames. I went to catch them at the café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village. Sitting with me was my friend Bobby Colomby, who later on was a co-founder and drummer with Blood Sweat & Tears. He invited Eric Clapton to sit with us. Jimmy and The Blue Flames were dynamite…still playing a loose blues style. At the break we all went across the street for some grub. The only thing Clapton kept saying again and again and again was “I just can’t believe how good this guy is. I just can’t believe it.”
Shortly after, I heard Jimmy ran off to England with the manager of the Animals, who dug him. The rest is history, and it was in England that Jimmy became Jimi Hendrix and quickly developed his super unique electric space style. I was fortunate enough to see The Experience when they first came to New York City. Jimi called me up and said “Hey Mike come on down, I’m playing at xxxx ( I forgot the name of this small club ). Dynamite!
Whenever Jimi went into a recoding studio in New York Ciy, he invited me to hang out. I did this at three different studios, with the last one being Electric Ladyland, the one he funded and owned. Long story…Well here’s the rub. When Jimi invited me to hang at studio # 2, ( I forgot the name ) I went down to show him a new device I was working on. It was a 4 inch ceramic cased speaker that I screwed into the body of a guitar. It had small power amp. So, some portion of the guitar signal was bled into this little power amp and into the screwed in speaker which made the guitar vibrate and easy to get instant hot sustain. I took it to ask Jimi what he thought of it. When I walked into the studio, there on the floor, plugged into his guitar and amp, was the Big Muff. I told Jimi I made these and he said he just bought it at Manny’s and I said yeah, Henry told me. I then showed Jimi the guitar with the screwed in speaker with feedback circuit. He tried it and said “Hey Mike, I think you’ve got something here.” (Note - Mike has said at other times that he thought this was an early version of the distortion-free sustainer he showed to Jimi)
Now WHY did I tell you this whole story? Well, some time in the late 70s, a guitar magazine writer that interviewed me asked me “When did Electro-Harmonix come out with the Big Muff?” Not thinking too much about this I blurted out around 1971. Well, it was really 1969. Over the years, Hendrix purists took this 1971 and said, Jimi couldn’t have used the Big Muff because he was gone by this time. Well, I wanted you to know the real facts.”