“I pick up my axe and fight like a bomber now,
but you still blast me down to the ground.”
Jimi Hendrix, Machine Gun.
Before becoming Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Michael Jeffery had been a covert operator for British Intelligence. According to one of his original clients, Eric Burdon of the Animals, Jeffery often boasted of his 007 escapades during the cold war – staging assassinations in Greece, torturing KGB agents, blowing up Russian/Egyptian bases in the Suez.
The Animals’ singer, Jimi’s future close friend, took these stories as drunken tall tales until, early one morning, the former MI6 agent invited him out to the London harbor where the U.S. Seventh Fleet happened to be trolling for some lost nukes. His manager emerged from the water in scuba gear, holding a black box. Grinning, pointing out to the armada, the ex-spy pulled a switch: suddenly the harbor was rocked with underwater explosions.
“Like most people of felonious intent,” Burdon wrote in his memoir, “he was charming, attractive, and sometimes a riot to be around.”
Jeffery had made the transition from demolition and espionage to rock and roll by studying under “The Al Capone of Pop” himself, Don Arden. Also known as “The English Godfather” and “Mr. Big,” Arden, Sharon Osbourne’s father, went on to manage the Small Faces, Electric Light Orchestra, and Black Sabbath. Known for his old-fashioned business methods – bribery, blackmail, assault, kidnapping – the diminutive Jewish businessman and his muscle had dangled rivals from windows, rearranged their kneecaps, and extinguished cigars in their faces. Jeffery proved his own mettle against his mentor when he stole the Animals away from him without losing life or limb.
The retired spy parlayed his MI6 and Arden experience into becoming a rock and roll Dr. No. “His own mob sprang up around him like morning mushrooms,” Burdon wrote. “His main enforcer was The Turk, a nasty bastard whose tools of choice were an ax and two highly trained German shepherds.” The singer went on to describe how Jeffery burnt down his Club Marimba for the insurance money, then how he absconded with the Animals’ money.
In the fall of 1966, the Animals’ bassist, Chas Chandler, discovered Jimi Hendrix in New York, flew him to London, and introduced him to Jeffery. The two co-managed the guitarist and helped him assemble the Experience. Several years later, Chas and Jimi became estranged due to creative differences. “The window of opportunity was there for Jeffery to scoop it all up,” he said. “I knew that something dodgy was gonna happen. But I never dreamt it would lead to his [Jimi’s] death.”
In his own memoir, bassist Noel Redding described Jeffery’s fondness for guns, throwing knives, electronic bugging devices, and roadie spies. As for his financial skills, to discourage frivolous audits, the ex-spy kept all his business records in Russian.
Jeffery toured Jimi and the Experience relentlessly after their apotheosis at Monterey Pop in 1967. By ‘69, the guitarist was earning $100,000 per gig, but was too exhausted and drugged out to realize that he was virtually broke while Jeffery was a multi-millionaire with off-shore numbered bank accounts.
At last, burnt out on touring, Jimi told his manager he was disbanding the Experience. No sooner did he reveal his intention than he was busted for heroin possession in Toronto. He came to suspect that Jeffery, desperate that he might lose his cash cow, had engineered the bust so he, Jimi, would be forced to keep the Experience alive to foot his legal expenses.
Four months later, just after Woodstock, Hendrix was kidnapped at gunpoint, held hostage for several days, then “rescued” in a dramatic shoot-out at his Woodstock compound. Soon he came to suspect that his manager was behind this intimidation too.