Fifty-two years after his death, the argument that Jimi Hendrix was the greatest rock guitarist of all time still holds true. His incredible style and creative approach to distortion and noise would change the sound of Rock n’ Roll forever, and influence thousands of musicians to this day.
It is also true that Hendrix was perhaps not the most agile of minds, at least not without a guitar in his hands. Her use of hard drugs not only deteriorated his health and ultimately caused his death, instead, they usually plunged him into trances that prevented him from being in the present moment.
Some will say that this was part of his genius and that it contributed to the creative explosion that led to The Jimi Hendrix Experience testing the limits of music in the last half of the 1960s until then dominated by guitar gods like Eric Clapton (Cream) or Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), and perhaps they are right. But when you get to the point where you don’t even know you were kidnapped by the mob maybe it’s a sign that things are getting out of hand.
The story of Jimi’s kidnapping is so unusual that it seems taken from a crazy fiction inspired by the artist’s legendary sprees, and more if we add that everything happened during the so-called “lost weekend” or “lost weekend”, a two-day period in which Hendrix biographers have not been able to agree on what exactly happened to the musician.
Someone who doubted the story was Evan Wright, a journalist and co-author of the biography of Jon Roberts, a former mobster affiliated with the New York Gambino family who in the 1980s became one of the first links to Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel with Miami and drug trafficking in the United States.
Roberts ended his criminal life as an informant for the US government and later became famous for his book American Desperado (2011), for which he recruited Wright’s pen with the mission of transforming his bombastic stories into literature.
The journalist fulfilled his task, but took it further, since he undertook the task of corroborating first-hand and with independent sources some of them, the most unusual, such as the Hendrix kidnapping.
Stone Free (Completely Free)
By the summer of 1969 Jimi Hendrix was on top of the world. Just a few weeks ago he had just had one of the most important concerts of his career, the legendary recital at Woodstock in which he immortalized a completely electric and eclectic version of The Star Spangled Banner, the United States national anthem.
He was the musician of the day and his status as guitar god was established. In those days he had scheduled a show in a new club in New York, the Salvation, which coincidentally was run by Roberts, his mob associate Andy Benfante, and another associate named Bradley Pierce, who was unluckily surprised by his fellow criminal connections when it was too late.
It was not an unusual arrangement, in those years the New York night scene was not only plagued by the most sought-after celebrities, but also by the control of the five mafia families and as we said before, Roberts by then was a “wiseguy” (clever boy) of the Gambinos.
“At the door we had movie stars, models and one of the Kennedys waiting to enter”Roberts recalls in his book.
“(My business partner) Andy was always a fun guy. He pulled me aside and said, ‘Jon, let’s put something in the punch. Let everyone go crazy at our party. So we put handfuls of Quaaludes in the punch. People used to call Quaaludes ‘leg openers’ because of the effects they had on women. Our party was amazing. People who had probably never been high in their lives were taking their clothes off.”
That night Roberts remembers that Hendrix tried to convince him to shoot speed together, but he refused because he was not a fan of injection drugs. Since then, Jimi has become a frequent visitor to the club, and although they never became close friends, Roberts says that he also received him on several occasions at his house.
Roberts writes in his book American Desperado: “After we met at Salvation, he came to our house on Fire Island so he could get away from it all. We made sure no one bothered him except his true friends. Jimi really liked (blues guitarist) Leslie West, and one night the two of them played in our living room all night. Jimi had to shoot speed on his arm to keep up with Leslie. That’s how good Leslie West was.”
“Hey Joe, where are you going with that gun in your hand?”
It was at the Salvation club where the kidnapping occurred. According to Roberts’ version, the musician had come to the club looking for some drugs when he ran into some guys who convinced him that they could get him some and ended up kidnapping him for the weekend.
“Jimi had people who would normally buy drugs from him. But he would sometimes get so sick that he would go into our clubs looking for drugs on his account.”Roberts recounts. “One night, two Italian guys from our club (not mafia but wannabe wiseguys) saw Jimi looking for drugs and decided, ‘Hey, that’s Jimi Hendrix. Let’s grab it and see what we can get.’”
The kidnappers weren’t very clever, but they managed to lure Hendrix out of town with the promise of getting him some dope. The story has some holes, since some versions contrasted by Evan Wright say that they tied the musician to a chair and forced him to inject heroin in order to keep him calm and not resist.
Roberts doesn’t quite agree with this. He wrote: “Please. No one would have had to force Jimi to inject anything. He just give him the heroin and he’ll inject it himself. It was Jimi going out looking for drugs that got him in trouble. Andy and I were the ones who helped him get out of it.”
Other versions say that the kidnappers wanted a record deal so they forced him to call his agent Michael Jeffrey to sign them. A third version says that Jeffrey actually played a more active role in the kidnapping, planning everything to be the one to rescue Hendrix and thus ensure the musician’s loyalty, and another version points to Roberts himself as the mastermind behind the kidnapping, but this we will comment later.
In any case, Jeffrey was contacted and he contacted Roberts, who along with his partner set out to take action on the matter.
“The next thing I knew, the club manager called me and told me that some Italians had taken Jimi from our club.” Roberts says.
Andy and I needed two or three phone calls to get the names of the children who kidnapped Jimi. We approached these children and made it clear to them: “Let Jimi go or you’re dead. Don’t hurt a single hair on your afro.”
After the warning, the kidnappers released Jimi, who was so drugged that he didn’t even notice the kidnapping. A week after what happened, the would-be wiseguys received an unforgettable beating from Roberts and his partner Andy.
The antihero and the connection with Pablo Escobar
When Wright began investigating the Hendrix kidnapping story on his own, he found that just a year after the musician’s death in 1970, members of his inner circle revealed that the musician had been kidnapped over a weekend shortly after playing at Woodstock. They pointed to a certain “John Riccobono” as one of the kidnappers.
John Riccobono was the name of Jon Roberts during his time as a member of the Gambino crime family in New York in the late 1960s, and what Wright ended up finding was not only evidence that his story was real, but also that he would have saved Hendrix. of death on more than one occasion.
Jimi apparently liked physical activity and on visits to the Roberts (then Riccobono) home he would try on water skis and take a spin powered by his host’s Donzi boat, albeit without much skill.
Roberts writes: “He almost drowned once. Jimi is out there, without a life jacket, and he falls off his skis. He is in the water spinning. I stop the boat and throw the rope to it. He’s floating half a meter from his hands, but he’s waving his arms like crazy. Suddenly I wonder if he knows how to swim. Andy has to jump into the water and swim the rope to him, because my God, If this guy dies while he’s with us, what a headache that would be.”.
So, as unusual as it sounds, this ex-mobster seems to be responsible for securing a couple more years of life for one of the most prodigious guitar-playing men in history.
But as the saying goes “no good deed goes unpunished” and Roberts’s “good samaritan” paid for his intervention to rescue Hendrix with a turning point in his career and his life that ended up bringing him closer to the most famous drug trafficker in the world, Pablo Escobar.
And it is that rescuing Hendrix not only brought him accusations that he was the one who orchestrated the kidnapping, but also drew the attention of the FBI to the criminal activities he conducted from the Salvation club.
According to Roberts, some people close to the musician contacted the feds during his time missing, and mentioned his name as a suspect.
“Even after it was returned safe and sound, the FBI started poking around our business. This later led to them linking Andy Benfante and myself to the murder of Robert Wood.”bill.
Because of the investigation into Wood’s death, Roberts was forced to leave New York and move to Miami where in the 1980s he was known as “the bearded gringo”. There he became the link in the United States of the Medellín Cartel.
At his height of power, in the mid-1980s, Roberts became one of the richest men in Miami. He came to have businesses throughout the city that served as a front to launder his money and that of his partners, he owned houses, luxury cars, helicopters, and shares in the Bank of Panama.
When he was finally arrested, US authorities estimated that “the bearded gringo” had introduced into the country more than 56 tons of cocaine valued at 2,300 million dollars.
And all that, his rise in the criminal world and his subsequent fall, was triggered, he wrote in American Desperado, after Jimi Hendrix was freed from kidnapping.
“Who knows? If it hadn’t been for saving Jimi Hendrix, maybe I never would have connected with the Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar in Miami and started in the cocaine smuggling business. Wherever you are Jimi, thank you.”
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