LONDON — When he was not being a string-shredding, amp-blasting guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix liked nothing better than to sit at home drinking tea and watching the British soap opera “Coronation Street.”
The musician’s former apartment — in a London building that links Handel’s “Messiah” and “Purple Haze” — opened to the public earlier this month. It captures a fertile period in the late 1960s when Hendrix was forging an international musical reputation, and immersing himself in the highs and lows of British culture.
“He was a bit shocked by the lack of restaurants and the standard of food,” remembered Kathy Etchingham, Hendrix’s girlfriend at the time. “We were only 20 years out from the Second World War.”
If you go
Handel & Hendrix
25 Brook St., Mayfair, London (closed Mondays)
But mostly, she said, “he embraced everything.”
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“He’d never had tea before he came here, but he had no choice. I trained him: Have a cup of tea, milk and two sugars.”
The apartment, restored to its multicolored 1960s glory, forms part of Handel & Hendrix in London, a museum devoted to two innovative musicians who were neighbors, two centuries apart.
Composer George Frideric Handel lived in an 18th-century house in London’s Mayfair area for 36 years until his death in 1759. In 1968, Hendrix and Etchingham rented an apartment above a restaurant next door, furnishing it with a red carpet and turquoise curtains from the John Lewis department store a few blocks away.
When he moved in, Hendrix didn’t know much about Handel — though, he said, “I dig a bit of Bach now and again.” He soon bought a copy of the composer’s “Messiah,” which nestled in his record collection alongside discs by Howlin’ Wolf, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and The Beatles.
“Music students used to come and knock on the door and say ‘George Frideric Handel, I’m a student of his music, can I have a look around?’” said Etchingham, a writer and former DJ. “So Jimi would show them around — they were completely oblivious to who Jimi was — and in the end they’d sit and have a cup of tea or a drink and chat about Handel.”
The bedroom where Hendrix spent most of his time — both sleeping and waking — has been carefully restored. Persian rugs layer the floor, Hendrix’s favorite Victorian shawl hangs above the bed, an acoustic guitar lies nearby, and a bottle of cheap-and-cheerful Mateus Rose wine sits close to hand.
“It’s like traveling in a time capsule back 45 years,” Etchingham said Monday. It looks suspiciously tidy for a rock star’s bedroom — but Etchingham says it’s accurate. Hendrix was a former U.S. Army soldier, and always made his bed.
Etchingham said the Mayfair apartment was the first home the couple didn’t have to share with others, and they saw it as a refuge from the world.
“This was the first place we’d had where we didn’t have to get dressed before we came out of the bedroom,” she said.
Seattle-born Hendrix had come to London in 1966 after being spotted by producer Chas Chandler playing in a New York bar. He formed his band the Jimi Hendrix Experience, released the acclaimed album “Are You Experienced?” and toured extensively, gaining fame for his innovative, heavily distorted guitar style.
Christian Lloyd, author of “Hendrix at Home,” said the guitarist had a seismic effect on the London music scene and British blues players like Eric Clapton.
“I think at first he sort of terrified people,” Lloyd said. “They’d learned the blues in their bedrooms, listening to records. He had met many of the old bluesmen. He was the living embodiment of a tradition. And he had the whole futuristic thing as well — he was going to take the blues into the space age.
“Other people wanted to better him or be as good as him, so it raised other people’s standards.”
Hendrix died of a drug overdose in a London hotel on Sept. 18, 1970, aged 27.
Etchingham said it was fitting there was now a permanent memorial in Britain, the country that helped make him a star.
“This is where the people took him seriously and to heart,” she said. “It was the people of this country who listened to him.”