If you’ve landed on this page via Google or the Ready Steady Gone menu, you probably already know something about Mike Jeffery. For the uninitiated, he was the man who introduced Jimi Hendrix to the world and turned him into one of the highest earning rock stars of the sixties.
This is your chance to find out the truth about a man who started with nothing, made millions and millions of pounds by fair means or foul and then died before reaching his fortieth birthday with an estate valued at zero. He was a man who was either loved or hated by those he came into contact with.
This is a lengthy tale – much too long for a single blog page. For this reason I’ve chosen to split his life into four chunks. This is the first.
Mike Jeffery, the man who once managed the Animals and Jimi Hendrix was a not a native northeasterner. Nor did he spend much time in the area during the period covered by this web site (1965 to 1972). The thing that links Mike Jeffery to the main theme of this site is, of course, the iconic club that he once owned in the north east – Newcastle’s Club A’Gogo, which was in existence between 1962 and 1968.
In the years immediately following the opening of the Club A’Gogo, Mike Jeffery’s career as a showbiz entrepreneur took off in a big way. In 1963 he became the manager of Newcastle band, The Animals who shot to international stardom, mainly on the strength of their 1964 international hit single – ‘House of the Rising Sun’. In 1966, (along with ex-Animals bassist Chas Chandler) he became the co-manager of Jimi Hendrix who, under Mike Jeffery’s wing, became the highest grossing rock star of the sixties.
Unlike some band managers such as Brian Epstein (The Beatles), Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis Presley) and Andrew Loog Oldham (The Rolling Stones), Mike Jeffery kept out of the limelight. He rarely appeared in photographs alongside the acts he managed and in the early days of The Animals and Jimi Hendrix he avoided interviews with the British music press (the Melody Maker and NME). Even back in the early to mid sixties when he owned the Club A’Gogo in Newcastle, the public face of the club’s management was not Mike Jeffery; it was his trusted employee (and great friend), Myer Thomas.
When Hendrix was found dead in London on 18th September 1970, Mike Jeffery’s name cropped up in some publications, mostly the Rolling Stone. But at this time the world wide web was decades away so even when he lost his own life in an air crash two and a half years later, Mike Jeffery’s name was still not widely known by the general public or even by people with a strong interest in rock music.
Since his passing, many books have been written about Jimi Hendrix – his life, his music and his death. In general, Hendrix’s biographers do not portray Mike Jeffery in a very favourable light. Some say that Hendrix died as a result of the pressures arising from Mike Jeffery’s management style and the way he was over-worked. It has also been written, both in books and on the internet that Jeffery was directly responsible for Hendrix’s death; either by arranging to have him killed or by committing the murder himself.
Was Michael Jeffery callous or even evil enough to put personal gain before the life of the man he was representing? There is no doubt that the personality of the popular, charismatic jazz-loving Mike Jeffery of the late-fifties changed over the next decade. But was this change drastic enough to warrant the reputation that is now associated with his name? What follows is an attempt to paint a balanced portrait of the man who brought great music to Newcastle and who introduced Jimi Hendrix to the rest of the world.
Before going into the historic facts about Mike Jeffery’s life, here’s a few varying opinions from some of the people who he came in contact with: –
First, Kathy Etchingham, a long time girlfriend of Jimi Hendrix, said; “I think Mike Jeffery has had a bad press, quite frankly. We used to go up to Mike Jeffery’s flat in Jermyn Street, me and Jimi. He had a wife called Jill. He used to have us in stitches. We were practically falling on the floor with laughter. He was so funny. Never, ever did he talk about, ‘You’ve got to do this, or you’ve got to do that’. He just used to tell amusing tales and everything. Yes, he did rip them off, but then lots of people ripped off bands in those days.”
Eric Burdon of The Animals described Mike Jeffery as being like a great white shark moving into the world of business and devouring everything in its path. But like a great white shark he had admirers. He charmed people into thinking he was a businessman who really understood his artists. In his book ‘I Used To Be An Animal But I’m All Right Now’ Burdon said: “He wore dark glasses, which he had on prescription but they were dark enough to be sunglasses. He always dressed in dark colours too, usually a pin-striped suit and old school tie. Jeffery at his best was like Peter Sellers playing a spiv. In those early days I thought he was wonderful.”
Conversely, Sharon Lawrence, journalist and author of the Hendrix biography ‘The Man, The Magic, The Truth’ said of Jeffery;’ “He was a power freak and he hurt many people beyond Hendrix”. After meeting Jeffery in 1969, Lawrence described him as a “twerp” and was perplexed because she failed to see in him the characteristic that many other people had described as “the famous Mike Jeffery charm”.
Chas Chandler, who was adamant that Mike Jeffery robbed him of his earnings as bass player with The Animals and the profits from their joint management of Jimi Hendrix, said of him: “He was a crook – there’s no question about that. Mike was the most immoral, amoral person you could ever meet. He was totally charming, great fun, and he would steal from my grandmother. But you’ve got to give the devil his due. He was very clever in terms of how he managed to get away with it and for fooling so many of us for so long.”
Trixie Sullivan, Mike Jeffery’s personal assistant for many years has a differing opinion of him: “He was really something special. He was an incredibly talented man and could see talent in other people. He was shy and always stood back, but he was one tough guy and bloody clever.”
As regards the success of Jimi Hendrix she said: “Chas (Chandler) was very essential for what he did for Jimi but without Mike it would have gone nowhere. Mike really was a clever negotiator and wheeler-dealer.” As for his integrity and allegations that he was systematically stealing from Hendrix: “I wouldn’t have worked for him for all those years if I’d thought anything like that was going on.”
Finally, film maker Joe Boyd who made a documentary in 1973 entitled ‘Jimi Hendrix’, described Mike Jeffery as follows: “He was a strange man, a bridge between eras. From owning a night club in Newcastle to managing The Animals to dealing with mind-blown stars like Hendrix and the post-Haight-Ashbury Eric Burdon was clearly a journey that had bewildered him.”
Frank Michael Jeffery was born at St Giles Hospital, Brunswick Square Peckham on 13th March 1933. His father Frank Albert Jeffery, registered the birth five weeks later at Camberwell Register Office. Frank Michael was the only child of Frank senior and his wife Alice both Post Office employees at Peckham Sorting Office. The family lived in an old terraced house at McKerrell Road, Peckham, South London. After the birth was registered, Frank junior’s middle name was used in favour of his first forename and thereafter he became known as Michael Frank Jeffery or just plain Mike Jeffery. The family later moved to a semi-detached house in Bosbury Road, Catford.
Mike Jeffery left school at the age of sixteen and went to work as a clerk for Mobil Oil who had offices in Bishopsgate, London, about four miles from his home. In 1951, when he turned eighteen, he was called up for National Service in the British army where he spent two years in the Educational Corps. After serving the statutory two years in National Service, Mike Jeffery chose not to return to civilian life and instead enlisted as a full-time soldier.
There are no publicly accessible records that shed any light on Mike Jeffery’s army career. It is widely believed that he served in the Intelligence Corps. Mike Jeffery was a gifted raconteur who told many people tales about his army life and his exploits as an undercover operative. Some think that his stories were fabricated or greatly exaggerated, not only to amuse his listeners but also to establish an image of himself as a tough person. Others believe the stories are true.
Apparently, Mike Jeffery did not share tales about his military adventures with his family. His father, Frank Jeffery, was interviewed around 1990 as part of the research into a Jimi Hendrix biography – ‘Electric Gypsy’ by Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek. Frank senior was non-committal about his son’s army life saying that he rarely spoke of what he did.
Eric Burdon tells a story about Mike Jeffery’s espionage-type exploits in his 1986 book ‘I Used To Be An Animal But I’m All Right Now’. Burdon claims to have been in Palma, Mallorca in October 1964 as a guest of Mike Jeffery who ran several clubs on the island. Burdon states that a large number of battleships from the US Seventh Fleet were docked at the port and the town was awash with American sailors. Burdon says that the reason for the American ‘invasion’ was that the US navy were there to recover a hydrogen bomb, which had been lost when an American B-52 bomber had crashed into the sea. Burdon’s story is that Mike, wearing a wet suit, snorkel and breathing apparatus, had swam out to the area where the US fleet was anchored and had set up some incendiary devices. Later, from the safety of the shore and in the presence of Burdon, he amused himself by detonating the explosives using a hand held device, which caused violent explosions near the warships.
In his book ‘Rock Roadie’, ex-Animals roadie, James “Tappy” Wright tells a similar story. In his version, the incident occurs sometime after March 1967 and it is Tappy and not Eric Burdon who is present when Mike Jeffery dons a wet suit and attaches explosives to the US warships; Jeffery’s alleged motive was that he didn’t like American sailors in his clubs. According to Tappy Wright, the explosions caused the US navy to weigh anchor and leave the Mediterranean.
So is there any truth in either of these incredible stories? What is known is that the United States did lose a hydrogen bomb off the coast of Spain when two US planes collided in mid air. Over thirty US warships were involved in the search and recovery of the bomb and at one point used the port at Palma as their base. The main thing that casts doubt upon the Burdon/Wright story is that the search for the bomb actually took place between January and March 1966 – not October 1964 or 1967! Burdon, whose account was published before Wright’s, may at some stage have heard the improbably story from Mike Jeffery’s lips and decided to include it in his book, adding his own presence to the tale to makes it a bit more believable.
Record producer, Malcolm Cecil knew Mike Jeffery in the late fifties when he was a jazz bassist and performed at several of Jeffery’s Newcastle clubs. At the time as he was a serving member of the Royal Air Force. Malcolm Cecil is firmly of the opinion that Mike Jeffery was a former member of the British Intelligence Service. This is what he said in a 2013 Red Bull lecture: –
“The whole experience in the Air Force on one level was very good and on another level was bad, because it was also in the Air Force, while I was up in Newcastle upon Tyne, that I met Michael Jeffery, who was to come back into my life many years later as Jimi Hendrix’s manager and the owner of Electric Lady Studios where I worked with Stevie (Wonder). He and I started a club called the Downbeat Club. On the same day that Ronnie Scott opened ‘Ronnie Scott’s’ in London, we opened the Downbeat in Newcastle-on-Tyne and I believe that club is still running. It turned out that Michael Jeffery was a high-ranking officer in the British secret service. I didn’t know it at the time. He did arrange for me to have a posting down to London because he knew I wanted to go down and play in the jazz clubs, but it was in exchange for me handing over to him my shares in the club…” [Malcolm Cecil was mistaken about the Downbeat still being open- it closed down in the early sixties.]
The most credible story I have heard about Mike Jeffery’s time in the army comes from a former friend and employee of his, Jenny Clarke (now Stewart). Jenny was very close to Mike Jeffery from around 1959 to 1962, a period following his time in the army and his course at Kings College. Mike Jeffery once told Jenny a story about his part in a covert operation involving the smuggling of a military figure out of communist run Yugoslavia and over the border to Trieste in Northern Italy. He told Jenny that during the operation he’d killed a Yugoslavian guard. He said that he regretted his action but it was either the guard’s life or his own. Jenny says that Mike Jeffery had hung on to a photograph of the guard’s family, which he’d removed from the man’s lifeless body.
Another story about Mike Jeffery’s military life whilst he was serving in the Suez goes as follows: Jeffery found out that in Cairo, which was off limits to soldiers, British newspapers were on sale that were only a few days old. He knew there would be a ready market back at base for these newspapers amongst troops anxious to get news from home. He is said to have made a tidy profit by illegally using military vehicles to get the papers from Cairo and then selling them at the base.
A Move To Newcastle
After leaving the army, Michael Jeffery moved to the north east in order to resume his academic education. For a while he studied languages and sociology at Kings College (now Newcastle University) as a mature student.
While he was at Kings College, Mike Jeffery’s interest in both modern and traditional jazz led him into establishing a jazz club. He opened the University Jazz Club at the Cordwainers Hall, Newcastle in 1957 with an initial target audience of students. The club, which was situated in a busy part of Newcastle well away from Kings College, was only nominally linked to the university. The University Jazz Club did rather well as a jazz venue with Mike Jeffery picking up the profits.
While he was studying at Kings College, Mike Jeffery crossed paths with a jazz musician who would later become a big part of his first major clubs in Newcastle. That person was bassist Tom Henderson who would later front his own band, the Tommy Henderson Quartet.
Tom Henderson recalls his first meeting with Mike Jeffery: –
“I first met Mike when he brought a judo team to do a display at a ‘Mr Gateshead’ contest I was running at my gym. I’m sure he was a black belt at judo. At the time he was at Newcastle University, Kings College as it was then, and he later dropped out to open the Marimba coffee bar with meals and music.”
In 1959 Mike Jeffery opened the Marimba Coffee House on High Bridge, Newcastle. He financed this venture jointly with another gentleman named Mr Capstaffe. As with the University Jazz Club, Mike Jeffery clearly had a student clientele in mind, at least as far as the daylight hours were concerned. He described the Marimba in his advertisements as ‘a rendezvous created for students by students’. By day it served Italian food and snacks at prices students could afford. However at night it became something different. Hoping to attract a late, late crowd similar to Ronnie Scott’s Club in London, nocturnally the Marimba became a private membership club with jazz being served up by some of the best musicians around. These included Tommy Henderson’s Latin American Group and others such as the Bernie Thorpe Trio and Mike Carr’s Emcee Four. Unofficially, the jazz sessions at the Marimba continued long after midnight.
At the time he was running the coffee house, Mike Jeffery started going out with Jenny Clarke (mentioned above) who was an employee at the Marimba. During their three year relationship, in which Jenny and Mike Jeffery shared accommodation at various addresses in Newcastle, Jenny recalls his love of both traditional and modern Jazz. She also remembers that when they lived in Jesmond, Newcastle he played both the guitar and an old harpsichord. He also had a passion for prestige cars and at various stages owned an Aston Martin, a Jenson Interceptor and a Morgan. After their relationship had cooled in 1962 when Jenny moved to London to train as a beautician (a course funded by Mike Jeffery), the couple remained friends until Mike Jeffery’s involvement with The Animals, which meant that he was no longer spending much time in the north east. In later years, after Mike Jeffery had struck gold with The Animals and Jimi Hendrix, he told an American girlfriend about his time with Jenny in Newcastle – “She was so loyal. When I had nothing she used to sleep with me on the floor.”
The Marimba was only open for a year or so before it closed due to a fire. About the Marimba Coffee House, Jenny says – “In the Marimba we used to have the modern jazz quartet [Emcee Four] fronted by the pianist Mike [Carr] play all night long. Great jam sessions. The Latin American stuff came later, up on the second floor. Later it was certainly all about the money – hence the Club a’Gogo. I still believe the fire at the Marimba was organised, or started by Mike to finance the Club [a’Gogo]”
Eric Burdon of The Animals is of the same opinion about the Marimba fire. This is what he says in his book ‘I Used To Be An Animal But I’m All Right Now’: –
“One day a strange thing happened to the Marimba. It had been open about a year. It had a better reputation than the Downbeat and didn’t get raided by the police so much but perhaps because of the Latin connotation it did less business, unless there was a guest star like Ronnie Scott. One wintry Sunday afternoon I decided to take a walk through the city for some fresh air. My route took me through the back alley that led to the Marimba. Smoke was pouring from the basement. The club was engulfed with flames. Within minutes the fire brigade had their hoses the length of the back alley, trying to save the Marimba from destruction. There was an investigation into the fire and the newspapers said the fault lay with the electrical wiring in the basement.”
Eric Burdon has said that his father, who was an electrician, wired out the basement shortly before the fire. Mr Burdon senior was adamant that there was nothing wrong with the wiring and that Mike Jeffery deliberately started the fire for the insurance money.
Mike Jeffery subsequently received a huge pay-out from the insurance company, which according to Eric Burdon he used to finance the opening of the Club A’Gogo in 1962.
Mike Jeffery’s other Newcastle venue at the beginning of the sixties was the Downbeat, a licensed club, which he opened jointly in March 1960 with Malcolm Cecil, a jazz bassist and two other associates. The Downbeat, which was a lot larger than the Marimba, was situated in an old former school building in Carliol Square, Newcastle.
For a few months before the fire at the Marimba, Mike Carr’s Emcee Four had played the early sessions there and had then finished off the night at the Downbeat, playing through into the early hours. After the fire, they continued to play at the Downbeat. By this time they had been joined by Mike Carr’s brother, Ian Carr and were renamed the EmCee Five. Ian Carr described the atmosphere at the Downbeat as follows: “It was always packed with young men and women, electric with expectation, both musical and perhaps sexual. It was a heady mix.”
Mike Jeffery’s main competitor in Newcastle as far as jazz venues went was the New Orleans Club. The New Orleans catered mainly for a hardcore crowd of traditional jazz fans and, unlike the Downbeat, didn’t have a dance floor. Mike Jeffery’s Downbeat club, which featured more mainstream and modern jazz began to attract the New Orleans patrons plus a more fashionable clientele with a younger element that wanted to dance to the music.
A few months after the Downbeat opened there were signs that Mike Jeffery intended to move away from jazz and cater more for an increasing number of rhythm and blues fans. In an interview with the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Jeffery suggested that he would be introducing a blues night at the Downbeat featuring an R&B band consisting of guitars, piano and tenor sax. Around the same time, he introduced Saturday afternoon record sessions for teenagers at the club. However, for a while, he kept jazz alive at the Downbeat by booking London based jazz outfits, the first time bands from the capital had played at jazz clubs in the city.
Over the next couple of years, Mike Jeffery’s vision of the Downbeat as a rhythm and Blues venue came to fruition. Jazz was phased out and rhythm and blues, blues and rock & roll bands took over from the jazzers. Amongst the new wave of bands was the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo who would later become The Animals, a major milestone in Mike Jeffery’s career.
In 1962, probably using the Marimba insurance pay-out, Mike Jeffery opened the Club A’Gogo in collaboration with another local entrepreneur called Ray Grehan. The Club A’Gogo was situated in a building on Percy Street in Newcastle’s Haymarket area above the Handyside Arcade, another well known land mark of that era.
When the Club A’Gogo first opened, Mike Jeffery booked a lot of the same bands and musicians that had played at the Marimba and were, at the time, still performing at the Downbeat; bands such as the Emcee 5, the Invaders, Tommy Henderson and the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo.
As with his other club – the Downbeat, which had an unlicensed session for teenagers under the legal drinking age, Mike Jeffery continued his policy of catering for both younger and older clientele by splitting the Club A’Gogo into two discrete venues. The club consisted of two rooms; the licensed “Jazz Lounge” and the unlicensed “Latin American Lounge” (later to be renamed the “Young Set”). Initially, the Jazz Lounge was true to its name and featured mainly jazz acts. However, as with the Downbeat, jazz was being phased out, paving the way for touring American blues artist like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. Gradually, the club would change to accommodate some of the great British groups that were emerging in the early sixties.
The Club A’Gogo became the number one club in Newcastle for live bands and dancing. During its heyday from 1963 to 1966 it attracted some of the best touring and chart bands of the day – the Rolling Stones, The Who, the Yardbirds, Georgie Fame, the Move, Pink Floyd, Wilson Picket, Mary Wells, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and many, many more played there. One musician who played at the Club A’Gogo’s in a resident band in the early days, Dougie Vickers, the drummer with the Invaders described how sometimes “the queue to get into the club stretched from the doorway in Percy Street around the corner to St James Park”.
The Club A’Gogo should have been a goldmine for Mike Jeffery – but was it? His close friend Jenny Clarke said of the club’s early days: “There was always plenty of money but the club was run very badly. If it had been run as a business someone could have made a lot of money out of it. But it wasn’t about money. That just didn’t come into it. All the takings would be spent the next day. Mike liked his Morgans and Aston Martins.”
There were some rough people in Newcastle‘s pubs and clubs in the sixties and the Club A’Gogo was no exception. John Lee Hooker, who having lived in the ghettos of Detroit and was no stranger to violence, said of his visit to the Club A’Gogo: “I ain’t gonna play here no more. They were fighting like dogs! Little kids carryin’ knives an’ all the rest of it. . . shit. Oh boy, it was rough. Everybody say, ‘Hey man, this ain’t nothin’, they fight here all the time.’ I say, ‘Yes, ’n I be in the middle of it!’ John Lee Hooker’s account is undoubtedly exaggerated but Mike Jeffery knew that uncontrolled violence in his clubs would not only be a threat to his license but it would also eventually affect his door takings. He made sure that he employed the toughest people around so that any outbreaks of unruly behavior could be dealt with swiftly and effectively.
In 1963, the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo became the resident band in the Jazz Lounge and continued the residency throughout the summer and autumn of that year. Although at that stage Mike Jeffery was not yet managing the band, he was their main employer, providing them with regular work at both the Club A’Gogo and the Downbeat. Mike Jeffery organised and financed a recording session on 15th September 1963 for the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo at a studio in Wylam, Northumberland called Graphic Sound. This resulted in a twelve inch, one-sided four track record entitled ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You”, commonly known as the ‘Graphic Sound EP’. By the time of the recording session the musicians in the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo were the same musicians who would become The Animals – Eric Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (organ), Hilton Valentine (guitar), Chas Chandler (bass) and John Steel (drums).
One of the country’s best touring rhythm and blues bands at this time was the Graham Bond Organisation, featuring an extraordinary musician – Graham Bond who played both Hammond organ and alto saxophone, sometimes simultaneously. Graham Bond had seen the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo at the Club A‘Gogo when his band had played there. He had even jammed with them on a couple of occasions. Bond began spreading the word about the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo in London. Before long, Ronan O’Rahilly, who owned the Scene Club in London and managed a couple of bands sent a representative up to Newcastle to check them out. Drummer John Steel has stated that Mike Jeffery talked to this representative and shortly after produced a contract for the band to sign, making him their manager.
Mike Jeffery’s career as a talent scout and successful band manager had begun.