He is one of those expats you will not overlook, when he walks by on the street or when he becomes Jimi Hendrix on stage. Jim Hawkins, a 68-year-old from Hull, Yorkshire (England) might be a pensioner, but that does not mean he will put his feet on the table and watch “Game of Thrones”. Apart from taking his daily 10 kilometer walk, he does video editing on a professional level. Also, he is a bass player and vocalist. At the same time, he and his wife Trish love the quietude of fishing.
Jim’s musical career peaked in the 1980-s, some 30 years before he moved to Bulgaria. With his Jimi Hendrix tribute band “Nine Play Hendrix”, he toured France, Italy, The Netherlands and Germany. At that time, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were stationed in Germany. They loved those gigs. We spoke to Jim in the center of Sofia, on a lovely Thursday afternoon.
Foreigners & Friends (F&F): How was the reception at those American barracks, back then?
Jim Hawkins: Oh, it was incredible. There wasn’t a great deal going on in terms of music in the 80-s. Jimi Hendrix was still well known around the world, especially in Western Europe. That is because he started off in England and played everywhere in Europe, for two years. To have a Jimi Hendrix tribute band, which is what we were, was of great interest. There were all kinds of tribute bands, but none of them would do Hendrix. And you had to be good to play his music.
F&F: Why Hendrix? Because you already were a big fan?
Jim Hawkins: I was brought up on Jimi Hendrix music. I was 18 years old when he came to play in England in 1966. I was into Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and the Blues scene. When Hendrix came, he knocked me off my feet. Hendrix brought a completely new dimension to Rock music.
F&F: Was it Hendrix exclusively, or would you hide some tunes by other artists in your performance playlists?
Jim Hawkins: It was Hendrix. We tried to play him in exactly the same way he would perform live. We knew the beginning and end of the song. Anything could happen in between. That depended on the audience and it depended on who we were, but, in most cases, we sort of jammed a lot, which is what Hendrix did.
F&F: Here we are, in Sofia. It’s like 30 to 40 years later. You moved to Bulgaria in 2008 and you had a Hendrix tribute band down here, called Purple Haze. How did Bulgarian audiences react? Were they as enthusiastic as the American soldiers, three to four decades before?
Jim Hawkins: I was lucky to find a guitarist in Bulgaria, who could play like Hendrix, even though he has kind of Heavy Metal roots. Well, he had a harder edge. Regarding the Bulgarian audience, the purists among them, the people who knew a lot about Jimi Hendrix, they reacted that way. In general, Hendrix was new to most people in our shows.
F&F: Well, you did some great gigs in Bulgaria. And there was one gig, which stuck out. It happened between Alexandar Nevski Cathedral and the parliament building, during the protests in 2013.
Jim Hawkins: There were two opportunities of this kind. On one occasion, we played on the steps outside the old communist meeting house. The organizers thought it would be a good idea to have an Englishman sing American songs. It worked very well. The bigger gig was next to the cathedral. There must have been 5,000 people there. It was great.
F&F: Today, you don’t play Hendrix anymore. Why is that?
Jim Hawkins: The band was good, but we could not find the people to organize it for us. At some point I felt we were wasting our time, also since we did not have the kind of budget to keep on playing virtually for nothing in Bulgaria. I did not see the point in playing for peanuts.
F&F: Well, you have lots of other things to do, such as video editing and fishing, which is pretty much the opposite of Hendrix, because of the quietude. Where do you fish?
Jim Hawkins: My wife and I, we like to get out of Sofia, to relax. We used to live in Vidin, close by the river Danube. When we came to Sofia, we decided to look around and find some nice place. So, we found very nice lakes where the quality of the fishing, the scenery and the ambience was absolutely perfect. This lake we go to is close to the village of Klisuritsa, just north of Montana. We go there about every two weeks.
F&F: Is this about quietude or do you listen to some Hendrix up there?
Jim Hawkins: We like silence.
F&F: Good. We will stick to the title “Purple Haze at the Fishing Lake” anyway. Let’s talk about your decision to come to Bulgaria. What made you move here?
Jim Hawkins: Back then, we travelled a lot and thought Bulgaria would be a good place as a base, basically. The reason we chose Vidin at first is that it is located right in the center of the Balkans. We liked it. Also, from my point of view, as a pensioner, we can have a very good life here. It’s half the cost, compared to England. And the weather is good.
F&F: Definitely. Thank you so much, Jim. We will see you at the place where you still jam on stage at times, the Delta Blues Bar in Sofia.
By Imanuel Marcus