On the second-floor office of his Davenport home, Leslie Bell pulls open a filing cabinet and hand-picks a folder with a title written in funky letters, “Hendrix Text.”
On his wooden table with colored pencils nearby, Bell fans out several news clippings related to Jimi Hendrix's Aug. 11, 1968, concert at The Col Ballroom in Davenport.
He points to one, a Quad-City Times article from 10 years ago, complete with a large black-and-white photo of the iconic musician on The Col stage.
“That was for the 40th anniversary,” Bell said, unfolding the top of the page to look for a date.
Below the bolded words, “Hendrix was here,” there’s a photo of a man holding the poster created for that show, which is today regarded as a milestone in Quad-City music history.
“And that’s me and the poster,” Bell said.
This August will mark 50 years since Hendrix played to a crowd of about 1,500 people in downtown Davenport in 1968, less than two years before his death. It will also mark 50 years since Bell, a sophomore art student at St. Ambrose University at the time, pulled two all-nighters to create the concert’s poster.
Down the stairs at his dining room table, Bell takes out “the poster.” He has made a lot of posters since 1968, but this one in particular brings back a lot of memories.
A poster was 'everything'
Bell, a native of Washington, D.C., was 18, maybe 19, when he heard Hendrix was coming to Davenport. He was a musician who had recently gotten into poster-making and was tasked — with less than a week’s notice — with designing the poster for Hendrix’s gig at The Col.
He had a feeling that this poster — and this concert — would be important, partially because it was the main form of getting the show’s details out there.
“Being in a band and around musicians, I knew that you had to have the poster,” Bell said. “At that time, it was everything. It was a website, email newsletter and an ad in the newspaper that no musician could afford.”
In his dorm room with a dip pen, Bell drew Hendrix’s face, ripe with psychedelic-like details, at the top and the stars and universe around him.
“I wanted to give him a God-like image,” he said. “It was like he was monumental.”
As Bell tells it, Hendrix didn’t see the image as all that flattering.
A few hours before the show, Bell and Hendrix crossed paths walking across the floor of The Col. Bell introduced himself as the guy who made the poster.
“Why’d you make me look so ugly, man?”
Bell wanted the poster to be more than just something pretty to look at.
Bell wrote "Death to Convention" in the lower left of the poster and "Coliseum" as well as the date and time of the concert in cursive letters on the right. Bell also snuck in the names of friends — Jan and Jody, for example — in scribbly letters.
His use of red, white and blue, Bell said, was “ironic.”
“The American flag as an American image was in tatters at the time,” Bell said. “There was this war going on that a lot of people, myself included, didn’t believe in.”
He and his brothers were drafted for the Vietnam War, but they didn’t go.
Looking back at the poster one day last week, Bell, who retired in 2013 from teaching at St. Ambrose, said the political commentary is part of what makes it such a memorable work.
“It’s really a handsome relic of the day it was created in,” Bell said. “I’m proud of having done it. I don’t see any other posters like it.”
Jimi Hendrix collectors have noticed. In 1993, Bell sold his original poster, of which probably 200 were made and very few remain, to a collector for $5,000. He also sold his original drawings. He used some of the money to pay for a three-week European honeymoon with his wife, which Bell says, was “very worth it.”
Wolfgang’s Vault, a company that sells music and concert memorabilia, has reprints available of the poster online for $55.
‘I was there’
When Bell reminisces about making this poster, he also remembers details of the “once-in-a-lifetime” experience of seeing Hendrix play live.
“Anybody that went to that concert could tell you about it,” he said. “It’s like, ‘I was there,’ and I’m beaming with pride about it, because it's very rare."
As Bell tells it, Hendrix was at the height of his career and his concert here was the talk of the town, at least for the “counterculture crowd."
“Hendrix being here was a big deal for the hipster crowd,” Bell said. “People came from Iowa City and Chicago. It was a huge moment.”
He remembers paying $3.50 for the concert, which also included sets by the Night People, a Quad-City band known then as the Pre-War Movement, along with The Soft Machine. He remembers dressing up in green velvet bell bottoms and a white shirt he drew animals on. His hair, which he grew out past his shoulders, was “a decoration, too.”
“If you remember something from 50 years ago that vividly, it was probably pretty special,” Bell said.
And as the 50th anniversary approaches, Bell says it’s a moment the Quad-Cities music community should be proud of. Or, at least, be aware of.
“You ask people, ‘Are you old enough to have been to the Hendrix concert at The Col?’ Bell said. “And sometimes they look at you like, ‘What, that happened here?’ It was like this blip on the radar. It came and went."