TAMPA — Chase Corley played violin as a teenager in Los Angeles.
Then he heard Jimi Hendrix.
“Suddenly, there wasn’t a day when I didn’t listen to him," said Corley, 23. “It got to the point that listening wasn’t enough. I wanted to play his music, too.”
For his 17th birthday, Corley’s parents gave him a Fender Stratocaster guitar, the same model Hendrix played. Musically, he never looked back.
Corley later enrolled in the University of Tampa and founded the school’s Guitar Club, where he and others often jammed on Hendrix tunes.
Earlier this year, Corley learned that Hendrix had played across the Hillsborough River from campus at the old Curtis Hixon Hall — not once, but twice during 1968. Corley decided that the appearances deserved to be commemorated.
So he mounted a campaign to place an official historical marker at the site, now Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on the Tampa Riverwalk. He succeeded, and the dedication is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday — the 51st anniversary of the second of the Hendrix Tampa shows.
“Why does Jimi Hendrix deserve a marker?” said Corley, who gradated from UT last year with a bachelor’s degree in international business finance. “He is one of the most influential musicians and guitarists of the 20th century.”
More than 150 historical markers are scattered around Hillsborough County, all approved by the County Commission. Green in color, they are approved and maintained by the Hillsborough County Historical Advisory Council and paid for by the applicant.
The UT Guitar Club kicked in most of the $2,500 cost of the Hendrix marker.
Some county markers recognize historic structures, such as downtown Tampa’s Sacred Heart Church and the Old Lutz Elementary School. Others commemorate events, like the one at the old Plant Field — now the UT campus — where Babe Ruth smacked the longest home run of his career during a pre-season game.
Another, on the corner on N Franklin Street and E Fortune Street, recalls how Billy Graham launched his worldwide Christian crusade from the downtown neighborhood. Still another memorializes the long-gone African-American entertainment district of Central Avenue and the entertainers who performed there — Ray Charles, James Brown, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Nate and Cannonball Adderly, and others.
The Jimi Hendrix marker is the first to honor an individual musician.
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Elvis Presley and David Bowie also performed at 7,000-seat Curtis Hixon Hall. Janis Joplin was arrested there for obscenity 50 years ago. Their fans could have pushed for a historical marker, too, like Corley did, said Jennifer Dietz, chairwoman of the Historical Advisory Council.
“But this was the first that found funding,” she said.
The marker’s language will be made public at the unveiling Saturday. The application suggested it includes this phrase extolling Hendrix: “His legacy, dedication, and passion for music transcends all boundaries and brings people from all walks of life together.”
Those who attended the’ two sold-out Tampa shows might think otherwise.
One critic wrote that the first performance on Aug. 18, 1968, “never really seemed to excite the crowd.”
During the November show, Hendrix turned his back on the audience and raised his middle finger in anger.
“What motivated Hendrix’ unorthodox behavior?” reads a newspaper report from the time. “He told the policeman who escorted him to the car the audience was bad and just wouldn’t react."
Hendrix died two years later of a drug overdose.
Still, said Corley, who now works writing insurance audits, rock guitarists cite Hendrix as their inspiration.
“I think everyone can relate to his message,” Corley said. "He wanted people to love others and be themselves. When you listen to his music, you can tell that message was authentic.
“He played here and that makes him part of downtown Tampa’s rich history. That needs to be remembered.”