50 years after his death, Jimi’s mysterious muse from Sweden speaks.
by Ben Valkhoff
For decades, fans have wondered who the girl was Jimi wrote ‘Angel’ for, and who is also mentioned in the song ‘1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)’ from the Electric Ladyland album. All this time we were unable to locate her, but last year she found us.
Our story begins in Switzerland. Marcel Aeby, frontman of Hendrix tribute band More Experience (and owner of the website monsterkonzert.blogspot.com), told me in October of 2019 that a woman from Gothenburg called Catharina had contacted him. She told him she was the girl standing next to Jimi in one of the photos on his website, taken outside the Hallenstadion in Zürich on 31 May 1968. Presumably, she was the famous Catharina Jimi was in love with in 1968. I got in touch with her immediately.
After 50 years of staying out of the limelight, she agreed to share her memories. What follows is the result of many hours of interviews, in which she tells the love story of her and Jimi.
In September 1967, the Jimi Hendrix Experience undertake a second tour of Sweden, starting on 3 September in Gothenburg, and ending on 12 September in the same city. They play 2 shows on the last date at the Lisebergs Nöjespark in front of 10,000 people. After the concert, the group returns to their place of residence, the posh Park Avenue Hotel.
The next morning the group are awoken by room service.
Catharina, then 21 years old: “I was working as a maid at the Park Avenue Hotel doing room service. There was a list on the wall of my floor which had Jimi’s name on it, so he was one of the guests I was supposed to attend to. I knew who he was, as ‘Hey Joe’ was a big hit in Sweden. He had ordered breakfast through the reception. When his tray came up in the small elevator, I went to serve him his breakfast. When I entered the room, Jimi was already dressed and sitting on the bed. I don’t remember if he said something more than ‘thanks’ when he got his tray, but I remember he was looking at me in the corridor as I was walking away. It was that classic scene, where the man is looking at the girl walking away, hoping she will return his look. I did! Our eyes locked and we both smiled.
Mitch and Noel shared a double room, and when I brought them their breakfast, they were still in bed. One of them pulled back the sheets and said something childish, you know, like: ‘Come and jump into our bed!’ They were making fun, like two small boys.
When I got back later to get the trays, Jimi was standing in the doorway, waiting for me. He looked at me, both of us a little shy, and he started talking to me. About the weather, I don’t know. He gave me a slip of paper with his London address (43 Upper Berkeley Street, London W1). He asked me if I wanted to write to him. I did after some time, but I got no reply.”
Four months later, the Experience are on a third, short tour of Sweden and Denmark. The group arrives on 3 January in Gothenburg. After checking into the Opalen hotel, they go clubbing in the city. When they return to the hotel at two in the morning, at a certain point, Jimi gets very upset with someone in the entourage. Mitch takes Hendrix into his room, but there Jimi starts to smash things up. Eventually, Jimi is arrested and taken to the hospital, where his right hand needs treatment. He is ordered to stay in Sweden until he is heard in court.
The next night, the Experience play two shows at the Lorensberg Cirkus in Gothenburg.
Catharina: “I decided to look for Jimi after the concert, together with a colleague from work. We went straight to the backstage entrance and left a little note with one of the security people for Jimi: ‘If you want to see me, I’m on the other side of the door.’ Soon, the door opened wide, and we were let in. There was a crowd of people, and there sat Jimi, with his poor (right) hand in a bandage. I was totally unaware of what had happened the night before at the hotel.
Afterwards, Jimi, Gerry Stickells, my colleague and me, we drove out to the Esso Motor Hotel. When we arrived, Jimi and I went to his room. This was our first night together, and the whole evening we held hands and both of us quite shy, we talked about this and that. It was a bit tentative, but something was certainly brewing between us.
Gerry – that dear sweet man – later said they had to sleep on bunk beds, but that is not true, or even share the same room. A very friendly, kind and pleasant person who I have warm memories of.”
The next day, the tour continues: Sandviken, Copenhagen, and the last date on 8 January at the Konserhuset in Stockholm. When Jimi and manager Chas Chandler return to Gothenburg the next day, they are are questioned for several hours regarding the ‘Hotel Opalen’ incident. Jimi testifies that he had only drunk three beers and two whiskies in all, and was convinced that his drinks were spiked. He immediately admits his guilt to the charges and offers to pay for all damages. Jimi isn’t allowed to leave Gothenburg and is obliged to report each day, at 14:00 hours, to the Report Room at the police station in Gothenburg.
Due to the extremely cold weather, Gothenburg’s Torslanda Airport is closed. Instead of flying, Noel, Mitch, Neville Chesters, Chas Chandler and his wife Lotta, return to England by boat at 16:30. Jimi has to stay in Gothenburg, and continues his stay at the Esso Motor Hotel, where Gerry Stickells will keep him company until Jimi is allowed to leave the country.
Catharina: “At the time I was still working at the Park Avenue hotel. For the next seven days I would drive out to see him at his hotel every day after work, until his court case came up on the 16th. I would go home, shower, change clothes, and drive up to his hotel. I would tell him: ‘Tomorrow I will be by your side again. I come back tomorrow for afternoon tea.’
My friend Monica came with me, as she and Gerry had fallen for each other. They disappeared to his room, although all four of us did spend some time together. I think we had tea when we arrived, as there was a small café there.
During that week we got to know each other ‘properly,’ and it became serious. Gosh, we were so young. I was only 21 and Jimi was 25 years old. He told me a great deal about himself (and I told him a great deal about me). Apparently, he was very close to his father (his mother, half Indian, part Cherokee, had abandoned him early if I recall correctly). We also talked about the war in Vietnam, and that he had spent time in the Air Force, but that he'd hurt himself and had to quit his flying. Of course, we also talked about his music. I remember a little story about how he, early on in his career, played with Little Richard. He was told to change his clothes, because no one besides ‘Mr. Richard’ was allowed to make an impression on stage. He proudly showed me a copy of his first album (which he gave me). I wonder if he really understood what a completely unique genius he was at that time? There was absolutely nothing ‘cocky’ about him, he was very humble.
When he was in Copenhagen, he called me. He was lyrical about this Swedish jazz-influenced duo called Hansson & Karlsson. He was very happy he met and played with them. ‘The best thing Sweden has to offer!’ It wasn't his genius musicianship that I fell for, but his warm, caring hands that touched me so gently, his expressive brown eyes shining, sometimes with sadness, mirroring the beautiful person that he was, the white fur coat that he spread out on the floor for us... Apart from the record, he also gave me a big, beautiful Hermes scarf, blue, with horses on it. I gave him my necklace – a long, thin gold chain with a heart attached.”
On the day before his court case, Jimi is interviewed by Börge Äng for a front page article in GT (Göteborgstidningen), headlined: “Jimi is not afraid: ‘I’ve got Katarina!’”
Pop idol Jimi Hendrix will appear before the court in Gothenburg today. Charged with causing damage at a hotel. His hand is still seriously injured after the wild outburst at the hotel. “I've done wrong. I'm ready to accept my sentence. But I'm not worried. I’ve met Katarina. My first real girlfriend. A 21-year old girl from Gothenburg,” he told GT yesterday.
GT met Jimi Hendrix at a motel outside Gothenburg. In his room, there was a TV set, a radio, and a record player. He sat on the bed with legs crossed, his white fur coat draped over his feet.
Jimi Hendrix was very secretive regarding his Swedish girlfriend. All he says is that she has blonde, shoulder-length hair. But he doesn't even want to reveal her first name, but word gets out anyway. And it’s confirmed by Hendrix eventually. Katarina. We ask him what he’s been doing during the enforced stay in Gothenburg. He replies: “I have written a few songs.”
And he shows us a notepad with several pages covered in handwriting. In the first lyric, or rather, romantic poem, the name Katarina appears. Translated, the first lines read:
“An angel came down from heaven yesterday
She stayed with me long enough for afternoon tea
And she told me a story yesterday
A story about the love between the moon and the deep blue sea.”
‘Hooray, I awake from yesterday,
alive, but the war is here to stay,
So my love, Catherina and me, decide
to take our last walk to the sea...’
When the journalists came, they must have noticed my name in the lyrics.
My teenage brother was so ashamed when that front page article appeared in the GT. My parents too, they didn’t like it at all.”
The next day Jimi appears in court for his trial. The court sentences him to 80 daily fines of 40 crowns. In addition, the travel ban is lifted. Jimi leaves the City Hall after signing a check for the remaining of the fines (he had already deposited 8,000 crowns at the hotel).
Catharina: “I was unable to see him in court as I had to work, but I did visit him that evening as I had done the previous week. We said farewell the next morning, and as I went to work, Jimi left for the airport to return to London.”
At the end of January, the Experience fly to the USA for a three month tour of the States. While on tour, Jimi phones Catharina regularly.
Catharina: “I still lived at my parents’ house, and he called me there two, three times a week while on tour in America, from different places, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City. I would go to my parents’ bedroom and sneak into a wardrobe as I wanted to talk in private. Jimi also sent me letters and postcards. One was a big, long letter filled with his squiggly handwriting which said: ‘I love you, I love you, I love you...’ page up and down, on both sides of the paper. A postcard of the Golden Gate bridge read: ‘I wish you were here with me.’”
Jimi was still very much smitten by Catharina in March 1968. On 22 March the Experience play a show at the Ηorace Bushnell Memorial Hall, in Hartford, Connecticut. He notes in his diary: “I had a beautiful diary I kept while we were in Sweden – and of course I lost it. Hmmm... I wonder what Catherina is doing now. I must call her soon, before she goes to Switzerland. She’s the only thing I have to hold on to that’s real. Better call her soon.” And the next day in Buffalo, New York, he writes: “Played show – Great. Girls came round. Oh no – must think of Catherina and write my songs. Goodnight everyone.” Three days later in Cleveland, he tells Jane Scott of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Love? I know a girl. Katerina. In Sweden.”
Two months later, a two-day festival is held on 30 and 31 May 1968, at the Hallenstadion in Zürich, Switzerland. Both days the performing acts include The Anselmo Trend, The Koobas, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Traffic, Eric Burdon & The New Animals, The Move, and Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Catharina: “In April I moved to Luzern, Switzerland, to work at a luxurious hotel as a kitchen maid. By that time I had my hair cut shorter, which I regretted immediately. I was the only female in the huge kitchen with boys and men. It was hard work and it was almost impossible to understand the language, ‘Schweizerdeutsch.’ The hotel had very strong rules. Work started at five o’clock in the morning and sometimes I was wakened with a flashlight in my face by the man from reception. One day, I saw a poster announcing a ‘Monsterkonzert’ at the Hallenstadion in Zürich, where Jimi would play. I decided to go there, but didn’t tell Jimi, as I wanted to surprise him.
On the first day of the festival, wearing a sweet and innocent, brown dress with white spots and a bright lilac coat, I stepped on a train destined for Zürich. I was very excited. Stupidly, I thought I could just go to Hallenstadion and ask to see Jimi. A gigantic building. Crash barriers. Police. Guards. More policemen. Despite my friendly questions and stating that ‘I know him...’, I was driven off, turned away, no matter which direction I turned. I started to cry, but a guardian angel came to the rescue. A journalist removed his press bracelet and attached it around my wrist. I met some young people with instruments who gave me the name of the accommodation, where all the artists stayed. I took a tram, and settled myself in the foyer of the Hotel Stoller, and waited. After the concert, the musicians appeared at the hotel. Eric Burdon was there, John Mayall too. Everywhere I looked familiar, famous faces. I sat there alone, nobody really noticed me. Then... A pair of happy, shining eyes and a huge smile! A warm embrace. We ate something and then went to Jimi’s room.”
At the beginning of May, Jimi recorded ‘Voodoo Chile’ at the Record Plant in New York, accompanied by Mitch Mitchell on drums, Steve Winwood on organ, and Jack Casady of the Jefferson Airplane on bass.
On the second day of the festival in Zürich, Jimi gets another chance to jam with Winwood. At 17:00 in the afternoon, Jimi jams with Winwood (organ), Chris Wood (flute), Trevor Burton (drums), Carl Wayne (congas), and Vic Briggs at the Hallenstadion. Chris Wood records the jam (reported to have lasted between 90 and 120 minutes) on a portable Philips cassette recorder, but the tape never surfaced.
Catharina: “The following day – to Hallenstadion for a jam session! And it was long (around four hours, at least), and in retrospect this was of course an absolutely fantastic experience. I stood and watched and listened, but at the time I didn't understand what an event this really was. It seemed to me that everyone was more or less fully engaged in what they played, and what others played, and what they played together (especially Jimi). I clearly recall that Jimi asked me to fetch the ‘wah-wah pedal’. I had never heard of such a thing, so I had no idea what he was talking about. He finally got his wah-wah pedal, after he explained to me.
During the whole concert I was standing at the far back of the stage together with girlfriends and other people. After the show it was time to party. We took a taxi, with John Mayall on my left and Jimi on my right, to a house outside Zürich.
When we finally arrived, there were a lot of people, together in a big room, and most of them sat on the floor or mingled. I suppose there was loud music too. I was sitting in a circle on the floor, and aside from Jimi only one other person showed any interest in ‘little me’ and sat down to talk – Steve Winwood – a very nice young man. It was a bit cloudy in the room, as the pipe went around, but I declined and let it pass on. As a result of the pipe smoking, Jimi became giggly, which made me feel uneasy.
Above: Jimi talks to Swiss fans before going onstage at the Hallenstadion. On the left, behind Jimi: Catharina.
Above: Catharina watches on, wearing Jimi’s coat. On the far left: drummer Jon Hiseman. On the right, with black T-shirt: Experience roadie Eric Barrett.
Back to the hotel, and the last night. I feel a bit sad now as I’m thinking about it. We said goodbye the next morning. The magic from our time together in Gothenburg was still there, but maybe the sparkle had worn off somewhat? Was it me? Was it Jimi? Maybe our worlds were too different? We never said a bad word to each other, and the warmth was there.
In the fall of 1968, I returned to Sweden, and started nursing school. Occasionally, I read about Jimi in the news, but we didn't meet again until two years later.
In the summer of 1970, I read in the paper that Jimi was to perform in Gothenburg on the first of September. On that day I phoned the Esso Motor Hotel (I assumed he would be staying there), and spoke with Gerry Stickells. He said: ‘Take a cab and get over here!’
Following directions from Gerry, I went with two friends straight to the stage exit at Liseberg, and there we asked a guard to call on Gerry, who came to meet us and paid the taxi. As it was a long ride, it was a hefty bill. When we got there the show was almost over. We got into another taxi and drove out to the Esso Motor Hotel, where Jimi was staying. We had come full circle.
There were a lot of people at the hotel, just standing around. This – my last meeting with Jimi – was powerful, even though we were not alone. We sat on a couch. I wanted to hold him, hold his beautiful hands in mine. It hurt so much to see him so ill, in such a bad shape. He certainly wasn’t feeling well at all. He mumbled something about ‘Do you want to marry me?’ I can’t recall if I answered, but I think I squeezed him hard. And we embraced. It was a short visit, because after a while some friends pulled him away and led him to another room.
The day before Jimi died, I said to my friend: ‘It feels like something is about to happen...’ The next day it said in the paper that he was dead. So incredibly sad. He lived for his music, but he just wanted to live a normal life, with love, and children, and a wife. Yes, he was unhappy and tired towards the end, but it wasn’t suicide. He was with Monika [Dannemann] when he died, she must have suffered so hard, people accusing her. Those last pictures of her and Jimi in the garden of the hotel, it’s so sweet. When I think of Monika, I want to hug her. Of course he wasn’t murdered, it was an accident.
I know Kathy Etchingham, Jimi’s first girlfriend in England, wrote on her blog a couple of years ago: ‘Then she came, that damn Catharina,’ so she did know about my existence, when I was involved with Jimi. She once wrote that she didn’t want to be mentioned in Jimi’s lyrics, but I suppose she had seen my name in his lyrics.
Dear, dear Jimi. You beautiful, tender, good-hearted man, you will always have a special place in my heart.”
With thanks to Marcel Aeby, David Morin, and Michel Doncque.
STORY CONTINUED HERE