8th St. should rock Jimi Hendrix street signs, petition says

Richard Geist, left, and Storm Ritter, standing outside Ritter’s shop / studio, are pushing for W. Eighth St. to be co-named Jimi Hendrix Way. Photo by Rebecca Fiore

BY REBECCA FIORE | Billie Holiday Place is Uptown on 139th St., Joey Ramone Place is on the Bowery at E. Second St., Miles Davis Way is at the northwest corner of 77th and West End Ave., and with enough support, Jimi Hendrix Way might wave its freak flag on W. Eighth St.

A couple of months ago, Storm Ritter, an artist and small business owner, along with a local woman who wishes to remain anonymous, came up with the idea to memorialize Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jimi Hendrix. Ritter ordered a green-and-white street sign online that says, “Hendrix Way,” and posted it above her shop / studio space at 14 W. Eighth St. She then created a petition, which can be found at jimihendrixway.com and currently has more than 1,000 signatures.

Ritter, a young New York University alumna, has had her shop — featuring art and vintage fashion — for about a year and a half, and lives nearby. She has always loved Greenwich Village, and wanted to reintroduce residents and tourists to the area’s rich creative history. Hendrix, she said, is the perfect figure for doing that.

“He represents the creation of music on this street,” Ritter said. “There are so many landmarks that people would freak out over if they knew that they were there. Electric Lady Studios is one of them.”

After multiple highly successful albums, Hendrix created Electric Lady Studios in 1970, and it still stands there today at 52 W. Eighth St., just down the block from Ritter’s storefront. Artists such as U2, Lady Gaga, Kanye West and, more recently, Lorde and Frank Ocean have all recorded inside the studios, which were designed by Hendrix himself.

But Hendrix only spent four weeks laying down tracks in the place, before heading to the United Kingdom, where he died from barbiturate-related asphyxia. The legendary left-handed guitarist was just 27 years old, but his output during that short span has influenced generations to come of musicians and continues to be beloved by music fans.

Lee Foster, general manager of Electric Lady Studios, endorses the street co-naming effort.

“I hope it happens,” he said. “I’m a huge supporter of it and it’s a well-deserved honor for Hendrix.”

A flier posted in the West Village urging support for Jimi Hendrix Way. Photo by The Villager

Richard Geist, owner of Uncle Sam’s Army Navy Outfitters, at 37 W. Eighth St., backs the petition. He said Hendrix is a great representative of the kind of artists that lived and grew in the Village.

“It starts with Jimi because the city doesn’t recognize him,” Geist said. “He was huge! He made rock and roll. Before, he was doing jazz — he was in a support band for jazz. He saw everyone wearing suits at the Apollo Theater; he wasn’t accepted up there. He was wearing bellbottoms and headbands. So, he came Downtown, as many rejects, dysfunctionals, oddballs come to the Village. It’s just the collection of misfits from all over the world; just an amazing melting pot of togetherness.”

The street co-naming signs would go up on the ends of Fifth and Sixth Aves., ideally, with one at each end, Ritter said. Ritter held two events this year to bring awareness to the cause. More than 50 people attended the more recent one, held this month at Soho’s Morrison Hotel Gallery, at 116 Prince St., where rare Hendrix photographs were displayed, as well as Ritter’s T-shirts, which feature her iconic motif, The Cool People, with Hendrix leading in the middle.

The online petition is full of passionate endorsements of both Hendrix and the co-naming effort.

Chandler S. wrote on the site, “Jimi Hendrix’s influence on music, and more important, culture as a whole, is undeniable. More so, it is imperative that extra steps (such as this) are taken to preserve the history of New York in a time of unsettling gentrification.”

Combating gentrification isn’t Ritter’s end goal, she said, but rather creating a community of small business owners working together to attract more shoppers to the area.

So far, about 1,025 people have signed the petition worldwide. Ritter said that she is trying for 2,000 signatures.

“We are going to keep pushing and see if we can submit it to the community board,” Ritter said. “It is a bit of a challenge. Musicians are not the most likely to be co-named on streets.”

She was referring to Community Board 2. If C.B. 2 approves the co-naming, it would be expected that City Councilmember Corey Johnson — who appoints many of the board members — would follow suit. Ultimately, honorary street signs must be approved by the full City Council.

Erik Bottcher, Johnson’s chief of staff, said since C.B. 2 still hasn’t seen the application, Johnson won’t comment on it yet.

Some individual members — meaning property owners — within the Village Alliance business improvement district are also part of the petition. William Kelley, the alliance’s executive director, said that while the BID has not been approached as an organization to take an official position on the petition, they do understand Hendrix’s impact on the community.

“We do recognize and celebrate the important musical heritage represented by Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios as one that still resonates today,” Kelley said in an e-mail. “Working with local merchants, we are exploring ways to shine a light on that history and amplify its message. Methods such as art installations, window displays, street festivals and / or other promotions on Eighth St. that we jointly develop will ensure that the legacy of Jimi Hendrix and other Village musicians — as well as the broader cultural history of the neighborhood — continues to be heard.”

Ritter said she won’t stop trying to get the street co-named.

“I’m a firm believer in you just have to keep trying,” she said. “There’s no harm in trying. There’s always going to be a rule. There’s always The Man. But in order for there to be change, you have to keep breaking the rules and push toward something to create something better.

“I think it will happen,” she said. “If it doesn’t happen, we damn made a splash.”

Jimmy Bleu will channel Jimi Hendrix at Cafe Wha?

In related news for Jimi Hendrix fans, Nov. 27 will mark what would have been the guitar great’s 75th birthday. Hendrix was discovered at Cafe Wha?, on MacDougal St. at Minetta Lane. On Mon, Nov. 27, Cafe Wha? will feature Kiss the Sky — the RE-Experience, billed as the “No. 1 Hendrix act in the world.” The nationally touring band stars Jimy Bleu, considered the premier Jimi Hendrix tribute artist. Like Hendrix, Bleu is a virtuoso left-handed guitarist and performs all of Hendrix’s signature stage moves. He has also been a touring member of Jimi Hendrix’s own bassist Billy Cox’s band. 

For tickets, go to http://cafewha.com/event.cfm?id=268457

For a video of Bleu performing Hendrix’s “Killing Floor” click here.

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