Lithofayne Pridgon: Jimi Hendrix’s original ‘foxy lady’
She was the woman he could never quite date exclusively, because she was too free spirited to be tied to one man; Hendrix’s frustration at loving her alongside singers Sam Cooke and Little Willie John inspired “Foxy Lady.”
It was the 1960s, and Pridgon was dating both Little Willie John and Cooke while running with other musicians, hustlers, drug dealers and, later, “fun fun cops” who shook down people to bring her the leftover pharmaceuticals. At a party in 1962 thrown by Jack “Fat Man” Taylor, a big Harlem drug player, she met Jimi Hendrix, a struggling guitarist.
She and Hendrix had a one-night stand of sorts at Fat Man’s party and then ran into each other again outside of the Apollo one year later; Pridgon was there to see Cooke, and Hendrix was trying to get a job. But in that moment, the two began their torrid and frustrating love affair—while she was still seeing Willie John and Cooke, of course.
But Jimi, she says, so young and in love, was also “insanely jealous”. She has an extraordinary collection of love letters from him, written in florid, lyrical prose – the same style later evident in his lyrics – that prove without a shadow of a doubt the intensity of his infatuation; an intensity that scared her. “As I write more and more, I feel myself grow so very weak under the power of you,” he wrote in one.
For all her talk of being a “loose lady”, Lithofayne is clearly a romantic at heart; one who sought from the men she knew a love that was pure and uncomplicated by jealousy, disaffection and possessiveness; a love that swept her off her feet, but also a love that left her to be free. “I wanted to continue seeing Jackie and Sam and Willie,” she says. “I didn’t think about it in terms of, ‘I’m your old lady.’ I wasn’t anybody’s old lady.” She loved them all equally and unreservedly. “That was the problem,” she says. Jimi couldn’t handle that.
“He adored her, to the point of distraction,” Winona Williams says of Hendrix. “You always want what you can’t have. And he had her but he didn’t have her exclusively, and that drove him up the wall.”
One time Lithofayne recalls, he even said to her, albeit jokingly: “I’d like to freeze you in a cake of ice, thaw you out when I want to, if that was possible, huh?” “Stop talkin’, crazy,” she replied. “He talked crazy.”
Hendrix left the US in September 1966 for England, where he would find a recording contract, recognition and fame. But he made a point of tracking Lithofayne down whenever he came back to New York, and she remained very much on his mind. His deep, abiding love for her never faltered, seemingly finding form in a song he recorded in London for his debut album, “Foxy Lady”.
She tells a story that illuminates where the title may have come from. “He used to call every pet we had ‘Foxy’,” she says. One time, they found a kitten on the street and took it in; Jimi immediately named it Foxy. Later on, they bought a poodle; he named that Foxy, too. He was also in the habit of using the word in other ways: “He used to like to refer to good-looking girls as foxy. Or if I put on certain things, he’d say, ‘Wow, you look foxy in that.’”
So wrapped up was she in her own story with Jimi, she never thought for a minute the songs with which he found fame could be about her. She thinks it would make her sound “cocky” if she claimed they were now. “He was always saying: ‘This is about you. I wrote this about you,’” she says. “I just thought it was cute.”
“Jimi would have settled down with Fayne,” says Williams. “I don’t see any other woman that he’d have settled down with – but Fayne was not about to settle down. If Fayne had said: ‘Look, I want you to leave all of these women alone and we’re going to do this,’ he would have done it.”
“Well, he might have,” Lithofayne laughs, “but that would have been dumb.”
Williams is adamant that Lithofayne, the only constant in his life from the time he first hit New York in 1963 through the seven years until he died, was the one person among his circle of intimates who superseded all others. “All of these girls that think they had a part of this man’s heart need to know that his whole heart belonged to Lithofayne Pridgon,” she says. “But he couldn’t get it.”
Her time with Hendrix, in particular, weighs heavily on her, sometimes too heavily. Over the years, friends and acquaintances have suggested things might have turned out different if only she had acceded to his demands. “In other words, if I had stopped being me and become somebody else,” she says. “Oh my God, that’s too much responsibility.” But she believes in her heart that “‘ole coulda-shoulda-woulda shit” is just a losing game.