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Lithofayne Pridgon, who has died aged 80, was a captivating, feline beauty and free spirit who became the lover and muse of some of the most talented soul, funk and R&B musicians of the 20th century, including Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, the Fever singer Little Willie John, and Eddie Hazel, lead guitarist with Parliament-Funkadelic.
But it was for her relationship with Jimi Hendrix, whose lover she became in 1963, and as the most likely inspiration for his song Foxy Lady, that Lithofayne Pridgon, known as “Fayne” or “Faye”, was best known.
She first met the 19-year-old budding guitarist in 1962 at an orgy presided over by “Fat Jack” Taylor, a Harlem drug baron and restaurateur. “I liked skinny, raw-boned, over-f---ed, underfed-looking guys,” she recalled in a 2015 interview with Chris Campion of the Observer. Hendrix, she decided, was “my type”.
A year later, they bumped into each other again at the stage door of the Harlem Apollo Theater music hall, where Hendrix was hanging around hoping for a gig with the soul star Sam Cooke, one of Fayne’s lovers at the time. They ended up in bed together at the Cecil Hotel.
She claimed that from that moment on they were inseparable, but Fayne, who would later describe herself as being “among the first liberated, modern day, black females”, refused to change her easy-come-easy-go ways. Although she and Hendrix lived together, wrote songs together and toured Harlem nightspots in each other’s company – and she helped to promote his early career – she continued to see other lovers. “My mother even told Jimi, ‘Pay Faye no mind because she falls in and out of love every week’,” she recalled. “And I did, I loved that love rush.”
Hendrix became “insanely jealous”, writing her passionate, florid love letters expressing his frustration. He told her that he would like to freeze her in a cake of ice – “thaw you out when I want to”. Stop talkin’ crazy,” she told him.
In September 1966 Hendrix left New York for London and fame, but continued to see Fayne whenever he returned to the US. Though he had other girlfriends, it seems likely that his frustration with her refusal to commit inspired several early songs on his 1967 debut album, Are You Experienced, including Foxy Lady (“ You’ve got to be all mine, all mine, ooh, foxy lady”), though there were other aspirants to that honour.
There seems little doubt that his obsession continued until the end of his life. In 1968, during one of Hendrix’s visits to New York, as he waited for her to come to his apartment, he began to tape improvised songs about his feelings for her. “Hey Joe” becomes “Faytoe”, and towards the end he is heard singing “I can hear her footsteps coming down the hall”. She had no idea that the tape existed until 1995, when Sotheby’s put it up for auction. A photograph of the pair embracing graced the inner sleeve of his 1968 album, Electric Ladyland.
The last time they met was in August 1970. Less than three weeks later Hendrix was dead.
Lithofayne Pridgon was born in 1940 in a place called Dirty Spoon, a poor neighbourhood of Moultrie, south-west Georgia, where, she told Chris Campion, women “drank moonshine and partied. And most of them didn’t have husbands.”
That included her mother, who was dispatched to alternative accommodation in Springfield, Massachusetts, for having a daughter out of wedlock.
Young Lithofayne rarely saw her father, a member of a dance troupe, and was mainly brought up by her paternal grandmother, though she spent summers with her mother in Massachusetts.
In 1955 her mother, who was dating a bandleader, took her to a gig in Holyoke, where, backstage, she met Little Willie John. She was 15, he 17. He gave her her first kiss, and the following year took her to Harlem, where they became lovers, and John enjoyed showing her off to the music crowd at the Cecil Hotel above Minton’s Playhouse.
Before long she was waylaid by Sam Cooke: “He reached out and snatched my hand,” she recalled. “When he pulled me close to him and kissed me, hell yeah, I just melted in his arms.” Her mother soon joined her in New York and moved in with Cooke’s brother.
Cooke looked after her but their relationship was far from exclusive; she continued to see John, while another lover was Jackie Wilson: “Everybody was young and energetic. And so if you saw somebody you liked you kinda just hooked up with them.”
But for her the 1960s had little to do with peace and love. “I knew people that shot other people up with battery acid,” she recalled. Sam Cooke was shot dead at the end of 1964 and Little Willie John died in mysterious circumstances in 1968 in prison while doing time for manslaughter.
After Hendrix’s death Sly Stone took Fayne to live with him in a mansion he had bought in Bel-Air, California, telling her he wanted to help her in her musical career (she had toured as a back-up singer with a group called the Blandolls), but she found herself becoming his carer as his drug use and erratic behaviour threatened to spiral out of control.
In 1972 Ahmet Ertegun signed her up with Atlantic Records after hearing her sing some self-penned songs, and she went on to record an album with the guitarist Shuggie Otis which was never released (though some tracks may be heard on YouTube). The same year she was filmed by the pool in Bel-Air for a documentary about Jimi Hendrix. At around the same time she began a relationship with Eddie Hazel, who wrote her a love letter in his own blood.
Towards the end of 1972, however, she received a call from her father, who had had a tip-off from a friend in the police that the house was under surveillance and she should get out quickly. In December 1972 the Bel-Air house was raided by armed police and Stone was arrested for failure to produce identification.
Lithofayne then decided to study music at college in Los Angeles, where she continued to live into the 1990s, maintaining friendships with musicians including James Brown and Ike Turner. She was a lifelong friend and confidante of Etta James, to whom she had first been introduced by Willie John in the early 1960s.
In later years she moved to Las Vegas.
Lithofayne Pridgon, whose death in April went unreported at the time, is survived by two daughters and a son.
Lithofayne Pridgon, born 1940, died April 22 2021