The Man Who Saved Jimi Hendrix from the Mafia

In 'American Desperado,' drug trafficker Jon Roberts recounts Jimi Hendrix's mob kidnapping and water skiingmishap.

Jon Roberts, the convicted cocaine trafficker who masterminded the Medellin Cartel's rise in the 1980s and theimportation of as much as 15 billion dollars worth of cocaine for them, told a few stories that strained credulity whenwe first sat down for the interviews that would form the basis of our book, 'American Desperado' (Crown, publishedNovember 1st, 2011).

Among them, he claimed that as a young New York Mafia soldier in the late 1960s – nearly a decade before he gotinto the "cocaine industry," as he refers to it – he rescued Jimi Hendrix from a kidnapping attempt. The tale seemedpatently absurd until I began to look into the twisted history of the New York club scene in the late 1960s. Based onresearch and interviews I conducted, it turns out that not only does Roberts' story appear to be true, he solves amystery that has intrigued Hendrix biographers for more than three decades.

Shortly after Hendrix's death in 1970, members of his inner circle revealed that about a year earlier, just afterWoodstock, Hendrix had been abducted by Mafia gunmen and held in upstate New York in a dispute involving arecording deal. One version of the story named his abductors as "John Riccobono." As it happens, that wasRoberts' name in the late 1960s (before he changed it and fled a murder investigation for which he was a primesuspect).

As "Riccobono" he had served as point man in a successful Mafia effort to take control of Salvation, a topManhattan nightclub. According to independent research for our book, far from kidnapping Hendrix, Roberts and hisMafia partner Andy Benfante, helped rescue him two times – not just from a bungled, amateurish kidnapping plot, but from an ill-advised rock star foray onto water-skis.

As Roberts relates it in 'American Desperado':

When you run a nightclub, you will always get heat from the cops. The liquor license gives them an automaticreason to come into your place and snoop. Within a year of getting into the business, Andy and I started to drawreal heat – not from the New York cops, who could always be bought, but from the FBI. Two incidents made themnosy about us.

The first was the kidnapping of Jim Hendrix. Jimi and I were never great friends. He was so far gone, I don't think hewas truly friends with anybody. Jimi was a bad junkie. Jimi had people around him all the time, too. He wassuffocating from these hangers-on. After we met at Salvation, he came to our house on Fire Island so he could getaway from it all. We'd make sure nobody would bother him except for his real friends.

Jimi really liked [blues guitarist] Leslie West, and one night the two of them played our living room all night long. Jimihad to shoot speed in his arm to keep up with Leslie. That's how good Leslie West was. A few times, we took Jimiwater-skiing off the back of my Donzi. He liked getting out and doing things physically, even when he was stoned.

He nearly drowned one time. Jimi's out there – no life vest on – and he falls off the skis. He's in the water thrashingaround. I swing the boat past and throw him the rope. It's floating a couple feet from his hands, but he's waving hisarms like crazy. Suddenly, I'm wondering if he can even swim. Andy has to jump in the water and swim the ropeover to him, because Jesus Christ, if this guy dies while out with us, what a headache that would be.

I had some good times with Jimi, but he was a disaster on water skis.

I got involved in Jimi's so-called kidnapping after he was grabbed by some guys out of Salvation. Later on somepeople accused me of being involved in kidnapping him. They said I was involved with kidnappers who tied Jimi to achair and forced him to shoot heroin. Please. Nobody would have had to force Jimi to shoot anything. Just give himthe heroin and he'd inject it himself. It was Jimi going out searching for drugs that got him into trouble. Andy and Iwere the ones who helped get him out of it.

Jimi had people who would usually buy dope for him. But sometimes he'd get so sick, he'd come into our clubslooking for drugs on his own. One night two Italian kids at our club – not Mafia but wiseguy wannabes – saw Jimi inthere looking for dope and decided, "Hey, that's Jimi Hendrix. Let's grab him and see what we can get."

These guys were morons. They promised Jimi some dope and took him to a house out of the city. I don't know ifthey wanted money or a piece of his record contract, but they called Jimi's manager demanding something. Nextthing I knew the club manager called me and said Jimi had been taken from our club by some Italians.

It took me and Andy two or three phone calls to get the names of the kids who were holding Jimi. We reached out tothese kids and made it clear, "You let Jimi go, or you are dead. Do not harm a hair of his Afro."

They let Jimi go. The whole thing lasted maybe two days. Jimi was so stoned, he probably didn't even know he wasever kidnapped. Andy and I waited a week or so and went after these kids. We gave them a beating they wouldnever forget.

Here I was, the Good Samaritan, but unfortunately, when Jimi was grabbed, some of his people contacted the FBI. Even after he was safely returned, the FBI started poking around our business.

This later led them to tie Andy Benfante and me to the murder of Robert Wood. That one good deed for Jimi Hendrixwas resulted in me having to flee New York for Miami. Who knows? If it hadn't been for me saving Jimi Hendrix, Imight never have hooked up with the Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar in Miami and started in the cocainesmuggling business. Wherever you are Jimi, thank you.