Monday, March 23, 2009

Jimi Hendrix


AS teenagers growing up in East London in the Sixties and early Seventies, my brothers and I were, I suspect, among very few youngsters in apartheid South Africa who actually listened to and enjoyed Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic sounds.

But from 1967 till his death from an overdose of sleeping pills in 1970, Hendrix was a sensation in Britain, Europe and the US. And today he is consistently voted by music magazines, musicians and fans as the greatest rock guitarist who every lived.

At the time there was little hope of hearing Hendrix on the SABC’s Springbok Radio hit-parade or general playlist. In order to hear our hero on the air we had to tune into LM Radio, broadcast on shortwave from the Mozambique capital, Lourenzo Marques, now Maputo.

Born Johnny Allen Hendrix in Seattle, Washington on November 27, 1942 – and changed to James Marshall Hendrix in 1946 – Hendrix couldn’t have been more representative of the American people. His descendants were African, European, Cherokee Indian and Mexican. An unsettled home environment saw him spend much of his early years with his grandmother, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, in Canada.

Hendrix played for rock and roll teenage bands, but was thrown out of school at the age of 16 – apparently for holding hands with a white girl. In 1959, at the age of 17, he voluntarily enlisted to join the army. Fortunately for rock music, after 14 months as a paratrooper he suffered an injury and was discharged.

As the Swinging Sixties got under way, he decided to devote his life to music. For the next four years he worked around the US, playing backing guitar for various rhythm and blues bands, including Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner, Wilson Picket, the Isley Brothers and King Curtis.

But he was too much of an individualist for this sort of role, and was eventually drawn to New York’s Greenwich Village, not long after folk-singing guru Bob Dylan had made his mark there.

In late 1965 he formed his first band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. While working the clubs, his talent was immediately recognised. Former Animals bassist Chas Chandler was so impressed he offered to become his manager, and persuaded him to accompany him back to London.

In the wake of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, a veritable glut of world-class groups had coalesced in the British capital. Among them were some of the greatest guitarists of the time, including Eric Clapton, playing for Cream, and Jimmy Page, with Led Zeppelin. The lead guitarist for The Who, Pete Townshend, was making a name for himself, not only as a great composer and musician, but also for his aggressive stage antics, which included smashing his guitar at the end of live performances.

Into this white-dominated music renaissance enter one wild-haired, left-hand-guitar-playing black guy with a penchant for colourful clothes and a volatile stage temperament. Hendrix teamed up with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He took the UK by storm, creating a wide range of sounds never heard before.

Because he played it left-handed, he held his famous Fender Stratocaster electric guitar with the tuning keys facing downwards, adding another eccentric dimension. It is interesting to note on Wikipedia that he was apparently not left-handed, and used to write with his right hand. Also, because he strung the guitar back to front, the pick-ups were reversed, giving the higher notes a mellower sound and the bass strings a sharper edge. The fact that the tremolo arm and volume control buttons were above the strings made it easier for him to manipulate them. Watching Hendrix on the Woodstock film – when the cameraman manages to focus on his guitar instead of his face! – one gets a feeling for what made him so good. He works that tremolo arm continually, while at the same time picking out the notes with his plectrum. The right-hand-work up and down the fretboard is, naturally, lightning fast. It is as if he is putting together an entire orchestra of electronic sounds virtually single-handed. Listen to any of his albums and that is the effect. On Band Of Gypsys, in particular, you get the feeling that every note and chord and everything that he manages to squeeze in between in terms of fuzz, wah-wah and feedback, is completely under his control and precisely as he intended. To listen to Hendrix at his best is to go beyond the realms of modern popular music, be it rock, blues or jazz, and into an entirely new dimension the likes of which we’ll never experience again. It was for good reason his band was called the Experience, because it was indeed an altogether different, almost surreal, experience.

It was, apparently, Frank Zappa who introduced Hendrix to the wah-wah pedal, which was just a small part of his electronic arsenal. As the Wikipedia chapter on his guitar legacy underscores, he was continually experimenting and improvising in order to push the envelope of the electric guitar sound to its limits. His use of the Marshall power amplifier soon made it de rigeur for all reputable rock bands.

Often stoned on some or other drug, he would exploit the infinite possibilities of feedback, as well as stunning audiences by playing behind his back, above his head and with his teeth.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Under Chandler, who had heard Hendrix play “Hey Joe” in Greenwich Village and invited him to come to the UK, Hendrix teamed up with Redding and Mitchell. As the cover to Are You Experienced shows, their fair “Afro” hairstyles were even larger than Hendrix’s. This alone, set the band apart, giving them an ultra-hip image that I, as a youngster growing up, immediately could relate to. It was the image of Underground music, of music that our parents would NEVER be able to relate to. And, as shown on the cover of Smash Hits (his first compilation album, released in 1968) and in numerous other photos, Hendrix set the tone for hip dressing, making most of the other supposedly cool bands look rather kitsch by comparison.

Smash Hits

Anyway, back then, for me, it was all about the music that this threesome could produce. And, as history records, they had a series of singles which reached the British Top 10, including Hey Joe, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary. Hendrix’s first own composition, Stone Free, was on the B side of Hey Joe. We did not get the first album, Are You Experienced, which was released on May 12, 1967, but it was only kept from No 1 in the UK by the Beatles’ Sgt Peppers album. We got familiar, however, with most of the songs, either through the singles or their inclusion on Smash Hits, released in 1968. (I well recall a visit to the home of a friend in Stirling, East London, at around that time, and listening to Smash Hits while sitting in the gardener’s room at the back of the home. The friend’s father was a wealthy doctor, and was away at the time, so we had something of a jol. I remember the album Chicken Shack was doing the rounds, as well as the long Fleetwood Mac single, Oh Well, which took up two sides. But it was while smoking dope in the dark, back room with the gardener while listening to Hendrix, that someone brought in a tray of lovely pink, newly baked cookies. I was ravenous and ate three quarters of one before discovering they were dagga cookies. This must have been in around 1973, because I think that was my last dagga experience. Unlike inhaled dagga smoke, the ingested stuff stays with you that much longer. It was a bad, bad trip, a real bummer. I thought I might die. I felt like puking all the time and was totally wasted for about 12 hours.)

I had intended starting by looking at Are You Experienced, but decided that Smash Hits, though released after it, in fact effectively precedes it in so far as it contains those pivotal first six songs released on singles.

It is a moot point how Hendrix’s career might have panned out had he not moved to the UK with Chandler, but having just listened to this album afresh, I think we can all be grateful he arrived in London at a time when record producers and engineers were really starting to hone the rock sound to perfection. And they couldn’t have asked for a better musician to perfect their skills on than Hendrix, who clearly had a mind for the wizardry of electronics when it came to making music.

But what does Wikipedia have to say about an album which, to my mind, must have been released with a view to ensuring those six hits were included on an album after their being omitted, from the UK version anyway, of Are You Experienced?

We are told that the UK album was released in April 1968, and the US version in July 1969. Its UK release came four months after the second album, Axis: Bold as Love, and in fact contains their first four hits and their B-sides. I wonder what the fourth hit was? It also has four “standout tracks” from Are You Experienced. And, as Wikipedia notes, Smash Hits became a smash hit, reaching No 5 in the UK. The US version, for reasons such as he had not had any hits there yet and because Are You Experienced already contained several of the UK hits, was a very different album, though it does not include any songs off either Axis and only two off Electric Ladyland. It reached No 6 there. To obviate confusion, in 1997 Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix was released on CD and is “the definitive Hendrix compilation”, says Wikipedia.

Anyway Smash Hits was the album which we all got into in a big way, and it’s not surprising. While these are all shortish tracks, it is significant that not one passes without at least one substantial lead guitar solo. I also noticed, having just listened to it afresh, that on some songs Hendrix is able to produce at least half a dozen distinct guitar sound variations. Use of the wah-wah pedal obviously was part of the trick, but he did seem to turn the instrument into something which at times sounds altogether alien and new. On each track the guitar is like a glue which binds those incredible drums, bass and vocals together in incredibly tight compositions which to this day, in my experience, have yet to be emulated. Each track opens with a distinctive lead riff, or blaze of heavy chords, and the opening melody on Purple Haze has been immortalised further by its inclusion in the Woodstock set. Remember how some people parodied this superb song by suggesting Hendrix sang, “scuse me while I kiss this guy”. But what precisely did he sing? “Purple haze all in my brain / Lately things just don’t seem the same / Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why / scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Then that surging lead guitar wails the melody – da-da-da, da-da-daa, da-da-da… “Purple haze all around / Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down / Am I happy or in misery? / What ever it is, that girl put a spell on me.” With his guitar cruising alongside him, he expands on the impact, not it seems of drugs, as everyone suggested, but of a girl. “Help me / Help me / Oh, no, no …” As the song becomes more of an instrumental, a sunburst of sound, Hendrix talk-sings phrases like “Hammerin / Talkin bout heart n ... s-soul / I’m talkin about hard stuff / If everbody’s still around, fluff and ease, if … / So far out my mind / Somethings happening, somethings happening / Ooo, ahhh / Ooo, (click) ahhh, / Ooo, ahhh / Ooo, ahhh, yeah!”. Finally, having given the world one of its first tastes of his genius, he winds up the song with the following: “Purple haze all in my eyes, uhh / Don’t know if its day or night / You got me blowin, blowin my mind / Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?” Again, the vocal improvisations, which are such an integral part of the Hendrix sound, see out the song, alongside more incredible guitar gymnastics.

Fire, the title of the second song on the album, rang no bells … until I heard the fast-paced opening notes and chords. Alongside some superlative drumming, Hendrix calls for your attention – or at least he addresses his love interest in another classic bit of talking blues. “Alright, / now listen, baby / You don’t care for me / I don’-a care about that / Gotta new fool, ha! / I like it like that / I have only one burning desire / Let me stand next to your fire.” That last line is repeated four more times, with the backing vocalists to the fore, as the guitar weaves its magic path. But this is no time to get laid back man; Jimi has something more to say. “Listen here, baby / and stop acting so crazy / You say your mum ain’t home, / it ain’t my concern, / Just play with me and you won’t get burned / I have only one itching desire / Let me stand next to your fire / Let me stand next to your fire.” The famous Hendrix-as-sex-god thing probably stems from this sort of song, where beautiful girls are invited to “play” with him and not “get burned”. But, as with so many of his songs, there is time now for a mood switch. “Oh! Move over, Rover / and let Jimi take over / Yeah, you know what I’m talking ’bout / Yeah, get on with it, baby / That’s what I’m talking ’bout / Now dig this! / Ha! / Now listen, baby…” It is about here that, over and above the radiant guitar flourishes already heard, he launches into another virtuoso lead solo, before returning the song to its original shape. “You try to gimme your money / you better save it, babe / Save it for your rainy day / I have only one burning desire / Let me stand next to your fire …” Unlike Purple Haze, Fire was not a “smash hit”, but the next song, The Wind Cries Mary, was.

One of the longer tracks on the album at 3:20 minutes, this starts with slow, subtle chords with the cymbals brushed lightly. It would ordinarily be described as a slow blues rock sound, I suppose, but then of course it was impossible to categorise Hendrix in this way. Because in the end there is only one song of this nature in the world, and this is it. It also happens to contains some of Hendrix’s finest whimsical lyric-writing. “After all the jacks are in their boxes /And the clowns have all gone to bed / You can hear happiness staggering on down the street / Footsteps dressed in red / And the wind whispers Mary.” The lead guitar magic woven here is impossible to describe. Hendrix is one musician whose virtuosity, whose all-consuming genius, is impossible to do justice to in the written word. But it was also hung on some superb lyrics, the likes of which Dylan probably envied. “A broom is drearily sweeping / Up the broken pieces of yesterdays life / Somewhere a queen is weeping / Somewhere a king has no wife / And the wind, it cries Mary.” And as the tension increases, with the wind first whispering, now crying, and next screaming, so too does the mood of the song tauten. I loved the next line. “The traffic lights, they turn, uh, blue tomorrow / And shine their emptiness down on my bed / The tiny island sags down stream / cause the life that lived, / Is dead / And the wind screams Mary.” This stands as a brilliant poem in its own right. Couched in Hendrix’s musical cloak, it becomes a thing of the finest beauty. “Uh-will the wind ever remember / The names it has blown in the past? / And with this crutch, its old age, and its wisdom / It whispers no, this will be the last / And the wind cries Mary.” And so the music, like the wind, gradually subsides.

Fittingly, this is followed by a pulsating, up-tempo track, Can You See Me, which also relies on regular halts and changes of pace. It is here that I detected about half a dozen different guitar “textures”, different qualities of sound all generated by that Hendrix guitar. “Can you see me? begging you on my knees / Wo yeah / Can you see me baby / Baby please don’t leave / Yeah if you can see me doing that / You can see in the future of a thousand years.” Then that wacky guitar riff which no one, but no one, will ever play again precisely like Hendrix did – da-da-daa-da, da-du-du-du-du-du, wheeeeeaaah. “Can you hear me? / Cryin’ all over town / Yeah babe / Can you hear me baby? / Crying cause you put me down / What’s with ya / If you can hear me doing that / You can hear a freight train coming from a thousand miles.” It is a classic blues-rock, given the full Hendrix treatment. “Ah yeah / Can you hear me? / Singing this song to you / Ah you better hold up your ears / Can you see me baby? / Singing this song to you / Ah shucks / If you can hear me sing / You better come home like you supposed to do.” Naturally there is an incredible lead solo amidst all the other lead guitarwork before he winds the thing down. “Can you see me? / Hey hey / I don’t believe you can see me / Wo yeah / Can you hear me baby? / I don’t believe you can / You can’t see me.” Hendrix was one sensitive soul. And here we perhaps get a glimpse into how he is confronted by rejection. This is a cry of love from a man who is hurting bad (as they say). That song was not a hit single, but the next track, 51st Anniversary was, albeit on the B-side to Purple Haze.

At a time when we, as youth, were totally intolerant of our parents’ ageing generation, I always saw this song as taking a dig at the old toppies, even those who would have been our grandparents’ age.

Okay so I was wrong all those years ago. The song does not conform to normal English grammar and say “for fifty years…”. No, starting with some steady rhythm guitar and then the melody picked out on lead guitar as only Jimi can, the first verse reads: “A fifty years they’ve been married / And they can’t wait for their fifty first to roll around / Yeah, roll around.” The lead and bass guitars indulge in some complex interplay before the couple seem to lose a few decades. “A thirty years they’ve been married / And now they’re old and happy and they settle down / Settle down yeah!” Then, 10 years earlier, “Twenty years they’ve been married / And they did everything that could be done / You know their havin’ fun.” But this is just setting the scene, because at this point, that guitar leads one to another plain, with a slower, more studied beat. “And then you come along and talk about / So you say you wanna be married / I’m gonna change your mind.” Everything unwinds and unravels as he continues. “Oh got to change / That was the good side baby / Here comes the bad side.” This next verse I can’t recall at all, but it offers pause for thought. “Ten years they’ve been married / And a thousand kids run around hungry / Cause ther mother’s a louse / Daddy’s down at the whiskey house / That ain’t all.” And there is another equally sour side to marriage: “For thirty years they’ve been married / They don’t get along so good / They’re tired of each other, you know how that goes / She got another lover / Huh same old thing.” He then addresses this girl: “So now you’re seventeen / Running around hanging out, and a havin’ your fun / Life for you has just begun, baby.” Again, we move to that rarified plain, where, with a few sniffs, Hendrix addresses her again. “And then you come saying / So you, you say you wanna get married / Oh baby trying to put me on a chain / Ain’t that some shame / You must be losing your (Sniff), sweet little mind / I ain’t ready yet, baby, I ain’t ready / I’m gonna change your mind.” Those descending notes plunge the song into its end zone as Hendrix lets the guitar explore a phalanx of emotions while chanting things like “Oooh look out baby / Oh / I ain’t ready / I ain’t ready / I ain’t ready”. Later on, in words that would soon contain a tragic poignancy, he adds: “Let me live / Let me live / Let me live a little longer …”

The final track on Side 1, Hey Joe, was naturally a smash hit. Written by Billy Roberts, it opens with a lead guitar riff that has become virtually an emblem of the rock era: daa-daa-da-da-daa. It is little more than a slow blues, but again in Hendrix’s hands, backed it must be said by the incredible musicianship of Redding on bass and Mitchell on drums, this became an iconic moment in the history of rock music. Superb backing vocals and a lead guitar solo that would set the standard for all time, Hendrix was making music that, in a sense, spelt the end of rock music. There would be all manner of interesting sounds after Hendrix, but never again one talent as unique and special. At 3:30 minutes, it is a relatively long song for a hit single, but it passes in a flash. With those backing vocals ooing on each line, he launches into the lyrics. “Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand? / Hey Joe, I said where you goin’ with that gun in your hand? / Alright. I’m goin down to shoot my old lady, / you know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man. / Yeah,! I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady, / you know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man. / Huh! And that ain’t too cool.” It is, of course, a violent song, but such was the effect that such affairs of the heart could have on a man. In the second verse, the backing vocalists sing “Ah” as he continues. “Uh, hey Joe, I heard you shot your woman down, you shot her down. / Uh, hey Joe, I heard you shot you old lady down, / you shot her down to the ground. Yeah!” Joe responds: “Yes, I did, I shot her, / you know I caught her messin’ ’round, / messin’ ’round town. / Uh, yes I did, I shot her / you know I caught my old lady messin’ ’round town. / And I gave her the gun and I shot her!” After that lead guitar clears the cobwebs, the verses become short, clipped lines about Joe and his future. Things like “where you gonna run to now”, to which he replies that “I’m goin’ way down south, way down south, / (Hey) /way down south to Mexico way! Alright! / (Joe) / I’m goin' way down south, (Hey, Joe) / way down where I can be free! / (where you gonna ...) / Ain’t no one gonna find me babe! / (... go?) / Ain’t no hangman gonna, / (Hey, Joe) / he ain’t gonna put a rope around me!..” And so the song winds down with more ad-libbing. It was a tour de force, but then again just one of oh so many by the master.

The incredible urgency that Hendrix was able to inject into a song is evident in Stone Free, which was a B side on one of those early hit singles. Playing both rhythm guitar and those sudden lead riffs, Hendrix gets this one soaring straight away, helped in no small measure by Mitch Mitchell’s jazzy drumming and Noel Redding’s exceptional bass, which really held each song together. “Everyday in the week I’m in a different city / If I stay too long people try to pull me down / They talk about me like a dog / Talkin’ about the clothes I wear / But they don’t realise they’re the ones who’s square.” He’s up and running, on a roll, as it were. “Yeah! / And that’s why / You can’t hold me down / I don’t want to be tied down I gotta move / Hey.” This seems to be a recurring Hendrix theme – the need not to be tied down to one relationship. The chorus follows: “I said / Stone free do what I please / Stone free to ride the breeze / Stone free, baby I can’t stay / I got to got to got to get away / Yeah.” And this is the first time, reading these lyrics, that I’m picking up on what he was singing about. The next verse follows the same theme. “Listen here baby / A woman here a woman there try to keep me in a plastic cage / But they don’t realise it’s so easy to break / Yeah but a sometimes I get a ha / Feel my heart kind a getting’ hot / That’s when I got to move before I get caught.” After saying “So dig this” he unleashes a short but scathing lead guitar assault, before returning to that chorus. “And that’s why, listen to me baby, you can’t hold me down / I don’t want to be tied down / I gotta move on / I said / Stone free do what I please …” And so, as the lyrics are repeated, he opens space for some of that distinctive improvisation which is usually a combination of vocals and lead guitar, not to mention in this case some wonderful changes of tempo, with the bass guitar up there in the thick of things.

The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice was a B side on one of those hit singles, and is a fine early example of the sort of surreal soundscapes Hendrix became so adept at creating. It starts off fairly low-key, with Hendrix’s vocals somewhat muted. “The stars up above that play with Laughing Sam’s dice / They make us feel the world was made for us / The zodiac glass that beams come through the skies / It will happen soon, for you.” Of course I always heard the tune and the shape of the sentences, but this again is the first time I’m seeing these lyrics. After that opening verse, Hendrix kicks that wah-wah pedal into life, taking one into a different world, or indeed into space. Here he talk-sings his way along a weird audio journey, whilst always retaining an understated sense of humour. “And away we go / Yeah / Thank you very much / Thank you very much / And now we would like to bring to you our wide lonely friendly neighborhood / Experience me / Right now listen / The Milky Way Express is loaded, all aboard / I promise each and every one of you, you won’t be bored / What I’m really concerned about / Is my brand-new pair of butterfly roller skates / Thank you, thank you.” As he explores the gamut of sound possibilities on his guitar, still in the roll of space ship tour guide, he continues: “No throwing cigarette butts out the window / No throwing cigarette butts out the window / Now if you look to your right you’ll see Saturn / If you look to the left you’ll see Mars / I hope your brought your parachutes with you / Hey look out! / Look out for that door / Don’t open that door / Don’t open that door / Oh well / That’s the way it goes / Hey, everything is all right now.” I recall him concluding with the words, “I hope you’re enjoying your trip / I am …”

First, a cluster of chords, then some quickfire rhythm sets in as Manic Depression gets under way, with Hendrix singing those lyrics which, for the main part, I think I actually heard in my youth. “Manic Depression / touching my soul, / I know what I want, / but I just don’t know how to go about getting it.” His voice lowers: “Feeling, sweet feeling / drops from my finger, fingers / Manic Depression’s captured my soul.” Fortunately for us, at the time we had little idea of what this condition was all about, and I’m not sure the term wasn’t used here more for effect that anything else. Again, the sound is ever so tight, with the lead and bass overlapping beautifully. “Woman so willing the sweet cause in vain, / you make love, / you break love, / it’s-a all the same when it’s ... / when it’s over.” Then: “Music sweet music, / I wish I could caress, caress, caress. / Manic Depression’s a frustrating mess.” He then tries to get a hold of himself. “Well, I think I’ll go turn myself off an’ go on down. / Really ain’t no use me hanging around. / Oh, I gotta see you.” In the midst of that is a lead solo featuring extensive feedback, played at breakneck speed, as he explores the furthest reaches of what is possible on the instrument. There is also a great “duel” between the guitar and Mitchell’s drums. So much, indeed, packaged in 3:42 minutes of music.

What is with this Chile thing. It is a word that Hendrix seems to use interchangeably with Child. Anyway, Highway Chile was a B side on one of those early hit singles, and it starts with searing lead guitar notes: daa da-da da-da-daa, daa da-da da da-daa. Immediately you have that laid down, it is as if the song is preordained. Everything just gels around it. And, of course, again I did not get all the lyrics, so it’s great finally to be introduced to them. “Yeah, his guitar slung across his back / His dusty boots is his Cadillac / Flamin’ hair just a blowin’ in the wind / Ain’t seen a bed in so long it’s a sin / He left home when he was seventeen / The rest of the world he had longed to see / But everybody knows the boss / A rolling stone who gathers no moss.” This is great poetry, and one suspects, fairly autobiographical. The tension ratchets up. “But you’d probably call him a tramp / But it goes a little deeper than that / He’s a highway chile, yeah.” The song halts briefly as that opening riff is injected ahead of the words, “highway chile”, before the narrative continues. “Now some people say he had a girl back home / Who messed around and did him pretty wrong / They tell me it kinda hurt him bad / Kinda made him feel pretty sad / I couldn’t say what went through his mind / Anyway, he left the world behind / But everybody knows the same old story, / In love and war you can’t lose in glory / Now you’d probably call him a tramp / But I know it goes a little deeper than that / He’s a highway chile…” Again, Hendrix starts to ad lib with things like “Walk on brother, yeah / One more brother”, as the space for some more lead guitar exploits is created.

While again, a B side of those early hits, The Burning Of The Midlight Lamp is one of Hendrix’s great phsychedlic songs, which fittingly starts with a guitar, wah-wah in full force, that sounds like a mixture of a harpsichord and pure electronic sound forces, which somehow emanate from a guitar, via an array of unfathomable gizmos. Yet Hendrix seemed to have absolute control over what he was doing, what sound he wanted to make. “The morning is dead / And the day is, too / There’s nothing left here to meet me / But the velvet moon / All my loneliness I have felt today / It’s like a little more than enough / To make a man throw himself away.” This runs straight into the chorus. “And I continue / To burn the midnight lamp / alone.” This is possibly the first time on a single that Hendrix really got his guitar to talk, the wah-wah effect being used to create an alien sound such as had arguably never been heard before on this planet. Yet, at times, the song is simply a slow blues, but with altogether new layers of sound and texture. “Now the smiling portrait of you / Is still hangin’ on my frowning wall / It really doesn't, really doesn’t bother me too much at all / It’s just the ever falling dust / That makes it so hard for me to see / That forgotten earring layin’ on the floor / Facing coldly towards the door.” What brilliant writing! Again, these words were never fully heard, so here we see Hendrix’s ability to use all manner of grammatical devices, including transferred epithets with that frowning wall and the earring facing coldly towards the door. Anyway, after the chorus is repeated, he concludes that “Loneliness is such a drag”, before that guitar/harpsichord reverberates its sound prior to the next verse. “So here I sit to face / That same old fire place / Getting’ ready for the same old explosion / Goin’ through my mind / And soon enough time will tell, / About the circus in the wishing well / And someone who will buy and sell for me / Someone to toll my bell.” I always heard “circus AND the wishing well”, but having one in a wishing well is just that much more bizarre. Anyway, as again he lets the guitar bubble and squeak, wail and whimper, Hendrix resigns himself to his fate: “But I continue / To burn the midnight lamp / Lord, alone / Darlin’ can’t ya hear me callin’ you? / So lonely / Gonna have to blow my mind / Lonely …” If these words remotely reflect what emotions he personally was going through, it is small wonder he struggled to find peace on this earth.

Another side of Hendrix, the charming womanizer, seems to pour forth on the last track on Smash Hits, Foxy Lady, which surprisingly was not among those initial hit singles. Yet it is one of his most famous songs, and features one of the most instantly recognisable opening lead guitar salvoes in the history of rock. With the word “Foxy” chanted by the backing vocalists, Hendrix lays it on the line: “You know you’re a cute little heartbreaker / Foxy / You know you’re a sweet little lovemaker / Foxy.” Then that famous chorus. “I wanna take you home / I won’t do you no harm, no / You’ve got to be all mine, all mine / Ooh, foxy lady.” Probably one of his most famous live acts, Hendrix really hams it up on this song, the guitar textures rich and sensual. “I see you, heh, on down on the scene / Foxy / You make me wanna get up and scream / Foxy / Ah, baby listen now / I’ve made up my mind / I’m tired of wasting all my precious time / You’ve got to be all mine, all mine / Foxy lady / Here I come.” Of course this is the signal for another Hendrix lead guitar assault as he again improvises and talk-sings his way to its conclusion.

Never before had anyone made sounds like these. Little were we to know that it would be a one-off. No one has come close, and this was just the first taste, the short singles. What was to come on later albums, from his live antics on stage, to the incredible effects he achieved in the studio, would blow our minds. Interestingly, I notice that Wikipedia credits Hendrix with playing bass and piano as well as his lead guitar and vocals on this. No doubt he put the piano through an electronic device which convinced me I was hearing a guitar, or harpsichord, or whatever. With this guy you were often just left scratching your head, marvelling at what he was producing.

Are You Experienced

So much for Smash Hits, which was, of course, not Hendrix’s first album. Wikipedia tells us his debut album, Are You Experienced, was released on May 12, 1967, in the UK and three months later in the US and Canada. Produced by Chandler, it was recorded in London between October 26, 1966, and April 3, 1967, and Wikipedia classifies it as “hard rock, psychedelic rock, blues-rock” and says the album “highlighted (his) R&B-based psychedelic, feedback-laden electric guitar playing, and launched him as a major new international star”. In 2005, the album was selected for permanent preservation in the US National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.

It is sobering to think that it was as far back as September 1966 that Chandler took Hendrix over to England with him, where they formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Track Records, newly formed by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, signed the group, although their debut single appeared on Polydor Records because Track was not yet up and running. It was in late 1966 and early 1967, says Wikipedia, that Chandler produced their “three classic Top 10 hit UK singles”. Hey Joe/Stone Free was released in December 1966, Purple Haze/51st Anniversary in March 1967 and The Wind Cries Mary/Highway Chile in May of that year. All, as mentioned earlier, featured on the UK version of Smash Hits. Wikipedia says while making these singles, other tracks were cut for their debut album. Eddie Kramer was the Olympic Studios engineer. As happened with other bands, including The Who, Are You Experienced, which was released in May 1967, did not include the three hit singles because that was “the custom in the UK at the time”. Despite that, Are You Experienced, and Hendrix, “became a sensation all across Europe, with the album reaching No 2 in the UK behind the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Not a bad debut!

I was initially going to overlook a paragraph on the cover variations across Europe, but noticed that Wikipedia includes a section about the South African Polydor release. It says that “obviously due to the apartheid racial barrier, and that the main customer base was seen to be ‘whites’, (the album cover) had no pictures, only text on a plain red background (mono only)”. Does that mean they wanted to pretend Hendrix wasn’t black? Such was our absurdity, our infamy. The likes of Australia, New Zealand and Japan used the original UK layout.

But what of the US? Wikipedia says it was “only after the band’s show-stealing performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 that his USA and Canada label, Reprise Records, prepared the album for release, but with some significant changes”. It says a more psychedelic design was devised by photographer Karl Ferris. And three songs, Red House, Can You See Me and Remember, were removed to make way for the three UK hit singles. Hendrix, says Wikipedia, was not happy with the omission of Red House, supposedly on the pretext that the US and Latin America did “not like the blues”. A plus, however, was that the songs were remixed into stereo for the US pressing. Such was the album’s success that Axis: Bold as Love, released in the UK that December, was held over for six weeks in the US, where it finally reached its peak of No 5 in October 1968.

Are You Experienced, says Wikipedia, “has been cited as one of the greatest debut albums of the rock era”. The 2003 Rolling Stone magazine list of the 500 greatest albums of all time ranked it at number 15.

As we never had this album, I don’t have specific memories about the track listing, but a cursory look at the song titles reveals that I know virtually all the songs. These were heard either on LM Radio or seven singles, but most likely on various compilation albums from the early 1970s and, of course, on Smash Hits, which was a coveted album among the small group of us in East London who gravitated to this sort of music. As noted earlier, all six of the songs on those first three singles are on Smash Hits - Hey Joe, Stone Free, Purple Haze, 51st Anniversary, The Wind Cries Mary and Highway Chile – with four drawn from Are You Experienced, namely Can You see Me, Manic Depression, Fire and Foxy Lady. I also picked up a treasured South African compilation audio cassette, Masters of Rock: Jimi Hendrix, which fills in a few of the remaining gaps, including Are You Experienced and Third Stone From The Sun.

So, from Side 1, I have already looked at the opening track, Foxy Lady, track 2 (Manic Depression) and track 4 (Can You See Me). That leaves Red House (track 3, which is on the Masters of Rock tape), Love Or Confusion (No 5) and I Don’t Live Today (No 6). From Side 2, I don’t recall the opening track, May This Be Love, while Fire has been covered on Smash Hits. 3rd Stone From The Sun is on that Masters of Rock tape, but not Remember, the next track. However, the final track, Are You Experienced, is also on it. So let’s give those tracks a fresh listen and try to get a feel for this album.

Nothing. Nothing I have covered so far. Not one of the brilliant rock groups who burst upon the scene in the mid to late 1960s come anywhere close to achieving what Hendrix achieved in terms of bursting open the envelope and unleashing a range of sounds never, ever, to be repeated. And those three tracks from the debut album, on top of the brilliant tracks already looked at on Smash Hits, underscore the fact that this was indeed one of the most ground-breaking debut albums of all time.

Red House, omitted from the US version because the kids there supposedly weren’t into the blues (it’s the home of the blues, dammit!) has to rank as one of the all-time, if not the greatest, blues numbers ever produced. Not only was Hendrix a natural blues singer, his guitarwork gave him the added advantage of transcending genres, so a blues song becomes far more than that. Red House opens with some weirdly sliding lead guitar, then piercing notes which descend to gel with the bass, as a slow blues is set in motion. With Hendrix affirming the sound with the occasional “yeah!”, he pierces the air with short, penetrating lead breaks, before the song settles for that opening line. “There’s a Red House over yonder / That’s where my baby stays / There’s a Red House over yonder, baby / That’s where my baby stays.” This is followed immediately by: “Well, I ain’t been home to see my baby, / in ninety nine and one half days.” As an aside he says “’Bout time I see her”, before he adds, with a sense of urgency: “Wait a minute something’s wrong here / The key won’t unlock the door.” With the lead guitar, sans any feedback or other gimmicks, pouring forth its virtuous vitriol, an unsettled Hendrix ponders his plight. “Wait a minute something’s wrong baby, / Lord, have mercy, this key won’t unlock this door, / something’s goin’ on here. / I have a bad bad feeling / that my baby don’t live here no more.” But is he that distraught? Uh-uh. As a blues guitarist, he has one thing he can depend on. “That’s all right, I still got my guitar / Look out now …” And, naturally, that “warning” precipitates another virtuoso series of riffs on the guitar. I always loved, even as a teen, his use of the word “yonder”, which is actually very old-fashioned. “I might as well go on back down / go back ’cross yonder over the hill / I might as well go back over yonder / way back over yonder ’cross the hill, / (That’s where I came from.)” And, ever the ladies’ man, he knows just what it is he wants as the song ends in another flurry of lead guitar. “’Cause if my baby don’t love me no more, / I know her sister will!” A few self-satisfied chuckles can be heard as the song concludes.

But it is not Red House which made me believe this was such a ground-breaking album, great, brilliant, though that song is. No, it is 3rd Stone From The Sun which, probably more than any composition, placed Hendrix at the top of the pile in terms of innovative creativity. And to think he conceived and executed this on that debut album. At 6:50 minutes, this is his first real foray into music not somehow, even if subliminally, aimed at a commercial market. Here, for the first time, Hendrix creates an entirely new world, although he had already achieved something of that ambience on The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice. But here he takes things to an even higher plain, or is that plane? Certainly, we are again airborne, with our planet, the third “stone” from the sun, clearly the object of his concern. But what was this song all about? Well, firstly, all manner of electronic wizardry, most of it connected to that guitar of his, ensures that we have a song so richly textured it defies description. The slowly strummed opening chords are overlayed with alien-sounding vocals which seem to gnaw away at the sound fabric surrounding them. Gradually, a complex melody coalesces, building steadily to a main theme, which he returns to regularly, despite various lengthy interludes where one diverges from the flight plan. All the time, a kind of celestial wind seems to blow through you, as you join him on this incredible journey. One lyric website tells us that the opening vocals sound so weird because they were slowed down, but insists that with the following lyrics in front of one, “you can understand them!”. So, according to that site, those opening, alien sounds in fact say the following: “ ‘Star fleet to scout ship, please give your position. Over’ / ‘I am in orbit around the third planet from the star called the sun. over’ / ‘You mean it’s the earth? over.’ / Positive. It is known to have some form of intelligent species. Over’ / ‘I think we should take a look.’” Phew! So this is in fact an invasion by aliens. And those vocals, spoken at what is possible a tenth of actual speed, are so convincingly extraterrestrial one should have made that deduction ages ago. But, thanks to that diligent Hendrixphile, we now know. What you do hear, as they approach Earth, are words that sound like “warm, strange warm”, and a melody which, to me, seems to “say” something like “…all we are saying … is give peace a chance … give peace a chance…” An almost conventional lead break heralds the actual opening lyrics, which are spoken-sung: “Strange beautiful grass of green / With your majestic silken seas / Your mysterious mountains / I wish to see closer / May I land my kinky machine.” So this is no ordinary alien. He has a penchant for poetic description, and flies a kinky craft. “Although your world wonders me / With you majestic superior crackling hen / Your people I do not understand / So to you I wish to put an end / And you’ll never hear surf music again …” Ouch! It didn’t take long to displease him. I wonder what that “majestic superior crackling hen” was. I never heard that line before, or the fact that because he did not understand the people, he wished to put an end to them. What we did hear was the line that we would “never hear surf music again”. Having grown up within the sound of the surf at Bonza Bay, East London, and having basically spent my youth swimming in said ocean, where many others surfed on boards, this was, despite its foreboding tone, nonetheless a significant affirmation of the sea’s importance in the greater scheme of things. But, having cast his judgment, Hendrix then unleashes some of the most incredible sounds ever recorded. He at times puts on the brakes, with a crash of chords, then takes one floating through a tranquil deep space before letting loose sounds which somehow combine the neighing of a horse and the trumpeting of an elephant. The apocalypse is now, and as the theme tune returns, thick with distortion and feedback, we float to a dizzying conclusion. As I said, never, ever, to be replicated.

The title track, which concludes the album, while not a letdown – and I must stress that I’m not hearing it now in the sequence it was intended – cannot compete with 3rd Stone in terms of pure inventiveness. But Are You Experienced offers something fresh, what I call the “chucka-chucka” sound, a sort of thickly textured rhythm guitar sound created, I suspect, by resting the fingers lightly across the guitar strings while strumming them. This sets up a steady rhythm which lasts virtually the entire song, over which other guitar sounds are placed, along of course with those spoken-sung lyrics. “If you can just get your mind together / Then come on across to me / We’ll hold hands and then we’ll watch the sunrise / From the bottom of the sea.” Was it the sun that was to rise from the bottom of the sea, or were they watching from there? Nice bit of ambiguity. And so to the chorus, which coincides with some intense chucka-chucka sounds: “But first, are you experienced? / Have you ever been experienced? / Well, I have.” This is followed with: “I know, I know you probably scream and cry / That your little world won’t let you go / But who in your measly little world / Are you trying to prove that / You’re made out of gold and, eh, can’t be sold.” After repeating that he is experienced, he says “Let me prove you ...”, which heralds more guitar pyrotechnics. Then another bit of poetry: “Trumpets and violins I can hear in the distance / I think they’re calling our names / Maybe now you can’t hear them, but you will / If you just take hold of my hand / Oh, but are you experienced? / Have you ever been experienced? / Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful ...” Masterful. Another ground-breaking track.

There are two tracks on this album which I don’t seem to have anywhere on a recording, but which were an integral part of my upbringing. I can still hear them in my mind, but let’s look at the lyrics, which I only ever partially heared. I Don’t Live Today, tragically, seemed to predict his untimely death. “Will I live tomorrow? / Well, I just can’t say / Will I live tomorrow? / Well, I just can’t say / But I know for sure / I don’t live today.” It is a bleak assessment of life. “No sun comin’ through my windows / Feel like I’m livin’ at the bottom of a grave / No-ho sun comin’ through my windows / Feel like I’m livin’ at the bottom of a grave / I wish you’d hurry up and rescue me / So I can be on my miserable way.” Is that a call to a higher power to take him away? He is even more emphatic in the chorus: “(Well), I don’t / Live today / Maybe tomorrow, I just can’t say, but, uh / I don’t / Live today / It’s such a shame to waste your time away like this / Existing …” These lines are repeated as the song winds down in typical Hendrix fashion. He includes coughs and sniffs, as well as calls to “get experienced”.

Love Or Confusion seemed, at the time, to sum up how many adolescents felt when exploring this dodgy subject. Again, only the chorus really caught my attention at the time, so let’s see what the rest of the song says. “Is that the stars in the sky or is it raining far from now? / Will it burn me if I touch the sun, / so big, so round? / Will I be truthful, yeah, / in choosing you as the one for me?” The chorus goes simply: “Is this love baby, / or is it-a just confusion?” The remaining two verses reinforce this sense of, well, confusion. “Oh, my mind is so mixed up, goin’ round ’n’ round - / Must there be all these colours without names, without sounds? / My heart burns with feelin’ but / Oh! but my mind is cold and reeling.” After again asking the question, “Is this love, baby / or is it confusion?”, the song concludes with the lines: “Oh, my head is pounding pounding / going ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round. / Must there always be these colours?” Would that I could hear and experience these two tracks again.

Wikipedia does give a little information about this album, including the fact that Hendrix provides the voice of “Star Fleet” on 3rd Stone, while producer Chas Chandler does the voice of “Scout Ship” on the same song. One should, I believe, also not underestimate the role played by the backroom boys in producing the sounds achieved here. I’m sure they would have some interesting tales to tell about how 3rd Stone was achieved.

Monterey Pop Festival

It was apparently Paul McCartney who recommended to the organisers of the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that Hendrix be included. Filmed by D A Pennebaker, this concert cemented Hendrix’s fame in the US, especially after his smashing and burning of his guitar during the performance. Having just recently watched Rainbow Bridge, which I taped off the TV, I was intrigued to watch those snatches of Hendrix playing in a garish orange outfit with large ruffed collar. I’m no fashion fundi, but I did find it a trifle over the top. Nonetheless, Hendrix delivered the goods by playing out of his skin and also doing all the tricks on stage which made him both famous and infamous.

I have long contended that Eric Burdon and the Animals were one of the great blues outfits of the sixties, and the fact that Burdon befriended Hendrix in the UK emphasizes the fact that he was part of the pioneering group of musicians of that era who blazed a trail of musical glory. On the album, The Twain Shall Meet, Burdon’s song about the Monterey festival contains the line: “Jimi Hendrix, baby believe me, set the world on fire”. And sometimes his guitar, as well.

Anyway, after touring the UK and Europe, where he honed his stage act, Wikipedia tells of how, on his return to the US, Hendrix played a gig at which Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Brian Epstein, Eric Clapton, Spencer Davis and Jack Bruce were in attendance. He stunned them by doing a reworking of the title track of the famous Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But it is my belief that much of this gimmickry was alien to the real Hendrix, whose more sensitive side is evident in the five albums he recorded - and in the mystical imagery of his startling, colourful lyrics. I recall Hendrix was once quoted as saying he did not enjoy singing much, but that it was a prerequisite for rock success. However, anyone listening to the albums and live acts will realise that he uses his voice as another instrument. With his continual background banter, it is the perfect foil to his virtuoso guitar-work. And so, let’s have an in-depth look at those other seminal albums.

Axis: Bold as Love

Axis: Bold as Love (released in December, 1967 in the UK) was the first Hendrix album we really got into in a big way. Since the art on the cover of records also fascinated me, I was interested to discover on Wikipedia that this cover arose due to a misunderstanding. The British art designers were evidently asked to create a cover incorporating Hendrix’s “Indian” heritage. They did not realise this meant Native American Indian, so the cover ended up with Hendrix and his bandmates as Hindu deities, with multiple hands and serpents towering over their heads. Of course this only added to the Hendrix mystique.

But really, this, for us, was the big one. The album was a constant on our turntable for years and years. Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Firstly, it was recorded in May, June and October 1967 at Olympic Studios in London and released on December 1 that year in the UK and January 15, 1968, in the US. Wikipedia calls it blues rock, psychedelic rock, acid rock and hard rock, thereby covering virtually all their bases. It ran to just 38:49 minutes. But what magic was to be found in that short period of time! The tragedy though, for me, is that I don’t have a copy of the album today. I only have some of the songs dotted around on compilation discs and the like. Anyway, the album is pretty well embedded in my soul, so I’ll try to make do.

Produced by Chas Chandler, Axis: Bold as Love was meant to capitalise on the success of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s successful debut album, Are You Experienced. And didn’t it just? It reached No 5 in the UK and an even more impressive No 3 in the US. Wikipedia quotes bassist Noel Redding as saying this was his favourite of the three Experience albums. Interestingly, he plays eight-string bass on some tracks. And tragedy struck just before the album’s release. Wikipedia says Hendrix left the master tapes of Side 1 in a taxi – would you believe! The A-side had to be mixed again in a hurry. And somewhere a London cabby is sitting on a goldmine. How good do you have to be to reach the top? Incredibly, Axis was only ranked No 82 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

But what of the album itself? Key, it seems, was the alchemy which Hendrix and the backup technical people achieved in the studio. Wikipedia says many of the songs were “composed with studio recording techniques in mind and as a result were rarely performed live”. Exceptions were Little Wing and Spanish Castle Magic, the lyrics for which were “inspired by ‘The Spanish Castle’, a dance hall in what is now Des Moines, Washington, near Seattle where Hendrix jammed with local rock groups during his high school years”.

We’ll look out for these things when we listen to the tracks which I have, but Wikipedia tells us that on Little Wing for the first time Hendrix plays his guitar through a Leslie speaker, which is a “revolving speaker which creates a wavering effect, that is typically used with electric organs”. Oh, and Hendrix had an “effects man”. Yes, Roger Mayer, Wikipedia tells us, “then invented the Univibe effects pedal to simulate the Leslie sound” for Hendrix. This was different, it seems, to a commercially sold Uni-Vibe pedal, which Hendrix started using in the summer of 1969. For the techno junkies, Hendrix also used “the obscure and elusive Jax Vibra Chorus – basically a Uni-Vibe with the addition of tremolo and full/slow repeat time selector – on various recordings”. So that goes some way to explaining how a guy who, when he performs, seems to look as spaced out as they come, somehow manages to know precisely what sound he is going to produce every step of the way.

The album starts with EXP, a bizarre radio-type discussion about “the dodgy subject of are there or are there not UFOs”, or suchlike. Wikipedia notes that it starts with a few notes from Stone Free, played “one-half step down” – which presumably means slower. A plethora of incredible sounds leads into the discussion which, I see, is between Mitchell and Hendrix. Mitchell “plays a radio host, and Hendrix plays an outerspace alien in the guise of a human named Mr Paul Caruso, whose voice is gradually slowed down until he eventually takes off in his spaceship, much to the host’s consternation”. Let’s see if we have that discussion on the Web? Indeed we do. The Mitch Mitchell character is the announcer who says: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. / Welcome to radio station EXP. / Tonight we are featuring an interview with a very peculiar looking gentleman who goes by the name of Mr Paul Coruso on the dodgy subject of are there or are there not flying saucers, or UFOs? / Please Mr Coruso, could you give us your regarded opinion on this nonsense about spaceships and even space people?” At the mention of “even space people”, his voice rises incredulously. Then the languid Hendrix character (Mr Coruso) replies: “Thank you. As you well know you just can’t believe everything you see and hear, can you? / Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way.” At this point he ascends, leaving the announcer to mumble: “Bu ... but, but ... gulb ... I, I don’t believe it!” Mr Coruso departs with a series of Hendrix special effects: “Pffffttt!! ... Pop!! ... Bang!!” But who was Coruso? Wikipedia says he was a friend of Hendrix’s from his Greenwich Village days, who ended up playing harmonica on My Friend, which was recorded during the Electric Ladyland sessions and can be found on Cry Of Love. This album, another key part of our upbringing, was later released as First Rays of the New Rising Sun, a copy of which I have on CD and will be exploring later. But, back on Axis, after that crazy opening, the album surges into the first actual song, Up From The Skies, which Wikipedia calls a “jazzy number featuring Mitchell playing (drums) with brushes”. The song is about a space alien who has visited the earth thousands of years in the past, and returns to the present ‘to find the stars misplaced and the smell of a world that has burned”. Couched, of course, in inimitable Hendrix-mould rock, the song is a cry of pain for a blue planet that already then sensitive souls like Jimi knew was being wrecked. “I just want to talk to you. / I won’t uh, do you no harm, / I just want to know about your different lives, / On this here people farm.” Phew! I never heard that last line before. What a lovely sci-fi image – the Earth as a “people farm”. And I guess a visiting alien, where life may take on an altogether different form to ours, might easily have seen this as a farm full of people. The visitor seems incredulous that people live this way. “I heard some of you got your families, living in cages tall & cold, / And some just stay there and dust away, past the age of old. / Is this true? / Please let me talk to you.” What a lovely image for the tragic neglect of the elderly! He is persistent, armed as he is with a ray-gun-like lead guitar capable of unleashing unworldly sounds on unsuspecting humans. “I just wanna know about, the rooms behind your minds, / Do I see a vacuum there, or am I going blind? / Or is it just remains from vibrations and echoes long ago, / Things like ‘Love the World’ and ‘Let your fancy flow’, / Is this true? / Please let me talk to you. / Let me talk to you.” Then this visitor seems to experience an attack of déjà vu. “I have lived here before, the days of ice, / And of course this is why I’m so concerned, / And I come back to find the stars misplaced / And the smell of a world that has burned. / The smell of a world that has burned. / Well, maybe, maybe it’s just a change of climate. / I can dig it, I can dig it baby, I just want to see.” Those words, naturally, were prophetic. For certainly, as we look back over the past 40 years of careless industrial “progress”, we have to concede we have effected climate change and a world that in many areas is burning – literally and figuratively. And what a lovely way of describing having lived on earth before the last ice age – “the days of ice”. As the song unwinds, Hendrix slips into more flippant mode, somehow mocking the earthlings as they orchestrate their own demise. “So where do I purchase my ticket, / I would just like to have a ringside seat, / I want to know about the new Mother Earth, / I want to hear and see everything, / I want to hear and see everything, / I want to hear and see everything. / Aw, shucks, If my daddy could see me now.”

Track 3, Spanish Castle Magic, as mentioned earlier, referred to that dance hall in Des Moines where Hendrix jammed as a teenager. I remember a sprightly rhythm as this song transported one to another time, another place. “It’s very far away / It takes about a half a day to get there / If we travel by my uh, dragon-fly / No it’s not in Spain / But all the same you know, its a groovy name / And the winds just right. / Hey!” Riding on that old dragonfly, you are now borne aloft on the strains of Hendrix’s strings. “Hang on my darling / Hang on if you wanna go / Here it’s a really groovy place / It’s uh, just a little bit of uh, said uh, Spanish castle magic.” He is at his poetic best here. “The clouds are really low / And they overflow with cotton candy / And battle grounds red and brown / But its all in your mind / Don’t think your time on bad things / Just float your little mind around / Look out! ow!” Then, as that guitar and its accompanying wizardry of special effects engulf you, Hendrix pours out another chorus: “Hang on my darling, yeah / Hang on if you wanna go / Get on top, really let me groove baby with uh just a little bit of Spanish castle magic.” The improvised chirps and chatter continue, with things like, “It’s still all in your mind babe” and “Hang on my darling, hey / Hang on, hang on if you wanna go…” In all, another Hendrix classic, which I’d dearly love to hear again.

While Wikipedia may describe the next track, Wait Until Tomorrow, as a “pop song with an R&B guitar riff”, for us it was just more of the Hendrix magic, with Mitchell and Redding providing the backing vocals. Again, the lyrics bring the song back in an instant. Because, while the chorus is easy, a simple repeating of the line “We gonna wait till tomorrow”, I battled to recall how it started. Of course it is with a surge of electronic power, and the lines: “Well, I’m standing here, freezing, inside your golden garden / Uh got my ladder, leaned up against your wall / Tonight’s the night we planned to run away together / Come on Dolly Mae, there’s no time to stall / But now you’re telling me ...” And yes, it’s every loverboy’s nightmare. This gal ain’t going nowhere. Well not tonight anyways. Because she tells him, as a dialogue starts: “I think we better wait till tomorrow / Hey, yeah, hey / (I think we better wait till tomorrow) / Girl, what ’chu talkin’ ’bout ? / (I think we better wait till tomorrow) / Yeah, yeah, yeah / Got to make sure it’s right, so until tomorrow, goodnight. / Oh, what a drag.” Anyway, this guy is desperate to get his girl. “Oh, Dolly Mae, how can you hang me up this way? / Oh, on the phone you said you wanted to run off with me today / Now I’m standing here like some turned down serenading fool / Hearing strange words stutter from the mixed mind of you / And you keep tellin’ me that ah ...” And so the chorus is repeated, with the suitor interjecting that he can’t wait. “I think we better wait till tomorrow / What are you talkin’ ’bout ? / (I think we better wait till tomorrow) / No, can’t wait that long / (I think we better wait till tomorrow) / Oh, no / Got to make sure it’s right, until tomorrow, goodnight, oh.” That riff picks up again, before our protagonist tries another tack. “Let’s see if I can talk to this girl a little bit here...”, he says, before this final attempt: “Ow ! Dolly Mae, girl, you must be insane / So unsure of yourself leaning from your unsure window pane / Do I see a silhouette of somebody pointing something from a tree? / Click bang, what a hang, your daddy just shot poor me / And I hear you say, as I fade away ...” And of course all he hears, despite his gallant bid to win her hand in a Romeo and Juliet re-enactment, is her telling him they DON’T have to wait till tomorrow. How cruel is that for a guy with a bullet in his body. “We don’t have to wait till tomorrow / Hey ! / We don’t have to wait till tomorrow / What you say? / (We don’t have to wait till tomorrow) / It must have been right, so forever, goodnight, listen at ’cha.” The song ends with this dialogue between a guy who’s mortally wounded, and Dolly Mae who’s suddenly now ready to go with him. He at one point mournfully notes that “I won’t be around tomorrow, yeah!”, before adding “Goodbye, bye bye !” and “Oh, what a mix up / Oh, you gotta be crazy, hey, ow!”.

Do I recall the next track, Ain’t No Telling? Not at all, but I will when I check out the lyrics. Wikipedia says it is a rock song “with a complex structure for its short length (1:46 minutes)”. Ja, it comes back in an instant. Indeed, a complex little melody with surging, aggressive bass gets this one going. It is a song where I never really heard the words properly, instead focusing more on that intricate guitarwork. It goes like this. “Well, there ain’t no, / Ain’t no / Ain’t no telling, baby / When you will see me again, but I pray / It will be tomorrow.” These verses are short but sweet. “Well, the sunrise / Sunrise / Is burning my eyes, baby / I must leave now, but I really hope / To see you tomorrow.” Very well do I recall the line about putting “my body in her brain”, said with such vehemence, from the next verse. “Well my house is, oh, such a sad mile away, / The feeling there always hangs up my day / Oh, Cleopatra, She’s driving me insane, / She’s trying to put my body in her brain. / So just kiss me goodbye, just to ease the pain.” The song, in typical Hendrix style, winds down, and up, with the repeat of that chorus. Except that at the end he concludes that “Sorry, but I must leave now.”

And finally to a song, Little Wing, that I have on two compilations, one made for me by my late brother Alistair nearly 20 years ago – the only Hendrix track among stuff by Tom Rush, Melanie, Dave Bromberg and Bruce Cockburn. But it is also on a CD called The Ultimate Experience, so let’s at last get reacquainted with a snippet from this great album. How great to hear that opening guitar riff, accompanied by Mitchell’s tinkling glockenspiel, a subtle touch which gives the song just that added bit of class. Wikipedia says Little Wing is the “Indian name of Hendrix’s guardian angel”, adding that he himself said it was “his impression of the Monterey Pop Festival put into the form of a girl”. Whatever it is, it is one of his most beautiful compositions, which the Irish group the Corrs covered to good effect a few years ago. The lyrics are typically poetic. “Well she’s walking, through the clouds / With a circus mind that’s running wild / Butterflies and zebras / And moonbeams, and fairy tales / That’s all she ever thinks about / Riding with the wind.” Here Mitchell’s drums crackle like fireworks before the next verse begins. “When I’m sad she comes to me / With a thousand smiles she gives to me free / It’s all right she said, it’s all right / Take anything you want from me / Anything.” Then that final, liberating, message: “Fly on Little Wing / Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah / Little Wing.” Breathtakingly beautiful.

At 5:32 minutes, the final track on Side 1, If 6 Was 9, is the longest song on the album. Would that I had this one to hand. I remember it for its lovely imagery, while of course the numbers 6 and 9 also had rather rude sexual connotations which I hope I was not yet privy to at that tender age. Wikipedia says it is “arguably the most psychedelic track on the album”, and is notable for Gary Leeds of the Walker Brothers and Graham Nash “using their feet during the outro to make some stomping”. It notes further that the song features on the soundtrack for the 1969 counterculture film, Easy Rider, which I need to see at some point. This is probably also one of the few songs from the era I can recall which specifically mentions hippies and their hair. So there is this opening bit of psychedelic mayhem over which you hear the lines “(yeah, sing a song bro ...) / If the sun refused to shine / I don’t mind, I don’t mind / (yeah) / If the mountains ah, fell in the sea / Let it be, it ain’t me. / (well, all right).” Then the rejoinder: “Got my own world to live through and uh, ha ! / And I ain’t gonna copy you.” The next verse is in similar vein: “Yeah (sing the song brother ...) / Now if uh, six uh, huh, turned out to be nine / Oh I don’t mind, I don’t mind uh ( well all right... ) / If all the hippies cut off all their hair / Oh I don’t care, oh I don’t care. / Dig. / ’Cause Ive got my own world to live through and uh, huh / And I aint gonna copy you.” We loved that assertive stance taken by Hendrix, who was the ultimate individualist, carving an entirely new and exciting niche for himself. But the song takes on a different tone at this point. “White collar conservative flashin down the street / Pointin their plastic finger at me, ha! / They’re hopin’ soon my kind will drop and die but uh / I’m gonna wave my freak flag high, high ! / Oww ! / Wave on, wave on ...” There is of course a tragic irony in those lines. He lived just a few more years during which he did indeed wave his freak flag high, despite the opprobrium of the conservatives. And, while he may indeed have “dropped and died”, he continues to have the last laugh, because his music outlives the legacy of all his detractors. The winding down part of the song is a delight, filled with Hendrix’s unique sense not only of humour, but of the absurd. He failed to take anything too seriously, it would seem. “Ah, ha, ha / Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me / Go ahead mister business man, you can’t dress like me / Yeah !” At the time he was so confident of his path, so full of the power of life. “Don’t nobody know what I’m talkin about / I’ve got my own life to live / I’m the one that’s gonna die when its time for me to die / So let me live my life the way I want to.” I remember well how those lines were spoken in a kind of musical trance, like the words of a seer to his followers. Then, as the music magic pours out, he blesses their efforts: “Yeah, sing on brother, play on drummer.”

Da-daa da-da! Da-daa da-du. That’s how I recall the opening notes on You’ve Got Me Floating, the first track on Side 2 and eighth on the album. Wikipedia says it is “a rock song opening with a swirling backwards played guitar”, although this is only available on some mixes of the LP. “You got me floatin’ round and round, / Always up, you never let me down / The amazing thing, you turn me on naturally, / And I kiss you when I please.” I confess I never heard these intimate “nothings” between Hendrix and his girl, except subliminally. The chorus is a chanted “You got me floatin’ round and round, / You got me floatin’ never down / You got me floatin’ naturally / You got me floatin’ float to please.” Then, after a period of guitar-induced levitation, he’s back on the button. “You got me floatin’ across and through / You make me float right on up to you / There’s only one thing I need to really get me there, / Is to hear you laugh without a care.” The more than bearable lightness of being continues through a double dose of the chorus, before he returns for another bit of flattery. “Now your Daddy’s cool, and your Mamma’s no fool, / They both know I’m head over heels for you, / And when the day melts down into a sleepy red glow, / That’s when my desires start to show.” And isn’t that a wonderful image of a romantic sunset? In all, a delightful love song, but naturally one that is altogether unique.

And then, at last, another song I actually have on disc, Castles Made Of Sand, which Wikipedia calls “a ballad also making use of a backwards guitar solo”, whatever that means. Was it recorded and then played backwards, perhaps? Let’s see if a listen will reveal all. Phew again! This is another of those crisp, short masterpieces, which runs to 2:46 minutes. Hendrix on this and Little Wing is almost in folk-music mode, except he still is happier on an electric guitar. The strummed chords emerge out of silence before stalling to allow him to pluck out that complex introductory melody. Now, with drums and bass kicking in, the stage is set for some of Hendrix’s finest vocals in what really is, I suppose, a ballad, though the word seems far too conservative to be said in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix. This was one of the few Hendrix songs which included a narrative tale. But was I hearing it correctly all those years ago? “Down the street you can hear her scream you’re a disgrace / As she slams the door in his drunken face / And now he stands outside / And all the neighbors start to gossip and drool / He cries oh, girl you must be mad, / What happened to the sweet love you and me had? / Against the door he leans and starts a scene, / And his tears fall and burn the garden green.” Then, that guitar weaving a complex array of notes, he sings the short, cryptic chorus. “And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.” At last that clears up a misheard aspect for me. I thought he sang, “And sand castles made of sand”, which of course is terrible grammar. Here finally I stand corrected. I loved the next verse, which no doubt references Jimi’s Indian (Native American) roots. “A little Indian brave who before he was ten, / Played war games in the woods with his Indian friends / And he built a dream that when he grew up / He would be a fearless warrior Indian Chief / Many moons past and more the dream grew strong until / Tomorrow he would sing his first war song and fight his first battle / But something went wrong, surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night.” So thus far we have two tales of lives that are either destroyed by lost love, or at a time when the child is on the brink of becoming a man. Castles, as we made them on the beach, are so easily flattened by the surging sea. Then came the poignant tale of a young girl in a wheelchair. “There was a young girl, who’s heart was a frown / ’cause she was crippled for life, / And she couldn’t speak a sound / And she wished and prayed she could stop living, / So she decided to die / She drew her wheelchair to the edge of the shore / And to her legs she smiled you wont hurt me no more / But then a sight she’d never seen made her jump and say / Look a golden winged ship is passing my way / And it really didn't have to stop, it just kept on going...” With this sense of salvation by a visiting space ship, that “backward” guitar really seems to get excited and wail and cry its muted notes into the bowl of sound created by some superb bass, drums and rhythm guitar. Heaven knows how that sound is achieved, but it is what gives this song such superb texture. Even though the last line of the song, as it winds down, suffers from errors of concord, poetic licence is indeed readily granted. “And so castles made of sand slips into the sea, eventually.” A wailing guitar fades into the distance…

And of course Hendrix was playing alongside highly skilled musicians, in the Cream mould. So it is no surprise to find him playing second fiddle, as it were, to Noel Redding, who does the lead vocals on his composition, She’s So Fine, which Wikipedia calls a “very British pop/rock/Who influenced affair”. I remember it as a very subtle, understated piece of psychedelia. “She walks with a bell-clock round her neck, / So the hippies think she’s in with time / Her hair glistens like robins on a deck / Branches attack me from her neck.” After those wonderful lines, the chorus. “She’s so fine / She’s so very, very fine.” I suppose this is all just a bit of whimsy, but it certainly sounds good as a song, given that Hendrix adds his unique touch. “The sun from a cloud sinks into her eyes / The rain from a tree soaks into her mind, mind … / Morning sign sounds just like a lock / all the sings are always a stock.” Not sure what that’s about. Then that chorus before: “When I veer I get so near / But so far far far away / Listen to me today. / We united just beside a leaf / The ground was hard underneath, her, her / She’s so fine.” Thank heavens Hendrix was around to write most of the stuff, because this lacks his finesse.

Rainy day, dream away… That was still to come, on Electric Ladyland. But what was One Rainy Wish about? The 11th track on Axis, Wikipedia says it “begins as a ballad but develops a rock feel during the chorus that is in a different time signature to the verses”. From the title, and in the absence of the song in any form, I cannot say I recall it offhand. However, the lyrics will no doubt spur instant recognition. Ah, the ravages of time! Even though the lyrics look mighty familiar, the song remains just out of memory. It is nonetheless a fine piece of Hendrix poetry, which one day I’ll rediscover in its intended format. “Golden rose, the color of the dream I had / Not too long ago / A misty blue and the lilac too / A never to grow old.” There’s a lovely surreal quality to this. “A there you were under the tree of song / Sleeping so peacefully / In your hand a flower played / A waiting there for me.” My heart tells me this is one of those all-time classic understated Hendrix masterpieces. “I have never / Laid eyes on you / Not like a before / This timeless day / A but you walked and ya ha / Once smiled my name / And you stole / My heart away / A stole my heart away little girl, yeah / All right!” After the chorus is repeated several times – no doubt to rousing guitar-led musical accompaniment – the change spoken of seems to occur. “It’s only a dream / I’d love to tell somebody about this dream / The sky was filled with a thousand stars / While the sun kissed the mountains blue / And eleven moons played across rainbows / Above me and you. / Gold and rose the colour of the velvet walls surround us.” I certainly do recall that line “the sun kissed the mountains blue”, which might even have been spoken. And how’s the image, “eleven moons played across rainbows”. Superb! Even without the music, man.

The penultimate track, following what was clearly a gentle song, had to be a fully fledged rocker, and that is how I remember Little Miss Lover. Wikipedia says it was the first song “to feature a percussive muted wah-wah effect (with the fretboard hand ‘killing’ notes) – a technique that was later adopted by many guitarists”. This time I know the lyrics will jolt the song to memory’s life. While the song runs for 2:20 minutes, it is essentially an instrumental. “Little Miss Lover / Where have you been in this world for so long?” This is followed by: “Excuse me while I see if that gypsy in me is right / If you don’t mind. / Well, he signals me okay / So I think it’s safe to say / I’m gonna make a play.” Oh how I’d dig to hear that again. Happily I’ll be able to do so with the last track, which is on one of those compilations.

Wikipedia says Bold As Love “opens very abruptly and seques into a mellow groove similar to Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand. With a psychedelic chorus and an extended solo at the end it fades out the album”. Interesting that the three songs off this album I’ve laid hands on are all said to have similar mellow qualities. Let’s give this one a fresh listen. Incredible! This is the song I’ll always remember for the “white sound” near the end. At least that’s how I was raised to understand the effect apparently created with a revolving microphone. But first things first. It is indeed an “abrupt” opening, with a single burst of guitar sound accompanying that first word. And it is an angry word. “Anger he smiles tow’ring shiny metallic purple armour. / Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him. / Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground. / Blue are the life giving waters taking for granted, / they quietly understand.” Let’s stop right there. Remembering this is backed at this stage just by wonderful guitarwork, I suppose I can be forgiven for mishearing some of these wonderful words. I heard “Green jealousy”, but in fact in so doing pre-empted the green reference a little later as her “fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground”. Already, you’ll agree, we have the makings of a superb poem. But of course he pursues this colour theme to further dynamic effect, as each is linked to an emotion. As the second verse starts, so the bass kicks in, giving the song added body. “Once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready, / but wonder why the fight is on. / But they’re all, bold as love. / Yeah, they’re all bold as love. / Yeah, they’re all bold as love. / Just ask the Axis.” As the words, “the fight is on” are heard, Mitchell’s drums surge into action, giving the song a further push into excellence. And how great finally to discover what was going on here. I never heard “just ask the Axis”. I thought he said something like “just ask for answers”. Who, or what, the Axis is may become clearer as we progress. For now the song is in full swing. “My red is so confident he flashes trophies of war / and ribbons of euphoria. / Orange is young, full of daring but very unsteady for the first go ’round. / My yellow in this case is no so mellow. / In fact I’m trying to say it’s frightened like me. / And all of these emotions of mine keep holding me / from giving my life to a rainbow like you. / But I’m a yeah, I’m bold as love, / yeah yeah.” The reference, of course, is to Donovan’s song, Mellow Yellow, and it underscores for me that this song is not as “mellow” as the Wikipedia commentator would have us think. Instead, there is an edginess which only escalates as the song progresses. The chorus is repeated, with the additional line, after “just ask the Axis” of “He knows everything. Yeah, yeah.” But it is only now, with one “conventional” lead solo already under the belt, that the real magic is unleashed as that revolving mic sound kicks in. The song, in fact halts momentarily, before this drum solo is ignited, sending shards of textured sound swirling around the room. But then the real delight is how the Hendrix lead solo matches and complements that sound. So you have a surging montage of richly textured sound the likes of which had not been heard before, and would only be equalled by later Hendrix songs. It was a fine, fine way to conclude a superb album. Oh, and Wikipedia does note that Axis is included in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”. I was privileged to have been raised on it.

There is further gen on that album cover. As noted the British Track Records art department had opted for an “Indian” cover because of “the current fad for all things Indian”, says Wikipedia, ignoring the fact that Hendrix had American Indian roots, not Asian Indian ones. Anyway, it seems the actual image used is a copy of “a cheap, mass-produced religious poster of the Hindu devotional painting known as ‘Viraat Purushan-Vishnuroopam’”. The superimposed faces of the trio are from a painting of the group by Roger Law, from a photo portrait by Karl Kerris. The copy of Axis we had was not a gatefold like the original UK issue which, says Wikipedia, “included a large black and white portrait photo of the group by Donald Silverstein spread over the inside”. We also did not get the orange sheet insert with the lyrics printed in red. I can’t recall what was on the back of the SA version.

As noted earlier, Little Wing was covered by Irish band The Corrs. Indeed, Wikipedia says it is one of Hendrix’s best-known songs, and was covered, among others, by Eric Clapton during his Derek and the Dominos period.

A final interesting aspect about this album is the number of instruments Hendrix played. One usually only associates him with the electric guitar, but here he also played bass, piano and flute.

Electric Ladyland

Hendrix’s third album, Electric Ladyland (1968), marked a new departure – and also the departure of Chandler as his manager. Hendrix had moved beyond the three-to-five-minute song format, and on this album would explore the realms of blues-rock-jazz to his heart’s content. Hendrix surrounded himself in the studio with some of the greatest musicians around. From Traffic he brought in Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Steve Winwood, while drummer Buddy Miles and organist Al Kooper, a guitarist who played organ for Dylan, also participated in the long, erratic recording schedule to which Chandler could not relate.

This double album was, to me, a concept album to end all concept albums. It was probably the apotheosis of Hendrix’s artistry. Most memorable, perhaps, is the duel between the Hammond organ of Steve Winwood and Hendrix’s guitar on Voodoo Child (Slight Return). Most popular, probably, was his version of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which became a global hit. Wikipedia reports that the guitar arrangement on it is rated one of the best in modern music.

This was a double album which controversially featured a group of naked women on the cover - this at a time when nudity was all the rage, what with the London stage musical, Hair, having just opened. The SA cover, of course, did not feature those salacious nudes and, if I recall correctly, came in two separate sleeves. But just what was on the covers I can’t recall. I need a reminder, but do recollect an abstract design with a lot of red.

Electric Ladyland was not a commercial success, but it was a magnificent part of our upbringing. Many were the afternoons we spent listening to such songs as Voodoo Chile and 1983 … (A Merman I Should Turn to Be). The album simply contains some of the most amazing and technically brilliant guitar-work ever recorded. It was ranked No 54 in 2003 by Rolling Stone in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. I’d have put it far higher.

Given the significance of this album, which runs to 75:47 minutes, it is no doubt well worth the effort to see what Wikipedia has to say about it. It says it was recorded at the Record Plant Studios in New York in July and December 1967 and January and April-August 1968. Released by Reprise on October 16, 1968, Wikipedia classifies the genre as psychedelic rock, blues-rock, acid rock, Hard rock and experimental rock. They might have added jazz-rock too. But really, I suppose, it was again a case where Hendrix was simply doing his own inimitable thing, and what came out was simply new, improved Hendrix. The major difference here, I think we’ll discover further on, is that Hendrix was the producer. He was now completely in control. So this, surely, is the first album where his vision is seen through to its conclusion.

Wikipedia notes that Electric Ladyland is the third and final album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Written and produced by Hendrix, it says the album “is seen as the peak of Hendrix’s mastery of the electric guitar, and is frequently cited as one of the greatest rock albums of all time”. It would be the last Hendrix studio album “professionally produced under his own supervision”.

Work on the album started briefly at Olympic studios in London. Then after “a prestigious concert” at the Paris Olympia, says Wikipedia, he moved back to the US for the start of his “first proper tour there”. Three months later, work began in earnest at engineer Gary Kellgren and Chris Stone’s new Record Plant Studios in New York. Hendrix’s “favourite engineers Eddie Kramer and Gary Kellgren” recorded the stuff. But, says Wikipedia, during recording he fell out with Chandler and bassist Noel Redding. The problem was that, since he was touring and “trying to record a masterpiece” at the same time, Hendrix decided to mix work with pleasure and invited friends and acquaintances to the studio. This riled Chandler, who quit in May 1968, having played his part in taking Hendrix to his rightful place as a superstar. Chandler was also unhappy with the many takes Hendrix insisted on doing for each song, such as the 43 for Gypsy Eyes, the end result of which he apparently was still not satisfied. Wikipedia adds that Chandler objected to what he saw as “Hendrix’s drugged incoherence”. As a result he sold his share of the management company to his partner, Michael Jeffery. Sadly for Chandler, Hendrix “went on to produce his most successful LP himself and several successful tours, mostly sold out”.

Hendrix insecure? Wikipedia says he was “always insecure about his voice and often recorded his vocals hidden behind studio screens”. He sings “all the backing vocals himself on the title track and Long Hot Summer Night”, and was said to have been “very happy” with the result on the title track. But his backing musicians needed to show great patience. Dave Mason – he of Traffic – had to do over 20 takes on the acoustic guitar backing for All Along The Watchtower.

While The Experience continued to tour while work was being done on the album, Wikipedia says many tracks “show Hendrix’s vision expanding far beyond the scope of the original trio and saw him collaborating with a range of outside musicians”. As noted earlier this included the Traffic trio, future Band of Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles, Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, and Al Kooper. And, with Noel Redding not always in the loop, Wikipedia says Hendrix “plays bass tracks (on a right-handed bass guitar) on many tracks, including the bass solo parts on 1983”. And, to add insult to injury, when Redding popped out to a nearby bar for a beer, Hendrix used his bass to put down a track for All Along The Watchtower. However, Redding is still a major force on the album, playing acoustic guitar and singing lead vocals with Mitch Mitchell on his own composition, Little Miss Strange.

Wikipedia says Electric Ladyland became a “massive ht” following its US release in October 1968. It was his only No 1 album. In the UK it reached No 5, “amid considerable controversy”. And that was all about the cover. It’s a complex tale, but let’s try to unravel it. It seems Hendrix wrote to Reprise in the UK outlining what he wanted for the cover, “but it was mostly ignored”. He had wanted a colour photo taken by Linda (McCartney) Eastman of the group “sitting with children on a sculpture from Alice in Wonderland in Central Park, NY”. He even sent a sketch. But instead, the UK company used “a blurred red and yellow photo of his head, taken by Karl Ferris”. Track Records, meanwhile, had its art department use that cover picture with several nude, lounging women. At which point I lose track, because later they say “the US version by Ferris, however, has since become the official cover … outside the UK”. Further on they say the company Experience Hendrix … has stated that the original UK nudes cover will not be used any longer, since Hendrix himself did not like it; nonetheless Hendrix’s own choice, the Eastman photo, is still ignored”.

And then to the bizarre. Wikipedia says another dispute nearly arose over the title. “In the final stages of production, a studio technician renamed the album Electric Landlady. The album was almost released under this official title until Hendrix noticed the error, which upset him considerably”.

Wikipedia says the album comprises “a cross-section of Hendrix’s wide range of musical talent”. Fortunately, I have a copy of it on CD, so let’s give it a listen.

Yo! Small wonder why, all those years ago, I devoted hours and hours of my time to listening to this album. It is a musical tour de force which, if anything, has improved with the passage of time. I mean, who starts off an album with the simulated sounds of explosions, followed by a muffled grunting, like the rumblings of some giant alien from outer space? All this amidst the roar of solar, or sonar, winds. It may be only 1:21 minutes long, but the opening track, … And The Gods Made Love, sets the tone for a musical journey that again rewrote the rock history books. And of course each track is perfectly placed to succeed its predecessor, so as the gods let loose their amorous electronic shenanigans, so Hendrix cranks up the guitar with three bursts of sound before his melodic vocals pour forth, bolstered by lovely rounded, resonant bass notes. “Have you ever been (have you ever been) to Electric Ladyland? / The magic carpet waits for you so don’t you be late / Oh, (I wanna show you) the different emotions / (I wanna run to) the sounds and motions.” With sublime backing vocals, Hendrix at this points brings a change of pace. “Electric woman waits for you and me / So it’s time we take a ride, we can cast all of your hang-ups over / the seaside / While we fly right over the love filled sea / Look up ahead, I see the loveland, soon you’ll understand.” The guitar, surprisingly unobtrusive, sends out swirling, seductive notes into the mix, as Hendrix proclaims his mantra: “Make love, make love, make love, make love.” Good, too, finally to see these lyrics in full for the first time. “The angels will spread their wings, spread their wings / Good and evil lay side by side while electric love penetrates the sky / Lord, Lord I wanna show you / Hmm, hmmm, hmmm / Show you.”

The mellow nature of the title track only serves to accentuate the heavy rock of Crosstown Traffic, at 2:13 another surprisingly short song. Here the lead guitar, bass and drums launch a tripartite assault on the eardrums, before the guitar ascends to blare out that famous riff: daa da da-da da daa da. Staccato drumming is another feature of this fast-paced song which at a superficial level I always simply associated with city traffic. But the lyrics reveal it is, of all things, about love and relationships. “You jump in front of my car when you, / you know all the time that / Ninety miles an hour, girl, is the speed I drive / You tell me it’s alright, you don’t mind a little pain / You say you just want me / to take you for a drive.” Then that prolonged simile as chorus. “You’re just like crosstown traffic / So hard to get through to you / Crosstown traffic / I don’t need to run over you / Crosstown traffic / All you do is slow me down / And I’m tryin’ to get on the other side of town.” I always loved these lines. “I’m not the only soul who’s accused of hit and run / Tyre tracks all across your back / I can see you had your fun / But darlin’ can’t you see my signals turn from green to red / And with you I can see a traffic jam straight up ahead.” The lead guitar at times sounds like a hooter (or horn, in the US) blasting away. The final chorus differs only in the last line, where he says, “And I got better things on the other side of town.” Typically, the song winds down slowly, with lots of “look outs” and other chatter, before it glides into the next track, one of the all-time classics.

Voodoo Chile runs for 15 minutes and is, in essence, a slow blues song. But of course Hendrix invests it with so much more that one is left awestruck at the magnitude and sheer complexity of his creation. It opens with some desultory applause, before a few choice bars are played on the guitar and bass. With the guitar replicating the melody, a soulful Hendrix then opens the vocals with those famous lines: “Well I’m a Voodoo Chile / Lord I’m a Voodoo Chile / Yeah”. The first trickle of notes from the organ appear at this point, as the bass and drums kick in. “Well the night I was born / Lord I swear the moon turned a fire red / The night I was born / I swear the moon turned a fire red.” Adding to the Hendrix mystique, he continues: “Well, my poor mother cryin’ out / ‘Oh Lord the gypsy was right’ / And I seen her fell down right dead / Have mercy.” And that’s the first time I’m seeing those precise lyrics. So the stage is set for the rearing of this abandoned child, as the music becomes increasingly assertive. “Well, mountain lions found me there waitin’ / And set me on an eagle’s back / Well, mountain lions found me there / And set me on an eagle’s wing / It’s the eagle’s wing baby, what can I say?”. And the incredible tale continues. “He took me past the outskirts of infinity / And he brought me back / He gave me Venus witch’s ring.” This has a wonderful fantasy quality about it, like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter combined. “Hey! / And he said ‘fly on’ / Fly on, because I’m a voodoo chile, baby / Voodoo chile, hey / Yeah!” Now we are in the guts of the thing. Apart from regular short drum solos which rattle your bones, it is the ever-escalating duel between the organ and the lead guitar which now shape the song. There are regular changes and nuances before, in a new key, we are privy to an intimate moment. “Well I’ll make love to you / And lord knows you’ll feel no pain / I said I make love to you in your sleep / And lord knows you felt no pain, have mercy / Because I’m a million miles away / And at the same time / I’m right here in your picture frame.” Isn’t that a lovely image? While I’m not sure about the love-making part, this sense that a picture of a loved one can keep them in mind despite a separation of “millions” of miles is a fundamental part of human relationships. Now, however, we are set again on a path towards the next crescendo, which corresponds with that chorus. “Yeah! What did I say now / Because I said I’m a voodoo chile / Lord knows I’m a voodoo chile / Yeah! / Yeah, yeah turn it up / yeah yeah.” There are wonderfully subtle areas about now, with soft cymbals and rumbling bass, before another passage of poetry. “Well my arrows are made of desire / From far away as Jupiter sulfur mines / I said my arrows are made of desire / From far away as Jupiter sulfur mines / Way down by the methane sea / I hear a humming bird and it hums so loud / You think you were losing your mind.” Naturally, at the mention of the humming bird’s sound, Hendrix’s guitar offers a long note simulating it. The organ-guitar duel continues, however, as the apparent studio audience add whistles and clapping. After a loud bit of feedback, one jocular voice says, “turn the damn guitar down!”. But eventually they return to the original melody and the final verse. “Well I float in liquid gardens / And Arizona new red sand / I float in liquid gardens / Way down in Arizona new red sand / I taste the honey from a flower named blue / Way out in California / And then New York drowns as we hold hands.” Ouch! After that light poetic touch, does he really end with this apocalyptic vision of a drowning New York? I guess he does. It’s his prerogative. Another slow build-up to that chorus crescendo is then set in train before, almost like spent post-coital lovers, he relaxes the mood again. The rich texture of drums, organ, bass and searing lead guitar bring the first side to its conclusion, amidst a flurry of chatter, laughter, and some big bass guitar notes.

Side 2 starts with Little Miss Strange, that Noel Redding composition, which some might consider incongruous, but which I believe gives a nice psychedelic English touch to the album, bearing in mind that it was England, not the US, which first catapulted Hendrix to fame. Nice, too, to hear acoustic guitar strummed on this track, where Redding and Mitchell share the vocal duties. Hendrix’s guitar, naturally, is as dominant as ever, while the song has an interesting Cream-like texture. “No one knows where she comes from / Maybe she’s a devil in disguise / I can’t tell by lookin’ in her eyes.” Then that chorus: “Little Miss Strange / Little Miss Strange / Little Miss Strange / Came into my parlour / I didn’t know just what to ask her / I don’t remember what we did after / Little Miss Strange / Little Miss Strange.” The final verse reads: “Little Miss Strange / Came out of the darkness / Walked across my head / Stood beneath the light / I told her about the dream I had the other night / Little Miss Strange / Little Miss Strange.” All in all, a strange little song I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

A new mood is heralded by an opening lead guitar riff, as Long Hot Summer Night gets under its slow, bluesy way. This is all about a slow, relentless building up of tension.

“It sure was a long long long hot summer night / As far as my eyes could see / Well my heart was way / Down in a cold cold winter storm.” With some incredibly dexterous guitarwork, he continues. “Well my darlin’ where can you be? Where can you be baby? / Where can you be?” Chunka-chunka-chunk. “There was three sugar walls and a two candy cane windows / But the serious mood melted ah all those in sight / Everybody’s on fire but I’m uh snowin’ in a cold blizzard.” And so, as the guitarwork becomes more frenzied, he asks the question: “Where are you on this ah hot cold summer? / Where are you on this ah hot cold summer? / Where are you on this ah hot cold summer night?” After calming down a trifle, the follow superb image. “Around about this time the telephone blew it’s horn across the room / Scared little Annie clean out of her mind and I tell ya / Roman the Candle he peeps out of his peekaboo hide and seek / And grabbed little Annie from the ceiling just in time / And the telephone keeps on screamin’. / Yeah yeah yeah! / Yeah, yeah, yeah!” The guitar having screamed along with the telephone, the song now undulates along with some lovely vocal harmonies adding rich textures. Then: “Hello said my shaky voice, well how you doin’? / I start to stutter look / Ah can’t cha tell I’m ah doin’ fine / There was my baby talkin’ / She’s way down ’cross the border.” The pace, at this stage, is frenzied, and the vocals delivered in a matching manner. “She says I’m gonna hurry to ya / I’ve been a fool / And I’m tired of cryin’ / Said I’m tired Jimi.” Again, a plateau is reached, offering a moment’s respite. “Yes a long long long hot summer night / As far as my eyes could see / But I can ah feel the heat comin’ on as my baby’s getting’ closer.” Then another great and perilous ascent. “I’m so glad that my baby’s comin’ to rescue me / So glad that my baby’s comin’ to rescue me / So glad that my baby’s comin’ to rescue me / Rescue, rescue me, rescue / Rescue me, rescue / Rescue, rescue, What’d I say / Rescue me, rescue me / Rescue, rescue me, rescue / Rescue me.” With vast overlays of lead guitar, soaring and swerving alongside the vocals, this seems to prefigure the sound Hendrix achieves on Cry of Love, before it fades.


But again, don’t relax, because the pulsating opening of Come On (Part 1), which is apparently an Earl King composition, will immediately grab you by the jugular. “People talkin’ but they just don’t know, / What’s in my heart, and why I love you so. / I love you baby like a miner loves gold. / Come on sugar, let the good times roll. hey!” That is enough invitation to set Jimi on a trademark rollercoaster guitar ride, before he returns for verse two. “So many people live in make believe, / They keep a lot a going up their sleeves. / But my love baby is no kind that folds. / Come On Baby, let the good times roll. / (Let the good times roll).” As he again assails the senses with a lead solo, he adds: “ah baby, come on and let daddy fill your soul. / Baby, let the good times roll. / Hey!”. The guitarwork is note-rich, lightning fast, with the bass adding to the tapestry. “A love is nice if it’s understood / It’s even nicer when you’re feelin’ good / You got me flippin’ like flag on a pole / Come on sugar, let the good times roll.” There is great use of the wah-wah as the song rolls to its conclusion. “Hey! Yeah! Let the good times roll! / feel me baby! Come on, good times roll! / come on and let me fill your soul, / hey, let the good times roll.”

A revolving microphone? Who knows what arcane electronic device Jimi and his technicians used to create the squeezed out drum and guitar sounds on Gypsy Eyes, another shortish track at 3:43 minutes. It fairly races along, with the guitar notes neatly in sync with the Hendrix vocals. “Well I realise that I’ve been hypnotized, I love your gypsy eyes / I love your gypsy eyes / Alright! / Hey! / Gypsy.” Once set on our course, with the bass rumbling out that rhythm, Hendrix takes us into the story. “Way up in my tree I’m sitting by my fire / Wond’rin’ where in this world might you be / And knowin’ all the time you’re still roamin’ in the country side / Do you still think about me? / Oh my gypsy.” His guitar having given the “do you still think about me” line a rollicking lilt, he continues: “Well I walked right on to your rebel roadside / The one that rambles on for a million miles / Yes I walk down this road searchin’ for your love and ah my soul too / But when I find ya I ain’t gonna let go.” The short, clipped drum breaks add a festive air to this song. “I remember the first time I saw you / The tears in your eyes look like they’re tryin’ to say / Oh little boy you know I could love you / But first I must make my get away / Two strange men fightin’ to the death over me today / I’ll try to meet cha by the old highway. / Hey!” With notes rolling off down the fretboard and an echo effect, the song gets more and more energised. After the chorus is repeated, he ratchets up a notch. “I’ve been searchin’ so long my feet have made me lose the battle / Down against the road my weary knees they got me / Off to the side I fall but I hear a sweet call / My gypsy eyes is comin’ and I’ve been saved.” A more obscure form of imagery than Dylan’s, it it nonetheless very effective, especially in the context of the incredible music that surrounds it. Now, as the song ends, he savours his salvation. “Oh I’ve been saved / That’s why I love you uh / Said I love you / Hey! / Love you uh / Lord I love you / Hey!”

Side 2 concludes with a cracking version of Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, encountered earlier on Smash Hits. Is it a piano, a wah-wah lead guitar, or perhaps a combination of both. Anyway, the song opens with a typically distinctive riff, before evolving into a big, slow, ineluctable rock sound. “The morning is dead and the day is too / There’s nothing left here to lead me, but the velvet moon / All my loneliness I have felt today / It’s a little more than enough to make a man throw himself away / And I continue to burn the Midnight Lamp, alone.” Having looked at this earlier, suffice it to say Hendrix gives it a thorough overhaul for this album, pouring his soul into a bluesy rock song that again does full justice to superb lyrics.

Side 3 brings real surprises, not least the slow, jazzy opening track, Rainy Day, Dream Away. Cymbals, that organ and probably the first sax to be heard on a Hendrix song, set the mood. Here we have Jimi’s guitar sparring playfully with Freddie Smith’s tenor sax in one of the highlights of the album. With Mike Finnigan’s organ chipping in purposefully as well, it is left to Hendrix to survey the sound, as it were, and pronounce his satisfaction. With a sniff, he says, as guitar, sax and organ continue their sparring: “Hey man, take a look out the window ’n’ see what’s happenin’ / Hey man, it’s rainin’ / It’s rainin’ outside man / Aw, don’t worry ’bout that / Everything’s gonna be everything / We’ll get into somethin’ real nice you know / Sit back and groove on a rainy day / Yeah / Yeah I see what you mean brother, lay back and groove.” Then some sharp drumming adds urgency before there is a brief halt. The band then collects itself up and resumes with a slow, bluesy melody. “Rainy day, dream away /Ah let the sun take a holiday / Flowers bathe an’ ah see the children play / Lay back and groove on a rainy day.” The tempo changes, as a momentum is set in train which seems to roll over itself. “Well I can see a bunch of wet creatures, look at them on the run / The carnival traffic noise it sings the tune splashing up ’n’ / Even the ducks can groove rain bathin’ in the park side pool / And I’m leanin’ out my window sill diggin’ ev’rything / And ah and you too.” Here, then, is Hendrix’s guitar at its most magical, the wah-wah sound so expressive it gave rise to claims at the time that he made it talk. Certainly, it seemed to have a personality of its own. Hendrix was a sort of guitar ventriloquist, and his guitar did everything but actually enunciate words. It spoke a sort of higher language of the soul. Meanwhile, with solid backing vocals, the song winds down with the final verse. “Rainy day, rain all day / Ain’t no use in getting’ uptight / Just let it groove its own way / Let it drain your worries away yeah / Lay back and groove on a rainy day hey / Lay back and dream on a rainy day.” But this is just a precursor, because Side 3 is really an entity, one of the greatest creations in rock history.

For, out of the mellow mood of Rainy Day (3:42 minutes), emerges the epic, epochal 1983 … (A Merman I Should Turn To Be). Guitar and cymbals set up a swirling sound before the lead and bass lay down an anthem-like melody. Then follows an incredible piece of Hendrix poetry which, while I’ve heard it umpteen times, I now read in its entirety for the first time. “Hurrah I awake from yesterday / Alive but the war is here to stay / So my love Catherina and me / Decide to take our last walk / Through the noise to the sea / Not to die but to be re-born / Away from a life so battered and torn ... / Forever … ” The guitar oozes and squeezes its liquid into an ocean of sound, as he continues. “Oh say can you see its really such a mess / Every inch of earth is a fighting nest / Giant pencil and lip-stick tube shaped things / Continue to rain and cause screaming pain / And the arctic stains / From silver blue to bloody red / As our feet find the sand / And the sea is strait ahead ... / Strait ahead ...” The apocalyptic imagery is inescapable. Again we see the Hendrix persona as somehow able to transcend this “mess”. With the lead guitar sounding like a fighter jet flying past, he intones: “Well it’s too bad / That our friends / Can’t be with us today / Well that’s too bad / ‘The machine / That we built / Would never save us’ / That’s what they say / (That’s why they ain’t coming with us today) / And they also said / ‘It’s impossible for man / To live and breath underwater … / Forever’ was their main complaint / (Yeah) / And they also threw this in my face: / They said / Anyway / You know very well / It would be against the will of God / And the grace of the King / (Grace of the King yeah yeah).” Phew! These lines, of course, are firmly imprinted on my memory. (I remember my later brother, Alistair, singing along with gusto.) But it seems, and the title now becomes clearer, that the Hendrix character will find sanctuary not in the stars, but beneath the oceans, with the help of a “machine” that his friends doubted would make the journey. Friends, it must be added, who did not have faith in man’s ability to turn into mermaids and mermen. But Jimi proves them wrong and, after a rapid drum solo, the mood mellows, the pace subsides, and we find ourselves, not in an octopus’s garden, but somewhere way more pleasant. And to think all these years I got the first line of this next section wrong. Indeed, Jimi was not advocating sickly incest. He did not sing “my daughter and I”, as it sounded. Instead, he speak-sings the following: “So my darling and I / Make love in the sand / To salute the last moment / Ever on dry land / Our machine has done its work / Played its part well / Without a scratch on our bodies / And we bid it farewell.” Ah, it seems, then, that they made love on the sand on the shore, before descending. But next we do indeed find ourselves about to head beneath the waves. “Starfish and giant foams / Greet us with a smile / Before our heads go under / We take a last look / At the killing noise / Of the out of style ... / The out of style, out of style.” Now, I’m lost. What is the “out of style”? Whatever it is, it unleashes a new array of psychedelic sounds, from echoing bells and cymbals to indescribably alien noises, before a crisp clear electric guitar melody powers out of the morass, backed by big, bold bass notes. Next, the guitar is mordantly moaning mellow jazz-blues notes. Bass riffs and gentle bursts from Chris Wood’s flute keep the track on track, before a burst of feedback signals a sudden change of tempo and mood. Edgier now, the lead guitar soars like a fighter jet. Drums and that flute flay the air with intemperate bursts of sound, before that old bass is really let loose. Then jazzy flute and guitar prickle alongside those rollicking bass notes. A crescendo is reached, precipitating … descent, finally, into the depths of the ocean and their destination, Atlantis.

Moon, Turn The Tides … Gently Gently Away is really the denouement to this tale. “So down and down and down and down / and down and down we go. / Hurry my darling we mustn’t be late / for the show. / Neptune champion games to an aqua / world is so very dear. / ‘Right this way,’ smiles a mermaid, / I can hear Atlantis full of cheer.” As Hendrix achieves more incredible sounds, he celebrates. “I can hear Atlantis full of cheer ... / I can hear Atlantis full of cheer ...” Great gushing sounds, receding and advancing, see out one of the great Hendrix achievements. Yet, we still have another side to go.

And how better to start Side 4 than with some wonderful squawking wah-wah guitar, backed by that Finnigan organ on Still Raining, Still Dreaming, which is really a reprise of Rainy Day. “Ain’t no use in getting’ uptight / Rainy day, rain all day / Just let it groove its own way / Let it drain your worries away yeah / Lay back and groove on a rainy day hey / Lay back and dream on a rainy day / Lay back and groove on a rainy day / Lay back / Oh yeah !...” This mellow jive continues for 4:25 minutes, as the organ and Hendrix’s wah-wah guitar, surging bass and drum and cymbal blasts cover the gamut of emotions, before it winds down with a bit of background chit-chit.

Searing lead guitars and bass jolt one back to life as House Burning Down blazes away. “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey / Look at the sky turn a hell fire red / Someone’s house is burnin’ / down down, down down / Down, down, down.” The sound subsides sufficiently for Jimi to give some explication of what’s going down. “Well I asked my friend where is that black smoke comin’ from? / He just coughed and changed the subject and / said oh wa I think it might snow some / So I left him sippin’ his tea an’ I jumped in my chariot / And rode off to see just why and who could it be this time.” This is a great heavy rock song, with the Hendrix vocals particularly effective. “Sisters and brothers daddys mothers standin’ ’round cryin’ / When I reached the scene the flames were makin’ a ghostly whine / So I stood on my horse’s back an’ I screamed without a crack / I say oh baby why’d you burn your brother’s house down?” The guitar wails as he cries: “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” ahead of that opening verse/chorus, which is repeated. Again, now for the first time am I actually seeing what was being sung, heard so often but never fully understood. “Well someone stepped from the crowd he was nineteen miles high / He shouts retired and disgusted so we paint red through the sky / I said the truth is straight ahead so don’t burn yourself instead / Try to learn instead of burn, hear what I say, yeah, yeah.” There seems to be message there for those youthful revolutionaries who will destroy even before they have learnt how to create. “So I fin’ly rode away but I’ll never forget that day / ’Cause when I reached the valley I looked way down cross the way / A giant boat from space landed with eerie grace / And came and taken all the dead away.” Again, that celestial dimension which Hendrix was so ready to invoke. I love the use of the term boat instead of ship, coming from space. A spaceboat? Anyway, after this fiery episode, the song is consumed in a veritable conflagration of lead guitar sounds, which again seem to foreshadow the effects he achieves on the Cry of Love album. There is a lovely section at the end where, unaccompanied, he gets the guitar to make all manner of sounds. I heard a rearing horse, a racing car and numerous echoes and reverberations, before finally it fades into the distance.

All Along The Watchtower may have been the main commercial hit from the album, but to me it belongs more on Smash Hits than here. Of course it has all the ingredients of a great Hendrix song, one which transformed a Dylan folk song into one of the all-time greatest rock songs of a generation. To hell with it. This is great Hendrix, right from those big opening chords and the distinctive lead riff. And Electric Ladyland would not be the same without it. “There must be some kind of way outa here / Said the joker to the thief…” He really ratchets up the lead guitar at times, before unleashing one of the great echoed wah-wah lead solos.

And then, just to remind us we are listening to arguably the greatest rock album of all time, Hendrix returns for his final filibuster, the superlative Voodoo Child (Slight Return). This reprise of the 15-minute blues epic from Side 1 is a cracker. Somehow Hendrix managed to combine the fundamentals of a great blues-rock song with the most innovative electric guitarwork ever achieved. Here he kicks off with some serious talking from a wah-wah enabled guitar. Cymbals hiss like a snake, poised to strike, before full drums, bass and feedback guitar swell the sound to breaking point. The explosive guitar-led assault settles to a steady rhythm, before quietening somewhat to facilitate the opening vocal lines: “Well, I stand up next to a mountain / And I chop it down with the edge of my hand / Yeah / Well, I stand up next to a mountain / And I chop it down with the edge of my hand.” Here, Hendrix’s guitar sings in harmony with his own voice. “Well, I pick up all the pieces and make an island / Might even raise a little sand / Yeah.” The godlike qualities with which Hendrix anoints himself are evident here. He is there at the Creation … but, of course, he has no pretensions about his origins as he launches into the chorus. “’Cause I’m a voodoo child / Lord knows I’m a voodoo child baby,” This, of course, catapults us into the first soaring lead solo, which is definitely not of this earth. It incorporates some of the note-killed chucka-chucka sounds before the tale continues. “I want to say one more last thing / I didn’t mean to take up all your sweet time / I’ll give it right back to ya one of these days / Hahaha / I said I didn’t mean to take up all your sweet time / I’ll give it right back one of these days / Oh yeah / If I don’t meet you no more in this world then uh / I’ll meet ya on the next one / And don’t be late / Don’t be late.” The concluding lead solo encompasses virtually every effect Hendrix was capable of, the guitar gamut, as it were, yet it still remains a solid blues-rock song, the roots as firmly planted in the ground as ever. What I wondered, as I listened to those sounds, did my teenage mind make of it? Somehow we just accepted that this was the Hendrix sound, and lapped it up. It is only now, decades later, that I realise that this sort of sound would never be replicated. We were in the presence of a freak – in the best possible sense of the word. And this album was probably his finest hour and a bit.

But if you do get the CD, look out that they haven’t got the tracks muddled. Wikipedia reminds that on the original double LP, sides one and four were on one album, and 2 and 3 on the other. Evidently, this has led to some subsequent CD releases following a one-four-two-three order, which would just not be on.

Ah, and I should have looked more closely at who played what earlier, because I discover that, apart from the electric guitar, Hendrix played bass on no fewer than six tracks (2,6,8, 11, 14 and 15). He also played electric harpsichord (that indefinable sound mentioned earlier on Burning Of The Midnight Lamp), percussion and a kazoo made of comb and paper on Crosstown Traffic. He also, it emerges, used a cigarette lighter as a slide on All Along The Watchtower. Oh, and somewhere tucked away on Long Hot Summer Night I should have listened out for Al Kooper’s piano. Brian Jones was also there, playing percussion on All Along The Watchtower, while Buddy Miles, soon to join Hendrix’s new linep-up, played drums on Rainy Day, Dream Away and Still Raining, Still Dreaming.

And I see the singles off the album fared quite well, with Watchtower reaching 20 in the US and 5 in the UK in 1969. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) topped the UK charts in 1970.

All in all, then, this album was a seminal moment in the history of rock music, and I was privileged to be among those who heard it as it came off the presses.

Woodstock

The Experience split up in 1969, after Noel Redding got increasingly frustrated. As noted earlier, Hendrix even covered the basslines on much of Electric Ladyland. A natural lead guitarist, Redding went on to form Fat Mattress, which, says Wikipedia, Hendrix sometimes jokingly called Thin Pillow.

Based near the town of Shokan in upstate New York in the summer of 1969, Hendrix tracked down old army mate and bass guitarist Billy Cox to replace Redding. A rhythm guitarist and percussionist were added, and several songs I have never heard evidently emerged from the unofficially named Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. Jam Back At The House, Shokan Sunrise and Villanova Junction remain unknown to me, but not so Message To Love and Izabella, which are described as the “funk-driven centerpieces of Hendrix’s post-Experience sound” by Wikipedia, and which are contained on the posthumous Cry Of Love album.

It was this band that headlined the Woodstock festival that August. While the fact that only about 150 000 fans were left on that final morning to hear Hendrix is well known, his performance remains the stuff of legend. Despite numerous technical problems during the two-hour performance, there is enough solid music on there to please any Hendrix fan. And the highlight was his version of the politically charged Star-Spangled Banner, in which he turns the US anthem into a mournful dirge, a searing, scathing musical condemnation of the Vietnam War. He makes notes soar frenziedly through the sky like missiles, before crashing down in distorted waves of destruction, accompanied by the screaming cries of human misery.

For me, this work is the musical equivalent of Picasso’s massive monochrome painting, The Guernica, inspired by his outrage at the Fascist (and Nazi-backed) victory of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, which included the first air-bombing of a town, namely Geurnica.

Interestingly, Wikepedia tells us that Woodstock was not the first time he had played the anthem live. It was apparently a part of his stage shows from late 1968 through to the summer of 1970. He had also made studio recordings of it.

I first saw the Woodstock movie a year or two after the event, and was spellbound as Hendrix then seamlessly moved into the strains of his early hit, Purple Haze.

The Band of Gypsys

In late 1969 he recruited drummer Buddy Miles to join bassist Billy Cox in The Band of Gypsys. They performed on New Year’s Eve 1969-70 at Billy Graham’s Filmore East in New York. The album, The Band Of Gypsys, the only live Hendrix album that he officially sanctioned, was the result. It is one of Hendrix’s finest, with Machine Gun perhaps the iconic anti-war anthem of all time.

I recall listening to this album over and over again, imagining I was there in the audience as Hendrix welcomes the crowd with “Happy New Year first of all…”. Then he dedicates the next song to “all the draggy scenes that are going on … all the soldiers that are fighting in Chicago and … oh yes and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam”. Then, with massive understatement, he says they are going to do a “little thing called Machine Gun”. Combining guitar and drums, the band evokes the metallic arranging of the working mechanism of weapons of war, then the staccato sounds of machine-gun fire and the ricochet of bullets.

Imagine how they felt, the soldiers in Vietnam, when that song reached them, or when they heard it on returning home. It must have added immensely to the anti-war campaign. And all that through the power of music. But, as I learn from my trawl through the websites, it is apparently also a song of broken love: “After a while your cheap talk don’t even cause me pain, so let your bullets fly like rain.”
Interestingly, I see on Wikipedia the four concerts spread over two days are now contained in a Live at Filmore East two-disc set. Just six of the songs performed in the last two concerts (on January 1), are on the album, but what songs! They are, in order, Who Knows, Machine Gun (all 12 and half minutes of it), Changes (a Buddy Miles song), Power Of Love, Message to Love and We Gotta Live Together (another Miles song). The other songs performed over those two nights were: Them Changes, Power Of Soul, Stepping Stone, Foxy Lady, Stop, Hear My Tain A-Comin’, Earth Blues, Burning Desire, Stone Free/Little Drummer Boy, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Wild Thing, Hey Joe and Purple Haze.

But let’s give that disc a spin, and try to recapture the mood of a teenager entranced by the Hendrix magic, which was captured in that cover photograph of red-orange-clad Hendrix bathed in a spotlight, seemingly made of some sort of blazing lava. But before doing so, I need to ascertain that Wikipedia doesn’t house some added insights about this album, which is one of my all-time favourites.

Noting that it was released in April 1970 (that year again), Wikipedia says Hendrix had a legal obligation to make an album for Capitol. With Cox and Miles, the band made its debut at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve, 1969. Four shows would be spread over two nights, as material for this “jam” album. In terms of his contractual obligations, the album had to comprise new songs and, notes Wikipedia, “the fact that these songs were never properly released as studio versions elevates the significance of this album”. And they endorse my views about Machine Gun saying it “contains improvised sections featuring guitar feedback and percussive effects that have commonly been seen as a simulation of the sounds of war such as explosions, falling bombs and most prominently, the titular machine guns”. They add that the performance was captured on hand-held, black and white video recorders.

Incredibly, it would seem Hendrix did not really want the album to be a success, according to Wikipedia. They say he selected two Buddy Miles song “as a damage limitation exercise, obviously not wanting to give away any more of his new songs than he had to, as he would personally receive nothing from the album”. It says he later “spoke of the sub-standard quality of the LP, no doubt hoping to limit its sales”. One song, We Gotta Live Together, it emerges, was “heavily edited to fit on the album”. A longer version, over 10 minutes, is available on the 2-disc Live at the Fillmore East album, but the full version of the song on the LP has not been officially released.

Despite all the negativity cited above, it does not surprise me that Band of Gypsys reached No 5 in the US and No 6 in the UK and became one of Hendrix’s best-selling albums. I was also released in the UK and some other countries with an alternative cover featuring dolls of Hendrix, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan and UK DJ John Peel, who backed him early on. And, it seems, there is a DVD documentary called Band of Gypsys which contains the black and white footage mentioned above. While the recordings for the album are from the final two shows, it would be really great to get that Live at Fillmore East CD, because the band played a veritable treasure trove of songs over those four concerts, tracing Hendrix’s short but illustrious, and highly productive career. The first set, on December 31, 1969, featured Power of Soul, Lover Main, Hear My Train A-Coming, Them Changes, Izabella, Machine Gun, Stop, Ezy Ryder, Bleeding Heart, Earth Blues and Burning Desire. The second set that day comprised Auld Lang Syne, Who Knows, Stepping Stone, Burning Desire, Fire, Ezy Ryder, Machine Gun, Power Of Soul, Stone Free/Nutcracker Suite/Drum Solo/Outside Woman Blues/Cherokee Mist/Sunshine Of Your Love, Them Changes, Message To Love, Stop, Foxy Lady, Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and Purple Haze.

The third set, on January 1, 1970, consisted of Who Knows, Machine Gun, Them Changes, Power of Soul, Stepping Stone, Foxy Lady, Stop, Hear My Train A-Comin’, Earth Blues and Burning Desire. The fourth, that same day, comprised Stone Free/Little Drummer Boy, Them Changes, Power To Soul, Message Of Soul, Earth Blues, Machine Gun, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), We Gotta Live Together, Wild Thing, Hey Joe and Purple Haze.

But for us, back then, it was those six tracks, which we assumed all occurred at one concert, that rocked our boats. So let’s give it a blast.

Oh my, my. There aren’t many superlatives that can do justice to this. Instead of the earlier gimmicks of the great outdoor concerts, here we see Hendrix in front of a relatively small audience, and achieving sounds such as you’d expect to only hear emanating from a studio. Yet, at the same time, with Cox on drums and Miles on bass, and a highly energised audience, you have an atmosphere which is electric. In other words, the best of both worlds.

The album opens with an announcer saying something about his wanting to welcome “some old friends with a brand new name, a Band of Gypsys”. Hendrix’s guitar sets a melody in train before being joined by bass and drums, as a steady blues-rock jam is unshackled, with those lead breaks the key. Hendrix takes up the vocal duties, with the other two echoing each of his lines. “They don’t know / They don’t know / Like I know / Like I know / Do you know / They don’t know / I don’t know / I don’t know / What my baby / What my baby / Put on down / Put on down / What my baby / What my baby.” Noticeable already is Buddy Miles’s impressive voice, which is a perfect foil to Hendrix’s uniquely laid-back vocal style. It is now routine, between verses, for Hendrix to spring lead guitar solos at one, laced with feedback and all manner of nuance that no one will ever fully decipher. “I just came back from / I don’t know / I can’t count it / I can’t count it / I just cant find this town / They don’t know / I’m lookin for my seller / I don’t know my baby / Have you seen her / Have you freed her yeah / Have you seen her / Oooh hhhooo. / Talkin about my baby / Goin down / Talkin about my baby.” After another lead solo where crunching guitar chords prefigure Machine Gun, the melody is reinstated for the next verse: “I just came in / I just came in baby / I just came in / I just came in / Spread the magic baby / All in my bed / She got chains, attached to my head / Talkin’ about / Talkin’ about / Talkin’ about my baby / I don’t know about it.” A feature of most songs on this album is how Hendrix accompanies his own vocals, playing each note precisely alongside what he’s singing. The song is characterised by regular changes in tempo and temperament, with Miles sometimes taking up the lead vocals. Indeed, at one point Miles performs some vocal gymnastics almost reminiscent of John Mayall, to the accompaniment just of bass and drums. “They don’ know what I know / They don’t know like I know / All the time I’ve been hangin around / All the time I hang around / She didn’t know / Ha she didn’t care / She didn’t know / She didn’t care / And she go walkin’ down the street singin’ / Everybody die / Da da dada da doo doo / They don’t know / Nobody knows / They don’t know / Just don’t know / Da da da.” Having built up to a cracking crescendo, the Miles vocals fade along with the bass. Then, just as things seem to be fizzling out, in the distance Jimi picks up the reins with a few choice chords. Before you know it, he’s unleashed a fresh barrage of sound, as he squeezes notes from that guitar, which seems to surge with its own energy. Finally, the melody is reinstated before the band wind down the song to appreciative applause. The first 9:32 minutes of pure magic is past, with so much more yet to come.

Imagine us, circa 1971. I was, what about 15, and it’s midsummer. In the southern hemisphere. It’s holiday time. Around New Year’s Day. We’re in baggies, that’s all. Hair still wet and full of salt after bodysurfing for hours. And on the turntable is this album. And there, opening the second track, is Mr Laid Back Jimi Hendrix. And ever so nonchalantly he tells his Fillmore East audience: “Happy New Year first of all. I hope we’ll have a million or two million more of them . . . if we can get over this summer, he he he. Right I’d like to dedicate this one to the draggin’ scene that’s goin’ on . . . all the soldiers that are fightin’ in Chicago, Milwaukee and New York ... oh yes, and all the soldiers fightin’ in Vietnam . . . like to do a thing called Machine Gun.” I always found it odd that he mentioned those in Vietnam almost as an afterthought. Be that as it may, the stage was set for one of rock’s all-time great events. And it starts off slowly, with some complex chord arrangements, before the signature chucka-chucka-chuck sound burst through as bass, drums and guitar synchronise their watches ahead of the assault. The wailing lead guitar solo that follows is instantly mournful, setting the tone for this classic elegy to the fallen in so many conflicts. And then Hendrix’s voice, fittingly somber, opens with: “Machine gun, / tearin’ my body all apart. / Machine gun, yeah, / tearin’ my body all apart.” I mean what a thing to say! But that was the reality. This was a shocking statement of fact. That is what wars did. They tore flesh and bones and blood and brains and sinews and nerves and eyes, hearts, genitalia, limbs, stomachs, intestines, livers, pancreases, lungs . . . those bullets tear them “all apart”. And most often there’s no fixin’ them afterwards. And so Hendrix explores, both with his guitar and in words, the nexus of conflict. “Evil man make me kill you. / Evil man make you kill me. / Evil man make me kill you, / even though were only families apart.” Again, I’m “hearing” these words for the first time, and the impact is immense. Because it is evil which engenders conflict, and in the end we are all one family, all tracing our roots back to some fertile African valley. “Well, I pick up my axe and fight like a farmer, / You know what I mean? / Weh, hey, and your bullets keep knockin’ me down. / Hey, I pick up my axe an’ fight like a farmer, now, / yeah, but you still blast me down to the ground.” Then, transforming the song to one about a very personal relationship, he continues: “The same way you shoot me baby, / you’ll be goin’ just the same, three times the pain. / And with your own self to blame, machine gun!” So it is clearly a song not only about war, but also about emotional conflict – and in this case it looks like Jimi’s on the receiving end. The song mutates, gyrates, generates angst and anger, as the thumping melancholy bass repeats, again and again, the line: da-da-da-da da daa daa daa da, da-da-da-da da daa daa daa. Then, having “loaded” his weapon with a sequence of metallic sounds, Hendrix fires off wave after wave of projectile, which whine through the air and burst in explosions of flesh-slashing shrapnel. Each time one is drawn to the sound of the missile’s trajectory, as one waits in trepidation for the inevitable blast. Perhaps in the face of the real wars that surrounded him, he gains strength to take on a woman whose own assault, however orchestrated, hurts him deeply. “I ain’t afraid of your mess no more, babe / I ain’t afraid no more / After a while, your, your cheap talk don’t even cause me pain, / so let your bullets fly like rain. / ’Cause I know all the time you’re wrong baby / And you’ll be going just the same / Yeah, Machine Gun / Tearing my family apart / Yeah, yeah, alright / Tearing my family apart.” Ah, yes, and here the reference to his family may also have more literal significance. Because torn relationships can so often sever family ties. Anyway, as another barrage of bullets and missiles turns the battlefield into a wasteland, it is Buddy Miles who steps right up to the microphone. “Don’t you shoot him down / He’s ’bout to leave here / Don’t you shoot him down / He’s got to stay here / He ain’t going nowhere / He’s been shot down to the ground / Oh where he can’t survive, no, no.” The band then allows the battle to wind down, with Hendrix at one point achieving the subtlest, most wavering notes conceivable. Next, his guitar is talking like a lost child in the wilderness. Then, before you know it, it’s full-scale war again, with planes and bombs and missiles. A thunderous drum roll seems to end the pain, as the wincing, shell-shocked audience applauds politely. Jimi and the lads conclude with the spoken words: “Yeah, that’s what we don’t wanna hear anymore, alright? / (No bullets) / At least here, huh huh / (No guns, no bombs) / Huh huh / (No nothin’, just let’s all live and live) / (You know, instead of killin’).”

Jimi and Buddy

“Buddy Miles is goin’ to do something he wrote called Them Changes,” is how Jimi introduces the next track which, at 5:10 minutes, is the shortest on the album. The song opens with a fluid rush of solid, soulful rock, before Miles lays into those lyrics. “Well my mind is goin’ through them changes / I feel just like committing a crime / every time you see me goin’ some where / I feel like I’m going out of my mind, yeah / Oh, my baby she left me the other day / and we were having so much fun yeah, yeah / Oh, my baby she stepped out on me / And that’s the reason why she had to part.” Although it is Miles’s song, it is the Hendrix guitar which leads the way, as Miles reconciles with his lovelorn reality: “It’s alright yeah yeah / it’s alright / what I say / it’s alright / ooo hooo.” The next verse goes like this. “Well my mind is goin’ through them changes / I think I’m goin’ out of my mind / every time you see me goin’ some where / I think I could commit a crime / know / she had me runnin’ / she had me cryin’ / she had me runnin’ / she had me had me had me cryin’ …” And so he continues, with the song becoming ever quieter as he invites the audience to join in by clapping their hands. Now it’s just the bass and drums, before the momentum builds relentlessly, and the Hendrix guitar rips back in as the melody regroups before a superb drum-led finale.

A tight bit of lead guitar, backed by equally intricate bass and drums open Power Of Soul, another powerhouse of a song which slows for a series of yeahs and ooos, before becoming a straight slow blues, ignited by a superb lead guitar solo. The solo veers off at a tangent, Hendrix squeezing out some incredible sounds, before the whole thing coalesces into a melody. After interesting tempo and time signature changes, the first actual lyrics, which reveal that I totally misheard what was being sung. I heard something like “Two drum solos ….” Instead, my friendly website tells me it goes: “One tropic summer those high flyin’ mans you’ve been thinkin’ / You know the ones that have been flyin’ too low, oh / Look up at some of those airplanes risin’ and takin’ / To see the ones that are flyin’ too low / Yeah ... / Talk about …” And now we enter the chorus, in which Miles and Cox join in the vocals to delightful effect. “With the power of soul / Anything is possible / With the power of you / Anything you wanna do.” The ensuing lead solo seems to penetrate places in the brain that unlock something spiritual, or visceral, before Hendrix resumes with lines so laid-back I never really heard them before. “Flyin’ through the air on a kite every day and every night / Just up there, it escape her wrist / Sometimes the wind ain’t right / Yeah, I’m playin’ too much with one toy baby / Just up there, it escapes to the crippled night / Oh yeah …” Now, as the guitar sketches exotic locales, we find Hendrix in floating mood. “And you look around and see all the jellyfish / You sayin’ flotation is groovy baby / And even he’ll tell you that / Yeah, getting’ high every day is easy / And the floatin’ around even if jellyfish will agree to that / Yeah, I’m singin’ with a power / Aren’t you? / Is that the way you want to be baby, look out now / Hhmm. / With the power / Anything, anything you want to do.” And here that harmonising is again done to a T. “With the power of soul / Anything is possible / With the power of you / Anything you wanna do / With the power of soul / Anything is possible / With the power of you / Anything you wanna do / Oh yeah.”

“Jimi’s going to do a thing he wrote called Message Of Love.” This introduction unleashes a torrent of fast-paced, heavy rock with a series of chords rising up through the register until a plateau is reached. “Well I travel at the speed of a reborn man / I got a lot of love to give / From the mirrors of my hand / I sent a message of love / Don’t you run away / Look at your heart baby / Come on along with me today.” Again, in this fast rock-blues, Hendrix’s guitar penetrates and probes the ear and brain, before the melody resumes. “Well I am what I am thank god / Some people just don’t understand / Well help them god / Find yourself first / And then your tool / Find yourself first / Don’t you be no fool.” Then that interesting bit of vocal gymnastics before the next verse. “Here comes a woman / Wrapped up in chain / Messin with that fool baby / Your life is pain / If you wanna be free / Come on along with me / Don’t mess with the man / Hell never understand / I said find yourself first / And then your talent / Work hard in your mind / So you can come alive / You better prove to the man / You’re as strong as him / Cause in the eyes of god / You’re both children to him.” Again those backing vocals surge. “Da da doo doo / Everybody come alive / Everybody live alive / Everybody love alive / Everybody hear my message / Hey, ooooo …” Complex closing riffs culminate in another outrageously good lead solo before the song ends to applause.

The final track, another Miles song called We Gotta Live Together, starts with Miles saying: “We’d like to say, we’d like you to clap your hands just one more time, and sing along with us.” This as the Hendrix guitar and those tight rhythm sections are setting up a riveting beat, which culminates in the almost screamed: “Haaa haaa haaa.” This sets Hendrix’s guitar aflame, before the song settles into a slow soul sound which, mixed with the sustained clapping, acquires an interesting texture. Now I used to hear the chorus line as “Whole sweet love!”. Wrong, of course. Miles sings: “The old house dog / Is waggin’ his tail / Nobody loves him / He’s dirty as hell / They put him in home sweet hell / Everyone now / Home sweet home / Home sweet home / Home sweet home / Got to be love beside ya / Home sweet home / That’s all you gotta have love beside ya / Home sweet home / Yeah / Home sweet home …” And so, carried along by Miles’s incredible lead vocals, ably backed by the other two, but all the time dominated by Hendrix’s guitar, a full-bodied boogie ensues. The rhythm section is noticeably more prominent though than in the Experience days, and it seems to bring out the best in Hendrix. With those vocals chugging along, the song speeds up to a climax. “We got to live together / Yeah / We got to live together / Yeah / We got to live together / Yeah / We got to live together …” Frenetic lead, overlaid by feedback, brings the album to a fittingly exuberant finale, as the crowd show their appreciation amidst the large, final reverberating chords.

And so ends one of the great moments in the history of rock music. Of course I’d never be the same thereafter. This was mind-altering stuff, but all totally natural, of course, which was what made it so wonderful.

Cry of Love

But trouble was brewing. Under manager Michael Jeffery, Hendrix reached a low point on January 28, 1970, when the Band Of Gypsys performed live at Madison Square Garden. Hendrix only lasted till the middle of the second song before sitting on the stage and being escorted away. Speculation is his drink was spiked or he was somehow given LSD. Elsewhere, Wikipedia says during the concert he “crudely insulted a woman in the audience” and only played two songs.

Jeffery disbanded the band, as it were, and brought back the Experience, but Hendrix refused to play with bassist Noel Redding, and brought back Billy Cox. So Mitchell, Cox and Hendrix was the line-up for the Cry Of Love band, which that year spent much of their time playing live during the week and recording at weekends. It was a punishing schedule. Wikipedia says they were working on what was projected to be a double, or even triple, album, until work was cut tragically short by Hendrix’s death in September, 1970. He had also been working with jazz composer and Miles Davis collaborator Gil Evans. I remember rumours abounding at the time about what he had been planning next, with Wikipedia saying these included working with Eric Clapton, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Miles Davis and Duane Allman.

Ever wondered where all those live albums came from which have been released over the years since Hendrix’s death? Wikipedia tells us that their tour that year included 30 performances and ended in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 1, 1970. As Wikipedia notes: “A number of these shows were professionally recorded and produced some of Hendrix's most memorable live performances.”

And Hendrix was one of the first rock musos to open his own recording studio. Electric Lady Studios opened in Greenwich Village in August, 1970. Hendrix only spent four weeks recording there, however, before heading to Europe on his final tour. Wikipedia notes that an opening party was held on August 26 following a recording session that generated “his last studio-recorded song, Belly Button Window”. This would be included on Cry Of Love.

The European tour, which included the Isle Of Wight Festival, was a financial necessity to pay for the studio and Hendrix’s tax debts. But the fans wanted the old Hendrix who burnt guitars and he had moved beyond that gimmickry. It seems it was generally a failure. Back in London, he got together with Chandler and Eric Burdon in a bid to get shot of manager Jeffrey. According to Wikipedia, Hendrix’s last public performance was an informal jam at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, London, with Burdon and his new band, War.

And one of his last known recordings was the lead guitar part he played on Old Times Good Times, on Stephen Stills’s eponymous first solo album. The track was recorded at London’s Island Studios and remains one of the reasons why that album is such a classic. Interestingly, Stills also got Eric Clapton to play lead guitar on another track, Think I’ll Go Back Home.

Of course we were shocked when we heard about Hendrix’s death shortly after it happened on September 18, 1970. Wikipedia says he died in a basement flat of the Samarkand Hotel at 22 Lansdowne Crescent in London. He had spent the night with German girlfriend Monika Dannemann and is believed to have died in bed “after drinking wine and taking nine Vesperax sleeping pills, then asphyxiating on his own vomit”. Dannemann allegedly committed suicide in 1996. This followed ongoing controversy regarding the circumstances of his death, and whether he was still alive when taken to the ambulance. A “sad poem” written by Hendrix and found at the apartment prompted speculation that he had taken his own live. There were other claims that he was “forcibly given the sleeping pills and wine, then asphyxiated with a scarf by professionals hired by manager Michael Jeffery”, says Wikipedia. But “the most popular theory” is the first one mentioned above. One person left devastated by his death was Eric Clapton, who had bought a left-handed Statocaster guitar for Hendrix, but never got the chance to give it to him.

I recall his death warranted just a couple of paragraphs, no more, in the local Daily Dispatch. What did the older generation care if a 27-year-old genius had died? But in those days, with the dislocation which characterises teenage youth, we certainly weren’t devastated. It was karma. And, in a sense, I suppose we saw it as a form of martyrdom for the cause of youthful rebellion. Certainly Hendrix only grew in popularity among those who had already found him. And so, when Cry Of Love was released in 1971, when I was in my second year of high school, it was welcomed and savoured.

I see Wikipedia describe it as rock, acid rock, psychedelic rock and blues-rock. As observed earlier, I don’t think you can really categorise Hendrix’s music, beyond talking of a broad blues-jazz-rock-funk-sometimes even country and folk influenced mélange of unique magic. So this then was just more Hendrix genius on vinyl, complete with a superb line drawing of the artist in a style totally in keeping with his oeuvre.

But how did Cry Of Love come about? Certainly we always knew it has his first posthumously released album, but was it meant to have been a bigger project, as mentioned earlier, comprising two, or maybe even three, albums?

Wikipedia says the album was recorded between 1968 and 1970 at the Sound Centre, Record Plant Studios and Electric Lady Studios in New York. It was produced by Hendrix, Mitchell and Eddie Kramer. And, released on March 5, 1971, it was indeed the first Hendrix album put out after his death, with Kramer and Mitchell overseeing the final engineering, mixing and compiling.

And it seems the “big project” being worked on was First Rays of the New Rising Sun, which would have paired The Cry of Love with Rainbow Bridge. I was not au fait with Rainbow Bridge, having only recently watched an intriguing documentary by the same name. It seems all the songs on Cry of Love were in fact recorded in 1970, except My Friend, recorded way back in 1968. The album did well, reaching No 3 in the US and No 2 in the UK. Having not heard this album for many years, I was lucky to pick up a copy of the 1997 First Rays CD, which includes all the tracks from Cry of Love, plus others. The single Angel reached No 59 in the US, but did not chart in the UK. But then, of course, Hendrix fans were more into albums …

Before giving Cry of Love a spin, it is interesting to note that My Friend was recorded in the early stages of the Electric Ladyland sessions in 1968. Wikipedia says it is a “humorously delivered, but ultimately serious, song about loneliness”. It adds that it features a “dubbed background of Hendrix and friends creating a busy bar atmosphere”. Now that’s a blow. I always assumed that was an integral part of the song. But it seems the same dubbing process was used, to equally good effect, I might add, on Voodoo Chile. So you live and learn. And then, of course, they mention Belly Button Window being his last studio recording with vocals, recorded on August 22, 1970, at Electric Lady Studios.

Unfotunately, the tracks on that First Rays CD aren’t even in the same sequence as on Cry of Love, although both do start with Freedom. And what is noticeable about this album is that there is a sense of maturity in its production. I think Jimi realised he no longer had to prove he was a brilliant guitarist. Now it just comes naturally. It oozes out of his guitar like a genie released from its bottle. Another feature is his use of ascending chords to ratchet up the tension. This is a feature of the opening track and can be found on several other of the heavier songs. Oh, and he loves to let that lead guitar squawk and squeal. Another feature, of course, is the more prominent rhythm section, and the rich, rounded sound that is achieved. So, with his guitar spiralling above, Hendrix sings: “You got my pride / Hanging out of my bed / You mess with my life / So I bought my lead.” Having never really noted the words before, this sounds ominous. “Even mess with my children / And you’re screaming at my wife / Get off of my back! / If you wanna get out of here alive.” Just who it is who’s giving him grief, isn’t clear, but it sounds like he’s being seriously cuckolded. But he may also have being writing about his management, which reports indicated turned his life into a misery at times. With that in mind, the chorus runs: “Freedom, freedom / Give to me / That’s what I need / Freedom, freedom / To live / Freedom, freedom / So I can give.” Those are poignant words, bearing in mind that he would not live much longer. “You got my heart / Speaking electric water / You got my soul / Screaming and hollering / You know you hooked my girlfriend / You know the drug store man / Well I don’t need it now / I’m just trying to slap it out of her hands.” This, again, seems to allude to drug addiction, which clearly was a major problem. After the chorus, he seems to address his girlfriend. “You don’t have to / Say that you love me / If you don’t mean it / You’d better believe / If you need me / Or you just wanna bleed me / Better stick in your dagger / Someone else / So I can leave, set me free!” This is followed by the first real out and out lead solo, amidst all the other guitar virtuosity. Then the song quietens, with the bass rolling along, and a more subtle lead solo is assembled, before the song winds down with the words “Yeah, she’s right / Straight ahead / Yep . . . straight up there / Freedom, so I can live / Freedom, so I can give ... / Keep on pushing straight ahead . . .” Of course it doesn’t just fade away, because the band manufacture an incredibly complex ending.

After the shock tactics of that opening track, Drifting takes one on a mellow trip without the use of drugs. Sounding like a slightly amplified acoustic guitar, Hendrix opens the account alongside subtle cymbals, before the bass rolls in. Now wah-wah lead guitar insinuates itself into the mix, as a slow blues emerges. This is another of those beautiful Hendrix songs which belie his image as an acid rocker. “Drifting / On a sea of forgotten teardrops / On a lifeboat / Sailing for / Your love.” What could be more sublime? This is followed by the simple words: “Sailing home.” With a lovely rich texture given by the rhythm section, Hendrix’s strummed guitar and that subtle wah-wah lead, this is a little gem. “Drifting / On a sea of old heartbreaks / On a lifeboat / Sailing for / Your love / Sailing home.” There is a gentle stepping-down chord change near the end, before a quiet lead solo brings the song to an end. Superb.

Then one of the heavier tracks for which Hendrix is rightly famous. Ezy Rider is, I suppose, in the league of Crosstown Traffic. Quickfire lead and drums get the thing going, with the bass rocketing in and catapulting the first lead solo, before Hendrix powers into those lyrics. “Ezy Ryder / Ridin’ down the highway of desire / He says the free wind takes him higher / Tryin’ to find his heaven above / but he’s dyin to be loved.” Here the frenetic Hendrix guitar raises the stakes, whilst all the time keeping the thing understated and in control. “He’s tellin me livin’ / is so magic / Something is forever / so he claims / He’s talkin’ bout lyin’ / it’s so tragic baby / But don’t you worry bout today / we got freedom comin’ our way.” And of course that is all the invitation Jimi needs for another searing lead solo, before he returns to earth with a chucka-chucka crunch. “How long / do you / think he is gonna last / carryin’ out on a gas.” The lyric site I used is unsure of those precise words. Anyway, it resumes: “See all the others say / ‘do what you please’ / Gotta get the brothers together / and the right to be free / In a cloud of angel dust / I think I see me a freak / Hey motorcycle mama / you gonna marry me? ha, ha.” Listening to that, I thought David Bowie would have been impressed, because I think I detect echoes of these lyrics in his work. Again, we have a chord arrangement near the end which sees the tension rise markedly. “I’ll be stone crazy / love comin in at you / Stone crazy baby.” After the opening verse is repeated, the song fades. Another Hendrix classic.

Then follows one of Hendrix’s most beautiful compositions, Night Bird Flying, a song which literally takes wings and flies. It is as if a large eagle or owl has flapped his giant wings and started soaring through the sky. “She’s just a night bird flyin’ throught the night / Fly on / She’s just a night bird making a midnight, midnight flight / Sail on, sail on”. The song then prepares to find a perch. “Well, she’s flyin’ down to me / But, ’til tomorrow got to set her free / Set her free.” After a brief regrouping, the bird soars again, as Jimi intones: “So all we got, baby, is one precious night / All we got is one precious night / Throw your blues and shoes and things / And lay it down under the bed / Just wrap me up in your beautiful wings, / Better hear what I say, yeah / Oh, carry me home / Please take me through your dreams / Inside your world I want to be. / Until tomorrow no tears will be shed / Hold on ’til the sun gets out of bed / Hold on, hold on, baby / Fly on.” A long, spidery jam follows, echoing the lines of that sketch on the album cover, before some chords check the flow, only for the song to become increasingly heavy, with scorching lead guitar, before it fades.

Side 1 ends with the delightful My Friend, which as noted earlier, dates back to the Electric Ladyland session, with those dubbed background sounds. Just how they managed to manufacture that mood, with clinking bottles, laughter and general bonhomie, I can’t imagine. But what I do know is it is such an integral part of this song that without it, it would just not be the same. The song opens with some incredible harmonica by someone called Gers. A quick google search was unable to tell me who that was. Anyway, Hendrix is the one who does most of the seemingly impromptu chatting as the mood is set. “Hey, look out for my glass up there, man! / That’s my drink, man, that’s my drink, alright . . . / Make it a double, or eh . . . / Somebody has to sing / Somebody will sing? / Somebody will sing, right? / (I don’t know!)” This is one of the few Hendrix songs without a lead guitar solo, although he does let the instrument keep a steely hold on matters, alongside that harmonica. This is reminiscent, for me, of the great early Dylan electric albums, and even his lyrics have echoes of the master. “Y’all pass me that bottle, / And I’ll sing you all a real song / Yeah! / Let me get my key, ahum!” With this introduction out the way, Hendrix knuckles down to a sublime bit of fun. “Well, I’m looking through Harlem / My stomach squeal just a little more / A stagecoach full of feathers and footprints, / Pulls up to my soap box door / Now a lady with a pearl handled necktie / Tied to the driver’s fence / Breathes in my face, / Bourbon and coke possessed words . . . / & ‘Haven’t I seen you somewhere in hell, / Or was it just an accident?’ / (You know how I felt then, and so:)” In his chatty way, Hendrix reveals he is by now a consummate New Yorker. “Before I could ask ‘was it the East or West side?’ / My feet they howled in pain / The wheels of a bandwagon cut very deep, / But not as deep in my mind as the rain / And as they pulled away I could see her words / Stagger and fall on my muddy tent / Well I picked them up, brushed them off, / To see what they say, / And you wouldn’t believe: / ‘Come around to my room, with the tooth in the middle, / And bring along the bottle and a president’ / And eh sometimes it’s not so easy, baby / Especially when your only friend, / Talks, sees, looks and feels like you, / And you do just the same as him / (Gets very lonely up this road, baby) / (Yeah, hmmm, yeah) / (Got more to say!).” All the time the party continues apace, with much laughter and clapping of hands. “Well I’m riding through LA (huh), / On a bicycle built for fools / And I seen one of my old buddies / And he say, ‘you don’t look the way you usually do’ / I say, ‘well, some people look like a coin-box’ / He say, ‘look like you ain’t got no coins to spare’ / And I laid back and I thought to myself, and I said this: / I just picked up my pride from underneath the pay phone, / And combed this breath right out of my hair / And sometimes it’s not so easy / Especially when your only friend / Talk, sees, looks and feels like you, / And you do just the same as him.” Eat your heart out Robert Zimmerman! Hendrix proves with this song that the long, surreal narrative tome was not exclusively a Dylan preserve. “Just got out of a Scandinavian jail, / And I’m on my way straight home to you / But I feel so dizzy I take a quick look in the mirror, / To make sure my friend’s here with me too / And you know very well I don’t drink coffee, / So you fill my cup full of sand / And the frozen tea leaves on the bottom / Sharing lipstick around the broken edge / And my coat that you let your dog lay by the fire on / And your cat he attacked me from his pill-box ledge / And I thought you were my friend too / Man, my shadow comes in line before you / I’m finding out that it’s eh not so easy / Specially when your only friend / Talks, looks, sees and feels like you, / And you do the same just like him / (Lord it’s so lonely here, hmmm, yeah) / Yeah!” The song ends with more laid-back chatter and languid harmonica. “(Pass me that bottle over there . . .) / Yeah, yeah, okay. . .” All in all, this is one of the great Hendrix songs, and as I said, without even a single lead break.

Fittingly, Side 2 rips and roars to life with Straight Ahead, a turbulent rocker. “Hello, my friend / So happy to see you again / I was so alone / All by myself / I just couldn’t make it.” A cym-biosis features here, with the lead guitar and cymbals tearing the song apart. The guitarwork ranges from spidery wah-wah lead breaks to rising tides of chords. “Have you heard, baby / What the winds blowing round / Have you heard, baby / A whole lot of peoples coming right on down.” This is one of his most overtly political songs. “Communication, yeah / Is coming on strong / And don’t give a damn, baby / If your hair is short or long, huh.” Driven on by that pneumatic beat, he continues: “I said, get out of your grave / Everybody is dancing in the street / Do what you know, don’t be slow / You gotta practise what you preach / ’Cause it’s time for you and me / Time to face reality / Forget about the past, baby / Things ain’t what they used to be / Keep on Straight Ahead / Keep on straight Ahead . . .” At times two leads, one normal, one wah-wah, weave their patterns, as the song powers forth. “We got to stand side by side / We got to stand together and organise / They say power to the people, / That’s what they’re screamin’ / Freedom of the soul / Pass it on, pass it on to the young and old.” We lapped this stuff up as kids, as it spoke of the sort of rebellion we felt towards our own narrow-minded and bigoted political leaders. “You got to tell the children the truth / They don’t need a whole lot of lies / Because one of these days, baby / They’ll be running things / So when you give them love / You better give it right / Woman and child and man and wife / The best love to have is the Love Of Life.” As per most of Hendrix’s songs, he winds this one up and down, coupled with interesting ad libs. “Pushing on Straight Ahead / Straight Ahead, baby . . .” As the power surges, the opening verse is repeated. “Hello my friend / It’s so good to see you again / And I’ve been all by my self / I don’t think I can make it alone / I gotta keep on pushing ahead.” Magnificent!

And there’s no let up on Astro Man, which starts with some staccato bass, drums and guitar chords. I never got the lyrics in my youth, so here goes: “His mind fell out of his face and the wind blew it away. / A hand came out from heaven and pinned a badge on his chest, / and said get out there, man, and do your best.” Phew! And the chorus is equally fascinating. “They called him Astro Man, and he’s flyin’ higher than / that old faggot Superman ever could. / And they call him cosmic nut, / and he’s twice as fast as Donald Duck. / And he’ll try his best to screw you up and mess up your mind.” Using his legendary guitar wizardry, Hendrix sets the scene for this superhero to do his thing, including some Machine Gun-like chucka-chucka sounds. “There he goes, there he goes. / Where he stops no one knows. / There he goes, there he goes. / He’s trying to blow out the rest of your mind. / He’s gonna blow out the rest of your mind. / If you’re looking for a piece of mind. / Astro Man, give me a piece of it.” You can be assured this sort of music was not conducive to then sitting down and studying maths, or history, or anything really. But who cared? We were young and carefree. Man.

However, there was one way of winding down, and that was to keep on listening, because the next track, Angel, virtually takes you to heaven while you’re still alive and kicking. Slow, undulating guitar chords and subtly slashed cymbals, now quiet, now breaking like a massive wave, set the scene for the drum/bass insurgency, before the Hendrix vocals sublimely settle around those opening lines. “Angel came down from heaven yesterday / She stayed with me just long enough to rescue me, / And she told me a story yesterday, / About the sweet love between the moon and the deep blue sea. / And then she spread her wings, high over me, / She said she’s going to come back, come back tommorow.” Before we get swept away on that chorus, just a note that we were actually studying by listening to this, which includes a geography/physics lesson on gravity and the relationship between the moon and the oceans. So, with a wah-wah lead and tight drumming escalating the tension, we are finally set free. “And I said ‘Fly on my sweet angel, / Fly on through the sky, / Fly on my sweet angel, / Tomorrow I will be by your side’.” The sound quality, with lovely rounded bass, is superb. “Sure enough, this woman came unto me, / Silver wings silhouette against a child’s sunrise, / And my angel, she said unto me, / ‘Today is the day, for you to rise’.” In almost biblical ascension mode, the angel continues: “ ‘Take my hand, you’re gonna be my man, you’re gonna rise.’ /And then she takes me high over yonder. / And I said, ‘Fly on my sweet angel, / Fly on through the sky, / Fly on my sweet angel, / Forever I will be by your side!’ ” The drumming forces the pace, with ascending guitar chords reaching a higher plateau, as the tempo rises ineluctably, before the song fades, only to return in a shower of cymbals.

On the penultimate track, In From The Storm, we are plunged into the thick of the drama from the outset, with incredibly powerful lead guitar, drums and bass: da-duurm, da-duuurm, da-da durm, da-da durm. “Well I, I just came back today . . . / I just came back from the storm. / Yeah! / I said: I just came back, baby . . . / I just came back from the storm. / Yeah, from the storm.” The mood softens. “Well, I didn’t know it then, / But I was sufferin’, sufferin’ / For my love to keep me warm.” Then, pacing along. “It was so cold and lonely, yeah. / The wind ’n cryin blue rain / Were tearing me up. / It was so cold and lonely. / The crying blue rain was tearing me up. /Oh, tearing me up.” And here, of course, the guitar wails its concurrence. “I wanna thank you my sweet darling / For digging in the mud and picking me up. / Thank you so much!” The guitar, with feedback et al, is in full control here. “It was a terrible rain that was burning my eyes. / It was you my love who brought me in. / I love you so much, / I’ll never stray from you again. / Hey!” So it looks like the “storm” he weathered was one of his own infidelity. “I just came back baby. / I just came back to get my baby on her way. / Yeah, yeah.” Again, words cannot describe the sound textures achieved here. They are literally incredible.

But then it is all down to Jimi’s last recorded vocal-accompanied song. Belly Button Window is one of the all-time great songs in the history of rock. It is understated to the point of perfection. He plays the simple melody on an electric guitar that is intimate and laid-back. But the joy here is his vocals and their interaction with his other self, his wah-wah guitar, which chuckles and gurgles in the voice of the baby that the song is all about. So let’s get a handle on those lyrics. “Well I’m up here in this womb / I’m looking all around / Well, I’m looking out my belly button window / And I see a whole lot of frowns / And I’m wondering if they don’t want me around.” Was this an “oops” pregnancy? Does the foetus feel the anxiety of the young, possibly still-teenage, mother who is possibly contemplating an abortion. But this seems to be one assertive pre-baby. “What seems to be the fuss out there? / Just what seems to be the hang? / ’Cause you know if ya just don’t want me this time around, / yeah I’ll be glad to go back to Spirit Land / And even take a longer rest, / before I’m coming down the chute again / Man, I sure remember the last time, baby / They were still hawkin’ about me then / So if you don’t want me now, / Make up your mind, where or when / If you don’t want me now, / Give or take, you only got two hundred days / ’Cause I ain’t coming down this way too much more again.” And it seems to be a philosophical foetus, with Hendrix, child-like as ever, playing the role to perfection, his guitar adding those baby-like gurgles and chuckles like he’s some kind of ventriloquist. But now the preborn is a bit more assertive, sensing that no humane mother could possibly terminate him-her now. “You know they got pills for ills and thrills and even spills / But I think you’re just a little too late / So I’m coming down into this world, daddy / Regardless of love and hate / And I’m gonna sit up in your bed, mama / And just a grin right in your face / And then I’m gonna eat up all your chocolates, / and say ‘I hope I’m not too late’.” It is a delightful image, with Hendrix exuding something of the warmth that a child can bring to its parents. Sad, though, that he did not experience the joys of having his own child. Finally, the prechild wraps it up. “So if there’s any questions, / make up your mind / ’Cause you better give or take / Questions in your mind / Give it a take, / you only got two hundred days.” I assume the 200 days refers to the period before the due date. So this one is still in the first trimester, the first 90 days, which is very young for it to be so self-aware. Anyway, let’s see what else it has to say, as Jimi strums and wah-wahs away. He continues with a very adult harrumph: “Way up into this womb / looking all around / Sure’s dark in here / And I’m looking out my belly button window / And I swear I see nothing but a lot of frowns / And I’m wondering if they want me around.” This may seem a superficial subject, but if you think about it, everyone’s life is dependent to a very large extent on how much love, affection and support they get from their parents. So Jimi was certainly onto a major issue here. And how poignant that his last vocal recording should be a song about child-birth – just as his own life was about to end so tragically young.

Rainbow Bridge

That was Hendrix’s last studio album, released just after his death. But of course the albums poured forth thereafter. The Wikipedia discography reveals just how much Hendrix material is out there today. Sharing that First Rays of the New Rising Sun CD with Cry of Love, as noted earlier, was Rainbow Bridge. Now I have only recently seen this documentary, which features Hendrix at several live shows, including Monterey, Isle of Wight and Woodstock. Is this in any way related to the album, I wonder?

Well Wikipedia tells us the album was released in October and November, 1971, in the US and UK respectively, having been recorded at various US studios between 1968 and 1970. Naturally it is classified as rock, psychedelic rock, acid rock and blues rock. It was produced by Hendrix, Mitchell, Kramer and John Jansen. Wikipedia says it is “falsely sub-titled ‘Original Motion Picture Sound Track’”. And it was the second studio album released after his death.

Wikipedia says the two albums – Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge – “comprise the bulk of the most complete tracks that Hendrix was intending to release on his next (double) LP, First Rays of the New Rising Sun”. Ah, and I see it featured a cover of The Star-Spangled Banner, the only track not written by Hendrix. One of his classics, Hear My Train A Comin’, was recorded live at the Berkeley Community Theatre on May 30, 1970. The album reached No 15 and No 16 in the US and UK respectively. Dolly Dagger/The Star Spangled Banner reached No 74 in the US singles chart. But just four songs off Rainbow Bridge are on the 1997 First Rays CD. They are Room Full Of Mirrors, Dolly Dagger, Hey Baby (New Rising sun) and Earth Blues. Of these, only Dolly Dagger seems familiar. Not on the 1997 CD are Palil Gap, Star-Spangled Banner, Look Over Yonder, and the 11:15-minute Hear My Train A Comin’, which I’d dig to hear again.

Listening to the four tracks off Rainbow Bridge, I was struck by the fact that something of Hendrix’s incredibly original spark seems to be missing, although the opening track, the well-known Dolly Dagger, remains true to his inspired self. However, maybe it was just me, but I did find the subject matter somewhat off-putting. But his use of descending chords here is again superb, with the fuzz-lead guitar giving the song added clout. The key here is that, while still a heavy blues-rock number, the song has a simple melody around which it hangs effortlessly. But what were those blood-soaked lyrics? Well, after a typically Jimi-esque intro, he introduces the dame: “Here comes Dolly Dagger / Her love’s so heavy, gonna make you stagger / Dolly Dagger, she drinks the blood from a jagged edge ... / aw, drink up baby.” But who is she? A witch? “Been riding broomsticks since she was fifteen / Blowin’ out all the other witches on the scene / She got a bullwhip just as long as your life / Her tongue can even scratch the soul out of the devil’s wife. / Well I seen her in action at the Player’s Choice / Turn all the love men into doughnut boys. / Hey, red hot mama you better step aside, / This chicks gonna turn you to a block of ice. / Look out!” It reminds me, in a way, of Donovan’s Wild Witch Laby. Couched in uniquely Hendrix psychedelic rock, the chorus is followed by: “Yeah, look at old burnt out Superman / Try’n’ to shoot his dust on the sun / Captain Karma kids, they’re dead on the run / Oh the words of love, ah / Do they ever touch Dolly Brown? / Better get some highway an’ clear outta town.” It seems, then, that Dolly “Dagger” Brown is the new superhero. As the next chorus says, “She ain’t satisfied ’til she gets what she’s after”, with Hendrix adding: “Watch out Devon / You give me a little bit of that heaven.” The lead guitar squealing away, the song plays out with the line “Dolly, heavy mama, get it on, get it on, get it on” repeated, followed by a load of “Woo, yeah, yeah, yeahs”.

The next track, Earth Blues, is unusual in that it features some female backing vocals, giving it an almost gospel feel, at times. It starts off with slow playful strumming on the guitar, before the rhythm section kicks in, with the lead guitar adding the razor’s edge. It is not a song I recall well, at all. “Reachin’ up but not quite touching the promised land / Well, I taste tears and a whole lot of previous years wasted / Earth Blues / Well, I see hands and attesting faces / Saying ’lord please give us a helping hand’ / Lord lord lord / Lord, there’s got to be some changes / Lord lord lord / Gonna be a whole lot of re-arranges.” It is those “lord, lord, lords” that are sung by the female vocalists. This may well grow on one, but on my first listen I would say it does really lack the Hendrix spark of magic.

Room Full of Mirrors starts wonkily, drunkenly, with a siren-like lead guitar which almost churns your stomach. Maybe it’s to do with the anti-inflammatory I’ve taken for my painful wrists, but instead I think it is a deliberate attempt to evoke the sense of being trapped in a room full of mirrors. “I used to live in a room full of mirrors / All I could see was me / Then I take my spirit and I smash my mirrors / And now the whole world is here for me to see / Now I’m searching for my love to be.” There is a Claptonesque quality to the lead solos here, with Hendrix eschewing the wah-wah pedal. I also felt an immediate sense of recall with the chanted “yeah yeah yeah” backing vocals. But how were we, as teens, expected to deal with lyrics like this? “A broken glass was solvin’ my brain / Cut and screamin’ crowdin’ in my head / A broken glass was loud in my brain / It used to fall on my dreams and cut me in my bed / It used to fall on my dreams and cut me in my bed / I say making love was strange in my bed.” It’s not great poetry, but in the context of some Hendrix music magic, of course it remains a classic.

As I said earlier, four of the songs are not on that compilation disc, but the final track, Hey Baby (New Rising Sun), is, and it’s a mixed bag which I think has the potential to really grow on one. It starts as a laid back slow blues, with gentle rhythm and lead guitar, and understated drumming. The tempo changes regularly as a loose, blues jam evolves, before Hendrix finally approaches the microphone. As if to underscore just how laid back the song is, he first asks, “Is the microphone on”, before launching into a song I had not heard before. “ ‘Hey baby, where do you, comin’ from’ / Oh she looked at me and smiled, / And looked into space / And said, ‘I’m comin’ from the / land of a new rising sun’ / Then I said, ‘hey, baby where / you tryin’ to go to’ / Then she says, ‘I’m gonna spin, / spread around peace of mind / And a whole lotta love to you and yours ...’ ” This seems to be Jimi’s kind of girl. “Hey, girl I’d like to come along. / Yes, I’d love to come along. / Would you like to come along?’ / She asked me / ‘Yes take along right now.'” Look, the lyrics are laboured. As noted earlier, this is not the inspired work of Hendrix in his prime. But let’s see where it leads. “ ‘Hey baby, can I step into your world a while?’ / ‘Yes you can’, she said / ‘Come on back with me for a ride.’ / We’re gonna go across the jupiter sun / And see all your people one by one / We gotta help your people out right now / That’s what I’m doin’ here all about.” There are some interesting bluesy lead breaks, but generally this is a strangely subdued song which, as I noted, probably does improve the more you hear it.

But sadly, with Hear My Train A Coming still unheard, along with those other missing links, I cannot give a fully informed impression of this album. Hendrix was launching in new directions, but whether he would ever achieve the outrageous originality of his first albums we’ll never know.

Hendrix in the West

And so, as my high school days progressed, with the emphasis on “high”, I would at one point have borrowed Hendrix in the West, a live album released in 1972, from a mate. Recorded at concerts including the Isle of Wight Festival, I remember especially his rendition of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode, which he performed at breakneck pace. Happily, I have managed to vouchsafe a copy of said album, and will now blow my mind on a Hendrix live set which I can only imagine is extraordinary.

But let’s first just see what Wikipedia says about the album. Released by Polydor in January, 1972, and by Reprise a month later, it was recorded in 1969 and 1970. It features songs from live shows at the Royal Albert Hall on February 24, 1969, the San Diego Sports Arena on May 24 of that year, at Berkeley Community Theatre on May 30, 1970, and at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 30, 1970. And that, apart from the track listing, is about that, according to Wikipedia. I do note that Mitch Mitchell does all the drumming duties, while bass is shared by Billy Cox and Noel Redding. A quick perusal of the eight tracks indicates that the standouts are the long jams, Voodoo Chile (7:69) and Red House (13:06). But let’s give the disc a spin and relive something of the live Hendrix magic.

Phew! It certainly is a goodie. What stands out for me on Hendrix in the West is his sense of humour. While I was unable to catch every word of his opening remarks to certain songs, and some don’t seem to be on the lyrics on various websites, the gist is always of someone having a lot of fun. Take, for instance, the opening track, his quickfire interpretation of the Chuck Berry classic, Johnny B Goode. He asks the audience, “Is it too loud up there, is it too loud”, to which they naturally respond in the negative. He then speaks about wanting to do a “loose jam … what the heck, Johnny B Goode …” And with this the famous opening Berry riff tears out of those speakers at breakneck speed, with Cox’s bass and Mitchell’s drums battling to keep up. Recorded at Berkeley in May, 1970, this is a fine example of how Hendrix was able to colonise someone else’s song and give it an altogether different meaning. Here the melody is subtly different to the original, with the lyrics virtually belted out as an afterthought. Then, he swoops in with unexpected time signatures in the lead breaks, before returning to the original riff with a vengeance. Having simultaneously lacerated Berry’s original and at the same time paid it its biggest possible compliment, after 4:45 minutes the song ends with raucous applause as, like a stampeding stallion, the Hendrix guitar rides out in a flourish of whinnies and neighs…

Lover Man, at 3:04, is a quickie, and not one with which I was overly familiar. Also recorded at Berkeley, it seems to flow directly from Johnny B Goode, the sharp opening lead guitar notes providing a note-for-note backing for Hendrix’s vocals. Super-quick and super-controlled, the lead solos here are backed by incredible bass riffs. There is also a lovely point where the lead guitar seems to take a long, deep breath, before surging back for a further onslaught. Naturally, the song ends with tumultuous applause.

Again, I failed to pick up clearly what Hendrix says by way of introducing Blue Suede Shoes, but it does sound like a little bit of a playful dig at the song’s writer, Carl Perkins. And then, incredibly, it is as if this isn’t Perkins’s song at all. A slow, simple rhythm is played on that guitar. Joined by bass and drums, the Berkeley crowd were probably left wondering whether this was the classic early rock and roll song, or what! Finally, in a muted voice, he conforms that it is indeed as he sings, “One for the money / Two for the show / Three to get ready / Now go, cat, go…” A feature of the song is that it is in fact more a blues number than rock and roll. There are some incredibly volatile lead solos, and also periods where the tempo slows and the whole thing quietens, before he cranks it up again.

How many times did he perform Voodoo Chile live on stage? Wherever he did it, I’m sure each take was markedly different to its predecessor. To wild applause, he launches into this classic in London’s Royal Albert Hall, on Feburary 24, 1969. The fans were in for a treat. Of course there are echoes here of the Woodstock version, as that long opening sequence culminates in his singing, note-for-note, alongside the guitar: “Well I stand up next to a mountain / And I chop it down with the edge of my hand …” The melody is slightly different, with fresh emphases, while often again the lyrics are rushed through to enable him to get back to those treasured lead breaks. But this is a team effort, and with the original Experience at work, the song is another fine example of the sort of sound textures for which they became famous, with Hendrix contributing continuous, mutinous rhythm guitar alongside the many incendiary lead breaks. At time I imagined the sounds I was hearing taking on the shapes of mythological beasts, like fire-breathing dragons. But then he applies the brakes, and slows the thing down to a gentle blues. The audience, ever obedient, stays perfectly quiet, with just a few appreciative whistles reminding one they are there. Now he’s back behind the mic: “I didn’t mean to take up all of your sweet time / I’ll give it right back to you one of these days …” By the end of the verse, the beast is soaring again. A wah-wah sound, backed by applause and whistles, sees out this lengthy masterpiece.

Side 2 opens with two tracks from the Isle of Wight Festival on August 30, 1970, not long before he died. He is in top form, showing the Brits that their national anthem, like that of the US, which he tore into at Woodstock a year earlier, was also not sacrosanct. God Save The Queen was going to get its just desserts, too, and it does on The Queen. Again, the lyric sites don’t seem to include the tongue-in-cheek opening remarks, but the song opens with an announcer introducing Mitchell and Cox, and “the man with the guitar”, Hendrix, before adding that he thinks more volume would probably be needed. Hendrix says something like, “It has been a long time, hasn’t it … that does mean peace, not this, peace,” which seems to indicate the use of the two-fingered peace sign, and not the other two-fingered gesture. Ironic, though, that Churchill used the same peace sign as one signifying victory. Times change. Hendrix then says they need “a minute to tune up”, with just the energy of those first guitar notes sending a clear frisson of excitement through the expectant crowd. He then mumbles something about it being “so good to be back in England”, adding that he was about to play the anthem, and if people didn’t want to stand up then “fuck it”, or such-like. Anyway, shades of Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock, he immediately pours out some feedback laden electric sound which eventually coalesces into the British anthem. Again there are some deliberately discordant notes added in, which in fact make it far more interesting. Indeed, the version drips with Hendrix’s infectious irony; the ultimate iconoclastic event; every teenager’s anarchic fantasy fulfilled in the space of 2:40 minutes. The Sex Pistols may have ripped into the monarchy a few years later, but Hendrix had really said all there was to say in under three memorable minutes.

A drum solo, emanating from the previous track is joined by guitar and bass, and before you know it we’re into the all-too-short version of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It has a lovely British feel to it, reminding the crowd, no doubt, that Lennon and McCartney were still right up there in terms of rock song-writing. It’s just that Jimi again takes the song and reinvents it, reshaping it to meet his unique needs. His lead solos emerge like fantastic creatures before returning to the basic format of the song.

We’re back at the Royal Albert Hall on February 24, 1969, for the next track, Little Wing, and it’s the original Experience line-up which gives this live version of the classic track off Axis: Bold as Love the full treatment. While essentially identical to the familiar studio version, subtle variations are discernable from the outset, as Hendrix’s complex opening riff, which has an almost acoustic guitar feel, sets the song in motion. How good, too, to hear that Mitch Mitchell drum section between verses, which is a highlight of the song. And then there is Hendrix sort of winding the guitar up before unleashing the lead solo, which still maintains its understated beauty. He slips it into wah-wah mode near the end, giving it an almost ephemeral air.

The final track, Red House, which runs to 13:06 minutes, was recorded at the San Diego Sports Arena in California on May 24, 1969. Again, it is the Experience line-up, and this is a superb example of a Hendrix live concert jam. After dedicating the song to “everyone here”, Hendrix starts matters quietly, a gentle slow blues. The lead solo is low-key, almost Mark Knopfler-like, with none of Hendrix’s trademark aggression. Not yet, anyway. “There’s a red house over yonder / That’s where my baby stays …” About midway through the song, the tempo virtually doubles in pace, with the bass now clicking along at double-time. Very different to the studio version, at a point we enter a kind of sound wilderness, where just a tapping sound and the equivalent of running water can be heard. It’s as if you’re out on an old sailing ship. A lead solo ends abruptly, to wild applause, but there is more to come. A wah-wah sound then kicks in and the guitar seems to talk back in response to the whistles from the crowd. Finally the song returns to the original melody, with bass, guitar and fast-paced drums, as a crescendo builds. Then, with the guitar gurgling and gargling along, things slow again, as he notes that if his baby don’t love him then “I know very well that her sister will”.

Jimi Hendrix

That same school friend, Jeremy Altenkirch (not sure how it was spelt), also lent me a wonderful double album, Jimi Hendrix (Soundtrack from the film, “Jimi Hendrix”), which was released in 1973, my second last year at school. I’ll always remember the cover of him sitting on a bar stool playing an acoustic guitar. In fact, it was like a blast from the past when I saw that cover again on Wikipedia for the first time in about 35 years. That was a few years ago. My current search proved fruitless.

Filmed from 1967 to 1970, the film is considered one of the finest and earliest examples of a Rockumentary. The soundtrack was memorable, for me, for one song which he did on acoustic guitar, which was such a radical departure from his heavy electric sound. Looking through the track listing, I think it was Red House, but it might have been Hear My Train a-Comin’. Indeed, having only recently seen the film, Rainbow Bridge, about which more later, it seems this would have been the same version of Hear My Train a-Comin’, which he performs on a 12-string guitar.

Also memorable on that rockumentary was his powerful version of The Troggs’ song, Wild Thing, which he turned into a cracking rock anthem. How I’d love to lay hands on that album again, complete with interviews with Hendrix and others – or even better, see the film, which is apparently out on DVD.

Rainbow Bridge

But what of Rainbow Bridge, the musical? Wikipedia says it was directed by Chuck Win and produced by Barry De Prendergast. And this is not the one I saw on TV, which might have been that original rockumentary renamed. Because this stars Pat Hartley, was made in 1972, and features Hendrix’s music. It does include footage “from a Jimi Hendrix concert”, and a bit of a conversation with Hendrix. But it is about Hartley’s “spiritual awakening” at Maui in Hawaii during a meditation happening, which Hendrix visits. Indeed, there was a Rainbow Bridge free concert by Hendrix on July 30, 1970. Only a few hundred hippies, surfers and students attended at short notice. The album Rainbow Bridge contained no songs from this concert, despite claiming it was the “original motion picture soundtrack”. But bootleg recordings of the concert have been released since 2003, says Wikipedia. This was his penultimate live performance in the US, with the last being at Honolulu on August 1, 1970. He died in London on September 18, 1970, four days after my 15th birthday.

Black Gold

Considering Hendrix was only professionally recorded for about five years, there is a wealth of material out there. The Wikipedia discography makes for awesome reading. And it appears there is a missing link, a veritable Holy Grail of Hendrix music, still to be uncovered and released. It is known as the Black Gold.

Wikipedia records that in early 1970 Hendrix recorded a group of songs in his Greenwich Village apartment for a concept album he called Black Gold. Sixteen songs were recorded by Hendrix, who sings to solo Martin acoustic guitar accompaniment. Some songs emerged, like Machine Gun and Drifting, but at least nine are said to be “unique to the tapes”. But what happened to these? Evidently, a few months later, at the Isle of Wight Festival, he gave them to Mitch Mitchell to listen to and assess, but after Hendrix’s death in September, Mitchell evidently forgot all about them. For 20 years Mitchell had a black Ampex tape box that Hendrix had himself tied shut with a headband and hand-labelled with the letters “BG” – for Black Gold – tucked away somewhere in his home. Then in 1992, a Hendrix biographer, Tony Brown, interviewed Mitchell and discovered that the tapes, thought to have been stolen from Hendrix’s apartment just after he died, had been with Mitchell all the time. Indeed, Mitchell even had the very Martin guitar used on the tapes. Brown even listened to the tapes and published his views. However, the tapes have still not been released. Something more to look forward to in the future, that’s for sure. But let’s hope it won’t be as disappointing as certain John Lennon songs, reworked, turned out to be after his death.

To my mind, Hendrix’s music is virtually impossible to classify. I can listen to that other great guitarist, Eric Clapton, and I’ll hear the strong blues and jazz overtones, but with Hendrix it is as if you are no longer listening to a genre of music at all. He played Hendrix music, a style which defies classification, and the likes of which we’ll, sadly, never hear again.

When I listen to Hendrix, especially the Electric Ladyland instrumental sections, I can almost visualise abstract patterns created through his music. The music seem to obey the same rules of abstract composition and expression as the likes of Wassily Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock employed to create their paintings. And to my mind Hendrix is as important, in the history of music, as those great artists were to visual art. I can remember thinking this in the late 1970s and I believe it still holds true today.

Let us salute a guitar maestro who, it must be remembered, would have been classified black in apartheid South Africa and not have been allowed one iota of the freedom which saw him achieve so much fame in so short a time.

His music will live on forever, as the product of a gentle man who had an extraordinary feel for exploring and exploiting hitherto totally unexplored sound experiences using the humble electric guitar. We shall never, ever, see or hear his like again. Yet he will live forever in our hearts.


1 comment:

LifestoryDVD said...

Love to have this cross posted on Babyboomreview
and others from your great blog
We could do reciprical links
Let me know
Larry

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