The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
Released October, 1968

Jimi Hendrix was one fascinating bloke. Either there’s a lot of detail recorded about his life, or he crammed a whole lot of stuff in his 27 years. So due to pesky word limits, I’m going to have to be very selective about what I write! We’ll start with where the music starts, because that’s what we’re all here for. Hendrix’s first guitar was a busted up old acoustic guitar that be bought from one of his dad’s mates for $5. Evidently it wasn’t flash, but it was better than the broom handle he was playing. He also had a ukulele, but I dare not bad mouth a uke around Ang. I’m always mind blown by people who self-learn an instrument, but then to go on and be as good as Hendrix is a whole new level. He didn’t have YouTube to watch and learn, he actually had to go and watch other guys play, and learn from listening to records, particularly guys like Howling’ Wolf, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. His first electric guitar was a Supro Ozark, which is now a cult collector’s item. He used the Ozark for a few local gigs, but when it got pinched from a show, his dad bought him a Danelectro Silvertone. I hope when he became famous he paid his dad back for all these guitars…

Jimi played in a lot of bands but it wasn’t till he was offered a position in the Isley Brother’s back up band that he started getting somewhere, though he grew dissatisfied with the band and left not long after, and played with his hero, Little Richard. After finishing with Richard, he became a session player, recording on many tracks for many artists. In ’66 he met Keith Richards’ girlfriend, who recommended him to a couple of managers, neither of whom dug his tunes. Eventually she turned him to The Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler, who liked what he heard, and bought Jimi to England and helped him form his new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix was almost an instant hit, after live performances and gigs on tv. In ’67 he released “Are You Experienced?” that was only beaten in the charts by The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper”. The Experience toured Europe and returned to the States, including the famous Monterey Pop Festival. It was in New York where Jimi met Frank Zappa, and was introduced to the wah-wah pedal, the sound he is now so iconic for. The next album, “Axis: Bold As Love” featured the wah sound heavily.

Finally we come to “Electric Ladyland”. It was the only album to be produced entirely under Hendrix’s supervision, after Chandler left the partnership. There were frustrations within the band, many due to Hendrix’s penchant for recording tracks multiple times. One of my favourite tracks on the album, ‘Gypsy Eyes’ was reportedly recorded 43 times! Though if it takes 43 times to make a recording this tight, maybe all bands should? There’s all sorts of crazy effects going on. Stereo fades, phasing and wah make it sound way ahead of its time. My favourite track is definitely ‘All Along the Watchtower’. An excellent, and dare I say improved, cover of the Dylan hit. I think the best part of this track is that it shows off Hendrix’s raw vocal ability. We all know his guitar skills, but often forget he was a singer too.

One of the things I’ve learnt through this project is how versatile the blues is. It can be the stereotypical slow, wailing blues, or it can be accelerated and frantic, like in ‘Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)’. This track lets the bass shine through, which is a nice acknowledgement on a guitar god album. ‘Voodoo Chile’ has a nice live ambience to it, even though it was still a studio recording. During recording, the Experience would play gigs around the NYC scene, and after one of these shows, they bought a bunch of musos and fans back to the studio to see the recording. These extras provide the background noise we hear through the track. They returned to the studio next day for a short documentary, but rather than playing the same as they did the day previous, they made up ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’. Which is fine with me. Why not do a great song twice, just different?

“Electric Ladyland” featured a lot of DFN, which for me was quite hard to handle on the first few listens, but we pushed through, and I absolutely loved it after that. Hendrix was a profoundly interesting dude. I would love to go on more, but if I went into his death, we’d be here forever. Jimi did so much in his life, it’s no wonder he died so young – brother was knackered!

I was pleasantly surprised listening to “Electric Ladyland”. Jimi Hendrix is of course cited by many as the greatest guitar player of all time, so I had expected the album to be jam-packed full of seemingly endless self-indulgent guitar solos, overdriven amps and hideous over-use of guitar feedback. It does feature some of these elements, but really, “Electric Ladyland” is so much more than that. Hendrix was responsible for making these techniques part of mainstream music, but I now know that they were the seasoning, the salt and pepper if you will, which he added to the infusion of musical flavours he created. Listening to Track Two,   ‘Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)”, a groovy R & B number, I realised that there was so much more to Hendrix than crazy electric guitar solos, and cursed my ignorance!  Oh no, Hendrix should not be placed in one confined pigeonhole when it comes to styles. In fact, “Electric Ladyland” – Hendrix’ last original album before his death – serves as a fantastic overview of the styles in which the ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ was more than proficient  – from the blues jam ‘Voodoo Chile’ (bonus points for the organ solos) to the powerhouse electrified cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, my favourite track of the album.  I listened to this album while reading, I fell asleep listening to it, I definitely nodded my head and found myself subconsciously tapping my toes. Which means I enjoyed it and I was able to fit it into my everyday life. It’s definitely staying on my ipod and I am glad that I finally got around to listening to a full Jimi Hendrix album because I learnt something from it; don’t believe everything that pop culture engrains into you. Jimi Hendrix is so much more than DFN.

“Well, the night I was born/Lord I swear the moon turned a fire red,” sings Jimi Hendrix on the fifteen minute live track ‘Voodoo Chile’. An image which is echoed in the cover – his faced bathed in red, albeit as a full-grown man. This song was recorded in the studio after Hendrix brought a group of musicians back from a jam session at the Scene Club, hence the scattered applause. Hendrix’s skills as an excellent improvisational guitarist are on full display. He knows when to cut loose and when to back off, even giving drummer Mitch Mitchell a solo. The interplay between Hendrix and Stevie Winwood on the organ is also wondrous. This is just one song from a pretty amazing album, the final effort from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. There’s sweet soul in the form of ‘Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland)’; raucous boogie ‘n’ blues on their cover of Earl King’s ‘Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)’; catchy pop with the singalong ‘Crosstown Traffic’ and a taste of British kitsch rock courtesy of bassist Noel Redding’s ‘Little Miss Strange’. There’s also another epic track, ‘1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)’, but it doesn’t quite have the bombast of ‘Voodoo Chile’. Now, I like prog rock as much as the next Dann, but it doesn’t quite work for me. The best thing about this album is the way it ends. The second last track is one of the greatest Dylan covers ever: ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and Hendrix truly makes it his own. The final song, ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’, is arguably the quintessential Hendrix track, inspiring many a budding guitarist to buy a wah-wah pedal. I recommend using headphones when listening to this fabulous album to truly appreciate the flange effects and balance changes.

Confession: I am the reason “Electric Ladyland” is the album this week over “Are You Experienced?”. Whilst “Are You Experienced?” usually polls higher in most ‘best of’ lists and has all hit singles we know, there is something special happening on “Electric Ladyland”. The story is that it was Hendrix’s third album recorded with producer Chas Chandler, who was very much influential in their first two albums and the radio friendly songs within. By the time ‘Electric Ladyland’ rolled around Jimi had way more confidence and a pretty clear idea of what he wanted. Chas and Jimi had a falling out leading to Jimi self-producing the album and taking it in a whole new direction… that direction being a fair whack of Drug Fuelled Nonsense. But by God it worked. The first two albums are good but this album is epic in its own right just because it’s so, well, epic. What we get on this album is an assured Hendrix who knows how he wants the album to sound, but more importantly how to get that sound on tape. Yes, the majority is a flurry of DFN but he knows when to pull it in, which is most evident on the 15 minute track ‘Voodoo Chile’, astoundingly recorded live to tape. The opening wahs of its poppier reprise ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ just transcends the album to another level. Other favourite tracks include ‘Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)’, ‘Burning of the Midnight Lamp’, ‘1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)’ and of course the cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ which absolutely destroys Dylan’s original. On ‘Electric Ladyland’ we get the best that Hendrix and band have to offer, with moments of guitar brilliance from Hendrix that are never overstated. It’s a wonderful mix of blues, psychedelia and polished pop.

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