Jimi Hendrix

This essay has a total of 3483 words and 11 pages.

Jimi Hendrix



On November 27, 1942, Jimi Hendrix was born as John Allen Hendrix in Washington at Seattle General Hospital. His childhood was not a privileged one, however, he did indulge himself in one particular way: Jimi loved to play the guitar. At first he played an old acoustic, and later a cheap Silvertone electric, which were both strung for a lefty on a right-handed guitar, one of the defining Hendrix traits (Murray 34- 5) . As a teenager, young Jimi listened to the music which affected his music so greatly later: “‘everyone from Buddy Holly to Muddy Waters and through Chuck Berry way back to Eddie Cochrane’” (Wilmer 38). He played in a few bands in high school, but then dropped out before his senior year. After working as a laborer for a few months, Jimi decided that he was not destined for that line of work, so in 1959, he enlisted into the 101st Airborne (Murray 36). Jimi’s parents were of mixed descent, with Jimi’s family tree had whites, blacks, and Cherokee Indians. Jimi never denied his ethnic diversity, but rather accepted his diversity and publicly allowed it to show through in his music. Jimi said it best in “If 6 was 9” on Axis: Bold As Love when he said “I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.” Hendrix’ first forays into professional music came after he received his honorable discharge from service in the summer of 1962 (Murray 36). His background in R&B, a type of music dominated by black artists at that time, led him to play with many R&B singers from the time, such as Little Richard, King Curtis, Joey Dee and the Starliters, the Isley Brothers, and many others (Murray 38-42). The development of his own style of music, which would later be displayed at various stages of its evolution in his four completed studio albums, came from an amalgamation of his intimate familiarity with the blues, ethnic background, the years he spent as an R&B sideman, and his exposure to new musical styles and scenes. The development of Hendrix’ music to our modern perception of it occurred after his move to New York City and the formation of Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, where a young producer named Chas Chandler discovered his act, which by then included Hendrix’ famous playing with his teeth and behind his back. Chandler brought Jimi to London, where blues-based bands such as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, and Chandler’s old group, The Animals were immensely popular and on the cutting edge. Hendrix and Chandler auditioned a number of musicians to be in the new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and decided upon a trio with Hendrix on guitar and vocals, Mitch Mitchell on drums, and Noel Redding on bass (Fairchild, “Are You Experienced” 3). The first album was recorded and released as Are You Experienced? on May 12, 1967 in England and after its initial success there, it was released on August 26, 1967 in the United States (Fairchild, “Are You Experienced?” 5-6). On Are You Experienced?, Hendrix shows for the first time in a studio album the heavy bluesy-rock and extraordinary guitar playing that Chandler observed an embryonic form of in Greenwich Village. However, the album definitely has a commercial feel to it, probably necessitated by Chandler’s desire to collect on his investment and Jimi’s lack of experience in being the leader of a band. Of the single “Hey Joe,” which was the first song recorded for Are You Experienced?, Hendrix said: “It’s a commercial record,...but everyone found that better for the first time. It’s just a phase, it’s only a very small part of us” (Fairchild, “Are You Experienced?” 7). On the other hand, another track on the album, “Red House,” represented something else entirely. “Red House” is a more traditional blues number, written by Jimi Hendrix, which is a perfect example of what Jimi began his musical experimentation with. Jimi showcases his blues guitar playing and singing on “Red House.” The lyrics tell the story of a man who loses his woman but who manages to keep his guitar, and if his woman won’t love him any more, he says “I know her sister will.” With “Red House,” Jimi extended his identity in relation to pop culture to include not only rock star status, but great musician -- both blues and otherwise -- as well. In a 1967 Rolling Stone article titled “Hendrix and Clapton,” Jon Landau states: “He [Jimi Hendrix] is... a great guitarist and a brilliant arranger. On ‘Red House,’ the only straight blues he recorded,... he establishes himself as an absolute master of that musical form” (18). Another Hendrix tune from Are You Experienced? was “Purple Haze,” that Jas Obrecht described as “the band’s break-through single in America” (Obrecht 29). Beyond the surface interpretation of the song referring to drugs (the lines “Purple haze, all in my brain” and “Got no money, don’t know why” are brought to mind), Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek in Electric Gypsy suggest that the inspiration may have come from Hendrix’ Native American background and more specifically reading The Book of the Hopi (Fairchild, “Axis: Bold As Love” 7). The Indian interpretation of “Purple Haze” and the traditional blues “Red House” are the two best examples of Hendrix paying homage to his ancestry on Are You Experienced? The structure and lyrics on most of the songs on Are You Experienced? form the basis upon which it is possible to measure the change in the style of Hendrix, both lyrically and musically, that were to occur until his untimely death in 1970. The commercial success of the album and the confidence that Jimi must have gained from reviews which called him things like “an absolute master” allowed Jimi to make smooth transitions to whatever he felt like experimenting with or changing. The importance in Are You Experienced? lies in the fact that it was successful, and that the Jimi Hendrix that everyone heard on that album would be acceptable whether he was playing straight-forward blues, playing “Stone Free” or covering “Hey Joe.” Are You Experienced? represents the starting point from which Jimi Hendrix would take his new style of music and make himself into one of the most influential musical figures of his time. The true arrival of Jimi Hendrix occurred with the release of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second studio effort, Axis: Bold As Love. With this album, production costs were estimated at ten thousand pounds, allowing Jimi the valuable studio time he needed in order to more completely master his craft. Approximately three thousand of those pounds were spent production costs of the album sleeve, which picture Jimi and his bandmates in and surrounded by Indian imagery, to which Jimi responded: “The three of us had nothing to do with that Axis cover. When I first saw the that design I thought, ‘It’s great, they have an Indian painting about us, but maybe we should have an American Indian’” (Fairchild, “Axis: Bold As Love” 5). Axis: Bold As Love marks a more obvious return to Hendrix’ Native American heritage. Where Are You Experienced? was more intent on reaching the mass market, Axis’s purpose was as much for Hendrix himself as it was for his audiences. When asked about the difference between the two albums, Hendrix said: “The changes in music between the two records are for you to decide. We’re just playing the way we feel” (Wenner and Wolman 13). As for the meaning of the title, Axis: Bold As Love, Hendrix said: “The Axis of the earth turns around and changes the face of the world and completely different civilizations come about or another age comes about. ...Well, the same with love; if a cat falls in love or a girl falls in love, it might change his whole complete scene: Axis, Bold as Love...” (Werner and Wolman 13). The presence of Native American imagery is dually noted in the tracks “Little Wing” and “Castles Made Of Sand.” “Little Wing” was “based on a very, very simple American Indian style” and Hendrix added one of the most memorable introductions ever (Fairchild, “Axis: Bold As Love” 13). “Little Wing”’s best attribute is its pleasing incorporation of Native American belief with guitar playing which could in no way be considered abrasive. The writing and production of “Little Wing” seems to mark the development of Hendrix’ confidence in both his lyrical and compositional skills. As for “Castles Made Of Sand,” Michael Fairchild states that “rock music reached its sensitive fragile depths when Jimi’s Indian lullabye whispered ‘Castles Made Of Sand’” (Fairchild, “Axis: Bold As Love” 17). On the track “If 6 Was 9,” Hendrix sings “White-collared conservative flashing down the street/Pointing their plastic finger at me.../I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.” “If 6 Was 9” is Hendrix’ statement for musical and social freedom. About “If 6 Was 9,” Hendrix states “How could ‘If 6 Was 9’ be anger? I don’t say nothin’ bad about nobody, it just says, man, let them go on and screw up theirs, just as long as they don’t mess with me” (Fairchild, “Axis: Bold As Love” 16). Jimi’s change of confidence in himself between Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold As Love did not go unnoticed by critics of the time. Hendrix had clearly stated himself as an individual musician, not just a man defined by his group or by his producer and record label. In Jim Miller’s April 6, 1968 review of Axis: Bold As Love for Rolling Stone, he said: “Axis: Bold As Love is the refinement of white noise into physchedelia, and (like Cream) it is not a timid happening; in the vortex of this apocalyptic transcendence stands Hendrix, beating off on his guitar and defiantly proclaiming ‘if the mountains fell in the sea, let it be, it ain’t me.’ Such cocky pop philosophy shall not go unrewarded” (21). Axis: Bold As Love represented the change of Hendrix from not just Top 40 hit-maker, but also complete acceptance by those who judge most harshly, the critics. Miller also called Axis: Bold As Love “the finest Voodoo album that any rock group has produced to date” (13). The term “Voodoo,” as applied to Hendrix’ music, brings to mind Hendrix’ mixture of African and Native American influences. Axis: Bold As Love was Are You Experienced? minus

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