Sunday, January 18, 2015

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child

When guitar heroes of rock music are discussed, Jimi Hendrix’s name is often mentioned as perhaps the best of them all. Of course, the topic is highly subjective, and Hendrix status as a rock star who died while still in his twenties can prejudice any such discussion. It is clear, however, that he is among an elite group of rock guitarists, and his prodigious technical skill and showmanship rendered him the first true guitar god of rock. 

Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1942. Following a less than stellar stint in the army, he got his start in music as a session guitarist for R&B acts such as King Curtis and the Isley Brothers, and in live performances with the likes of Slim Harpo, Jackie Wilson, Curtis Knight and the Squires, and Sam Cooke. By the mid-Sixties, Hendrix had dubbed himself, “Jimmy James” and with his band, The Blue Flames, was playing the club scene in New York’s Greenwich Village.

In a fortuitous turn, Hendrix met the girlfriend of The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Linda Keith, at a New York City club. Keith recommended Hendrix to the Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham and Chas Chandler of the Animals. Chandler was impressed with Hendrix’s song, “Hey Joe,” and brought him to London in the fall of 1966.

Chandler brought in two Englishmen, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell as Hendrix’s sidemen and named the newly formed trio, “The Jimi Hendrix Experience.” Hendrix and his new band would soon make rock music history by recording three albums that would all go down in history as ground-breaking classics in the annals of rock.

The first album, “Are You Experienced,” was released in the United Kingdom in the spring of 1967, and shortly thereafter in North America. It was an instant commercial and critical success and contained the classic tunes, “Are You Experienced,” “Fire,” “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze.” The album is now hailed as one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.

Hendrix would follow-up his outstanding debut with “Axis: Bold as Love,” also from 1967. This album contained fewer “hits,” but featured some technical innovations previously unheard on popular music recordings. The opening track, “EXP,” contains channel-switching stereo effects which have the guitar sound fading in one channel and re-emerging in the other. Hendrix also uses the “wah-wah” pedal for the first time on this recording.

For his third effort, “Electric Ladyland” (1968), Hendrix brought in Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood from Traffic and Al Kooper from The Blues Project. The ambitious double album featured the epic tracks, “All Along the Watchtower,” probably the best and most original Bob Dylan cover ever, and “Voodoo Chile (slight return).”

Hendrix and the Experience would break-up and later reunite as “They Band of Gypsys,” and a live album of the Gypsys would appear in 1970. Hendrix died of an apparent drug overdose in London, in September of 1970.