Tag Archives: Jimi Hendrix

39th Favorite: Are You Experienced, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience


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Are You Experienced. The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
1967, Track Records. Producer: Chas Chandler.
Purchased (MCA Records 1993 edition), 1994.

IN A NUTSHELL: Mr. James Marshall Hendrix is such a unique musical force that at times I swear he must be from a different planet. He can play any style of song, sings wonderfully and his playing resonates with me in a way that few others can emulate. It’s as if the words his guitar sing make more sense than those his voice sings. And Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding are simply one of the greatest rhythm sections ever – able to match and support Jimi’s brilliance.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.
“Just be yourself,” is advice that Americans are given all the time, and it is generally excellent advice, particularly when applied to the “big-picture” aspects of life: sexual orientation; finding true love; choosing a career. It’s advice given by both high school students and folks on their deathbeds. Big thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote brilliantly to persuade us. Funny guys like Bernie Mac said the same thing in fewer words.

In the 21st century, the advice has become so ingrained that it’s achieved two particularly American forms of cultural affirmation: advertising and backlash. “Just Be Yourself” is the rather contradictory pitch for selling such hugely popular, herd-endorsed products as Coca-Cola, Converse sneakers, and Subway[ref]And I think we all wish Subway spokesman Jared had gotten psychological help before he decided to be himself.[/ref]. High-end products advise you to, apparently, just be your very wealthy self. Teeny-bopper body-spray gives your self a pause to think before you stink[ref]In a commercial that I really appreciate, even if the cynic in me wonders if this ad was made mainly because it ‘tested really well!!‘[/ref]. Advertisers know that Americans relish their identity as unique individuals, and that we’re complex enough to buy the world’s most popular soda in order to express it. (To be fair, I doubt that anyone watches an ad and runs out to buy a product. And to be extra fair, it’s not just Americans.)

The backlash comes mostly from people who seem obtuse enough (or get paid to appear obtuse enough) to take a global, general idea and misapply it to specific instances where it clearly won’t apply. (Saying everything that pops into your head isn’t what being yourself means, it’s what being a dick means). Others set a strict definition for what “Be Yourself” means, then set out to show why that definition is bullshit.

In a country like America, with no true native identity except the bit that remained after European conquest, one would think that being yourself would have been encouraged and valued since the days of powdered wigs. But while a few quirky individuals were celebrated for their nonconformance – men like Ben Franklin and Andrew Jackson – most people felt the surest path to success was to identify the norm and hew to it closely.

But by the mid-1900s, the devastation of conformity was being explored in culture and media. Sci-fi novels like Brave New World; realist dramas like Death of a Salesman; non-fiction collections like Notes of a Native Son; and countless other sources explored questions of difference, human purpose and The Self.

By the end of the 60s, the Civil Rights movement, Feminism and the Hippie movement were all parts of a changing American landscape that encouraged people to break from established (and myth-based, it must be said) expectations. The 70s brought a wave of pop psychology movements, such as est and Primal Therapy, that further encouraged people to strive for their authentic self. By the 80s, celebrities from Bob Hope to Magic Johnson were singing songs to kids in public service messages around the idea.

Rock and roll music started as outsider music. As such, a large part of its purpose was to elevate the self, to push the theme of the “Us” of individuals vs. the “Them” of conformity. Early rock and roll songs, like “Yakety Yak” and “Summertime Blues,” flipped the bird at conformity; 60s girl groups sang songs about rebels. By the late 60s and early 70s, freak flags were flying and individuality was downright expected – at least in our artists and musicians.

Still, artists continued to encourage us all – because it probably can’t be said enough – to “just be yourself.” During my music listening years artists from British synth-poppers, to R&B funk bands, to heavy-metal growlers, to Irish folk-rockers, to alternative supergroups have continued to pound away on the message. Current superstar Frank Ocean even included a voicemail from his friend’s mom about it on his latest album.

Yet despite all this encouragement, and all the pressure placed on Americans from every cultural source, despite even the efforts of most American parents since the latter half of the 20th century, the journey to becoming one’s true self continues to be difficult. In my lifetime, I can think of only a few people who seemed entirely comfortable following the “Be Yourself” guidance at all times, and the first example I came across in my life – and perhaps still the best example – is my schoolboy friend Josh.

Josh has come up before in these pages – as one of the kids in high school who warned me the new Robert Plant/Jimmy Page collaboration would probably suck. I first met him in 6th grade, the year the three elementary schools in my hometown school district flowed together as tributaries to the main river of Cedar Crest Middle and High Schools. He was a friend of my fifth grade buddy, Bruce, and that’s how I met him. He was striking and unforgettable – even as a sixth grader.

He was taller than everyone – well over 6 feet by the time we graduated – with brown hair that sprouted from his head like a lawn left untouched during a two-week vacation. By 11th grade his unkempt hair had been groomed into a disciplined battalion of standing hair, giving him a look somewhere between Billy Idol and The Fonz. (His hair was dense and sturdy, allowing him to stand playing cards in it – a skill that I alerted Late Night with David Letterman about for their Stupid Human Tricks segment. They called me, but he was too young to appear on the show.) He mostly wore flannel shirts with the sleeves rolled severely, up past his elbows, and he tucked those shirts into old, worn-out jeans or slacks that he cinched tightly around his waist. He clearly was not attempting to fit into any popular fashion style, nor did he seem aware that such considerations existed among the rest of us. This has remained constant in the 40 years I’ve known him.

He talked slowly, walked slowly, moved slowly, belying the speed at which his brain worked. You see, he was also brilliant. (Something else that has remained constant.) His breadth of knowledge was astounding, its depth remarkable. By high school he could discuss the influence of Mao’s wives on Far East politics with the World Cultures teacher; quadratic equations on imaginary numbers with the Calculus teacher; Bundesliga soccer with the gym teacher; and Bugs Bunny and Mad Magazine with me – all within the space of an hour. And yet, because of his appearance, I still had friends in other grades who thought I was hanging out with someone from the Special Ed classes[ref]Which, given the state of education, empathy and understanding in 1980s Pennsylvania schools would have, sadly, been both unheard of and mercilessly mocked had it been true.[/ref]. He read constantly, doodled incessantly, laughed frequently and told stories better than most professional speakers. He’s the kind of person that – 35 years later – if you today spoke to any student, teacher, staff or administrator from the school at that time, they’d immediately say, “Oh, Josh? Oh yeah, I remember him!” and then regale you with an improbable tale of either his brain, his stories or his style[ref]This happened recently when my mom met my English teacher from my senior year of high school. She didn’t remember me, but when my mom said “he was friends with Josh,” her face lit up and the stories began.[/ref]. He was truly himself – more so than anyone I’ve personally ever known.

And the only music he listened to was Jimi Hendrix. This was unusual for a high schooler in the early 1980s. Back then, in my hometown, at my public high school, boys tended to listen to pre-hairband heavy metal – your Judas Priests, Iron Maidens, Scorpionses – or Top 40 – your Michael Jacksons, Madonnas, Huey Lewis & the Newses – or 70s Classic Rock – your Journeys, Led Zeppelins, Styxes[ref]In my small town, I only knew of a few vanguard types who listened to cool 80s acts like your Elvis Costellos, English Beats, or B-52ses. They usually got beat up.[/ref]. And pretty much everyone who had it watched MTV.

But not Josh. He claimed Jimi was the only artist worth listening to, and he lived that ideal to a degree such that even though he knew everything about everything else, if asked about music videos or trending acts like The Police or Prince or Ratt he knew very little beyond the fact that they couldn’t hold a candle to Jimi. (The only other artist I heard him praise in high school was a then-little-known blues guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan, who Josh knew before anyone else heard the name.) I associate Josh with Jimi Hendrix not only because of his fervent fandom, but also because both are so much their own unique selves. Josh and Jimi were both like no one who I’d seen before.

Though he was a great friend, I didn’t go along with his fervor right away. In fact, I used to tease him quite a bit about his Jimi-thing – even though most people would agree that my taste was far more suspect. I bought Are You Experienced in the early 90s when it was re-released – an event that seems to happen every few years. And I eventually caught the Jimi bug myself. This is the third Jimi album on my list (he’s the second artist, after Elvis Costello, accorded such an internationally distinguished honor), and it hasn’t gotten any easier to write about what makes him so special to me.

Jimi’s playing and singing connects with me on a level that is not really intellectual. It’s a feeling I get from direct communication via his guitar. There are some artists – Bob Dylan comes to mind – that many fans love because the words are so meaningful, who’s music, these fans believe, is sometimes awesome, sometimes very good, but either way his words carry the weight. This is how Hendrix’s guitar is for me – not simply the playing, but what the playing is communicating. I love many guitar players, am astounded by their cool sounds and incredible talent, but Jimi’s playing truly speaks to me. Take, for example, “May This Be Love.”

This is a gentle song, one of my favorites on the record, that – as with every track – actually showcases drummer Mitch Mitchell; in this case, his subtle genius. (Other songs will demonstrate his bombastic genius!) But I am drawn to the guitar. After the initial squiggly scales, and within the first 35 seconds, the basic guitar pattern is set: descending runs and arpeggios supporting the waterfall lyrics. To me, however, it’s more like the lyrics were tagged on to support what the guitar is saying. It happens again at about 1:07, after he sings “lazy-minded fools,” and the guitar plays a looping run. What the guitar is saying seems far more direct than the lyrics. But the solo, beginning at 1:52 and supported by incredible rhythm guitar from himself, is where I really find myself aware of the connection.

The lyrics are dreamy in that one, but even in songs with a direct story line Jimi’s guitar is the main voice I hear. As in, for example, the old-school blues of “Red House.”

It’s the basic blues story of girl-done-left-me-but-I-got-a-backup, and Jimi sings it really well[ref]Have I mentioned yet that he’s a really underrated singer?[/ref]. But his guitar sings it even better, with a tone that’s somehow both clean and distorted. The solo beginning at 2:13 is both cool and moving and, combined with all the fills throughout, lifts the song beyond “simple” blues.

But of course, it’s not just Jimi playing – it’s a band. And rhythm section Mitchell and Noel Redding are a dynamic pair that more than hold their own playing with the master. The song “Manic Depression,” another of my favorites, is a drum song that ended up on a guitar album.

It’s a riff-based song that Mitchell takes over. His driving rhythm and fills propel the song forward – what he does after 2:30 is fabulous. The guitar riff itself is cool, plus so long that it backs the entire verses. I have no idea how he sang (lyrics) and played this at the same time. (Which he did live, as this horrible-sounding recording shows.) I don’t know if Jimi had manic depression, but I feel like this song has helped me with whatever is going on in my head.

Another song that I’ve enjoyed hearing (and playing with Dr. Dave and our band JB & the So-Called Cells) is “Fire,” which is another hot one (sorry) from this album. It’s similar to “Manic Depression” in that it’s got incredible drums behind a riff-heavy song.

Of course The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a 60s pop act, and they always place their versions of 60s pop on every album. “Can You See Me” is one of these songs.

But their versions always sound heavier, weirder … better than what most others were doing with pop songs then. The lyrics hint at Jimi’s origins from outer space[ref]At least that’s how I interpret them. I suppose there are other interpretations.[/ref]. But once again, his guitar says more than the words.

His guitar really talks to me on the song “Love or Confusion,” where he uses it, plus all the effects available in a 1967 recording studio, to create something almost orchestral. There’s a symphony of guitars surrounding Noel Redding’s bouncing bass. Jimi solos behind his singing, and when the song modulates at 1:27 it sounds even more orchestral than before. The whole song is a burst of energy.

I Don’t Live Today” is similarly orchestral in its approach to guitars, with layers of droning and sustained chords. It also has a nice riff and a great drum freakout by Mitchell, after about 2:30. “Remember” is a great pop song in which Jimi astounds in what he plays while simultaneously singing.

There are a couple other terrific, famous songs on Are You Experienced. The first track is the sultry “Foxy Lady.”

With its shimmering opening, chugging pace and whispering “Foxy,” it’s become a song that immediately says “swingin’ 60s” to me. I love the guitar fill at the end of each chorus, for example about 0:58. The band sounds terrific, and once again Jimi’s swaggering voice is put to good use. It’s a great song, not too unusual. What is unusual is the lead track, “Are You Experienced?”[ref]Oddly, the song title has a question mark, but the album title does not.[/ref]

This song is one I used to tease Josh about, for its unconventional, industrial sounds didn’t seem like music to my high school ears. It’s another song in which Mitch Mitchell’s subtle playing amazes as much as Jimi’s inventiveness. He plays a marshal beat while Jimi’s symphony of guitars rings and noodles over a droning guitar scratch. At 1:41 Hendrix offers to “prove” he’s experienced, and what he does with that guitar demonstrates an experience that seems to come from behind the stars. (More on that in a bit.) I used to tell Josh that I preferred Devo’s version of the song. It’s not true, but I do like the way they squeeze in the melody from “Third Stone From the Sun.”

With Jimi’s guitar saying so much, you may wonder why he even bothers to include lyrics[ref]His lyrics do tend toward the hippie-inscrutable, but they always sound good when sung. And I’ve got a little hippie in me, so I don’t mind them.[/ref]. In that case the perfect song for you – and simply a perfect song – is the beautiful “Third Stone From the Sun.”

From the opening chord, a wondrous soundscape is created, then at 0:33 Jimi plays a little riff that signals the beginning of the main melody. I highly encourage you to listen to this song in headphones and listen to the solo beginning at 1:25 and the otherworldly spoken words behind the guitar. Noises and sounds flow through much of the rest of the song, swirling and buzzing around your ears. There’s a program on TV about the “Ancient Alien” idea, in which the claim is made that aliens arrived hundreds of thousands of years ago to either start off the human race or speed along its technological development. I typically think it is bullshit, but if they had an episode exploring whether aliens deposited Jimi Hendrix on Earth, and they used this song as evidence, I think I’d believe them. Actually, they could use this entire album. And all of his others.

Maybe he does come from outer space. But if he does, then I think Josh did as well. But I strongly (strongly!) suspect neither did. I think they both had (have) the gift of an individual spirit, an understanding of themselves within the greater world, and that’s allowed them to do what so many of us strive for: to simply be Josh and be Jimi.

Track Listing:
Hey Joe“*
Stone Free“*
Purple Haze“*
51st Anniversary“*
The Wind Cries Mary“*
Highway Chile“*
“Foxy Lady”
“Manic Depression”
“Red House”
“Can You See Me”
“Love Or Confusion”
“I Don’t Live Today”
“May This Be Love”
“Third Stone From The Sun”
“Are You Experienced?”
* – Not on the original album, these are singles (A and B sides) that were added to the record for this MCA release. Although my rules state that I can’t include album extras in my judging, I’ve broken the rules before. And I probably did here, too!


50th Favorite: Axis: Bold As Love, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience


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Axis: Bold as Love. The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
1967, Track Records. Producer: Chas Chandler.
Purchased, 1997.

IN A NUTSHELL: Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding are in fine form on songs both heavy and light, each song bursting with the unmistakeable virtuosity of Hendrix’s guitar – sometimes subtle, sometimes bombastic. He plays a few pop songs, too, and always makes them sound like Jimi. He also displays an under-appreciated, soulful singing voice that particularly stands out on the lighter, slower songs.
Everyone wants to be a VIP. All over the internet, folks are using the allure of VIP status to entice you to buy yoga apparel, car washes, cameras, and sporting goods; access to restaurants, zoos, muscle-car clubs, pinball museums and places that aren’t even real. And while it’s probably true that nobody really thinks their longterm commitment to buying quality socks online actually makes them more important than they were when they were simply buying Kirkland socks at Costco, it’s also true that if the letters “VIP” didn’t actually help sell things then vendors wouldn’t use them.

It is well-established that people want to feel important[ref]And like all aspects of human life, this desire can go too far in people.[/ref]. But we also like to acknowledge those people who are important in our own lives. Many of us, it seems, need a little help letting those people know how special they are to us, but we all (mostly) recognize those important people are out there. (If you don’t know who they are, there are several online quizzes to help you figure it out!)

Of particular interest to humans seems to be those people we think are “most important.” Schoolchildren of all ages have likely written at least one essay on the topic “The Most Important Person in My Life.” And if they can’t think of someone, there are plenty of example essays for sale on the topic! It’s not just teachers who like a good “Most Important Person Essay,” either. Many websites post such features for all their readers to enjoy. It’s also a popular topic on websites devoted to particular religions.

These essays and stories and blog posts all tend to focus on longtime relationships that are obviously important. The singular fact that your mother carried you inside her for nine-plus months immediately renders her important, whether or not her laugh is all that great. If you’re a big-time athlete, you’re bound to have a coach or two with whom you’ve developed a special bond. Most of us probably have several of these types in our lives making it quite difficult to pare a list of important people down to one single “most important[ref]It’s also, sadly, a little 5th-grade-sleepover-ish: “Tell me who’s your best friend!”[/ref].” (And remember: when thinking about those “most important people” in one’s life, always keep in mind – as we children of the 70s learned on TV – that the most important person is YOU!)

Parents, coaches, teachers, mentors, friends, grandparents … these are all obvious types of important people. People in your life who fall into these categories have earned a claim to the title of Most Important Person, I am sure. “For fifty years, my sister has been there for me.” “I learned so much more than World History from Mrs. Meyer in 10th grade.” However, there is a type of Important Person that I find far more interesting. It’s a type of Important Person who perhaps hasn’t had such a broad or philosophical influence on your life, but who had a direct, specific, turning-point-facilitating impact. When you ask yourself “How did I get here?” and follow the thread of your actions and decisions back through the twisting maze of your past, you will come across a person or two without whose words or deeds a significant turn in your path would have been missed – even though you Don’t Remember Their Name! This is The Forgotten Person in Passing. Better-known as The ForPerInPass. Or maybe the Forg-Pip. Or F-PIP. Whatever, I suck at nicknames and acronyms.

FPIPs are often only recognizable if you allow your memory to step back through the stages of your life and consider how each link between stages was made. For example: I’ve had a 25-plus year career in the biotech/pharma industry. How did I get there? Well, I can easily walk back through the various jobs I’ve had at different companies in New England and California … and before arriving in California, I can go back in my mind to Pennsyltucky… where I can remember getting my very first pharma job at a Bayer Aspirin factory … a job I got because I had a minor in Chemistry … which was a degree I took only because of … Some Guy. An FPIP.

In 1989 I was days away from graduating college with a degree in Biology Education. As with everything pre-internet, the administrative process of graduation involved filling out a lot of forms and getting a bunch of signatures on these forms. One of these forms was to be signed by the Department Chair (a terribly Important Person, no doubt), who, having reviewed the paper copy of my college transcripts would, by signature, assert that indeed I had fulfilled the requirements to receive a Bachelor’s degree.

My transcript included grades from two years spent at PCPS, a college of science whose hefty, science-packed course-load included about 23 credits of Chemistry in my two years of study[ref]This all happened pre-internet, so the only way I can confirm that “23” is to root through old papers in the attic and try to find my transcript. I love you readers very much, but not enough to go do that much work, so I just guess-timated that value using my brain.[/ref] – which is a shit-load of chemistry. As I walked through a science building on my way to get a signature, some FPIP took a look at my transcript and said, “Holy crap! You have enough Chemistry credits to get a minor!” (or words to that effect.) “Why should I do that?” I asked. “Why not?” he replied. “It couldn’t hurt!” So, on my way to get the Biology chair’s signature, I stopped in at the Chemistry chair’s office for his signature, and voila!! I had a Chemistry Minor! If I hadn’t gotten that Chemistry minor, I probably wouldn’t have gotten my first pharmaceutical job. And since I wasn’t looking for a career in pharmaceuticals, but only took the job (which was supposed to be temporary) so that I’d have some flexibility to tour with my band, I probably wouldn’t have had a successful career in what has turned out to be my field if I hadn’t bumped into that FPIP.

In terms of my life’s path, that dude who gave me the tip about obtaining a minor was WAY more important than any advice-giving coach or hand-holding aunt could ever be! And he’s just one of several such FPIPs.

Other FPIPs in my life include this wacky, effervescent, middle-aged dancer/actress/singer I met in San Rafael, CA, soon after I moved there in 1993. She was a friend of a friend, and I met her once, at a lunch with our mutual friend during a break in rehearsal for some cabaret show she was hoping to mount, and during that one meeting she told me that of all the acting programs in San Francisco, the only one worth attending was the Jean Shelton Acting School. On that advice I started taking classes, and one of the first friends I made there introduced me to the woman who would become my wife. If not for the wacky FPIP, I might still be single.

Another FPIP – who I definitely can picture, and who I knew pretty well at the time, but whose name I can’t recall – was the guy who said “Axis: Bold as Love was a life-changing album for me.” He was an improv teacher at Sue Walden & Co., (now ImprovWorks) a school in San Francisco where I trained and performed for years. He played guitar, and in the mid 90s he was in his 40s. As a teen-aged guitar player living in the Bay Area in the 60s, he was a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, and as I recall, he told me that Axis: Bold as Love had been released just as he was starting to get really good at guitar. But, he explained, when he heard that album he realized just how hard he was going to have to work to become the type of guitarist he wanted to be. I don’t remember the details of what he said, but I recall the reverence with which he spoke, the deep connection he had with the work, not just as an album of rock songs but as a true work of artistic expression that had left an impression still palpable some 30 years later. It was like hearing a Catholic priest speak of seeing St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time.

I was already a fan of The Jimi Hendrix Experience album Are You Experienced?, so I knew immediately that I had to get Axis: Bold as Love. In this case, the chances are likely that I would have purchased this album at some point – so maybe he doesn’t precisely fit the FPIP definition. But I still can’t hear this record without thinking of that guy, and feeling lucky to have met him, and in a way I still consider him responsible for my love of this album, and deepening my appreciation of Jimi.

I was already familiar with this album’s cover because my high school buddy, Josh, had used it to decorate our room in 11th grade World Cultures class when we had “India Day.” The story goes that Jimi didn’t particularly care for the artwork, as nobody in the band had any Indian heritage (apart from Jimi’s Native American “Indian” lineage). And although depicting the band members as gods of the third largest religion on Earth is undoubtedly offensive to many[ref]If your thought is “too many people get offended too easily,” you are likely not a member of an historically oppressed group, so maybe learn a little empathy, okay?[/ref], it’s still a pretty cool-looking album.

Cool-looking though it may be, Axis: Bold as Love starts off rather cornily with a sort of amusing, kind of pointless, though maybe sort of wild-for-its-time skit, called “EXP,” about aliens that allows Hendrix to make some futuristic sounds with his guitar. But more importantly, it serves as a prelude to the cool groove of “Up from the Skies.”

It starts with a jazzy, brush-stick intro from fabulous drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Jimi begins singing right away. This is perfect because it allows me to state immediately that Hendrix’s acknowledged guitar virtuosity has overshadowed the fact that he’s actually a terrific singer! On this song he’s expressive and controlled as he takes the voice of the alien in “EXP” to ask us all about our life here on Earth, and why it’s so degraded since the last time he visited. Behind the outer-space words is some fantastic wah-wah guitar that subtly distorts the sound of the entire song – giving me a feeling of bobbing in water. The drumming – I can’t say enough about Mitchell. Hear for yourself just 15 seconds of brilliance, between 0:30 and 0:45. Jimi’s solo beginning at 2:25 – I need better words to describe his playing. Those who think Hendrix was only about guitars lit on fire and playing with his teeth must listen to this solo: restrained and lovely, incorporating both the wah pedal and studio panning to achieve its full effect.

Next up is a song in a heavier vein, the type for which Hendrix is perhaps more well-known: “Spanish Castle Magic.”

It sounds like early heavy metal, based around one chunky riff doubled by bassist Noel Redding. The lyrics are purported to be about an old rock club on the outskirts of Seattle, called The Spanish Castle, where Hendrix played as a high schooler, but I’m thinking they might also have to do with Jimi’s use of LSD. Regardless of their content, I’m always amazed at how Jimi can sing and play guitar so well at the same time[ref]Yes, yes, I know this is kind of in the job description for rock guitarist/singer, but most guitarist/singers aren’t as special as Hendrix is at both tasks![/ref]. In this and many songs, the melody he sings is a different rhythm than what his hands are playing – and sometimes his hands are doing additionally crazy things. I recognize that in a studio overdubs are used to make this task easier, but Jimi pulled off this shit live, too!

These two songs are examples of the two main styles in which The Jimi Hendrix Experience traffics: 1) gentle, subtle grooves; and 2) heavy riffs; both based in the blues and both with brilliant guitar. One of the most well-known Type 1 songs is the beautiful “Little Wing.”


It’s a song loved by guitar players, with a sound lifted by many artists over the years. When I listen closely to what Hendrix is playing, I understand why my FPIP was so overwhelmed. At first listen, it sounds rather simple. But when you focus in on his subtle bends and arpeggiated strumming you recognize how advanced the playing is. For example, the 20 seconds before the solo – at about 1:20 to 1:40. His playing doesn’t even sound like fingers and a pick on strings – it sounds like it’s just emanating from him. (By the way, he also played the glockenspiel on the piece[ref]This is disputed. I found one reference attributing it to Mitchell.[/ref]!) The lyrics were apparently inspired by “… a very sweet girl that came around that gave me her whole life and more if I wanted it,” Hendrix stated. “And me with my crazy ass couldn’t get it together.” As with many Hendrix lyrics, the meaning isn’t immediately apparent from the actual words … but who cares? It still sounds beautiful.

I love “Little Wing,” and am in fact drawn to all the mellower songs on the album. Perhaps my favorite is the evocative “One Rainy Wish.”

The guitar in this song is wonderful. Much has been made of Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his ability to make his guitar sound like rockets and bombs. In “One Rainy Wish,” his guitar doesn’t sound like rainfall, but it conjures rainfall imagery, with its cascading descending runs and wavy bends, giving the listener the feeling of standing in the rain. The mellow 3/4 time of the verse kicks into a more raucous 4/4 in the chorus (at about 1:13), and Jimi solos through the whole thing. Drummer Mitch Mitchell plays a distant-thunder roll on his tom at about 1:57 to bring it back to the drizzly verse, a seamless transition of the type the band makes easily throughout the songs on the album. I get chills at the guitar in this song, and it makes me wonder if I have ASMR. It’s another Jimi-style, dreamy love song, with lyrical content (“you were under the tree of song / Sleeping so peacefully / In your hand a flower played”) that could only be written by one man.

Another magical piece – and the more I think about it, “magical” is a great way to describe this album. It seems to get better and better and reveal more and more with every listen! – is the spiritual “Castles Made of Sand,” with its slice of life lyrics that together urge the listener to seize the day – for it all could wash away tomorrow. This song features some backwards guitar, and once again Mitchell’s drumming is tight. But come on: just go back and listen to his guitar playing during the “castles made of sand” sections – 0:47, 1:25, 2:13 – tell me that’s not just otherworldly brilliance? I get carried away – I almost forgot to post the song.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience only had one Billboard Top 40 song, but it is useful to remember that the band WAS a POP BAND, writing songs contemporaneously to artists like The Grass Roots and The Cowsills, and some of the songs on Axis: Bold as Love clearly seem to be Jimi’s attempts at writing a pop song. Of course, being Jimi Hendrix, the result isn’t exactly “Sugar Sugar.” “You Got Me Floatin’” has too much Jimi vocal style and overdriven guitar, wild Mitch Mitchell drumming and a Noel Redding bass solo to ever be mistaken for Neil Diamond. “Ain’t No Tellin’” is a radio-friendly one-minute-fifty, but it has those triplets the kids can’t dance to, and a section (beginning about 0:46) of jazzy chord changes, and so much smoking guitar that Cousin Brucie would’ve blown out his headphones. The weakest of these pop songs is the one written by bassist Noel Redding, “She’s So Fine,” which actually sort of sounds like a 60s pop song. Mitch and Jimi do what they can on it, including Jimi’s soloing (about 1:30 and 2:12), in which he seems to be saying, “Fuck that shit, Noel, let me take over.”

One song I find really interesting on Axis: Bold as Love is the rather humorous offering, “Wait Until Tomorrow.” It tells the tale of our hero wooing the lovely Dolly Mae, who continues to ask him to wait … until Dolly Mae’s dad’s gun finally puts an end to the relationship.

It’s got a terrific riff, some excellent Mitchell fills toward the end, and is one in a long line of songs (“Hey Joe,” “Machine Gun”) Hendrix played that featured gun violence, and they each approached the topic differently. “Little Miss Lover” at first seems like a throwaway song, until about 1:07, when he plays a killer riff and a solo that – frankly – deserves a better song behind it!

The only songs left to discuss are two serious songs, key in the Hendrix Canon (in my humble opinion.) First there’s the trippy journey of “If 6 Was 9,” not one of Hendrix’s best lyrical outputs, but I couldn’t give a hoot about that.

This entire album is very “headphone worthy,” offering more sonic tidbits with every listen. But “If 6 Was 9” is particularly great on headphones, with a guitar that almost sounds like it’s inside a tin can – but in a really cool, positive way. Right around 1:40 the guitar builds, and then Noel Redding gets to play some scales on the bass that whirl and expand, and provide a kind of tether for Jimi’s guitar atmospherics. Jimi gives a little chuckle at about 2:52 that – coupled with all the guitar on this record – always makes me think he knows a lot more about everything than I’ll ever know … That’s the best I can explain it. Even Mitchell’s drum solo afterwards can’t beat that feeling out of me. At 3:56 Hendrix begins to bring it all home, creating flutes, industrial sounds, outer space chirps … it’s the kind of song I’d have HATED as a Middle Schooler, because it would’ve scared the shit out of me. But I love it now.

The album closes with “Bold as Love” – a sort of poetic salute to rainbows, whose lyrics I don’t try to understand – I just sit back and enjoy them because they create something beautiful.

“They’re all bold as love,” he sings – and who can argue with that? I’m glad this is the last song to write about because I don’t know how many different ways I can say “Boy, he’s a really excellent, moving guitarist!” Listen at 1:46 how he approaches the solo with a run, and how the solo seems to end the song at 2:40, until a coda begins that takes the song to a new level. It’s one of the most perfect album-ending tracks I know. Satisfying, it somehow says “goodbye,” not so much in words, but just as plainly as the alien in “EXP” said “hello.” As the track fades, I’m always left feeling like The Jimi Hendrix Experience may have actually been from outer space, and may have arrived here for the sole purpose of guiding us listeners to a very, very happy place.

It’s not unlike those FPIPs in your life, who seem like they were visiting you and only you to direct things, to set you on your course. You don’t need to know their names, you don’t need to know how they knew to give you that important information. All you need to do is hold them in your memory, and hope you can be as helpful to others as they were to you. If you can get someone to become a fan of Axis: Bold as Love, you’ve done something wonderful.

Track Listing:
“Up From the Skies”
“Spanish Castle Magic”
“Wait Until Tomorrow”
“Ain’t No Telling”
“Little Wing”
“If 6 Was 9”
“You Got Me Floatin'”
“Castles Made of Sand”
“She’s So Fine”
“One Rainy Wish”
“Little Miss Lover”
“Bold as Love”


76th Favorite: Band of Gypsys, by Jimi Hendrix


Band of Gypsys. Jimi Hendrix
1970, Capitol. Producer: Heaven Research (Jimi Hendrix)
Purchased: 1998.

album cover

nutshell 76IN A NUTSHELL – Masterful guitar work over soulful grooves creates a listening experience that is divinely spiritual. At least for me. Deep and meditative.
WOULD BE HIGHER IF – It’s so groovy to float around. Even a jellyfish will agree to that.

I’ve always been a bookworm. A word-nerd. I developed a love of reading at a very young age, fostered[ref]Or hammered into me?[/ref] by two older sisters who took our childhood games of “School” – in which I was invariably the pupil – quite seriously. My choices were learn to read or be expelled. I learned to read.

[captionpix imgsrc=”https://www.100favealbums.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/liz-me.jpg” captiontext=”Always the eager student, the youthful author (right) is taught a lesson by his sister, Liz.”]

A love of writing quickly developed from this love of reading. I liked the stories I read and decided it would be fun to come up with my own. The first piece of writing I remember feeling really proud about was a fifth grade assignment in which Mr. Keesey[ref]Still one of the greatest teachers ever – he played guitar for us and had a class-assembled wooden tower in his room, atop which we could play games. He also tried to get us all to call him “Jim,” but nobody could hurdle the discomfort this caused after years of strict Rules of Respect, so we all just called him “Mr. Keesey.”[/ref] had us pull cool teachertitles for stories out of a bag, and we were free to write anything about it. I pulled the title How I Won the War[ref]I told you he was cool!![/ref] and wrote a story about sailing a hot air balloon over the Confederate troops in the Civil War and dropping bombs on them. It was so good that Mr. Keesey read it aloud to the class. I still remember how embarrassing it was when he read my sentence, “Back at the hospital, the nurses were helping me (fixing me up).” I should have done better. But more than that, I remember the other kids laughing at the funny parts and Mr. Keesey saying I had a future in writing.

From there it continued. Just as I imagine athletes must remember games going all the way back to their childhood[ref]Tangent: I briefly met former Phillies outfielder Milt Thompson, and mentioned I saw him hit one of the longest home runs I’d ever seen at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. He immediately said, “Off of Dave Burba. One-one count. Fastball inside.” The home run in question occurred 13 years earlier.[/ref], I Ralph Write can remember stories I wrote going back to that Mr. Keesey story all the way up until yesterday. In eighth grade I wrote a funny story in which I was a CIA agent assigned to find President Reagan’s jellybeans. In twelfth grade I wrote a suspenseful story in which I foretold my own death in a dream. After college, I wrote a weird story in which Satan himself tricks me into becoming a fan of the then-perpetually-awful New Orleans Saints.[ref]I sent it to Sports Illustrated, and a nice editor wrote me a nice letter saying it was really good, but not appropriate for their readers. Even though I was a reader, and I’D have liked to read something like that. Anyway. I’m not bitter.[/ref]

Throughout my life I’ve kept writing – whether anyone has read anything I’ve written or not[ref]They haven’t. (Except for you, my excellent reader!! I love you, mom.)[/ref]. I think I’m pretty good at writing, and if nothing else I’m SURE that when it comes to communicating, I do it much better through writing than through speaking. Even when I did stand-up comedy – typically thought of as a speaking-heavy form of communication – my act was very dependent on scripted jokes, honed through performance, with very little in the way of ad-libbing. I feel very confident about my writing ability. I might not write better than a lot of other people, but I write better than I do a lot of other things.

sponge write

But all the confidence in the world won’t help you if you can’t figure out what to write about! Entire books have been written about “Writer’s Block” – a well-known condition that has prevented writers both famous and obscure from starting or finishing their works. The authors of these books on Writer’s Block no doubt cured their own cases by using the subject as their topic – certainly an effective palliative for the malady’s typical cause: “I Don’t Know What to Write About!”

But I’ve been having a different problem, a problem I’ll still file under Writer’s Block, but caused by something else. Clearly I know what to write about: I spent more than a year listening to all my albums specifically so that I WOULD have a topic to write about. My problem – which has caused this blog to go un-updated for a bit longer than mullusual[ref]Although, summer has always made it difficult to keep up with my usual two-week turnaround. There’s just too much else to do besides hunching over a computer clackity-clacking.[/ref] – is that I don’t know how to translate my feelings about Band of Gypsys into words. I have a lot to say about the record – but I don’t know how to say it on the page.

There is a famous quote, attributed (possibly incorrectly) to Mr. Barth Gimble himself, comedian Martin Mull, that goes “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” And it truly can be as ridiculous as that quote makes it sound. There is much about the topic that can’t be put into words.

Music has invisible tendrils that insinuate themselves into one’s heart and soul, and press buttons there causing lights within to brighten and dim. slayer carlyMusic feels important and necessary in ways that might sound goofy and strange to those whose buttons and lights operate differently. Your favorite songs might not have the power to stop everyone else in their tracks, but they mean something special to you. Nobody else may get why “Call Me Maybe” brings a tear to your eye, or how it is that “Raining Blood” makes your heart swell until it feels like it may burst through your chest and actually rain blood upon the room. And you could write 1,000 words about both songs and the reader still wouldn’t necessarily “get it.”

Still, I’ve pursued writing about these records because … I don’t know, really, but I like them, and I figure I’ll just say what it is I like about them. Okay, true, most of the time it’s “guitar sounds cool, the drummer’s really great and I love the melody.” earOver and over. A few records have broken out of that mold, but for the most part my attraction to these records has been pretty consistent. And in all cases, I’ve been able to go through songs and state, “hear that riff there? That sounds cool. And those lyrics – I like them, as well.” This is because my love for these albums is almost entirely about my ears: what I hear goes through my ears and in my brain and makes me happy. True – some of the songs also reach my heart or soul[ref]I mean “soul” in as clichéd and non-religious a manner as possible. I don’t think I have a soul, per se, but I do feel like there’s some connection I share to certain people and art and personal endeavors, and whatever that connection is, that’s what I mean.[/ref], but usually this touch is something I can translate into words, even if they’re as vague as “it really moves me.” I feel like I can generally convey what I like about the songs, even though I realize I’m not ever going to truly put the reader into my ears and brain and heart and “soul.”


But some music seems to bypass the ear and brain altogether (I said “seems to”), and shoot directly into the regions of one’s self that are difficult to describe, or even fully locate, but that are typically referred to as “heart and soul.” These nameless, indescribable regions inside are the destination of Band of Gypsys, an album attributed to Jimi Hendrix, but actually recorded as a live performance by the band that Jimi called A Band of Gypsys[ref]“The Fillmore is proud to welcome back some old friends with a brand new name: A Band of Gypsys,” famed concert promoter Bill Graham announces as the album begins.[/ref].

jimi fireMuch like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, I feel like I’ve known Jimi Hendrix for my entire life. Before I knew what songs he sang or whether he was alive or dead, I could identify him as that African-American man in fringed clothes and a huge afro cinched by a dangly bandanna who did crazy stuff with his guitar. “Jimi Hendrix” was an identifiable form or shape, like a flower or a fireman. It was the costume my friend Andy wore to a Halloween party in 7th grade.

As I got older, I began to know more about him. In high school, my good friend Josh[ref]Who has appeared in these posts previously.[/ref] claimed that the only music he owned, and the only music he listened to other than the radio, was by Jimi Hendrix. (That is, until 1983, when Stevie Ray Vaughan appeared and released Texas Flood, which he immediately bought.) I listened to his songs on the radio (I’d say “Fire,” “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze” were most often played on AOR back in the 70s and 80s) and I liked him okay, but I never bought any of his records. experience

Then I went to college, and – as with so many musical aspects of my life – Dr. Dave helped guide the way. My recollection is that he fairly insisted that I listen to more Hendrix than I had by that point. I eventually bought the three studio albums by his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. They are excellent albums. I played them a lot.

In the late 90s, I heard an interview on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” with a popular author of crime novels named George Pelacanos. He was discussing his latest book, King Suckerman, and it sounded really good. king suckermanI went out and bought it. Early in the story, one of the characters in the book, Marcus Clay, who owns a Washington, D.C., record store in 1976, discusses Jimi Hendrix with record store employee, Rasheed X.

Rasheed mentions that he thinks Hendrix’s music – which throughout his career had resided within the mostly Caucasian Rock Music genre – was headed toward soul and funk music when he died, and as proof offers up the album Band of Gypsys. This brief bit of dialogue – which really had nothing to do with the plot, but was simply a humorous vignette to provide background on two characters (astutely demonstrating the characters’ relationship, their in-depth musical knowledge, their perception of identity and their respective positions on the intersection of politics and business in 1976 Washington D.C., all in less than a page) – was enough to make me think I’d better go out and buy Band of Gypsys.

band gyps backBand of Gypsys is a live album, documenting 4 shows in two nights by the band at The Fillmore East, in New York City. The recordings took place on December 31, 1969, and January 1, 1970 – as unconditional a transition between the 60s and 70s as there could possibly be. bog2Hendrix was performing with a drummer and bassist perhaps unfamiliar to fans of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, respectively[ref]Although they are the rhythm section that supported Hendrix at Woodstock, so they weren’t unknown.[/ref]. While my research shows they did play a few songs familiar to Hendrix’s fans, it was six new songs that made it onto the record: four Hendrix compositions, and two by drummer Miles.

The songs are lengthy, with simple structures that lend themselves well to extensive jamming and soloing by the band. Most of the songs are built on a single riff that serves as a sort of departure point and landing spot for Hendrix’s virtuosic flights.jimi guitar

These flights are what connect so deeply with me. I have a hard time putting into words what it is about Jimi’s playing that sets him apart from so many guitarists, that causes his sound to vibrate within me. I asked Dr. Dave himself – one of several guitar-playing friends, but the one I’ve known the longest – if he could explain it (“on the record”) from a guitarist’s perspective, and he put it this way:

At first blush the answer seems very easy but as I put pen to paper it becomes impossible to word it. Let’s face it, who’s to say Tommy Scholz isn’t a great guitarist – but is he great like Hendrix? Of course not. This situation is pretty abstract and I guess it is why it’s difficult. (Heck, you yourself touted the guy from Sonic Youth. How do feel about what you wrote last week and this question?)[ref]I knew Dr. Dave would hate that Sonic Youth made this list.[/ref]

… Hendrix for me makes me realize I could never be (not just play) like him. Everything about his style of singing, voicing, guitar playing, choice of words, diction, mood is what touches something inside me.

I might hear a tune in the car and immediately get into this funky feeling that makes me keep beat and make a grooving face. Visceral. Yes, visceral. Nothing by Hendrix is forced. It’s more intuitive, devoid of an intellect (if you will) despite his genius.

Yea, that’s it. I’ll go with that. (Oh, and he is fucking awesome!)

flying v jimiSo even a guitar player has a similar reaction to mine upon hearing him. Dr. Dave didn’t say “the way he plays a suspended 9th chord …” or “his deft plectrum work …” or “the glissando he plays beneath the arpeggiated blah blah blah …” No, he used the word “visceral.” This is the exact word I had in mind about Band of Gypsys when I asked Dr. Dave his opinion.

There is a response generated within me to the music, a response that I haven’t been able to adequately state on the page. I’ve spent some time trying, and I’ve been unhappy with the results. The writing never captures what it is about the music that makes me so happy.

davey and gI think of how a religious Christian person must feel about the Bible. Sure, I could write a hundred thousand words about what Jesus says, and what the stories mean, and the effect it has on me, but the book itself is going to be so much more important and meaningful to me than anything I could write for you. The best I could really do to try to make you understand is to ask you to read the book for yourself.

So I think all I can do is place links to the songs here, and let you hear for yourself. I’ll mention a few things about each song, but I can’t really say anything about them that Jimi doesn’t say twenty-three times better with his guitar.

So as famed director Marty DiBergi said, “… enough of my yakkin’. Let’s boogie!”

The first song on the album is “Who Knows.”

It’s a riff-rocker, featuring drummer Buddy Miles as co-lead vocalist. Jimi’s solos – at about 2:50 and especially the one at 6:39 – are two of the many indispensible Jesus parables of this Bible of a record. bog 1 Also – for a “WTF?” segment that always amuses, but somehow gets less weird with each listen – check out Miles’s scat-solo from 4:47.

Next up is the classic song “Machine Gun.”

Jimi dedicates it to “the soldiers fighting in Chicago …” presumably the Chicago 8, who were on trial at the time of the recording, and “oh yes, all the soldiers fighting in Viet Nam …” It’s a clear anti-war song by a US Army veteran. The solo that BOG jimiruns from around 4 minutes to 7:45 – offering a sonic description of a battlefield that by 5 minutes becomes the most beautiful or horrible guitar solo I’ve ever heard – well, I just sat here for 7 minutes trying to think of what to write about it. I should just refer to these passages like people do with Bible verses: “John 3:16.” For example, “In the Book of Band of Gypsys, I think Machine Gun 4:00 – 7:45 says it all.”

The third song is a fun one written by drummer Miles, “Changes.”

Changes, 2:02 – 3:06.

Next up, “Power to Love,” which was renamed “Power of Soul” on the reissue.

jimisingThis song has riff that almost sounds like a mistake, and excellent singing and playing together. Hendrix has always been an underrated singer, I believe. His guitar prowess can overshadow an excellent vocal style. How he remembers lyrics like “reap the waves of reality,” and words about jellyfish floating, while at the same time playing the things he plays … it seems super-human, like walking on water. Power To Love 3:00 – 3:49. Way cool key change from 5:19-5:25.

Up next, Message of Love, which was renamed Message to Love in reissue.

Holy cow. Holy Jimi. Message of Love 1:13 – 2:42.

The closing song is “We Gotta Live Together.”

Amen and amen.

I suppose one would think that the more an album’s invisible tendrils push one’s impalpable buttons, the better it will be. However, just as an album full of catchy, fun pop songs might be too much of a good thing, the same can be said of those tendrils and buttons. Sometimes you might not want to feel music, you might just want to hear it. This is why the album isn’t ranked higher on my list. My appreciation of Band of Gypsys is definitely linked to my mood. There are times in my life when this album would be Top Ten, hands down, and times where it might not scratch my favorite 10-dozen. Like many people from all faiths, sometimes my religion is imperative and sometimes I almost forget.
I don’t expect you to fully understand – it’s a record that’s meaningful to me for reasons I can’t adequately explain – but whether it moves you or not, I think we can agree that Hendrix’s guitar work is astonishing. Dr. Dave once visited a new guitar teacher who, when told that his prospective student was interested in playing like Hendrix, responded, “Really? He was mostly just a showman.” Dr. Dave restrained himself from responding with violence, but this is the kind of statement that makes me want to go Jihad on someone. But then I think of Band of Gypsys, Chapter Machine Gun, Verses 4:00 – 7:45 and I know that violence isn’t the answer.

Track Listing
Who Knows
Machine Gun
Power to Love
Message of Love
We Gotta Live Together