Jimi Hendrix died on this date 42 years ago, and it's about time I wrote something about him. Are You Experienced from the Jimi Hendrix Experience was one of the best debut albums in the history of rock, and its follow up Axis: Bold As Love was definitely not a sophomore slump. How does one top these albums? In 1968, Jimi Hendrix did just that when he created his masterpiece, Electric Ladyland. Jimi and his producer/manager Chas Chandler had a falling out over Jimi’s work habits. The album started in London like the previous two albums, but then production moved to New York. Jimi liked to invite friends to the studio, and they usually came by. Jimi would entertain his friends rather than get any work done, much to Chandler’s annoyance. When Chandler quit the project, Jimi took the production reins himself and indulged his every sonic fantasy that he could given the technology of the time. Luckily for him he had a sympathetic engineer in Eddie Kramer who had shared Jimi’s vision of sonic perfection. Electric Ladyland saw Jimi expand beyond the power trio format of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. For the first time, Jimi collaborated with other musicians besides Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. Jimi was a perfectionist who liked to record many takes of the same song, much to the annoyance of bassist Noel Redding. Electric Ladyland took several months to complete, but the results are well worth the time spent to create it. Given all the sounds Hendrix got out of his gear using various amps, pedals, feedback and overdubs, Electric Ladyland is a sonic goldmine. He covers a lot of musical bases – soul, jazz, blues, and psychedelic rock.
And The Gods Made Love – This opens the album the same way EXP did for Axis: Bold As Love. Completely unnecessary, but Hendrix wanted to play with his studio toys.
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) – Hendrix plays soul. Hendrix was insecure of his singing voice, but given this soulful piece dedicated to the “electric ladies” of his life, he needn’t have been.
Crosstown Traffic – A fast-tempo, stomping track with the Experience that’s a bit of a shock after Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland). And yes, that is a kazoo playing along with the guitar parts. He sings to a woman who is “hard to get through,” just like a traffic jam.
Voodoo Chile – Jimi goes to the Delta and takes Steve Winwood and Jack Casady along for the ride. This is 15 minutes of live-in-the-studio jam that lyrically goes to “the outskirts of infinity” and “Jupiter’s sulphur mines,” but this is pure blues. Mitch Mitchell’s playing is simply spectacular on this jam. It sounds like it was recorded after an all-nighter at a New York club [it probably was]. A shorter version can be found on Jimi Hendrix: Blues.
Little Miss Strange – The Noel Redding song on Electric Ladyland. It’s interesting to hear Hendrix play guitar and not have to sing while doing it. During the making of Electric Ladyland things were beginning to sour between Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding. This song may have been included to keep Noel happy for the time being. This being a Noel Redding song it feels a bit out of place compared to the rest of the album.
Long Hot Summer Night – Of all the songs on Electric Ladyland, to me this one is the most forgettable. Just my opinion…
Come On (Let The Good Times Roll) – One of two covers on Electric Ladyland. This is a gem from bluesman Earl King. It’s not bad, but not essential either. Stevie Ray Vaughan covered this one on Soul to Soul. He called his version Come On Part III – the Earl King original was Part I, this Hendrix cover was version two, and his own version was Part III.
Gypsy Eyes – When I first bought Electric Ladyland in college, this was the headphone song given all the panning between the stereo channels. I've always loved it. I pictured him singing it to a girl with big brown eyes. Very psychedelic!
Burning of the Midnight Lamp – This is another blast of psychedelia from Hendrix which boasts a cool combination of harpsichord and wah-wah guitar.
Rainy Day, Dream Away and Still Raining, Still Dreaming – As Neil Young would once say about his own music, this is all the same song. Jimi split it into two parts to bookend 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)/ Moon, Turn The Tides…gently, gently away. I made a mix CD one time and spliced both together – they fit perfectly. Michael Finnigan [later of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame] plays the organ here, Buddy Miles is on drums. This is a jazzy, laid-back groove where he gives the wah-wah pedal quite a workout. This piece is not really essential, but it does give a peek into Hendrix’s interest in jazz.
1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be) – Jimi uses the studio as an instrument to make this hallucinogenic dream his most trippy sound collage. This 14-minute excursion into science fiction is Hendrix at his most cosmic. Jimi plays the bass solo. Chris Wood from Traffic lent his flute talents here.
Moon, Turn The Tides…gently, gently away – this is another sound effects thing that Hendrix tacked onto the end of 1983. It gives 1983 a soft landing.
House Burning Down – Jimi takes a stab at social commentary. Here he wonders why black people who are rioting in the streets of America’s big cities are setting their own neighborhoods on fire. His guitar sounds like it is on fire at the very end.
All Along The Watchtower – This is the definitive version of Bob Dylan’s vision of the apocalypse. Even Dylan said he likes the Hendrix version better than his own. Dave Mason from Traffic played the acoustic 12-string, while Jimi himself played the bass. Dave Mason originally played the bass on the song since Noel Redding walked out of the session [he liked Dylan’s original better], but Hendrix thought he could do better. I can’t argue with the results. His three-part solo [slide/wah-wah/straight – 2:00-2:50] is perfect. The stereo panning of this solo bounces around the inside of your head.
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – This is a great way to end an album. Just when you thought All Along the Watchtower would be hard to match, Hendrix came up with this. Unlike the blues jam of Voodoo Chile, this one is a much faster-paced reprise that featured just the Experience. The wah-wah drenched intro is iconic. Like All Along the Watchtower, the soloing is panned all over the place and it too bounces around your head. Stevie Ray Vaughan had the balls to cover this on Couldn’t Stand the Weather and did a masterful job doing so.
How could Hendrix possibly top Electric Ladyland? He couldn’t – this was the artistic peak. After the tour to support this album, the Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up. His next outing would be Band of Gypsys, a live LP recorded New Year’s Eve 1969 over which he had no artistic control due a contract dispute with another producer and another record label. Jimi fought and beat a drug rap in Toronto, he began construction of his new studio in New York [Electric Lady Studios], and he had to gig like mad to finance both the new studio and his drug trial. That didn’t leave a whole lot of time for creating another studio album. Jimi’s studio follow-up to Electric Ladyland, The First Rays of the New Rising Sun, was a work-in-progress at the time of his death. Some of those songs [Freedom, Drifting, Ezy Ryder, Room Full of Mirrors, Bleeding Heart] indicated he was working on a pretty strong follow-up, but since he wasn’t around to finish it we’ll never know if was a true continuation of Jimi Hendrix’s vision.
Electric Ladyland is a must-have for any serious music freak. It is one my “desert island” discs. This album cemented Jimi Hendrix’s place at the forefront of rock guitar playing. Forty four years after its release, guitar heroes of today are still trying to catch up.