||[Aug. 19th, 2004|12:38 pm]
|||||Wonderful Tonight: Eric Clapton||]|
Here's an article I wrote on Jimi Hendrix a while ago.
Jimi Hendrix is one of, if not the greatest, guitarists that has ever lived. In his brief four-year reign as a superstar, Hendrix expanded the vocabulary of the electric guitar more than anyone else before or since. Hendrix was a master of bringing out the unforseen sonics of his guitar, with his amplification experiments that produced astral-quality feedback and roaring distortion. His frequent blasts of noise and dazzling showmanship – he could and would play behind his back and with his teeth and set his guitar on fire – has sometimes obscured his considerable gifts as a songwriter, singer, and master of a considerable amount of blues, R&B, and rock styles.
When Hendrix became an international star in 1967, it seemed as if he’d dropped out of nowhere. But he has served his apprenticeship the long way in numerous R&B acts on the chitlin curcuit. During the early and mid-‘60s, he worked with such R&B/soul legends such as Little Richard, the Isley Brothers and King Curtis as a backup guitarist. The stars didn’t appreciate his show-stealing showmanship, and Hendrix was suffocated by sideman roles that didn’t allow him to develop as a soloist. The logical step was for Hendrix to go out on his own, which he did in New York in the mid-‘60s, playing with various musicians in local clubs, and joining white blues-rock singer John Hammond Jr.’s band for a while.
It was in a New York club that Hendrix was spotted by Animals bassist Chas Chandler. The first lineup of the Animals was about to split, and Chandler, looking to movie into management, convinced Hendrix to move to London and record as a solo act in England. There a group was built around Jimi, also featuring Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass, that was dubbed the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The trio became stars with astonishing speed in the U.K., where "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze," and "The Wind Cries Mary" all made the Top Ten in the first half of 1967. These tracks were also featured on their debut album, Are You Experienced?, a psychedelic album that became a huge his in the U.S. after Hendrix created a sensation at the Monterey Pop Festivle in June of 1967.
Are You Experienced? was an astonishing debut, particularly from a young R&B verteran who had rarely sung and apparently never written his own material, before the Experience was formed. What caught most people’s attention at first was his virtuosic guitar playing, which included buzzing feedback solos, crunching distorted riffs, and lightning, liquid runs up and down the scales. But Hendrix was also a first-rate songwriter, combining cosmic imagery with some surprisingly pop-savvy hooks and tender sentiments. He was also a passionate, engaging singer (though his voice could never match his instrumental skills). Are You Experienced? was psychedelia at its most eclectic, combining mod pop, soul, R&B, and the electric guitar innovations of British pioneers like Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, and Eric Clapton.
Amazingzly, Hendrix only recorded three fully conceived studio albums in his lifetime. Axis: Bold as Love and the double-LP Electric Ladyland were more experimental than Are You Experienced? On Electric Ladyland in particular, Hendrix pioneered the use of the studio itself as a recording instrument, manipulating electronics and overdub techniques to plot unchartered sonic territory. These albums weren’t perfect, as impressive as they were; the instrumental breaks could meander, and Hendrix’s songwriting never matched the consistency of Are You Experienced?
The final two years of Jimi Hendrix’s life were turbulent ones musically, financially, and personally. He was in enough complicated management and record company disputes to keep the lawyers busy for years. He disbanded the Experience in 1969, forming the Band of Gypsies, with drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox to pursue funkier directions. He closed Woodstock with a shaky set, redeemed by his famous interpretation of "The Star Spangled Banner." The Band of Gypsies could not measure up to the same standard of the Experience. In early 1970, the Experience re-formed again – and again disbanded shortly afterward. Coming up on two years after Electric Ladyland, a new studio album had yet to appear, although Hendrix was recording constantly during the period.
While outside parties did contribute to bringing down Hendrix’s studio work, it also seems likely Jimi himself was partly responsible for the down-bringing, unable to form a permanent lineup of musicians and unable to bring himself to complete another album despite jamming endlessly. A few months into 1970, Hendrix’s musical collaborator came back into the mix, replacing Miles in the drum chair, though Cox stayed in his place. It was this trio that toured the world during Hendrix’s final months.
It’s extremely difficult to separate the facts of Hendrix’s life from rumors. Everyone who knew him well, or claimed to know him well, has different versions of his state of mind in 1970. Critics have variously claimed that he was going to go into jazz, that he was going to get deeper into the blues, that he was going to continue doing what he was doing, or he was too lost and confused to know what he was doing at all. The same confusion stood for his death: different versions of his final days have been given by his closest acquaintances of the time. He’d been working on a new album, titled First Ray of the New Rising Sun in London. On September 18, 1970, from drug complications, one of the greatest guitarists of all time died.