Jimi Hendrix Experience: 1967: Are You Experienced? 1968: Axis: Bold as Love * Electric Ladyland.
Band of Gypsys: 1970: Band of Gypsys.
1970: Otis Redding/Jimi Hendrix Experience; Historic Performances Recorded at the Monterey International Pop Festival. 1971: The Cry of Love * Rainbow Bridge. 1972: Hendrix in the West * War Heroes. 1973: Soundtrack from the Film, Jimi Hendrix * Loose Ends. 1975: Crash Landing. 1976: Midnight Lightnin. 1980: Nine to the Universe. 1981: The Genius of Jimi Hendrix (also known as Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead). * Moods. 1982: The Jimi Hendrix Concerts. 1986: Band of Gypsys 2 * Live at Winterland. 1989: Radio One... 1990: Lifelines. 1991: Stages 1967-1970. 1994: Blues. 1995: Voodoo Stew. 1996: First Rays of the New Rising Sun (collection of songs that was to be Hendrix's last project). 1999: Band of Gypsys (complete). * Live at Woodstock (complete).
Hendrix is great, but critics often have overlooked the many obvious shortcomings of his work, going so far in some instances as trying to connect Hendrixs often superficial lyrics to Hopi Indian legend or traditional poetry. Harry Shapiro, author of Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy, took Hendrixs own evaluation of his lyrics at face value when Hendrix was purported to have suggested to friends that he had to "wrap up his metaphysical and spiritual intent in simplified language or through commonplace metaphors in order to get the material accepted by the record companies, and probably by most of his audience as well" (although its hard to imagine Hendrix making this kind of statement in quite the same language as Shapiro reports). Hendrixs metaphors werent commonplace, they were goofy sometimes charmingly so. And his language wasnt simple, it was flowery, even when uninfluenced by the hippies. A different perspective of Hendrixs "poetry" came inadvertently from one of his girlfriends after his death and is recorded in Electric Gypsy:
"There were two very important things in Jimis life, his music and his spiritual beliefs. He had some psychic powers, he could see visions; he could recall astral travels some of the songs he had written had nothing to do with Earth, it had to do with his astral travels. He saw different past lives. He could see the auras of people. He could also give healing. He was very good in telepathy, he was picking up on my thoughts and did quite a lot of meditation if he wrote a lyric, he didnt think for one moment, it just went through him. "
Now this is an historian I can live with. And Hendrix wasnt even from California. Luckily, lyrics were the least important part of Hendrixs art.
The problem with Shapiros Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy (good book) and Charles Murray Shaars Crosstown Traffic (great book) is that the 400 page biography and the 200 page tome set you up for some kind of big breakfast only to have you find ou when you reach the discography that the breakfast is Continental. Hendrixs studio legacy rests on four studio albums (Experienced, Axis, Ladyland, and Cry of Love), lots of outtakes and unfinished work, and lots of redundant live material released (with the exception of Band of Gypsys) after his death. Looking exclusively at Jimi Hendrix as a songwriter/craftsman, it is safe to conclude that Hendrixs great material is anywhere from forty to sixty songs, depending on whos counting a not negligible number that tends to give credence to Hendrixs reputation as a master of some sort give his shory (3 ½ years) recording career. The majority of these songs are from Electric Ladyland and Cry of Love. There is every indication that the double-album set he was working on at the time of his death, tentatively titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun, would have been a great one. There is also evidence that his lyrics were getting better, maturing away from the disingenuous (juvenile) imaginings of a few years before.
The obvious problem with Band of Gypsys is its status as a one-off designed to release Hendrix from a recording contract. Much has been made of Buddy Miles pedestrian drumming, but the bass playing by Billy Cox isnt that much better, which left the project leaning on Hendrixs shoulders. Simplicity in rock is often overrated, and though Hendrix was in fine form, the result is ideas without shape, talent without structure and only intermittent beauty. The high concept "Machine Gun" seems to be the only track from these long sessions (released in its entirety by the Hendrix family on the 1999 Band of Gypsys) that sits comfortably in the Hendrix oeuvre. Gypsys represented the most directionless and desultory phase of Hendrixs career.
Axis: Bold as Love is overrated even if it is a generally pleasant album, full of pretty bits of melody and lively playing; technically its interesting the way Hendrix fleshes out the songs with all those guitar approaches, but technique without emotion was a problem that applied to Hendrix as much as it did to Yes, Jethro Tull, or any of the over-schooled session cats that rock critics usually moan about. As mentioned, lyrics were the least important aspect of Hendrixs work, but on Axis, focus is placed on words as dominant aspects of songs. Chas Chandler, producer of Axis, has said that many of Hendrixs solos ended up on the cutting room floor. The most obvious casualty is "Little Wing," a classic-that-never-was with beautifully written imagery and a haunting melody that gets decapitated in its tracks. Theres no defense for "Spanish Castle Magic" which is leaden, rather than magical, and which remained so when performed live. "Wait Until Tomorrow" and "Castles Made of Sand" are melodramatic, sentimental drivel cast as story songs with characters that include a paralysis victim, a dead Indian brave, a couple of Romeo and Juliet doomed lovers (Romeo is murdered and tells the story from beyond the grave): Hendrix was in over his head, and if these songs had been recorded by, say, Fever Tree, Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies, or any of the queasily pretentious species circulating circa 1968 you can be sure the critics would have pounced. Theres weak material all over Axis "Aint No Tellin" (stunted, aimless, slight), "One Rainy Wish" (as silly as Donovan and his flowers), "Little Miss Lover" (funky with its Led Zeppelin style riff, but dumb, and ultimately a waste of time). "If 6 Was 9" isnt, lyrically, any better (more of the "people are laughing but I dont care" preoccupations that Hendrix must have cared about or he wouldnt have dwelled on them so often), but at least Hendrix is given room to move and the music burns the weaknesses away with major ultrasonic waves of maverick-ism (Mitch Mitchell may have never sounded better than he does on Axis). Noel Reddings songs were often treated harshly by Hendrixs admirers, but Hendrixs "You've Got Me Floating" sounds close in spirit to Redding's "She's So Fine" and these two songs, along with "If 6 Were 9" contain the most vivacious playing on Axis. The title cut, "Bold as Love," represents one of the few times Hendrixs "poetry" actually works in an overwrought, heavily metaphorical, journeyman sort of way ( I guess if some white blues players can attain good blues, as Charles Murray Shaar would reluctantly admit, then Hendrix was capable of attaining poetry):
"My Red is so confident/He flashes trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria/Orange is young, full of daring/But very unsteady for the first go round/My yellow in this case is not so mellow/In fact Im trying to say its frightened like me/And all of these emotions of mine keep holding me from giving my life to a rainbow like you."
Hendrix tried so hard, and approached his craft so seriously, that he sometimes peaked with lyrics like "Little Wing," "Burning of the Midnight Lamp," "Drifting," "My Friend" and "Angel." The same earnestness would bring the breakthroughs in song-crafting on Electric Ladyland, which had a different production approach that the raw, spontaneous sounds of Are you Experienced: but Axis: Bold as Love isnt crafted well enough. In fact, brushing aside the hyperbole, it would be apparent that the weaker songs "Spanish Castle Magic," "Wait Until Tomorrow" "Up From the Skies," "One Rainy Wish" are inferior to a lot of songs form this particular rich musical era. Rolling Stone has recently suggest that Axis is "widely considered a minor masterpiece," but Rolling Stone constantly pumps up the stature of the artists it needs for its cover stories; and "widely considered" may just mean the biased opinions of opportunistic hacks. The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix is an interesting jazz homage to Jimi Hendrix and includes versions of three songs from Axis "Up From the Skies," "Little Miss Lover" and "Castles Made of Sand." On this album, you can see what is so appealing about Hendrix his melodic dexterity, his wide range of tonal coloring, his physical energy, his flow. The bits and pieces of beauty that suffuse Axis, even though not powerful enough on their own to lend a sense of completeness to that collection of songs become wonderful material for jazz themes and orchestral elaboration. As a second album, Axis was a foray intjo pop that may have been a misstep, even a failure, for a wilder talent with more flamboyant ambitions (it supplied no big hit singles for Hendrix).
Tracking down Hendrixs stature as an icon leads back to before Axis: Bold as Love and Are You Experienced? In 1966, Hendrix showed up in England, seemingly form out of nowhere, and proceeded to astound his peer group. Jimmy Page was playing with the Yardbirds. Jeff Beck, a guitar player of fits and starts and intermittent excitement and achievement was bound to be awestruck by Hendrixs total infusion of uninterrupted guitar sound serving songs as both frame (rhythm) and picture (melody and flow). Eric Clapton was so much the blues purist that he didnt realize the blues giants themselves werent always so pure: Hendrix relished being a better rhythm guitarist than Clapton and Hendrixs rhythm attack incorporated hot r&b vamping, raw, free-flowing song structures, heavy riffing ("Sunshine of Your Lover"was written after Jack Bruce caught a Hendrix show) and post-Beatles rock & roll noise. Peter Green was playing with a lot of feeling with Fleetwood Mac, but the emotional effects he was finding in tight emotive "guitar-talk" (Greens modesty and sense of atmosphere was a virtue often lost on white blues players) seemed rather pallid nest to Hendrixs Marshall-stacks-turned-to-ten bluster and wail. Pete Townshend probably came closest to approximating Hendrixs style because, like Hendrix, he fronted a three instrument band and had to fill up space with loud noise, but his work was embryonic and chord-heavy compared to what Hendrix was doing. Hendrix was ahead of the game as a virtuoso in the making.
Virtuosity itself has peaks and valleys, and can be boring or exhilarating depending upon the virtuoso. As good as Hendrix was, he was not always playing at the top of his form. For instance, Are You Experienced is a good debut album, but, despite his assured picking, Red House is overrateded as a blues song considering its a small blues conceit, a rehash of sorts, with throwaway lyrics. What we like about Hendrix anyway, isnt so much a blues-based purity or a bluesy emotionalism, but rather a rock inventiveness, color, melodicism; Hendrix pushed the frontier; he wasn't alignning himself with blues or soul purity. "Red House" is simply no match for other blues performances circa 1967: Creams performance of "Rollin and Tumblin" (Fresh Cream) achieves punk ferocity; and their studio version of "Spoonful" (included on the English version of Fresh Cream) includes a stunning vocal performance by Jack Bruce, some irresistible band dynamics, and a Clapton solo that is more expressive than many of his solos because its kinda sloppy/scary. The Doors brought an art-school canniness to several of their early blues performances and the effortless, graceful, integrated playing on their debut album is as much a part of the sixties' Zeitgeist as is the Hendrix phenomenon.
Speaking strictly of the blues, Albert King, Albert Collins, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and many other blues giants were creating important work at the time of Hendrixs arrival. Hendrixs talent didnt exist in a vacuum and Are You Experienced was a good album among good albums. Solo for solo (check out Robin Trower on "Repent Walpurgis" on Procol Harums debut, and the dynamic rhythm track its buried in; the Grateful Deads "Viola Lee Blues;" and the guitar trade-off on Buffalo Springfields "Bluebird,") and song for song, Hendrix was a competitor in a field of players hell-bent on glory. From Are You Experienced, "Love or Confusion," "May This Be Love," and "I Dont Live Today" are indispensable, and the rest of the album is certainly not negligible. But Hendrixs style suggest possibilities that wouldnt culminate until his masterpiece, Electric Ladyland, and the unfinished Cry of Love.
Axis: Bold as Love may have suggested to Hendrix that Chas Chandler was not the best producer for the Experience. On Electric Ladyland, Chandler was responsible for only "Burning of the Midnight Lamp," "Crosstown Traffic" and "All Along the Watchtower." Hendrix was also given enough money to indulge his wildest ideas; he no longer had to cram his fertility into three minute sketches. Theres an expansive feel to Electric Ladyland. Things arent so frenzied and scattershot. Hendrix blends his lyrics easily into t the music and lets long stretches of music speak for itself on "Voodoo Child," "Little Miss Strange," "Rainy Day, Dream Away," "1983," "Still Raining, Still Dreaming," "All Along the Watchtower" and "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)." The various bits and pieces, the multi-layered guitar and effects, are no longer cluttered; the results are orchestrated, structured. Even the lyrics work: "Electric Ladyland," "Rainy Day," "Still Raining," "Voodoo Child" and "Slight Return" are all well controlled and very stylish; "Burning of the Midnight Lamp" has the ambiance of a man crying from a cave of loneliness; "Crosstown Traffic" is an extended metaphor nicely done; "Gypsy Eyes," a tribute to Hendrixs mother, may have captured more than Hendrix recognized and is great autobiographical songwriting (which presupposes the subject is interesting, and, in this case it should be pointed out that the psychological ramifications of "Gypsy Eyes" is on a whole other level from the skirt-chasing of "Foxy Lady," etc.); "1983" is a lot better than most sci-fi films; "House Burning Down" is Hendrix pondering the then-current social situation of which he never had too firm a grasp (he was busy playing guitar, man). The many great songs on Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge which were intended for Fist Rays of the New Rising Sun had a high level of quality and, in some instances, seem even tighter, more powerful, than those on Electric Ladyland. Hendrix found his aesthetic self on Ladyland, and usually when artists "find themselves aesthetically they dont lose thier self too quickly. But he did.
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