“We don’t want to be classed in any category. If it must have a tag, I’d like it to be called ‘Free Feeling.’ It’s a mixture of rock, freak-out, blues, and rave music.”
—-Jimi Hendrix to Record Mirror
Now that Hendrix had pretty much shattered the egos of the great British guitarists – not to mention brought out their professional jealousy – manager Chas Chandler needed to get a band behind him. But no one from the Blue Flames wanted to take a chance on going to England. (Hell, I would have gone without thinking twice about it.)
Jimi wanted to front a horn-driven revue. But Chandler, sensing this would diffuse Jimi as star too much, preferred a trio. (In this relationship, Jimi was basically musical director, while Chandler and his partner Michael Jeffrey handled the business side.)
Hendrix and Chandler found a twenty-year-old British guitarist named Noel Redding whom they convinced to switch over to bass. Jimi liked his blues knowledge so now he just needed to find a drummer. (Ever conscious of image, he also liked Redding’s frizzy-haired Bob Dylan look).
Through a mutual friend, Jimi found John “Mitch” Mitchell, a British rock drummer with jazz leanings which comported nicely with Jimi’s free-form style. (I once asked a drummer friend who his favorite drummer was. He said Mitch Mitchell and suggested I listen to “Fire” which just happens to be one of my all-time Hendrix favorites.)
If this song doesn’t move you, check your pulse. In all likelihood, you are legally dead. (Remember you may have to try these songs twice):
With the band set, Chandler’s goal was to get Jimi writing songs, get the band touring Europe and get them in a studio. All of which happened in late ’66, early ’67. At this point in time, outside of the rock cognoscenti in London, Jimi was an unknown quantity. Chandler/Jeffrey signed the band to the usual lopsided (towards management) contract. And they were off, first wowing crowds in France, then Sweden.
Even though Chandler and Hendrix bonded over their shared love of the song “Hey Joe,” the first tune Jimi actually wrote was “Stone Free,” which not only speaks to his philosophy but is a pretty good introduction to his sound. (It’s really hard to find Jimi’s studio stuff on YouTube, etc. so wherever that’s the case, I’ll use a live version.
Which actually sometimes works out really well because this version, recorded at Royal Albert Hall in 1969 and released on 1982’s The Jimi Hendrix Concerts is fucking insane.)
Released in the UK in May, 1967, Are You Experienced was, per Allmusic, “One of the most stunning debuts in rock history, and one of the definitive albums of the psychedelic era. It synthesized various elements of the cutting edge of 1967 rock into music that sounded both futuristic and rooted in the best traditions of rock, blues, pop, and soul.
It was his mind-boggling guitar work, of course, that got most of the ink, building upon the experiments of British innovators like Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend to chart new sonic territories in feedback, distortion, and sheer volume.”
Chandler realized that while the European market was crucial, he had to break the Experience in the U.S. in order to attain worldwide impact. And he discovered what was to be the perfect venue: 1967’s Monterey International Pop Music Festival, better known as Monterey Pop, one of the very first pop/rock festivals ever in the US.
John Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas was one of the organizers. Paul McCartney was an advisor and picked The Who and the Experience as representatives of the British sound. Bear in mind that Are You Experienced had not yet been released in the US so most people were hearing the band live for the first time.
The festival was filmed and is also notable for rocketing Janis Joplin to stardom. (And for the record, it helped establish The Who as well, who – despite a few hits – were relatively unknown in the States at that time.) Interestingly, The Animals performed there as well and wrote and recorded the song “Monterey” in tribute to the festival. But that was recorded after Chandler had left the band.
Here’s Jimi playing “Hey Joe” from Monterey. (I originally had Jimi’s full performance from Monterey here but it disappeared from the Internet.)
I should note that the band was touring relentlessly at this time, not only to capitalize on their fame but also to bring in cash to a chronically cash-starved organization. The guys, as is typical of rock n’ roll, especially of that era, indulged in everything that came their way, usually drugs and women. Jimi was so popular that women would sleep outside his door to be near him and get a chance to screw him.
But Jimi was wearying of the relentless touring and having to always do his tricks. People would be disappointed if he didn’t set his guitar on fire or play with his teeth or whatever. He wanted to grow but in a sense, his audience wouldn’t let him.
And there was another, more subtle thing happening. At the same time as he was being accepted in the (mostly white) rock world, he was being rejected by black audiences who thought that he had sold out. He could not, for example, take his act up to Harlem where he had frequently hung out with friends.
What the black audience saw as selling out, Jimi saw as just playing what he felt. Whatever audience he attracted was, to a large extent, out of his control. My own thought is that artists such as Stevie Wonder and Prince eventually did much better at attracting diverse audiences.
I found this very interesting article about Hendrix and race that put his life and career in a different light. I thought everybody who was into music loved Jimi. Turns out that was not the case. He was in sort of a no-man’s land between the black and white worlds.
I understand the premise of the article in general. But I don’t agree with a couple of statements. It says, “These adoring [white] fans certainly noticed Hendrix’s race, but what they saw was actually a stereotype of the hypersexual black man that Hendrix played up for fame.”
Sure. But Hendrix wasn’t the first black performer we’d ever seen or even the first black guitarist. Chuck Berry beat him by 10 years. And hypersexual black man? Guess the writer never heard of Little Richard. Otis Redding? And how about James Brown? You want hypersexual? James had any number of hits several years prior to Hendrix. And we’d all seen his supercharged (“Please, please, please”) act on video by then.
I can tell you with some confidence that by the time Hendrix burst on the scene, nobody much gave a shit what color he was. What we worshiped was great music played at the very highest level of musicianship. And so we loved Cream. And so we loved Jimi. Color be damned. Music breaks down the partition between races much more than it builds them up.
Next – The Experience make a couple more seminal recordings. A three-day festival of peace and music happens and a few more people than are expected show up. And on to immortality.