Are You Experienced?September 18, 2010
“We’d like to stop playin’ this uh, rubbish an’ dedicate a song to The, uh, Cream…” My first brush with Jimi Hendrix was at the tail end of the 80s on one of those Sounds Of The 60s shows where they showed a clip of the Jimi Hendrix Experience playing a brief blast of Hey Joe before freeforming into Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love. On the Lulu show, no less. “That was really nice!” deadpans the still Scottish-accented Lulu through gritted teeth. On first seeing it (the full 9 minute clip is below), 20 years after the actual event, I thought it was fantastic. The string bending! The guitar tone! The way he re-tuned his guitar while he played! The way he sang and played at the same time! The way he sneaked a wee Beatles riff (I Feel Fine) into it! The sheer outrageous flamboyancy of it all – he looked like a pirate and, uh, did he just play that bit with his teeth?!?!?
It would be a few years later until I’d find out what that Plaster Casters slogan on Noel Redding’s tee-shirt was all about (Google it!), though Jimi Hendrix made just as big an impression on me, in much the same way as I’d hope today’s guitar obsessed teenager stumbling across a Sounds Of The 80s show would feel on hearing Freak Scene or Fools Gold (YouTube ‘em kids!) for the first time. Man! I. Am. Old. Certainly older than Jimi was when he made his best stuff, that’s for sure.
James Marshall Hendrix.
The only guitarist ever to be named after an amplifier.
Jimi died 40 years ago today, on the 18th September 1970. At the ripe old age of 27 he joined that heavenly choir of fellow 27 year olds who drowned, drank and drugged themselves to death before their time was up. Brian Jones. Janis Joplin. Jim Morrison. Later on Kurt Cobain. And they’re just the well known ones. Daddy of the blues, Robert Johnson danced with the devil and paid the price at the same age. You can add Big Star’s Chris Bell to the list. Echo & the Bunnymen’s Pete de Freitas too. You could even argue a case for missing Manic Richie Edwards. He disappeared aged 27 and has never been seen again. He was officially pronounced dead in 2008. Weird, eh? I thank my lucky stars that at the age of 27 I was still trying to master Wild Thing on the plank of wood I called a guitar. Unlike my 40 year old self, the members of the 27 Club never got stale, bloated, fat and comfortable with it all. Well, apart from Jim Morrison of course. But you knew that already.
I’ve got all the Jimi Hendrix I need – that’s the first three albums done with the Experience and a compilation of his pure blues stuff as well as a couple of studio outtake bootlegs and a sneakily downloaded copy of the Jimi Hendrix Experience 4 CD box set, choc full of alt versions, live stuff, unreleased takes and all manner of the sort of stuff that thrills me to this day. I couldn’t care less if I never hear Purple Haze again, but you can never have enough versions of Third Stone From the Sun, especially 9 minute versions that are more jazz than blues, with Jimi taking on the role of stoned space captain. I don’t really need to hear his version of Hey Joe again, but I never tire of hearing the “Oh Goddam! One more time…make the voices a little lower and the band a little louder” version – replete with great swooning female backing vocals.
On his recent tour, Paul McCartney told the well known story of The Beatles going to see Jimi Hendrix at the Albert Hall and Jimi serenading the 4 moustachioed mop tops in their box with his own version of the freshly-minted Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Sgt Pepper album had only been released a day or two before and Jimi thought he’d play his version for the writers. It sounds thrilling to me. I can only imagine how thrilling it must’ve been for them. Note too, that in those days Jimi didn’t have access to any of the gazillion tab ‘n chord sites that litter the internet with badly tabbed versions of Sweet Child O’ Mine. Get this homeboys ‘n girls – he learned straight off the record. Just like me. But better – he even replicates the brass parts. Show off.
It’s pretty clear that, post Experience, Jimi had bought himself a one way ticket to Flaresville, Seventies Central. Along with the hemlines and bottoms on his trousers, his music had expanded even further into the cosmicness of free jazz. He was playing with Buddy Miles, his Band of Gypsies even had a bongo player ferchrissakes. This is a much maligned and misunderstood period in the Hendrix canon. Had he stopped after those 3 JHE albums then died, he’d have been immortal. Instead, he’ll be remembered, perhaps unfairly, in the same way as all those other casualties – the promising start before succumbing to ego, drugs and fame and the inevitable law of diminishing returns. Put yer prejudices aside and listen to this – one of the sweetest tracks Hendrix recorded (in true Plain Or Pan tradition, it’s the demo, not the final mixed version), and only released after his death in 1971. Angel was so good, Rod Stewart recorded a version of it that even them Faces would’ve been proud of. Aye!
In 1968, this track appeared. So Much In Love by McGough & McGear (produced anonymously by one P. McCartney) was never likely to trouble the hit parade, but the guitar playing, the tone, the way those notes are bent……rumours are that’s Jimi at the helm steering the group (including Mitch ‘n Noel of the Experience plus Graham Nash amongst others) straight towards the section marked ‘phazed phreakout psychedelia’. S’acracker!
FYI, McGough was Roger McGough, ex of Scaffold and these days better known as a witty Scouse poet. His son Nathan managed Happy Mondays, if indeed they were at all manageable. McGear is better known as Michael McCartney, brother of Paul. But you knew that already.