Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967-1968

What the Experience did on three studio records is astounding. There's little I can add to the dialogue, but here goes anyway.

Hendrix not only redefined rock guitar in a way still not surpassed, or even approached, but he was also a gifted songwriter and an expressive singer, with the gift of nonchalance in all three categories.

Mitch Mitchell was a remarkable drummer who not only kept time, but played parts of the melody from time to time. A rock drummer with jazz-blues cred, he was certainly never intimidated by his band's leader, and their musical sparring is always perfect.

Noel Redding provided solid bass lines that held the rhythm, and allowed his bandmates to find their ways down all sorts of musical rabbit holes. His bass playing is more important than the credit he receives. 

The three records they released are all strikingly different, and all three are near perfect. Are You Experienced is a debut as big and bold as any, and the encyclopedia of rock guitar. Recent reissued versions (including a two-record vinyl version that's stellar) include the UK singles and UK album tracks that were absent from the original US release, and greatly enhance the record. To have heard this record in 1967 was mind-exploding. It was from Mars.

Axis: Bold As Love is the most commercial sounding of the three, and Hendrix experiments with stereo effects tricks and studio magic in a way that sounds a little dated today. But the songs and the playing are just fine, and some of these tracks (Wait Until Tomorrow, Little Wing, Bold As Love) are indispensable.

1968's Electric Ladyland found Hendrix letting loose with blues jams, as well as recording some of his most concise, single-worthy tracks. It's a sprawling affair, and rewards repeated listening.

There is little else you really need. Band Of Gypsies? Buddy Miles makes you miss Mitch Mitchell. Period. Billy Cox is more fundamental than even Redding was. This was never more than a brief whim in what should have been Hendrix's long career.

Everything else was released posthumously, and there are good reasons why that stuff never saw the light of day in his lifetime. I've heard plenty of it, and there's some that's worth hearing, but it isn't what we would have enjoyed had he not passed so young. I know there are plenty of fans that want whatever they can get their hands on, heck, there's been something like thirty records released since he died, and that was 42 years ago. But all most of us need is these three right here.

The Experience records are the bomb.

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