Tag Archive: Jimi Hendrix


Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs – Polydor Records – 11/21/1970

In a nutshell, most of Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs is about Pattie Boyd. While the wailing and gnashing of teeth of Eric Clapton over his unrequited love for Pattie is the centerpiece, that’s not the only thing going on. After all, Clapton wasn’t the only songwriter in Derek & the Dominos; Bobby Whitlock lends a bit of order to Eric’s barely controlled chaos.

“Tell the Truth” is an excellent rocker with country elements to it, loud and aggressive while still retaining a consistent groove. Whitlock wrote most of the lyrics, with Clapton only contributing the last verse. Whitlock’s voice, which takes more of a front seat here than on most other songs, is deep and sonorous. It lacks the desperate tone of Clapton’s, but it serves him well because he uses it in appropriate arenas.

Another song with hard-driving force yet beautiful grace, “Keep On Growing” has victory and joy in its melody. Clapton and Whitlock combine their songwriting forces here to make the most awesome song of their collaboration. It could also be noted that this song, as great as it is, was one of the few recorded before Duane Allman joined the band, so he doesn’t appear on it.

In a little switch for the cap (though it logically follows the long instrumental section of “Layla”), “Thorn Tree In the Garden,” is sweet and gentle. Whitlock’s voice switches modes to a sad and mournful tone. The band all sat in a circle on the floor with a single mic in the center for this one, a more chill method than usual.

Bobby Whitlock

Now, Whitlock has explained that “Thorn Tree” is about when he was forced by his landlord to get rid of his dog and cat. He brought the cat to Delaney Bramlett’s mom, but when he got back, he found his landlord had given the dog away without his permission. According to Whitlock himself, the song is about that event (his landlord being the “thorn tree”), but I have a different interpretation. Keep in mind that it’s not true; if it was, though, it be so much cooler that it being about a dog.

I imagine that “Thorn Tree In the Garden” is about the whole Eric/Pattie/George fiasco, 9 years in the future after Pattie has left George and Eric’s dreams of having Pattie for his own are fulfilled. But it’s from George’s perspective. The sadness and passive melancholy make sense in the context of a woman’s former lover, the woman having gone off to greener pastures. While George doesn’t understand why she left, he does understand that Pattie will be happier once she’s in the arms of another man. But that doesn’t stop George from missing her terribly. The “thorn tree” would of course be the man who stole his lover away; Eric, in this case. But the focus of the song is the garden (the girl), not the thorn tree.

Jimi Hendrix

Then there’s a piece that stands out from the rest of the album, a Jimi Hendrix cover called “Little Wing.” Hendrix was another one of Eric’s close friends. They had bonded back in Eric’s days with Cream, and Eric was one of the first musicians to make prominent use of the wah-wah pedal, an item he had been tipped off to by Jimi. “Little Wing,” at the time of the Dominos recording, was only 3 and a half years old, being the centerpiece of Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s a spacey and mystical slow-blues song, showing off Jimi’s distinctive guitar style. The Dominos’ take on it is significantly different, being loud and epic while losing none of the original’s beauty or cosmic wonder.

In a ridiculously eerie twist, “Little Wing” was recorded by the Dominos as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix about a week before he died. About two months before this record was released, Jimi died from choking on his own vomit after ODing on sleeping pills. Musicians and fans world over were shocked and saddened, not the least of which was Eric Clapton. “Little Wing” was one of the last songs recorded for Layla, and the bizarreness of the prophetic tribute could not have been lost on Clapton and the others.

On Monday: my own personal Layla.

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A Downward Spiral

The Rolling Stones, beyond all else, are a personality-based band. A lot of the best bands and artists are – The Beatles, David Bowie, U2, the Smashing Pumpkins in their heyday – and it’s something marketing executives and image creators know all too well. It’s not just the music that people hear – it’s who’s making the music, too. People connect so much more with a song if they know the name and see the face of person singing it.

Brian Jones

Left without a connecting face, the Rolling Stones would still have been successful, but I think that over half of their fame came from Mick Jagger and his mind-blowing stage presence. The Stones were one of the innovators of image and personality in rock music. Not only Mick, but Keith and the others had distinctiveness as well, including Brian Jones.

Brian was unique within the Stones for his blonde hair compared to the sandy to dark brown of the others. His teardrop-shaped guitar stuck in listeners’ minds, too. But the capstone of his fame was in the form of his tragic death. He died at age 27, but at that time, he was only the 2nd super-famous musician to die at that age. The real notability of his demise came from the manner of his death: drowning in a swimming pool.

Let’s back up a bit. The story arguably starts with the arrival in the Stones’ lives of Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager. He recognized early on that Jagger had stage presence coming out his ears, and also that the most successful bands (meaning the Beatles and the Beach Boys) wrote their own songs. Thus, he directed the career of the band in those directions.

Brian Jones started the band (and came up with the name) only a few years earlier, and was the de facto leader. His original idea for the Rolling Stones was to cover the blues and boogie numbers by black American musicians he so loved. The novelty of white British guys playing soulful American classics was enough to get them a name. Brian was the top dog until Andrew started shaking things up by having Mick take the lead in their shows, and by encouraging Mick and Keith to start writing songs together. Brian, unfortunately, was slowly being left out in the cold.

By 1968, Brian Jones was only in the band because he hadn’t been kicked out yet. He contributed almost nothing to the music; the other band members even turned off his guitar sometimes. When he interacted with them, he was distant at best, hostile and sniping at worst. Even so, his friendships were increasing outside the band with people like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Burdon. He was the unofficial emcee at the famous Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, along with his then-girlfriend, Velvet Underground collaborator Nico.

Jones’s last significant contribution to the Stones was playing slide guitar on “No Expectations,” though he also played little parts on the Let It Bleed tracks “Midnight Rambler” and “You Got the Silver.” Preceding the production of Let It Bleed, he had numerous troubles with the law over drugs. A judge had mercy on him after a jury found him guilty of possession, and gave him a fine instead of jail time, and there were also rumors of a conspiracy against Jones and the rest of the Rolling Stones. The unsubstantiated theory goes that the police wanted to make an example of all the Stones in order to deter the British public from drugs.

The final straw came when the Stones were going to tour America again in support of Let It Bleed (slated for a July 1969 release) and Brian was denied a work visa. At that point, Jagger and company had had enough; they hired Mick Taylor to replace Jones on guitar, and Jones moved into a mansion in East Sussex where he descended in a wild downward spiral of drugs, sex, and misadventure that was his eventual undoing.

“Elvis didn’t expectorate on his fans!”

Let that be a lesson to you, kids: don’t do drugs. But don’t take my word for it; ask Brian Jones. Oh, that’s right, you can’t. ‘Cause he’s dead.

Hey, do you like my impression of the dad on Freaks and Geeks?

Monday: The death of the 1960s.

Move Over, Rover

While most of Are You Experienced is very heavy and forceful, it’s a thick, plodding heaviness. It is mid-tempo, enveloping the listener in a cloud. “Fire” is the one song that breaks out of that mold and goes for the fast-paced, youthful energy that gave rise to late 70’s and late 90’s punk. One of Jimi’s great strengths is contrast over the course of an album, and again, this song’s frantic pace is made even more frantic by the comparison to more stately tracks on the record. There are even hints of rap music in the “move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over!” line. He shouts and howls interjections of “get on with it, baby!” and “aw yes, it’s Jimi talkin’, baby!” like only a black man can; if he were white and saying those things, he’d look like a moron.

“Third Stone From the Sun” is a spacey near-instrumental. The only lyrics are Jimi doing spoken-word about aliens discovering Earth, or some crap like that. The first time I heard of this song (before I actually heard it, mind you), I was watching Pop Up Video on VH1, back in the day. The video in question was Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” and I learned that the guitar solo in “I’m Too Sexy,” was lifted from “Third Stone From the Sun.” Something occurred

Right Said Fred, perfecting the one hit wonder

to me then: why don’t I check out the Jimi Hendrix song instead of this cheap knock-off? It was just a few weeks later that my dad came home with that box of LPs from the tag sale. When I looked through them and came across Are You Experienced, low and behold, one of the tracks was “Third Stone From the Sun.” Fate, I tell you!

Finally, the backwards guitar and symbol crashes open up the title track. For this last song, Jimi puts on his drug dealer hat; the first one’s free. The term “experienced” which he throws around might refer to sex (if you listen to my mother, an “experienced” girl was a girl who “slept around”), but maybe not. He follows the question “are you experienced?” with “have you ever been experienced? Well, I have.” Maybe he’s talking about another aspect of the counter-cultural lifestyle. Later, he intones, “not necessarily stoned but… beautiful…” With that, he simultaneously says he IS and ISN’T talking about drugs, which the listener must have suspected all along.

If you want my opinion (and it stands to reason you do else you wouldn’t be reading this), he’s really talking about something bigger than drugs or sex or any particular thing. “Experienced” is a state of being, a space where ordinary humans transcend their temporal nature for a second and glimpse something unknowable. I can’t describe it any more than that. It’s like an old saying about blues music: if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Jimi Hendrix was a flame that blazed brightly for 5 years, and then burned out. I had heard stories when I was little that before he went on stage he would smash a bottle of liquor on his forehead, and then cover the bleeding from the broken glass with his bandana. He died in late 1970 in what is one of the worst ways to go – choking on his own vomit. But this remains: rock and roll is forever changed (and for the better) because Jimi was part of it.

Joe

While the origins and authorship of “Hey Joe” are in dispute and probably lost to the sands of time, Jimi Hendrix’s version is the most well-known, if not the first. The Leaves have what is considered the first recording of it, done in November of 1965. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s a Jimi song.

There was this guy I was friendly with in college whose name was Joe. One day I saw him in the cafeteria and I said, “Hey Joe. Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” He didn’t say hello back, but just looked at me with utter confusion, slightly disturbed. “Huh?” he said. I hung my head and sighed. “No, you’re supposed to say, ‘I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady; I caught her messin’ around with another man.’” More confusion, and his voice rose about an octave and a half. “HUH??” But I saw him a few more times in the coming weeks, and said the same thing to him each time. Eventually he got it. Around the 4th time, he responded, “Oh wait, I know this! Umm… I’m goin’ to shoot my woman, ‘cause…” He took a few seconds with a look of deep concentration on his face. “’Cause she was cheatin’ on me!” He looked like a 7th grader that just won the spelling bee. “Close enough,” I said with a smile.

The casual violence of the lyrics is indicative of the blues, a low-class, grimy and common type of music from its origins onward. And Jimi’s version is blues all the way, with an electric twist. His voice lends itself to the material creating a unique synergy. The criminal story told is made vaguely more disturbing by Jimi’s at once lazy and intense tone. His improvisational “and that ain’t too cool…” gives me a little shiver even to this day.

As flip as Jimi is about murder in “Hey Joe,” that attitude is turned on its head on “Foxey Lady.” This is probably the heaviest and most powerful track on the entire record; how appropriate that it’s saved for the guttural, visceral sensations of physical and sexual attraction. In “Foxey Lady,” Jimi’s a roaring tiger, stalking his prey with absolute certainty that it will be his. This song is all id; the entire inflection, both lyrically and musically, is “I want you, and I will HAVE you.” Even for the blues, this is pretty startling.

“Love or Confusion” is a fairly straight-forward song about the bewilderment that overtakes a person when they embark on a romantic relationship. The real prize here is that Jimi creates a “drone” that would make Lou Reed proud. The tonic played on an electric guitar just once is sustained by the loop of feedback created by the distortion; it goes on so long that there is no end in sight. It’s commonly said that one note played for 35 minutes with feeling is better than the fastest and most technically excellent notes played in a dead and mechanical way. If you can’t understand that concept, just listen to “Love or Confusion” and you’ll get it.

Jimi’s approach, while most commonly like that of a wild animal, is not one-dimensional. There are a few moments of tenderness, made even more poignant by the sharp edges of the rest of the album. “May This Be Love” is nothing more than a love song, unabashed in its message, yet poetic enough to avoid seeming maudlin. I’m constantly taken by surprise by this song, especially wedged between “Love or Confusion” and “I Don’t Live Today,” the latter of which ends with a swirling sonic chaos over which Jimi intones “there ain’t no life nowhere…”

Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding

Right after “I Don’t Live Today,” a moment of aggressive hopelessness, we’re treated to another softer song, on which Jimi proves his mastery of this type of material as well as the hard stuff. Not many artists since him were able to shift so effortlessly between these two extremes. “The Wind Cries Mary,” apparently inspired by a Curtis Mayfield riff, reveals a poet’s heart. Something as mundane as an argument with his girlfriend about her cooking can produce this type of response; for a poet, anything can be a source of inspiration, from a sunrise to a fingernail clipping.

The 6 string electric guitar had been an icon in rock and roll for over 40 years when I got my hands on it, and I took for granted that it always was as it currently is. To a trained ear, the sound of the guitar had gone through somewhat massive metamorphoses over the decades, but that didn’t matter when I was 13. When something first enters your life at that age, it has no past. Everything about it is fresh and new, and it has all come into being just now. I soon figured out that the electric guitar is much older than I am, and my partnership with it was just one of many partnerships it had. It’s a player; it had broken the hearts of many young lads before me.

This universal aspect the guitar has to it just makes what Jimi Hendrix did that much more mind-blowing. Jimi played the player. He took the 6-string and mastered it. His was the reverse of my relationship with it; I did its bidding, but it did his.

The story of the 6 string took a major and permanent turn when Jimi got a hold of it. It took on a power, force and volume that no one had heard from it before. It was rather simple, but most genius innovations involve a simple idea. He knew that there was more potential for power to run through the guitar, so much that one amplifier couldn’t hold it. Jimi’s idea broke down into “why don’t we just use more than one amp?”

Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix

Pete Townshend of the Who told a story about when he met Jimi Hendrix for the first time. Jimi had come to a Who show and liked it very much. Their wild abandon and lack of restraint appealed to him. When Jimi introduced himself to Pete after the show, they were talking shop for a bit. Jimi asked Pete what kind of amp he used, and Pete told him about his model. Jimi nodded his head and said, “I think I’ll give it a try.” Later, Pete went to a Jimi Hendrix Experience show. He found that Jimi had taken him up on his recommendation, but he wasn’t just using one of his amps; he was using four – at the same time.

This was where the idea for the Marshall stack came from. One amp was no longer enough for those who could afford it. Marshall amps (I don’t know why it was that particular brand; I don’t think that was the brand that Pete and Jimi were discussing) were just run one into another, and the multiple amps were “stacked” one on top of the previous  ‘til they became a literal mountain of sound. It was both sonically powerful and visually intimidating.

Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced - 5/12/1967

That power and charge are present from the very first second of Are You Experienced. That’s the most remarkable thing about “Purple Haze.” It’s a splendid lead-off track because it’s an indicator to the rest of the album. It has a kind of wild abandon from the beginning. Jimi is singing lyrics that say he’s out of control, lost, blind, and in unknown territory. But he sings them with an excited and even victorious voice, and says he’s just gotta “kiss the sky.”

“Manic Depression” follows; the power is different but not lesser. It’s a nervous, tension-filled power. In harmony with that emotional tone, the lyrics are about a mental anguish that can only be relieved by music. While the lyrics speak of a man in turmoil, Jimi’s voice suggests something different. He’s laconic and breezy, like he’s not quite taking this seriously.

On Monday: Jimi’s goin’ down to shoot his ol’ lady…