In 1968 Jimi Hendrix released what would be his third of only four albums released in his lifetime. Are You Experienced and Axis Bold As Love, his first two albums, turned out only to be the warm up act for something nobody was really expecting.
For all that Jimi is mainly remembered today as a guitar ace, and a hard rocker, a close examination of the process that went into the creation of Electric Ladyland, his third album, goes a long way to dispelling that myth. Instead what we are shown on the DVD Classic Albums: Electric Ladyland is a musician driven to experiment and discover what could and couldn't be done within the confines, and beyond, of Blues based rock and roll.
In an interview near the end of the documentary one of his friends says that he always thought of Hendrix as the equivalent for Blues that people like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane were for Jazz. They saw and heard things that other people didn't even know existed as potentials in the music and tried to push it in that direction.
Unfortunately for Blues and Rock, in my opinion, unlike Jazz there weren't the players or the incentive for that experimentation to continue. People saw the noise and the burning guitar solos but didn't see the 90% that lay behind that small example of the man's talent.
Of course there is no disputing the man understood guitar in ways that few coming after or those who came before had discovered yet. I'm sure there were faster players before his time and faster players have existed since his death. But as we enter the studio with Jimi and the Experience (Noel Redding on Bass and Mitch Mitchell on Drums) and anybody else who happened along that Jimi felt could contribute, it's like entering a painter's studio where he works with his materials to create the visions in his head.
It was very hard to keep track of all the different people who were talking during the DVD, but it's really what they were saying that's most important. At one point one of them says, Jimi saw music as colours and would talk about how he would want a gold sound or something this colour or that. Nobody else was really on the same page as he was most of the time, and that probably led to a lot of the frustration that is mentioned on the DVD on the part of Noel Redding.
It wasn't just him, but others too who weren't accustomed to the way Jimi wanted to work. He wasn't interested in "schedules." When he was ready to work, when the spirit or the muse took him, he wanted to work – but that didn't necessarily mean according to any clock that anybody else might have thought they were working on.
But mainly I think it sounds like nobody else could understand the language he was speaking and he ended up picking up their instruments and doing things himself because they weren't able to produce the sound he wanted. He wanted to try different things at different times; if someone, even a cabbie or a delivery person, could play an instrument he didn't have to hand – they were told to come back with it and sit in so he could hear if their sound was part of the picture in his head.
There is one beautiful story about the song "Crosstown Traffic" where he heard what he wanted in his head, but he couldn't get his guitar to make it. So he got a comb and some cellophane and blew through it for the sound he wanted in his guitar solo. Those really odd sounds in his guitar solo just before the chorus aren’t a guitar at all – they're a jury-rigged kazoo.
Classic Albums: Electric Ladyland is full of amazing details like that. Insights into the creative genius that has been hidden behind the electric guitar reputation for too many years are brought to light on this disc. Not only that, but quite a few myths about the album are laid to rest as well.
The whole controversy about the naked women on the cover of the British version of the album for instance, Jimi hated the cover and wanted nothing to do with it so he couldn't care less about it being banned. His idea for the cover is the picture above of the three band members and children on the Alice In Wonderland statue in Central Park.
But nobody bought into it, just as nobody who's come since has really understood the potential of what he was unearthing in the studio. Sgt. Pepper's in 1967 might have been the ultimate pop album, and The Band in 1969 might have been the first album to connect all the disparate elements of American music, but Electric Ladyland sandwiched between the two in 1968 was pushing an envelope that most people didn't even know existed.
The world of rock and roll and popular music does not allow enormous amounts of room for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, not now and not then. He didn't fit easily into any convenient slots: a lead guitar player who could play rhythm, a black man playing with two white men, and some one who wanted to compose more then the three minute song that the industry machine wanted.
Classic Albums: Electric Ladyland offers a rare glimpse of Jimi Hendrix the man behind the guitar. It's well done and intelligent with the usual superb job of tracking down and bringing together the people who were involved in the recording of the album. Eagle Rock Entertainment has provided a real service with the re issue of this series, and this is just another example of what makes it so good.