Masterworks Rock Review

Jimi Hendrix: A fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut

Title: Are You Experienced?

Label: Track

Originally released on 12 May 1967, in the UK (a significant point which we will get to soon), produced by Chas Chandler, who was also the band’s manager, Are You Experienced? was one of the most amazing debut albums in the entire history of rock (and the first of only three fully conceived studio albums from Hendrix during his lifetime). It also quickly became a symbol of the 60s cultural renaissance and revealed Hendrix as a guitar-toting genius, the pre-eminent exponent of the instrument and the man who expanded it’s creative boundaries while revealing new potential.

Despite a thorough musical apprenticeship working with the likes of Little Richard, King Curtis and the Isley Brothers, Hendrix the ‘rock star’ seemed to appear, fully formed, into the UK music scene. But that belied the Hendrix capacity to look and learn, “My dad was very, very strict and taught me that I must respect my elders always. I couldn’t speak unless I was spoken to first by grown-ups. So I’ve always been very quiet. But I saw a lot of things. A fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut,” Hendrix said.

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This particular fish was discovered by ex-Animal band member, Chandler, during a stint in New York and became the centre of the new band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The debut album not only revealed the Hendrix guitar technique but also the man’s song writing prowess. His work on the album blended essential pop hooks with contemporary, cultural cosmic awareness melded with gentle moments that helped to promote a more balanced personality to a public that, in general terms, was still wary of the culture as a whole. We’ve all been educated to believe that this new musical culture was part and parcel of society. Not so, as drummer, Mitch Mitchell confirmed, in 1967, “In other countries people look and laugh,” he said. “Here they give you a hard time. In other countries they say he’s probably in a group and excuse you, but not here.”

The album showed Hendrix’s blues roots but also revealed his so-so vocal performance: Hendrix was no Sinatra. Yet, the melding of gruff vocal and psychedelic wizardry set an eclectic tone that transfixed the entire scene.

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The release of the album warrants some explanation because it’s relatively complex. We Brits can have some pride in our eye for talent because we, frankly, recognised Hendrix for the genius he was. He began his career as a solo artist in the UK and this album was initially released in the UK and Europe via the newly created Track Records. This LP’s sleeve featured the cape-wearing Hendrix, sheltering fellow band members: Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. The LP flew up the charts, reaching No 2 that same month.

Bassist, Noel Redding, believed that the band was in the right place at the right time, “It was a lapse period. There was not much going on in England then. The fans were looking for something new. We jumped around, looked colourful and got very well-known very quickly.”

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It wasn’t until Hendrix was seen setting fire to his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival that the USA finally noticed Hendrix and, even then, Paul McCartney had to insist to co-organiser, John Philips (member of The Mamas & the Papas), that Hendrix appear on the bill in the first place. Are You Experienced? was subsequently released in the USA on 23 August 1967, via Reprise. The exploitive sleeve was changed. Keith Ferris’ fish-eye lens plus psychedelic font and art ‘cashed in’ on the new zeitgeist. That wasn’t the only change from the UK version. The tracklisting was altered. Three UK hit singles (Purple Haze, Hey Joe and The Wind Cries Mary) replaced the UK version’s Red House, Can You See Me and Remember while, oddly, Foxy Lady became Foxey Lady. Hendrix selected the running order for the US version but was unhappy to see the towering blues track, Red House, dropped. The album reached No 5 in the US charts.

Hendrix fans will be pleased to see that Music On Vinyl has released both the UK and US versions of the album, complete with changes and tweaks. More than that, both LPs are offered using the original mono masters that only saw limited use in selected territories and for a short period of time. Both will be of great interest to collectors while the final production shows typically fine mastering quality from the company. Superb editions of a ground-breaking album.

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