Sunday, April 29, 2018

Are You Experienced? - Hendrix - Part 2

Jimi Hendrix' Are You Experienced, credited to his three-piece outfit, The Jimi Hendrix Experience (with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass), turned the music world on edge when released in May '67. Fusing rock, psychedelia and blues, the LP [re]invented the role of the electric guitar as a lead instrument, and pushed the limits of the power-trio, essentially eclipsing Cream at its own game.

Yet U.K. and U.S. fans were offered different experiences, as the album was issued in two different editions, typical of American releases at the time, capitalizing on the hits that were left off The U.K. version. The U.K. release contained three songs not on the U.S. LP: "Red House," "Remember," and "Can You See Me." The U.S. release instead included the first three British A-side singles, "Hey Joe", "Purple Haze", and "The Wind Cries Mary."

For the U.K. edition, Hendrix & Co. were photographed by famed rock photographer Bruce Fleming, who captured the guitar god wearing a cape and standing over his group like the Prince of Darkness. It was, according to the photographer, not his favorite photo from the shoot, and the artwork, oddly listed the album's title twice without mentioning the band’s name. All in all, the U.K. cover was a pale comparison to the American release.

Hendrix himself was dissatisfied, and requested that a new shoot be set up for the U.S. sleeve. The group's eye-catching, alien look was better served by Karl Ferris' photo of the trio, taken at London’s Kew Gardens. Redding's and Mitchell's hairdos were teased into afros that matched Hendrix' own, while the reverse-color and fish-eye lens effects used for the shoot gave the band an otherworldly look while complementing the shockingly new music within. With evocative bubble lettering typical of the times and a striking yellow wrapper, the sound and image combined to become something which, once experienced, was left indelible.

On the recording of the LP, Recording Engineer Eddie Kramer said, "By January 1967, when we started work on Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix had already had a run of successful singles in the UK with 'Hey Joe,' 'Purple Haze' and 'The Wind Cries Mary.' A lot of that work, as well as some other tracks, had been recorded at De Lane Lea Studios in London, but Jimi and the Experience had to get out of there because there was a bank above the studio and they couldn't play loud. But they'd heard about Olympic Studios, where I was a staff engineer. It had just opened up and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were really one of Olympic's first clients. It was brand-new and it was the hippest recording studio in the U.K., if not all the world. The Helios mixing console we had was like nothing else around.

"Jimi was very shy when he first came into the studio. He just sat quietly in the corner and waited for the amps to arrive. He didn't say much until the amps were situated and the drums set up. Then he plugged in and we were off to the races! The sheer volume set me back a bit. But that's what you deal with as an engineer.

“We took the original tapes that they'd recorded elsewhere and overdubbed, fixed and tweaked what had been done previously. Then we just kept on recording and adding more tracks. Jimi was writing material with his producer and manager, Chas Chandler. He was living in Chas' apartment in London and they'd stay up all night working on lyrics, chords and the rest of that. And they'd come into the studio with a completely written song.

Kramer went on to address the title song: "There are a lot of backwards tape tracks on that one — drums, bass and guitar. We cut basic tracks and then flipped the tape over. At the end of the session, I made Jimi a copy of the backwards tracks. He went home and rehearsed himself all night to figure out what the guitar was going to do. He came in the next day, said, 'OK, roll the tape from this point. ...' And he knew from the downbeat precisely what the guitar was going to sound like and what the melody was going to be. He was playing the melody in real time, but he'd figured out how it was going to sound backwards. He was brilliant that way."

It's the American release that has become the iconic version of the LP, and retrospectively the British release indeed pales. The inclusion of the three monster hits accentuates the album, whereas the original release fails to invigorate the listener on the same level. Indeed, where the U.S. version is an AM10, the British release falters with an Absolute Magnitude score of 8. Some would call the U.S. edition a compilation along the lines of The Beatles' Hey Jude, instead the iconic version of Are Your Experienced is the whole package, literally and figuratively; an LP that puts it into the top ten in a year when that truly meant something.