Tomorrow, November 27th, Thanksgiving Day, is Jimi Hendrix’s birthday. He would have been 66 years old. Perhaps more significant is that this year marks the 40th anniversary of two landmark Hendrix albums - Axis: Bold as Love and the double-LP masterpiece Electric Ladyland.
In celebration of this milestone, UME is releasing a host of Hendrix goodies, including the Electric Ladyland CD+DVD Collector’s Edition, Blu-Ray collections of Live at Woodstock and Live at Monterrey, and vinyl reissues of Axis: Bold as Love and Are You Experienced.
JamsBio is also commemorating Jimi’s b-day and the anniversary of two of rock’s most thrilling records by giving away a V-Factor (Flying V) Gibson guitar! All you have to do is create your own list of the guitar god’s best songs or solos.
So, on this Thanksgiving day, after giving thanks for the roof over your head (if you still have one) and the food on your plate, also give thanks to Jimi Hendrix for the magic he brought into all of our lives through his transcendent music, amazing vision, and all around good vibes. Lord knows we need some of those now.
Here’s our list:
#10 “Hear My Train A-Comin’” from Live at the Fillmore East (1969/70)
The pinnacle of Hendrix’s many blues numbers, “Hear My Train A-Comin’” was given a stellar reading at the Fillmore East concerts that would partially surface as the Band of Gypsys album. The complete concerts were eventually released as Live at the Fillmore East in 1999. The shows were a bit uneven, but you can easily get lost in the guitar solos on this track.
#9 “Castles Made of Sand” from Axis: Bold as Love (1967)
After the dizzying trip that is Are You Experienced, Hendrix released the equally satisfying, but more majestic Axis: Bold as Love. This is where Hendrix the songwriter shines with equal intensity as Hendrix the guitar god. This is especially true on the sublime ballad “Castles Made of Sand,” arguably Hendrix’s finest lyrical output. In his book Jimi Hendrix: The Complete Guide to His Music, author Peter Doggett nicely sums up the song’s deeper meaning, explaining that “Castles” “explored the failure of a marriage…the realisation of his own artistic limitations and then in a clever reversal of his theme, the birth of hope from the brink of utter despair. Hendrix never sounded more vulnerable, or more involved in the spirit of a song.”
#8 “Freedom” as performed at the Isle of Wight Festival (1970)
A groove of epic proportions, “Freedom” was apparently slated to appear on Strate Ahead, Hendrix’s studio follow-up to Electric Ladyland. But because of his death in September 1970, the record was not to be. With a lyrical nod to Curtis Mayfield, one of Hendrix’s major influences, “Freedom” is a funk rock monster that shows the amazing (wasted) potential that the artist possessed. The studio version, with its triple overdubbed guitar parts, vocal contributions from the Ghetto Fighters, and added percussion by Juma Sultan is blistering, but I prefer the raw firestorm from Hendrix’s performance at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 30th, 1970, recorded less than three weeks before his death.
#7 “Purple Haze” from Are You Experienced (1967)
One of Hendrix’s best known songs, “Purple Haze” is a swirling, dissonant psychedelic classic that features spellbinding guitar work and the now famous “Hendrix chord” or dominant 7 # 9 chord. Author John Perry notes that “In essence,” the 7 # 9 is “the whole of the blues scale condensed into a single chord.” The groundbreaking instrumental track provides a sufficiently jarring background for Hendrix’s lyrics, which vividly describes a dream in which the musician is lost beneath the sea, engulfed in a purple haze.
#6 “Red House” from Hendrix in the West (1971)
A wonderful original blues number, “Red House” appeared on the UK only release of Are You Experienced. Apparently the record label execs demanded it be left of the US release, noting that Americans don’t like the blues. I prefer the 13 minute live version originally found on posthumous Hendrix in the West record and subsequently released as part of The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set.
#5 “Little Wing” as performed at Royal Albert Hall (1971)
“Little Wing” is one of Hendrix’s most beloved and most covered songs (Derek & the Dominoes, Sting, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Corrs). Hendrix has become so well-known as a guitar whiz that people often overlook his formidable songwriting prowess. A tender ballad steeped in flowery imagery, “Little Wing” perfectly showcases his composing chops. The song’s short opening guitar solo, a melodic gem with a wonderful flanging Doppler effect (achieved by playing through a rotating cabinet speaker) sets the tone for the beauty to come. While I prefer the live rendition from Royal Albert Hall in 1969 (as found on The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set), you can’t go wrong with the original studio version from 1967’s Axis: Bold as Love.
#4 “All Along the Watchtower” from Electric Ladyland (1968)
It’s no secret that Bob Dyan was floored by Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and has since admitted that it has become the definitive reading of the song: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.” Recording the version that would end up on Electric Ladyland was a painstaking process with Hendrix overdubbing multiple guitar parts during a laborious three month process. The meticulous attention to detail paid off, as the song displays Hendrix’s amazing virtuosity. Listen to the way he uses shrieks and moans from his guitar to conjure the apocalyptic imagery expressed in the lyrics.
#3 “The Star Spangled Banner” as performed at Woodstock (1969)
Jimi Hendrix’s performance at Woodstock, although legendary, was pretty bad. It was his first gig since disbanding the Experience and he hastily pieced together a new group, the Gypsy, Sun & Rainbows band, which included two percussionists, another guitarist, plus Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox. As Doggett noted, “With this under-rehearsed ensemble, Jimi and his muse were sometimes able to wave affectionately at each other from passing trains, but they rarely locked onto the same track.” By the time Hendrix took the stage on Monday morning, only about 30,000 of the original half million people were still around to witness his shambolic set. About an hour into the 90 minute performance, clearly sensing the crowd’s vibe of indifference, Hendrix quieted the band and launched into a tortured, ferocious rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Pierced by squalls of feedback and dripping with rage, Hendrix made one of the most powerful political statements in history with nothing but a guitar and electricity.
#2 “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” from Electric Ladyland (1968)
Widely considered one of Hendrix’s greatest guitar showcases, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is a wah-wah workout that takes its inspiration from Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone.” Joe Satriani commented that “Voodoo Child” is the “greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded. In fact, the whole song could be considered the holy grail of guitar expression and technique. It is a beacon of humanity.” Doggett wrote that the song “compresses every ounce of Hendrix’s ambition, musical technique, production skill and uncanny sense of impending disaster within five minutes…it was an extravaganza of noise and naked emotion.”
#1 “Machine Gun” from Band of Gypsys (1970)
Without a doubt, “Machine Gun” is one of Jimi’s most powerful songs, famous for its raging guitar part that mimics the rapidfire sound of a machine gun. The effectiveness of this guitar work was achieved through Hendrix’s mastery of distortion and effects, including the wah-wah pedal, an Arbiter Fuzz Face, a Univibe pedal, and an Octavia pedal. Doggett nails it, “Note after sustained note was mutated into a deathly, screaming howl…” Add to that Buddy Miles’ menacing drum patterns and Billy Cox’ throbbing bass lines and you have one of rock and roll’s most intense statements about the violence and barbarism of war.