Tag Archives: Axis Bold As Love

Rocks In The Attic’s Buyer’s Guide to….Jimi Hendrix

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

The summer of 1966 was a great one in London. England won the World Cup in Wembley Stadium, the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon hit the top of the charts, the American Billie Jean King won the first of her six Wimbledon titles and the Beatles delivered Revolver. In September, a pop culture atomic bomb was dropped on the city when an unknown blues guitarist was flown in by Animals bass-player Chas Chandler.

Hendrix-1In the short time between being thrust into the spotlight of swinging sixties London to his abrupt death just four years later, Jimi Hendrix redefined what was possible on the electric guitar. He personifies rock guitar and serves as the perfect mix of blues, pop, soul, R&B and psychedelia. While he only released three studio albums during his life, a wealth of live albums, compilations and posthumous studio albums have been released with varying degrees of success. This buyer’s guide aims to stick a finger to the man and raise a peace sign to all the foxy ladies.

Start off with: Are You Experienced (1967, Track Records)

Hendrix-2With only three proper studio albums available, it makes sense that these are all essential listening. It’s also good to tackle them in order, to see how Hendrix and his power-trio developed over time. The first of two albums in 1967, Are You Experienced shows us a bright new artist almost fully formed. Following on from the standard set by singles Hey Joe, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary (all three of which were left off the UK release), the debut album also gives us Foxy Lady, Manic Depression and Fire to add to Hendrix’s bulging set list. In Red House, he creates a blues standard for guitarists everywhere, and delivers two psychedelic highlights in Third Stone From The Sun and the title track. The US version of the album arrived three months later and substitutes some of the album tracks for the previously mentioned singles, but it’s the UK version of the album that should be seen as the real deal.

Follow that with: Axis: Bold As Love (1967, Track Records)

Hendrix-3Already bored with the theatre and histrionics of his stage show, Hendrix put the fuzz pedals to one side for his second studio album of 1967. A subtler, nuanced album from a singer-songwriter perspective, the material shows an artist maturing in both song composition and lyrical content. The barnstorming Spanish Castle Magic and Bold As Love remain as the only songs that might fit on their noisier debut. Everything else feels much more relaxed. Little Wing is a delicate blues ballad featuring superb use of the glockenspiel, Wait Until Tomorrow tells the story of two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, and Castles Made Of Sand shows a contemplative Hendrix addressing the issue of mortality and time slipping away. Recorded just 13 months after he landed in London, the album is an incredible achievement in both songwriting and performance. Given how swiftly he could write and record material, one wonders how many Hendrix albums there could have been had tragedy not taken him so soon.

Then get: Electric Ladyland (1968, Reprise Records)

Hendrix-4For the Experience’s third studio LP, Hendrix recorded a double-album’s worth of material at several studios in London and New York. Where the first two records had been strictly a band affair, Electric Ladyland includes many guest appearances from assorted hangers-on and musicians. Traffic’s Dave Mason and Steve Winwood, the Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady, the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and Bob Dylan-sideman Al Kooper all pop up across the album’s sixteen tracks. Again, the record gives us a high hit-rate of Hendrix classics – Crosstown Traffic, Long Hot Summer Night, early-era single Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, and his reworking of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. But it’s the last song of the album that remains as Hendrix’s magnum opus. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) begins with an ominous, faded-in wah-wah-pedal before all hell breaks loose in a psychedelic reimagining of electric blues. It’s an everlasting testament to the musical genius of Hendrix, and you couldn’t find a more fitting song to be the last track on his final studio album.

Criminally overlooked: Stone Free (1980, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-5Of course, where there’s money to be made you can always count on record companies sniffing around. Hendrix has released more albums from the grave than he did when he was alive; a raft of uneven posthumous studio records (thirteen at the last count) and dozens of compilations of varying quality. One particular favourite of mine is this 1980 offering from Polydor Records. It might suffer from the cover proclaiming it to be part of the ‘Special Price Series’, but the tracklist is killer. The usual offenders are here – Crosstown Traffic, All Along The Watchtower, Castles Made Of Sand and Little Wing – but it’s the inclusion of the non-studio album material that’s more interesting. Alongside a nice energetic version of the evergreen Johnny B. Goode, the highlight is Ezy Rider, taken from 1971’s The Cry Of Love. It’s the perfect, practically unknown Hendrix song, equal to anything released when he was alive.

The long-shot: Live At Woodstock (1969, Music On Vinyl)

Hendrix-6This one doesn’t get a great deal of love, and it’s not hard to see why. Held over to ensure he was the final act to play the festival at the behest of his manager, rather than taking the headline slot on the Sunday night, it was 9am on Monday by the time Hendrix walked onto the stage with his much larger (than usual) band. Most of the 400,000 crowd had left, the 30,000 remaining had the hangover of all hangovers, and Hendrix himself could barely hide his disappointment. In the stark morning light, Hendrix and band deliver a set consisting of early classics, later masterpieces and lots and LOTS of jamming. It’s crazy how much improvisational material is played given the stature of the event. The highlight of the performance might be when Hendrix flashes the peace sign as he launches into his reworking of The Star Spangled Banner, but my favourite moment is his blistering version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return). Amazing!

Avoid like the plague: Band Of Gypsys (1969, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-7Coming just four months after the Woodstock performance, Band Of Gypsys finds Hendrix once again playing live as a power-trio.  Captured at New York City’s Filmore East on New Year’s Day 1970, I’ve never really appreciated the heavier sound that bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles bring to the equation. The newer material is dirge-like and it just sounds like a bad trip. The sixties are officially over, they’re selling Beatles wigs in Woolworth’s, and this record shows it.

Best compilation: The Ultimate Experience (1992, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-81997’s Experience Hendrix: The Best Of Jimi Hendrix may have overtaken it as the readily available compilation, but my favourite will always be this similar 1992 release. There’s just something about the sequencing of a compilation of an artist you’re discovering that becomes way more important than it has any right to be. All Along The Watchtower followed by Purple Haze followed by Hey Joe followed by The Wind Cries Mary. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! I could do without the next song, Angel, and would swap it for the bizarrely overlooked Spanish Castle Magic, but that’s really my only criticism. Even the gold artwork on this release is so tied to the treasures within!

Best live album: Live At Monterey (1967, Legacy Records)

Hendrix-9There’s a wealth of live Hendrix material, almost as many albums as the numerous compilations available, so it’s hard to nail these just to one essential release. If pushed, I’d go for this, his breakthrough appearance in America. Introduced by the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, Hendrix opens the show with an incendiary version of Howling Wolf’s Killing Floor. The set showcases early singles Hey Joe, Purple Haze and Foxy Lady, as well as covers of Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and the Troggs’ Wild Thing. He closes by setting his Fender Stratocaster on fire, and rock music would never be the same again.

Considering that Jimi Hendrix died almost fifty years ago, there’s still a huge amount of material I haven’t yet heard. And it’s still coming out! 2018’s Both Sides Of The Sky completes a trilogy of albums intended as a follow-up to Electric Ladyland. It’s unlikely that anything will overshadow those three original studio albums by the Experience, but I’m sure there’s still the odd gem to be found.

Hendrix-10

 

Rocks In The Attic #566: Duke Ellington – ‘Anatomy Of A Murder’ (1959)

rita566Forget Sgt. Pepper’s and Nevermind. Forget Axis: Bold As Love, Abbey Road and Dark Side Of The Moon. The greatest album cover in the history of recorded music is this one, designed by Hitchcock alumnus Saul Bass.

Of course, that’s only my opinion, but that’s what the internet is all about, isn’t it?

Saul Bass’ titles of Hitchock’s films throughout the late ‘50s are peerless – and his work here on Otto Preminger’s 1959 film Anatomy Of A Murder is probably my favourite if I had to choose a single image.

A couple of years ago, this album cover was quite rightly included in a touring exhibition, Degas To Dali, which was showing at the Auckland Art Gallery. I wonder how long it will take until art galleries are showing album covers as exhibitions in their own right. We can’t be that far away, if it hasn’t happened already. The world of album cover design is as strong as any other medium, and contains as many surprises as you can find turkeys. I’ve just glanced at Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Album Covers – I’d question a lot of them, but isn’t that what art’s all about, to provoke discussion and to continually question what has come before?

Hit: Main Title And Anatomy Of A Murder

Hidden Gem: Flirtbird

Rocks In The Attic #337: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Stone Free’ (1981)

RITA#337I got accused the other day of not listening to enough Jimi Hendrix. The accuser was my wife, and I guess there’s plenty of worse things she could have accused me of (laundry, the rubbish bins, etc). The thing is, with Hendrix, there’s not a great deal of material to listen to, and I think I got it all out of my system in my teens.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but I’m not going to listen to him endlessly in case I get sick of him. Hendrix is one of the cornerstones of my taste in music, my record collection and my guitar playing. Without him, my taste in music wouldn’t be as refined, there’d be some pretty major gaps in my record collection and my guitar playing would be much more average than it is now (which is pretty average).

I tend to listen to Electric Ladyland more than anything else these days – it’s a bit more of a voyage, with some really eclectic and experimental material. If I want something shorter and more immediate, I tend to go for Are You Experienced?; but of the three, the purity of Axis: Bold As Love will always be my favourite.

I found this compilation in a record shop in Withington, and you know what? Something on it really surprised me. A diehard Hendrix fan, I thought I knew it all. You see, after I devoured the three studio albums, the important live recordings (Monterey, Woodstock, Isle Of Wight, Band Of Gypsys), and a decent mid-‘90s compilation (The Ultimate Experience), I stopped. I didn’t want to dilute my interest by delving into the posthumous studio albums that were released in the late ‘90s.

These albums – First Rays Of The New Rising Sun and South Saturn Delta (both 1997) – were official releases, driven by the Hendrix family, and fully realised with the help of Eddie Kramer in the producer’s chair. They’re cash-in releases, but at least they’re a bit more authentic (and interesting) than your typical grab-bag compilation album.

Ezy Rider, one of the tracks on First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, is a true hidden gem and was included here on this 1981 compilation album, Stone Free. Before I heard it, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Hendrix. Turns out, I didn’t.

I’ve since listened to those two late ‘90s albums, together with two later releases – Valleys Of Neptune (2010) and People, Hell And Angels (2013) – and they’re not great. There’s some interesting material, but the best of the bunch had already seen the light of day on lesser releases like this one.

Hendrix fans should listen to Ezy Rider, if they haven’t already – it really stands up to the quality of material on his three original studio albums. It also proves that the man can still surprise, long after he’s dead.

Hit: All Along The Watchtower

Hidden Gem: Ezy Rider

Rocks In The Attic #150: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ (1967)

Ten reasons why I love this album:

1. The Songs

Of the three studio albums released by Hendrix before his death, this comes across as the most personal. Are You Experienced is hook-driven and full of perfect three-minute pop songs, Electric Ladyland finds Hendrix immersed in the New York scene of barflies and hangers-on, but Axis catches him in full songwriter mode.

Hendrix’s lyrics are often overlooked, but he can really paint a picture with words. Axis showcases his love of science-fiction and his vivid imagination on tracks such as Spanish Castle Magic and Little Wing. Other songwriters can sound banal when they tell a story with lyrics – Paul McCartney commonly makes this mistake – but Hendrix seems to effortlessly get you on his side. His lyrics for Wait Until Tomorrow and Castles Made Of Sand are heartbreaking, and far from the sort of expectations set by the simplistic tone of Fire and Foxy Lady only a matter of months prior.

2. The Guitar Sound

I love the fuzz on Hendrix’s guitar throughout Are You Experienced.  The fade-in to Foxy Lady has to be one of the best sounds captured on a rock album – but Hendrix playing a clean tone on his guitar is even better. Thankfully this album is full of it.

The introduction to Little Wing is stunningly beautiful, and wouldn’t be quite the same if there was any overdrive involved. There’s a big difference between playing a guitar to chug away on some barre chords, and using it as a virtuoso instrument. It’s a really delicate piece, complimented perfectly by the addition of a glockenspiel – something that would usually be very much out of place on a rock album.

When I started learning to play the guitar, the first music book I bought was Electric Ladyland – there’s nothing like throwing yourself into the deep end. I didn’t last long with the book – I think I sold it to a friend as it was far too advanced for my skill level at the time. It always rankled me though, and eventually learning to play Little Wing gave me the confidence to go back and learn some of his other songs. I can play Hendrix’s stuff on the guitar reasonably well, but there are always a million subtleties that I overlook.

3. The Cover

If there’s one thing I hate about the late-‘60s, it’s the look associated with psychedelia. When The Beatles jumped on the bandwagon with Sgt. Pepper’s, they brought that look to a worldwide commercial level. People rave on about how timeless the Sgt. Pepper’s sleeve is, but I can’t stand it. It’s garish and like most record sleeves of that time, it dates it to a period when designers could get away with murder – as long as they painted their criminal efforts with as many colours as they had available to them.

The Sgt. Peppers sleeve is probably to blame for opening the doors of possibility for a number of visual crimes – The Rolling Stones’ terrible Their Satanic Majesties Request and Cream’s vomit-inducing Disraeli Gears immediately spring to mind. One other album sleeve to be thrown into that mix is Axis: Bold As Love. Quite simply though, I love it.

Rumour has it that the record company found out about Hendrix’s Cherokee ancestry. This got lost somewhere in translation, and the subsequent cover featured Hendrix amidst the wrong kind of Indians.

I’m sure most people would argue that the cover is just as offensive, wild and garish as anything produced around those times, but I truly see it as a piece of art – one of the nicest gafefold sleeves in my collection.

4. The Drum Intro To Little Miss Lover

Mitch Mitchell is oft-overlooked for his contribution to rock music. John Bonham and Keith Moon are always seen as the best drummers from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but Mitchell is a master player. He just suffers from having his parts overshadowed by Hendrix – and what a problem to have.

One of his standout moments across all three Hendrix studio albums is this funk-driven introduction to Little Miss Lover. Unfortunately, it’s so good that somewhere along the way it caught the ears of the Master of Mediocrity, Noel Gallagher – who used the sample as the basis for Fuckin’ In The Bushes from their Standing On The Shoulder Of Giantsalbum.

This meant that for a distinct period of time, Oasis fans claimed themselves a bit of credibility because of the Hendrix connection. I already despised Oasis and their legion of numbskull fans; I loathed them even more now.

5. Walking Down The Aisle

When I got married in 2011, my wife walked down the aisle to Little Wing.

In the weeks running up the wedding, she couldn’t decide between that and Led Zeppelin’s Over The Hills And Far Away. She wanted both played at the wedding – one to walk down the aisle to, and the other to walk back up the aisle to, as a married couple.

I convinced her that Little Wing worked much better as a down-the-aisle song, as the section in Over The Hills And Far Away where the bass and drums kick in, a minute and a half into the song, seemed more apt to mark a joyous occasion.

The beautiful Little Wing was used to soundtrack a beautiful moment.

6. Fulfilling The Record Contract

Hendrix was tied to a really bad record contract from day one, and never really made any money before he died. His estate now makes millions off his name, and it’s sad that his business affairs were always in such dire straits during his short tenure as a rock star.

The initial contract Hendrix signed with Track Records tied the Experience to release two LPs during 1967. Are You Experiencedhad already landed in May of that year, so surely another release would be of an inferior quality. Most bands would knock something out quickly, but Hendrix turns around and delivers a masterpiece.

7. Three Copies And Counting

Of all the albums in my vinyl collection, this is the one I own the most copies of. I bought two second hand copies while I was still living in Manchester – neither of which had a gatefold sleeve. About a year ago I bought brand new copy of the 2010 reissue from Real Groovy in Auckland. This is a heavyweight vinyl release, and also features the full gatefold sleeve, together with a booklet containing photos and an essay on the album.

You can say what you want about the Experience Hendrix releases – yes, they may be cashing in on Hendrix – but they’re supremely well packaged, and give his music the justice it deserves. If you don’t like the endless re-releasing of his albums, don’t buy them. It’s that simple.

8. The Production.

Electric Ladyland, would perfect the direction that Hendrix wanted to go but his first soundscapes came along on the title song of Are You Experienced, and were cemented here on Axis.

The wall of rolling feedback that symbolises the sound of a UFO taking off, on the album’s comedic opener EXP, leads the way into a set of songs where production really is as important as the songwriting. Axis would be the second and final album that Hendrix would record with Chas Chandler on production duties, and you definitely get a feeling that these sessions were fun. Electric Ladyland, on the other hand, can sound very serious at times and just a bit too heavy. Man.

9. The Font.

Hendrix’s handwriting is easily identifiable- his handwritten lyrics happily pop up all over the liner notes of the Experience Hendrix releases.

This font of his handwriting style cleverly takes the name of the album – Axis Bold.

10. Spanish Castle Magic.

Purple Haze, Foxy Lady and Fire always get their dues when it comes to their place in the rock riff canon. For some reason, Spanish Castle Magic gets lost in the dust.

It has a wealth of riffs – the stuttering overdrive of the intro, the main arpeggiated riff, and the descending, syncopated power-chords of the verses all combine to provide a really heavy guitar assault.

Hit: Little Wing

Hidden Gem: Bold As Love