Brit Psychedelics

Brit Psychedelics

Written by Jay Jay French

First a word about what/who is not on my Psychedelic Shootout  list:

Fever Tree—debut album

Yes, I had the album, and yes, I played it fairly often… but it did not make any kind of lasting impression.

Rotary Connection—debut album

See above.

These, and others, came and went. Such was this amazing year. Why any one album stands out is strictly in the ears of the listener. Just because it isn’t on my list doesn’t make the music from that year is any less relevant. I only had the time to digest what I digested. I do, however, want to thank everyone who reads my columns for their observations and opinions.

And now….

Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced

So, first off, is Jimi a US artist, or a British artist?

The world of experience (no pun intended) of both locations played equal parts in this story.

In terms of his debut album Are You Experienced, the album was created and recorded in the UK under the watchful eye of manager Chas Chandler, late of the Animals, who discovered Jimi in the summer of 1966, playing  in a house band called Jimi James & The Blue Flames at the Cafe Wha? in NY’s Greenwich Village. Another house band at the Wha? was The Glass Stairway. The Glass Stairway was from my neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I had auditioned in my own band, The Prophets for the Cafe Wha? gig 6 months earlier but didn’t get the gig; I did however keep the phone number of the owner, and got the Glass Stairway their audition in the spring of 1966. I was 14 years old at the time.

Frederick Rivera, a local drummer and friend to both the members of the Glass Stairway and me, remembers the day that Chas came in and sat with Hendrix at a corner table. Frederick was also sitting with Jimi shortly before Chas came in. Apparently the club was buzzing about it all day. It was a meeting that would change pop music forever.

Shortly after that meeting, Jimi left for England.

Chas put all the pieces together, including bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. He also brought in a young British engineer named Eddie Kramer. The relationship between Kramer and Hendrix has become legendary and Eddie, to this day, is the one person in charge of the musical legacy, in terms of being hired by Janie Hendrix to oversee the Hendrix tape archive.

I also hired Eddie Kramer to produce some of Twisted Sister’s earliest demos in NYC in 1979, recorded, in part, at the then-newly rebuilt Electric Lady Studios.

Eddie and I recently talked about the recording sessions of Are You Experienced.

Eddie remembers that Chas kept a very controlled atmosphere keeping his eye on the budget but, according to Kramer, in acknowledging Jimi’s extraordinary talent for playing and composing, Chandler  proclaimed the following:

“The rules are, there are no rules!”

And OMG, what an understatement.

Are You Experienced is such a marvel of guitar wizardry and sonic landscapes that, to this day, no one, and I mean no one, has come close to the mind-blowing sounds that Jimi (with Eddie Kramer) created.

Leo Fender had no idea that his Fender Stratocaster guitar, in the hands of this musical genius, could speak a language heretofore unheard of. For once, any hyperbole was, in reality, insufficient.  Married to a Marshall Amp (turned up to !!) and with a whammy bar, fuzztones and flangers, Jimi created a palette of aural interplanetary imagery.

As a 15 year old guitar player, I didn’t know what to make of it. It wasn’t blues based; it wasn’t rock as I knew it, either.

It was something else.

Guitar tones came out of my stereo that I just couldn’t fathom.

Yes there were songs with pretty melodies (‘Hey Joe”, “The Wind Cries Mary”). But songs like “Purple Haze”, “Manic Depression”, “Third Stone From The Sun”, “Foxey Lady”, and “Are You Experienced” were like nothing heard before.

This album was the opening salvo that brought the guitar into world and created millions of “air guitarists”.

This was sex with 6 strings.

This was what everything that could be forbidden would sound like if LSD were morphed into 6 metal strings!

Clapton knew it, Jeff Beck knew it, Pete Townshend knew it, Jimmy Page knew it.

This guy just made their lives miserable, and seemingly overnight, irrelevant.

The best story of Jimi’s effect on the entire British music “guitar hero” scene was a conversation between the singer Terry Reid and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, overheard at the Bag O’ Nails club in London in early 1967. Jimi came and performed with his newly created band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, one night at the behest of Chas Chandler.

John and Paul were there, as were Mick, Keith, and Brian. Y’know, just one of those legendary hip London nights in the mid sixties that we all drool over.

While passing Brian Jones, who was going to the bathroom, Terry said, “be careful that you don’t slip in the puddle near the stage when you go to your seat”. “Why?” asked Jones. “Did someone spill a drink?” “No,” replied Terry, “it’s from all the guitar players crying!”

Because the sounds of the album were so new, I was curious about the effect of LSD on the sessions.  Eddie Kramer told me that, as far as he remembers, acid did not come into Jimi’s world until after the Are You Experienced sessions.

Jack Bruce was asked to play with the Experience after Jimi came over and had jammed with him several times, but passed on it to join Cream— because in the Experience it was all Jimi, whereas with Cream, Jack would be singing lead, and writing nearly all of the material.

I had the opportunity several years ago to ask Jack what the difference was between playing with Eric and Jimi.

His response was among the best answers I have ever received, and when I recently told Eddie Kramer about this conversation, he agreed that it was incredibly perceptive on Jack’s part.

Jack said this to me:

“On any given night Eric was the more precise player, but Jimi was the only guitarist he ever played with that played the guitar like his brain was directly wired to his fretboard!”

That is the highest compliment that any musician can give to another one.

As far as its Psychedelic rating however, the combination of the cover art, the band’s clothing, the fact that a “brand of Owsley-created street LSD was named Purple Haze”, and most importantly, the extraordinary uniqueness of the music contained herein brings this album to a Psychedelic Factor:  9 out of 10

Next issue: Traffic’s Dear Mr. Fantasy Procol Harum’s debut, and Cream’s Disraeli Gears.

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