Revolutions: The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 'Are You Experienced?'
Revolutions is a short film series that explores some of the records that have altered and influenced the music world.
The Rock Hall and Klipsch Audio take fans deep inside these albums to showcase their significance and impact. In this episode we're exploring Are You Experienced?, released May 12, 1967 and turning 50 years old this spring.
Psychedelic rock and roll’s flamboyant guitarist Jimi Hendrix saw endless possibility where others saw musical limitations.
Seattle-born Hendrix developed his own soulful palate by touring with the Isley Brothers and playing session guitar for Sam Cooke, as well as Ike and Tina Turner. Hendrix was met with limited success from his own shows in New York.
Thanks to manager and producer Chas Chandler, formerly of The Animals, Hendrix moved to London. They recruited bandmates Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, and the group gigged around Europe and released two successful singles, Hey Joe," and "Purple Haze."
To record their first album, the trio and Chandler popped in and out of two London recording studios: the modern Olympic Studios and De Lane Lea Studios, which was just a basement enclave located below a bank.
The sessions captured Hendrix's distorted blues riffs, infused with proto-heavy metal swagger, that matched wits with Mitchell's jazz-influenced rhythms and Redding's loose grooves.
Intriguing studio effects added unexpected layers. The title track's whirring, droning textures came from a tape of instrumental being played backwards. The group’s tactile approach to recording was raw-sounding and unfettered by precedent.
Yet the album possessed soulful depth. Jimi balanced his past influences with the frenzied vigor his experiments had created in the studio.
These songs showed that Hendrix was of salt and earth, with a wise-beyond-his-years voice. His timbre could soothe or come ringing through your speakers, as loud as a shotgun’s blast.
And Hendrix spoke volumes just by plugging in his axe. Even as he shook the floors with his chords and off-the-cuff riffs, he never sacrificed the precision of tone for a single note.
Dense psychedelic swirls emanated from the speakers. On Are You Experienced, these sounds could be disorienting and stormy, as on the playful "Foxey Lady" and the churning "Manic Depression."
Yet on "The Wind Cries Mary," which was inspired by an argument Hendrix had with his then-girlfriend, his riffs were keening and mournful. The song wasn’t just Hendrix’s passionate plea to a lost lover, it was the fear of loss amplified by tensions running from coast to coast, alienating the counterculture without a plan B.
Are You Experienced would create a blueprint for the fuzzed-out psychedelic rock that would soon consume the displaced and pierce popular rock and roll in the side.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience drew a famous following before it found mainstream success. Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and members of the Who attended incendiary live gigs and were in awe of the talent they found onstage.
Hendrix was extraordinary during live shows. Playing guitar behind his back, plucking strings with his teeth – these stunts added to the music without detracting style or sound.
Are You Experienced spent 33 weeks on the charts in the U.K., peaking at No. 2.
Yet it was the band’s performance at the June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival that brought them attention and notice at home in the U.S. The gig was set up by avowed fan Paul McCartney.
During the performance, Hendrix recreated a previous stunt and set his guitar on fire. It was a symbolic and attention-grabbing gesture that announced his arrival as the leader of the psychedelic rock movement.
When Are You Experienced was finally released two months after Monterey Pop, Hendrix's legend was already cemented.
Rock 'n' roll would never be the same. The Hendrix Experience's landmark debut album, Are You Experienced came to embody the wildly experimental and self-conscious approach that defined rock and roll during the summer of love and beyond.