Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jimi Hendrix Experience -- "Are You Experienced?" (1967)

Are you experienced? 
Have you ever been experienced? 

Jimi Hendrix was certainly experienced.  He experienced himself to death on this date in 1970.

You and I may disagree on a lot of things, but I hope we can agree that Keith Moon is the greatest rock and roll drummer of all time and Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitarist.  Both Moon and Hendrix were tremendously innovative and absolutely unique musicians -- neither sounded like anyone else.

Both lived excessive lives and died very young.  Moon died when he was 32 and Hendrix didn't live to see his 28th birthday.

Hendrix had a string of hit singles in the UK and elsewhere in 1966 and 1967, but was largely unknown in the United States until he appeared at the Monterey International Pop Festival in  June 1967.  D. A. Pennebaker filmed the concert and released a documentary titled Monterey Pop late the next year.  Hendrix's performance of the Troggs' hit, "Wild Thing," got a lot of attention -- Jimi set his guitar on fire and then smashed it to pieces.  

Hendrix first set a guitar on fire while on stage in London in March 1967.  Frank Zappa, who was a friend of Hendrix, ended up with the burned Fender Stratocaster and played it on at least one of his albums.

Zappa's son, Dweezil, found it in 1991 under the stairs in his father's recording studio, and restored it.  Here's a video in which he describes the guitar and its restoration in great detail:

Hendrix was left-handed, but played a right-handed guitar -- he simply turned it upside down and reversed the order of the strings.

The Are You Experienced? album -- his first -- had been released in the UK in May 1967, and it climbed to #2 on the UK album charts (behind only Sgt. Pepper).  After Hendrix's show-stealing Monterey Pop appearance, his record company released a version of the album in the U.S. in August.

Here's Hendrix performing "Hey Joe" at Monterey Pop.  Watch closely beginning at 1:33 -- that's where he plays his guitar with his teeth:

Here's the end of Hendrix's Monterey Pop appearance.  After performing "Wild Thing," he sets his guitar on fire, smashes it into pieces, and tosses the pieces into the crowd:

I think I bought his Smash Hits album shortly after Hendrix appeared at Woodstock in August 1969.  It had been released in the UK in 1968 -- only a few months after the group's second studio album had been issued.  Smash Hits wasn't released in the U.S. then because Hendrix hadn't yet had any hits in the U.S.   (Neither "Purple Haze" nor "Foxy Lady" had cracked the top 40.  "All Along the Watchtower" -- which peaked at #20 in September 1968 -- was the only Hendrix single to make the top 40.)

On September 17, 1970, Hendrix was at a party in London.  His German girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, drove him to her Notting Hill flat well after midnight.

Monika Dannemann with Jimi Hendrix
It's not clear what happened after that.  Hendrix apparently took nine of Dannemann's prescription sleeping pills, which were a lot more than he should have taken.  Dannemann tried to wake him around 11 AM, and called an ambulance when he was unresponsive.  

Dannemann (who committed suicide in 1996) always claimed that Hendrix was alive when the ambulance arrived, and that she rode in it to the hospital with him.  The ambulance crew denied that she was there when they arrived at the flat, and said that Hendrix was already dead and had been dead for some time.

A doctor who initially attended Hendrix said he asphyxiated on his own vomit, which consisted mostly of red wine.  It's not clear why he didn't perform a tracheotomy.   The autopsy report said nothing about red wine, and stated that there was relatively little alcohol in Hendrix's system.

To confuse matters even further, Eric Burdon (the former lead singer of the Animals) said that he believed Hendrix had committed suicide.  He based that conclusion on some song lyrics written by Hendrix that Burdon found in the flat.  Years later, a former Animals roadie wrote a book that said that Hendrix's manager had told him that he had the star killed because Hendrix wanted to end his management contract.  

About two weeks later, Janis Joplin overdosed on heroin.

Hendrix is buried in a suburb of Seattle
I was a freshman in college when Hendrix and Joplin died.  I bought Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland (his third studio album) from an upperclassman who was selling off his record collection  a year or two later.  I remember his comment when I said I wanted those two albums: "Isn't a little late for you to be getting into Hendrix?"  (I'm guessing paid 50 cents each for those LPs -- certainly no more than a dollar each.  I think I got one or two Spirit albums from him as well.)

Jimi Hendrix was unbelievably cool.  I wonder what it would feel like to be that cool -- even just for five minutes.

Here's "Are You Experienced?":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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