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The Jimi Hendrix Experience Hit the Charts for the First Time 50 Years Ago

I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.

As emphasized by Jack Kerouac in “On the Road”, the Beat Generation shared a sense of tragedy. On the verge of a new decade, a popular drive towards physical and psychological wanderlust encountered themes of generational loss, despair and solitude. Words of frustration and disorientation spread through every medium, announcing the beginning of an era filled with unprecedented literary and melodic experimentation. As the arts and literature found shelter in surrealism and new spiritualism, music evolved towards psychedelia.

On 12th May 1967, the Jimi Hendrix Experience released their debut album ‘Are You Experienced’. Many critics and millions of listeners have considered the album to be a prophetic, yet disturbing outlook on the future of music and human emotions. Often described as one of the most influential rhythmical works ever conceived, the record is characterized by extraordinary stylistic experimentation and remarkable thematic complexity. In a career spanning merely four years, the group revolutionised the international rock ‘n’ roll scene with a futuristic combination of several music genres, including funk, blues and soul.

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The Jimi Hendrix Experience formed when Hendrix met bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell in London in 1966. Within four years, they released three studio albums, of which ‘Are You Experienced’ is  perhaps the most influential. A penniless performer in New York City, Jimi Hendrix was first brought to London by his new producer and ex-Animals member Chris Chandler in late September 1966. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was Chandler’s creative project, with an aim to exhibit Hendrix’s outstanding talent.

The band had only been together for a few weeks when they began recording their first album. Despite the LP’s coherent sound, it was recorded throughout five turbulent months of internal disputes and lack of funds. Surprisingly, once ‘Are You Experienced’ hit the charts, the critics expressed mixed, and often derogatory opinions. For instance, Rolling Stone magazine described it as “poor quality”, “violent” and “inartistic”.

Nonetheless, the album includes timeless classics, such as ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Manic Depression’ and ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, all of which carry intriguing stories, messages and anecdotes. ‘Purple Haze’, often mistaken for the depiction of an acid trip , was described by Hendrix as the troubling, yet pleasant account of a dream. ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, the band’s third single, was inspired by a quarrel between Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, whose middle name is Mary. In the song, through some intensely visual lyrics, the artist laments their room’s emptiness and expresses the pain of missing his lover. ‘Manic Depression’ may be interpreted as a celebration of Beat themes and motifs; it is a remarkable account of an entire generation’s state of mind.

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The Jimi Hendrix Experience at Woodstock, 1969

Hendrix’s effortless talent and rhythmic virtuosity has been deemed legendary since the band’s earliest live shows. Following ‘Are You Experienced’, they recorded two more studio albums, in 1967 and 1969, titled ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ and ‘Electric Ladyland’, respectively. However, by the end of 1969, conflicts within the group had contributed to the deterioration of its unity. According to Redding, the Jimi Hendrix Experience led a strenuous lifestyle, which had only benefitted the reputation of Hendrix himself. Moreover, Redding accused the frontman of inappropriate personal and public behaviour, probably due to Hendrix’s increasing use of drugs. In the Summer of 1969, after a particularly disastrous show at the Denver Pop Festival, Redding quit the band. In the subsequent months, Hendrix and Mitchell experimented with various line-ups.

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Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969

Hendrix passed away at the age of 27, on 18th September 1970. Although the exact circumstances of his death remain a matter of debate to this day, it is known that the night before he died, Hendrix had taken almost 20 times the recommended dose of Vesparax sleeping tablets. Of his last year on stage, exceptionally memorable is his two-hour closing act at Woodstock festival in 1969, with ‘Hey Joe’ being the very last song of the weekend. Although the audience had dramatically reduced by that point, Hendrix’s performance was captured in a series of iconic images, which have since become emblematic of the peaceful and psychedelic, yet tormented music culture of the 60s.


Lara Dal Molin is a writer, aspiring journalist and software engineer based in Winchester. She is currently an undergraduate at the University of Surrey, where she studies Liberal Arts and Sciences.

 

 

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