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Are You Experienced

Blues, Pop, and Rock album by Jimi Hendrix

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My (2d) Musical Epiphany

  • May 20, 2006
  • by
"Music is not thought to indefinite to be put into words, but, on the contrary, too definite." (Felix Mendelssohn, 18 October 1842)

I've had two musical epiphanies in my lifetime, which is probably not many for someone who listens to music as avidly as I do.

The first was in 1958. (Sonny Rollins, Blue Note, vol. 2, was the album.)

The second, the one I want to write about, was in 1967.

Into the sixties, I poured scorn on rhythm and blues, although I enjoyed Fats Domino and Chuck Berry on the jukebox and my high school quartet had sung doowop songs like "Earth Angel," "Sh'boom," and "Gee."

My dislike of R&B transferred to rock in the early 60s. After I married Esther in 1964, I loosened up enough to enjoy the Beatles in the Richard Lester film "A Hard Day's Night." I even bought the sound track for the movie. By 1967, I was more catholic in my taste, listening to Procol Harum ("A Whiter Shade of Pale" was the most frequently played song on the juke box during my first term in grad school), Jefferson Airplane, the Credence Clearwater Revival, the Doors, the Byrds, the Cream.

I no longer resisted rock and roll but I was still not fond of harsh or ragged sounding groups like the Stones. I remember a conversation in the summer of '67 in which I told a friend -at great length-- that the Rolling Stones were just too primitive; they weren't sufficiently musically sophisticated.

In August, 1967, Life magazine ran an article on Hendrix, who had made his name in England with a power trio of guitar, electric bass and drums called the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I immediately bought their first album, "Are You Experienced." For a few weeks, I was the only one around who owned it, but not for long.

Listening to Hendrix extending and distorting the sounds and uses of the guitar was an epiphany for me. I bought Hendrix's next two albums right away and a few others as well. I didn't have much money but I still managed to acquire albums by Creedence Clearwater, Ike and Tina, Santana, the Chambers Brothers, Buddy Miles, Super Session with Steven Stills, Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, Bruce Springsteen, the Band (whom I ladore), the Talking Heads (ditto), Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, the Stones, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Dire Straits, the Commodores, Blondie, Nina Hagen, X, the Blasters. How different my record collection looked after a couple of years!

Nowadays, I listen to all kinds of music as though it came from a common source: jazz, blues, classical music, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, tangos, bossas novas, Afro-Cuban music, some country western music and some folk music, and music from around the world -Yvo Papasov, Yuri Yanakov, the Klezmatics, Luciana Souza, Cesaria Evoria, Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, Leih Sebtah, Huun Huur Tu, Kila, Christie Moore, Lunasa, Sharon Shannon and the Woodchoppers, Hammy Hamilton and Con O'Drisceoll, Mary Black.... --all are grist for the mill.

In a way, I owe that to Hendrix for he opened up my ears to the possiblities of music, any kind of musdic when performed by virtuosos with their own vision of what to do.

In the summer and fall of 1969, I saw Vladimir Horowitz, Artur Rubenstein, and Mstislav Rostropovich perform live. What a year! But I also saw Janis Joplin perform with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Janis left the group shortly after to go out on her own.

Two weeks later, Hendrix came to town with his original recording group: Noel Redding on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums. We sat in the center, second row of the second balcony, far away from the stage but with clear sight lines and speakers facing toward us.

Two backup groups performed first. Neither got much applause. If I remember right, the first was Cat Stevens, the wrong performer to put before Jimi Hendrix. The second was a Herman's Hermits clone -skinny suits, bowl-shaped haircuts, trendy little English accents and anemic sound. (English was big in rock and roll then.)

Hendrix was everything I'd expected. For all the wildness, and the wall of sound his group pumped out non-stop, the group and the playing were tight and right. This is something I like in groups: it`s the reason that the Band and the Talking Heads are among my favorite rock groups (along with Hendrix). They all played tight.

What I hadn't expected was how loud it would be. When Hendrix started playing, my chest and tailbone literally throbbed. I put my fingers in my ears to reduce the noise to a bearable level. I loved the music but unmediated by my fingers in my ears, it would have been painful to hear. He performed most of the songs I wanted to hear -"Purple Haze," "Fire," "Spanish Castle Magic," "All Across the Watchtower," "Crosstown Traffic"-- and he performed his signature stunts: charging the speaker with his guitar and destroying it, setting his guitar on fire with lighter fluid. It was fun. Theater.

Hendrix changed the way guitar players played their instruments, not just rock but jazz guitarists too. He was masterful in the way he used distortion, feedback and the wah wah pedal to make an integrated musical statement. He used the whole insturment --electrified.

A while ago, I listened to an album of Hendrix covers performed by accomplished musicians like Eric Clapton, Chrissie Hynds, Buddy Guy. Only the songs from Hendrix's Band of Gypsies worked in translation --perhaps because Hendrix played bluesier, looser music in that group than he did with the Experience.

The music of the Experience was generally tightly put together and the instrumental background essential to the melody. On the cover album, even a musician as talented as Chrissie Hynds sounded like a clone. Dull! The players seemed to find it difficult to forge an alternative musical background to the original ones provided by Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell.

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More Are You Experienced reviews
Quick Tip by . November 02, 2012
posted in Music Matters
I first heard this album back in the late 90's, and even after all these years, I still think it's a solid slab of psychadelic blues rock.      Aside from a few songs that I don't think have the power that the better ones do, this album has plenty of great tunes that are full of cool riffs and solos.  Among my favorite tunes are "Purple Haze," "Are You Experienced," "Fire," "Third Stone from the Sun," "Foxey Lady," …
review by . May 20, 2005
posted in Music Matters
Many revere Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced? as the most influential debut recording by a rock n roll artist. At the very least its a high energy recording that is loaded with big hits.     With six bonus tracks, now ten of the twelve songs from Smash Hits appear on Are You Experienced? Add to this sevven strong album cuts and you have a gem on your hands.     Much of the recording is indeed hard rock. However, there are so many softer touching melodies …
About the reviewer
David Keymer ()
Ranked #423
I taught full time in grade school (1 year), high school (8 years) and college (7 years) --first Spanish, then social studies, then history. After I earned my PhD (in history) at Yale, I moved into administration. … more
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As emblematic of its time as of its sorcerer-like creator, 1967'sAre You Experiencedunleashed Jimi Hendrix onto a world in the midst of such cultural and musical shakeups that it really didn't seem as "far out" as it actually was. It wasn't just Hendrix's virtuosic skill as a pure player that was so impressive; it was, even more, the range and scope of sheer sound that he coaxed, cajoled, and ripped out of his instrument. "Purple Haze," "Manic Depression," and "I Don't Live Today" filled ears with indelible sonic images, and songs like "Foxey Lady" and "Fire" pointed the way toward a new brand of rock-charged soul music. And how about a hand for drummer Mitch Mitchell?--Billy Altman
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