50 Years Ago: The Jimi Hendrix Experience Release Their Revolutionary Debut Album
Released in May 1967 in the U.K. and three months later in the U.S., the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced was a game changer. After hearing the album for the first time, what guitarist doesn’t think, “Oh s—, what do I do now?”
There’s more than just standard Chuck Berry riffing going on here and more than Dave Davies-style power chords. Hendrix developed a whole new language for the electric guitar, a language that, all these years later, is still being translated by generation after generation of hopeful guitar heroes.
It’s hard to fully comprehend just how revolutionary this record was for its time, but before it, there really was no record that sounded like it. Afterward, there were just imitations. But Hendrix wasn’t alone in this assault. The profound rhythm section of drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding provided a concrete block upon which Hendrix could build his sound. Though Cream predated the Experience by a few months, this was the ultimate power trio, their sound and style would be infused into so much rock ‘n’ roll that followed.
All this would mean nothing if it weren’t for one other fact: The man wrote some amazing songs. Guitar heroics aside, without tunes, Are You Experienced wouldn’t be quite the classic it is today. “Foxey Lady,” “Manic Depression,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Purple Haze,” “I Don’t Live Today” — all incredible songs.
The U.K. and U.S. versions differed a little. Because of the common practice in the U.K. of not including singles on an LP, the British version included “Can You See Me” and the raw blues of “Red House” in place of “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” both overseas singles.
The record was produced by Hendrix’s manager and former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, who, along with engineer Eddie Kramer, explored sonic terrain that was previously uncharted. The recording sessions began in late-1966 at De Lane Lea and CBS Studios, and finished up at the legendary Olympic studios in London. In a DVD documentary on the making of the album, Chander recalled, “The great asset about Olympic seems to be that you could play louder than in other studios we’d been in.”
Kramer once noted that Hendrix’s “ideas came fast and furious with a devilish glint in his eye as he would rack up a particular sound from his amp that would give me a challenge to interpret what was going on from the floor of the studio to bringing that enormous sound into the control room.”
As the Summer of Love kicked into gear, the release of Are You Experienced preceded the Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by nearly a month, which was a big time frame in 1967 terms. New sounds and styles exploded at every turn. A month or two made all the difference in the world.
The U.S. got its first real taste of Hendrix on June 18, 1967, when the Experience made their live stateside debut on the third day of the Monterey International Pop Festival. Already a sensation in the U.K., the Who were well aware of what Hendrix were capable of and didn’t want to follow him onstage. At the same time, Hendrix was familiar with the Who’s antics and didn’t want to follow them. A coin was tossed, and the Who ended up going on before Hendrix (with the Grateful Dead sandwiched in between, poor guys). The Who did their thing and smashed their gear, so Hendrix upped the ante and set his guitar on fire. That act got people’s attention, but not as much as the music did.
That Monterey performance, along with the power of songs like “Fire” and “Hey Joe” pushed the Jimi Hendrix Experience to the forefront of new sounds, and seemingly overnight, louder-than-loud guitars were all the rage. Everyone started to get heavy and push boundaries onstage and in the studio. The aural overload of Are You Experienced‘s title track is still a monster, as is the rest of the LP. Artists are still trying to catch up to it today.
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