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The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ‘Are You Experienced?’ Turns 45 Years Young

Sony Legacy

Can it really be 45 years since the Jimi Hendrix Experience unleashed their classic debut album on an unsuspecting public? Well, yes it can! As those years fly by in a purple haze, all of a sudden it’s too late. So yeah, 45 years…how bout them cosmic apples!

Released May 12, 1967 in England and three months later in America, ‘Are You Experienced’ was another one of those albums you could easily call a “game changer,’ especially among musicians. Upon first hearing the album, nearly every guitarist seemingly thought to themselves, ‘Oh s—, what do I do now?!’

Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced
U.K. Cover - Track Records

This was not your stock Chuck Berry riffing going on, nor was it McGuinn styled picking or Dave Davies-esque power chords. Jimi Hendrix developed a whole new language for the electric guitar, a language that, 45 years later, is still being translated by generation after generation of would-be guitar hero.

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 and after it, those that did were pale imitations. Hendrix, however, was not alone in the assault. The more than profound rhythm section of drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding provided the concrete block upon which Hendrix could build his sound. Though Cream predated the Experience slightly, this was the ultimate power trio, their sound and style would be infused into many a rock band from that day on.

All this would, however, mean nothing if it weren’t for one other little detail: the man wrote some amazing songs. Guitar heroics aside, without the great songs to use that flash in, this wouldn’t be an album we’d be talking about  all these years later. ‘Foxey Lady,’ ‘Manic Depression,’ ‘The Wind Cries Mary,’ ‘Purple Haze,’ ‘I Don’t Live Today.’ Simply incredible stuff, and that’s only half the album! The U.K. and U.S. versions differed somewhat. Because of the common practice in the U.K. of not including singles on an LP, the British version had ‘Can You See Me’ and the raw blues of ‘Red House’ in place of ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘The Wind Cries Mary,’ both of which were singles over there.

Perfectly produced by Jimi’s manager and former Animals bassist Chas Chandler who, along with engineer Eddie Kramer, explored sonic terrain previously uncharted at the time. The recording sessions began in late-1966 at De Lane Lea and CBS Studios and finished up at the legendary Olympic studios. In the 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.”

On his website, Kramer says of Hendrix, “His 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” was kicking 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. It’s hard to imagine the speed at which it all moved back then in this slow-paced music world we have in 2012, but back then, a month or two made all the difference. 1967 was an incredible year for music.

The U.S. got its first real taste of Hendrix on June 18, 1967 when the band made their live U.S. debut on the third day of the Monterey International Pop Festival. After a legendary dispute over time slots, the Who went on prior to Hendrix. Already a sensation in England, Pete Townshend and company were well aware of what Jimi was all about and didn’t want to follow his act. At the same time, Hendrix was familiar with the Who’s antics and didn’t want to follow them either. A coin was famously tossed and the Who went 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 ablaze. The gimmick certainly 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 the ‘new sound’ and seemingly overnight, louder-than-loud guitars were in vogue. Everyone started to ‘get heavy’ and push boundaries both on stage and in the studio. The aural overload of the title track is still a monster today. The album sounds unlike anything before or since and, far from being merely a period piece, it has aged very well indeed.

The cover was as eye catching as the music was ear catching. That fish eye lens photo by Karl Ferris, plus the psychedelic infused lettering makes very much it of its time, but there’s a futuristic angle at play as well. The U.K. sleeve design was a more simple band photo.

So we ask you, have you ever been experienced? Yeah, we thought so…

Next: The Rolling Stones' 'Exile on Main Street' Turns 40

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