Ultimately the Cream will have to decide if this is what they want to continue to do or not. If they do, they may eventually find it aesthetically advantageous to add another instrument. If not, then perhaps they will evolve their own version of a three-instrument group, in which case, with their vast individual talents, they will really come up with something.
On the British Are You Experienced? album there is a straight blues called "Red House." Prior to his guitar solo on that cut, Jimi Hendrix announces, "I've still got my guitar." It's a good thing, because Jimi is neither a great song-writer nor an extraordinary vocalist.
He is, however, a great guitarist and a brilliant arranger. On "Red House," the only straight blues he has recorded, (He wrote it himself, but it sounds like B.B. King) he establishes himself as an absolute master of that musical form. The blues and hard rock used to be Jimi's forte when he toured the country in bands fronted by Little Richard and Joey Dee, the latter being the place where Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati got their starts, but he is no longer interested in those seemingly limited musical forms. In a way it's a shame because for me this simple little blues is the most exciting cut he's yet recorded. Even Jimi seems to realize this when he says to the engineer, at the end of the cut, with the smug confidence that has become his trademark, "How about that one?"
On the American album we find a totally unified presentation of a sound altogether different from that of "Red House." Unlike Clapton, Jimi really does think in terms of three instruments, and despite some small amount of dubbing, he has given us the first really new sound in this idiom since the Who's first album with its "Out in the Streets," and "My Generation."
Jimi relies exclusively on his drummer, Mitch Mitchell, for his whole rhythm concept. Mitchell has clearly been influenced by the best of all British drummers, the Who's Keith Moon, and goes after that heavy metallic tone that Moon introduced two years ago. He is an extremely busy drummer who has better technique than most and a very clear concept what he is trying to do.
Noel Redding is likewise a fine bass player and rhythm guitarist, but unlike Jack Bruce, he doesn't feel the need to compensate for the lack of another rhythm instrument and therefore tends to limit the range of his playing a great deal more.
And then there is Jimi himself who feeds and fuzzes just about everything, knows every gimmick in the book, and has a fantastic touch. On some of the cuts he goes to a bassier guitar sound than is usual for this kind of playing, ("The Wind Cries Mary") and on some cuts he concentrates on just a few lengthily sustained notes, ("Fire") but on most of the others he just pulls out the stops and what results is indescribable.
"Purple Haze" is the perfect beginning for this album because the intro is a perfect expression of Jimi's charismatic style. In words it seems to be saying, "Now, dig this." There is no real sense of foreground-background once Jimi starts to sing on the cut, as is often the case. Only on "Hey Joe" and "The Wind Cries Mary" does Jimi play in a more conventional style and on these cuts he gives us a brief taste of his melodic sense – on the solos, – which in both cases is perfect. On the latter he uses the eclectic perfectly, placing a country and western based guitar solo right where it belongs.
Everything else is insane and simply a matter of either you dig it or you don't. Basically I don't for several reasons. Despite Jimi's musical brilliance and the group's total precision, the poor quality of the songs, and the inanity of the lyrics, too often get in the way. Jimi is very much into state-of-mind type lyrics, but even so, lines like "Manic depression is a frustrating mess," just don't make it. It is one thing for Jimi to talk arrogantly, and without any pretense at artistry; it's another to write lyrics in that fashion. In this context "I Don't Live Today" can be seen as both the best and worst cut on the album. The best because it is performed with such exquisite precision and control, and the worst because what Jimi is trying to get across is such a drag: "There's no life nowhere."
On the Are You Experienced album Jimi has made a tremendous technical advance in the use of three instruments. The superfluous has been eliminated, the tightness of the arrangements is total, the ornament and the background-foreground concept have been limited, if not eliminated, and the level of individual virtuosity is extraordinarily high. But, in Jimi's case, the sum total of all this is pure violence. Above all this record is unrelentingly violent, and, lyrically, inartistically violent at that.
Dig it if you can, but as for me, I'd rather hear Jimi play the blues.
This story is from the November 9th, 1967 issue of Rolling Stone.
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