Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Are You Experienced’: 10 Things You Didn’t Know
Few debut albums have altered the course of rock to the extent that Are You Experienced, the full-length bow from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, did in the spring of 1967. Released 50 years ago today in the U.K. – a version with a different track selection and running order would be issued in the U.S. three months later – the LP not only showcased Hendrix’s remarkably inventive guitar playing, but also combined R&B, blues, psychedelia, pop, heavy rock and even jazz in a way that no one had ever done (or even imagined) before. Are You Experienced also revealed Hendrix (a veteran of the “chitlin’ circuit” who’d been all but unknown to rock fans a year earlier) as a songwriter with a uniquely whimsical and imaginative lyrical vision, one which could leap from earthy lust to futuristic fantasy with just a handful of words.
Featuring such immortal tracks as “Foxy Lady,” “Fire,” “Love or Confusion,” “Are You Experienced?” and “Manic Depression,” the album – especially the U.S. edition, which also included the U.K. singles “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” – is practically a greatest-hits record unto itself. Hendrix, however, was just getting started; on his next two albums, 1967’s Axis: Bold As Love and 1968’s Electric Ladyland, he would paint sonic canvases so colorful and detailed as to make Are You Experienced seem raw and primitive by comparison. “Are You Experienced was one of the most direct records we’ve done,” he told Hit Parader magazine in January 1969. “What it was saying was, ‘Let us through the wall, man, we want you to dig it.'” And dig it, they did: Are You Experienced went on to spend 106 weeks on the Billboard 200, eventually selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. alone.
To celebrate the album’s milestone anniversary, here are some lesser-known facts about Are You Experienced.
1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had only been together for a few weeks before recording.
On October 23rd, 1966, Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell entered London’s De Lane Lea studios to record a soulful cover of Billy Roberts’ folk-rock standard “Hey Joe” with manager Chas Chandler producing. Released seven weeks later as a single, the recording – which would be included on the U.S. version of Are You Experienced – climbed all the way to Number Six on the U.K. charts, establishing Hendrix as a rising star in Britain and Europe. Incredibly, Hendrix had only just arrived in London on September 24th, hooked up with Redding on the 29th, and auditioned Mitchell on October 4th; nine days after Mitchell joined the band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience played their first-ever gig at the Novelty cinema in Évreux, France, kicking off a four-date tour opening for French pop singer Johnny Hallyday.
Given their recent formation, the “Hey Joe” session was a challenging one for the musicians, but it effectively set the sonic template for what would become Are You Experienced. “‘Hey Joe’ is a very difficult song to do right and it took forever,” Redding recalled in his autobiography, Are You Experienced. “The Marshalls were too much for the mikes and Chas and Jimi rowed over recording volume. That ‘loud,’ full, live sound was nearly impossible to obtain (especially for the bass) without the distortion, which funnily enough became part of our sound.”
2. Despite its cohesive sound, Are You Experienced was actually recorded in bits and pieces over a five-month period.
Perpetually strapped for cash, Chandler booked recording sessions for the Experience during brief breaks between live dates, though the band’s preference for recording at blistering volumes often made it difficult to secure studio time. “There was a bank above [De Lane Lea Studios],” Chandler told author John McDermott, “and it was at the time when computers were just coming in. Every time we went in, we would play so loud that it would foul up the computers upstairs. As a result, we would always have trouble getting in there when we wanted.”
Ultimately, with “Hey Joe” surging up the U.K. charts, Chandler convinced Polydor (the parent company of Track Records) to open up an account in his name at Olympic Studios, where the band was able to complete the tracks for what would become Are You Experienced with the help of engineer Eddie Kramer. In all, though, it took 16 different (and rather often rushed) sessions between October 23rd, 1966, and April 4th, 1967, to get everything in the can for the album.
3. Mitch Mitchell was almost fired during the early stages of the album.
With his swinging “lead drums” attack, Mitch Mitchell’s playing on Are You Experienced was nearly as much of a revelation for drummers as Hendrix’s was for guitarists. But in December 1966, his cavalier approach to real-life time-keeping almost got him sacked from the Experience. “He used to be late all the time,” Noel Redding recalled in Sean Egan’s Jimi Hendrix and the Making of Are You Experienced. “When times were tight, recording, Mitchell was always late.”
When Mitchell blew off a December 15th session at London’s CBS Studios, Hendrix actually went so far as to offer the gig to former Merseybeats drummer John Banks. “Hendrix loved him,” Redding explained. “He wasn’t as flamboyant as Mitchell, but he fitted in well with what we were doing.” But when Banks declined the offer, citing his fear of flying, Hendrix and manager Chas Chandler decided to stick with Mitchell. “Chandler at some point docked him his wages for that week,” Redding recalled, “and he was…