Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Sound of '66: The Jimi Hendrix Experience debut 45

The Jimi Hendrix Experience-Hey Joe/Stone Free UK Polydor 56139 1966

1966 marked the vinyl debut of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, led by the American guitarist brought over to London from New York City by former Animal Chas Chandler and paired up with two English musicians after a period of auditions: Noel Redding (formerly a guitarist with The Loving Kind, now relegated to bass) and John "Mitch" Mitchell (a drummer fresh from a stint with Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames and The Riot Squad prior to that).

I will skip the history of "Hey Joe", you can go to Wikipedia or an assortment of online references for that.  I will suffice to say Hendrix had been playing it in clubs around the Village (that's Greenwich village in New York City for those of you not familiar with the local colloquialism) before Chandler "discovered" him and both Hendrix and Chandler felt it would make a great debut single.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience's reading of "Hey Joe" remains for me the definitive version. With Jimi's bluesy licks and improvisations and cool almost detached lead vocals, Redding's tough and ominous sounding descending bass line and Mitchell's restrained yet powerful drumming it's a slow burner from start to finish .  One of the most interesting parts of the track for me were always the high female backing vocals that add an almost ethereal quality to it for me. There seems to be some consternation who it was exactly.  Many sources credit The Breakaways and others insist it was Maggie Bell and Lesley Duncan. I wasn't there so I'm not sure who it was.

"Stone Free" brings up the flip side.  Lyrically its perfectly tailored for what would dog Hendrix for years to come: groupies, hangers on etc. It's almost prophetic to hear him singing about it all this early in his career. Mitchell's metronome like cowbell sounds like a ticking clock while Hendrix suavely croons with a lilt of despair and disgust to his voice. Like the A-side it has enough guitar pyrotechnics to sound good without going over board like so much other G.H.E. material tends to do.

"Ready! Steady! Go!" December 16, 1966

Of interest the J.H.E. made their TV debut on the next to last "Ready! Steady! Go!" ever performing "Hey Joe" on December 16, 1966 (with The Escorts, Marc Bolan, Keith Relf, The Troggs and The Merseys, what an episode!!) . According to Mitch Mitchell it was recorded a few days prior on the 12th and broadcast on the 16th.

Hear "Hey Joe" live on "Ready Steady Go":

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