Oct 26 2021

By Steven C. Pesant.

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story

On September 2, 1968 while sitting alone in his hotel room at The Cosmopolitan in Denver, Colorado, Jimi Hendrix meticulously outlined his instructions on how the album cover artwork for his newest creation—the elaborate two-LP collection, Electric Ladyland—should be treated.

Not only supplying the photographs that he wanted used, Jimi sketched out detailed design concepts for the front and back cover, plus the full inner gatefold design featuring a collection of color and black & white photos, including a message he wanted to accompany the package titled, “Letter to the Room Full of Mirrors.”

Jimi’s instructions weren’t lacking decisiveness nor clarity, as he spelled out his intentions …

“Please use ALL the pictures and the words – any other drastic change from these directions would not be appropriate according to the music and our groups present stage …

“And the music is the most important and we have enough personal problems without having to worry about this simple yet effective layout – thank-you.”

Electric Ladyland was the third and final studio album released by The Jimi Hendrix Experience… and it was all Jimi’s.  Developed over the course of 13 long months, a period in which The Experience performed a near endless series of concert tours throughout North America and Europe, it also saw Hendrix taking full control of his music, parting ways with manager and producer Chas Chandler who brought Jimi to England and helped shape the band’s first two releases Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love. 

This time, Electric Ladyland was Jimi’s own personal message for the world—comprised of 16-songs and 77-minutes of music—it also served as Jimi’s most ambitious and confessional album of his lifetime. It was a near cinematic journey exploring themes of atmospheres, oceans, crisis and solitude, and Jimi’s prepared credits read like a major motion picture …

Title of L.P. Electric Ladyland
All songs written and arranged by Jimi Hendrix.
Directed and produced by Jimi Hendrix.

Or so he thought …

“… And the music is most important.” 

At least the record labels got that part right and didn’t dare touch the music; but several of them did their best to ignore Jimi’s well-written requests for how the cover artwork would be handled, particularly in Europe where Track Records and Polydor took a raunchy approach, covering the jacket with 19 naked ladies—a needlessly controversial design that Jimi strongly detested. 

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
Controversial Track Records’ cover artwork for Electric Ladyland’s European release.

Hendrix was furious when he first glanced the UK album jacket design.  “I don’t know anything about (the picture); Hendrix complained when the album hit the stores. “I didn’t know it was going to be used.”  

Gone was his insightful notations and carefully curated selection of photographs, in place, was a David Montgomery photo featuring 19 naked ladies holding on to pictures of Jimi.  Originally intended for a Sunday Times feature, it was abandoned when Jimi didn’t show up to the photo shoot, a testament to his dislike of the artistic approach being planned.

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story

Eventually, and without Jimi’s blessing, the photos saw the light of day thanks to Dave King, who served as both photo editor with the Sunday Times and with Track Records (Jimi’s UK record label).  The resulting firestorm over the controversial cover art saw the album being banned in some regions of the UK and many retailers withholding the album from store shelves.  Others, such as the trendy I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet shop in London’s hip Picadilly Circus doubled-down on the concept and filled their store windows with bikini clad dancers to promote the album’s release, which added to the controversy – and press coverage – surrounding the release.

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
Controversy surrounds the UK release of Electric Ladyland with the album being banned at some retailers, and others such as I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, going deeper and adding to the storm.

In America, where Electric Ladyland would debut a week earlier than in Europe; Jimi’s US label, Reprise Records took a more conservative approach and remained largely guided by Hendrix’s wishes, albeit swapping out Jimi’s preferred cover image taken by Linda Eastman (soon to be McCartney) with a solarized close-up image of Hendrix in concert.

In the weeks leading to release, Jimi Hendrix carefully planned every detail from specific album credits, photo selections and artistic direction plus a detailed composition he wrote in his hotel room titled, “Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors” which he wanted to be included with the L.P. 

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
Jimi Hendrix’s instructions to Reprise Records outlining Electric Ladyland’s album cover design.
Courtesy Jeff Leve / © Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.
ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
Jimi Hendrix’s original “Letter To The Room Full of Mirrors” for use on Electric Ladyland album cover.
Courtesy Jeff Leve / © Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.

Developed by Warner Bros. Art Director Ed Thrasher, the bulk of Jimi’s original notes were incorporated into the final gatefold design for its North American debut in October 1968, sadly, with Jimi’s requested cover photos being relegated to the inner sleeve and the outer jackets incorporating other images.

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland original album package design, Reprise Records, 1968 Copyright © Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.

Back in Europe; following the firestorm that resulted from the “naked ladies” cover art, local record labels attempted to right the wrong from their initial release and took a new approach the album. But, this time, not only did they once again stray from Jimi’s design requests, they took the liberty to split the album into two seemingly disparate releases with unique covers for each LP, dubbed Electric Ladyland Part 1 and Part 2.  

Following in their own footsteps, as they did with repackaged cover designs for both Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love, Barclay Records in France once again took their own unique approach and devised unique cover designs for Electric Ladyland… again, entirely devoid of Jimi’s artistic direction.

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
Track Records’ Electric Ladyland Part 1 and Part 2, plus Barclay Records’ Electric Ladyland cover art.
Copyright © Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.

Every part of Electric Ladyland had meaning to Jimi and tampering with the cover design and hacking up the collection into two different albums was not welcomed.  

Eventually, overseas distributors gradually migrated to the standardized cover artwork that debuted with Reprise Records’ US debut, but not first without making a few design pit-stops along the way.  With the naked ladies cover artwork popping up on various releases around the globe up until the early 1990s, several other interesting and unique design approaches had graced Electric Ladyland releases throughout the 70s and 80s such as these examples:

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story

In marking both the 50th Anniversary of Electric Ladyland, Experience Hendrix and Legacy Recordings release a super deluxe edition featuring the original album, unreleased outtakes, an extended version of the Electric Ladyland documentary … At Last The Beginning… The Making of Electric Ladyland plus a live concert recording of The Experience’s September 1968 performance at Hollywood Bowl.  This lavish package restored the original “Alice In Wonderland” cover image that Jimi so dearly wanted on the original release plus tells the story of how the album came together along with previously unpublished alternate cover concepts.

ELECTRIC LADYLAND – Letter To The Room Full Of Mirrors: A Cover Story
50th Anniversary Electric Ladyland box set
Box set cover art plus inner covers from accompanying music and videos releases included in the set.

It may have taken 50 years, but Jimi’s cover finally appeared on Jimi’s album.

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