Oct 26 2021
By Andy Aledort.
Electric Ladyland is widely regarded as the apex of Jimi Hendrix’s musical creativity within the confines of the studio environment. It is a vivid snapshot of his innovative artistic genius, captured during what was an extremely fertile and creative period in his life.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut release, Are You Experienced, and its follow-up, Axis: Bold As Love [plus the quickly assembled Smash Hits], formidable and ground-breaking as these albums may be, offered us mere glimpses of the true depth and scope of Jimi’s musical aspirations. The modus operandi adhered to in the making of those albums complied with the “pop” format of the day. As rock music began to explore its very boundaries, via cutting-edge, creatively ambitious releases like Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Hendrix seized the opportunity to devise an album of a scope that had previously only been imagined. Thus was planted the seed for the creation of what many regard as the greatest rock album of all time, Electric Ladyland.
Released in October of 1968, Electric Ladyland also signified the beginning of the end of the first chapter of Hendrix’s brilliant, but brief, career. “Produced and directed by Jimi Hendrix,” Electric Ladyland marked the end of Hendrix’s relationship with his manager, Chas Chandler, who had up to that point skillfully navigated Jimi’s career, guiding him from his origins as a club guitarist to his status as a rock superstar. Tensions had also reached a boiling point between Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding, as Jimi’s penchant for re-doing the majority of the bass parts, and inviting dozens of guest musicians, had reduced Noel’s creative input to an absolute minimum. Apocalyptically, ” … And The Gods Made Love” was originally titled, “At Last … The Beginning.”
The prevailing attitude among the musicians commenting on Electric Ladyland is that it serves as a very real and personal view into Hendrix’s private musical world, and, as a whole, it is unlike any “typically” produced album. Many of these musicians feel that Electric Ladyland, more so than any other rock album, invites the listener to take a mysterious journey to an alternative universe, and to leave the pressures of everyday life behind.
“So it’s time that we start our ride … you can cast all your hangups over the side … while we fly right over the love-filled sea. Look up ahead, I see the love land, soon you will understand.”~ Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
With Electric Ladyland, Hendrix set up parameters to allow the fire and the freedom of his improvisational guitar playing to thrive, but not at the sacrifice of a clear sense of focus and intent. Though the album is as far ranging and ambitious as any rock record ever recorded, it comes across as a unified whole, a rock-solid artistic statement. One can listen to Electric Ladyland from beginning to end, or dive in anywhere in the middle, and the listener will be equally rewarded.
What follows is a series of commentary from a handful of top musicians, expressing the impact Electric Ladyland had on their own musical development, and the position the album maintains within the landscape of modern music.
MIKE STERN, jazz guitarist
Electric Ladyland is one of my favorite records, ever. It’s a killer, a total classic. If I had to pick my favorite tracks, I’d pick “All Along The Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return].” Jimi’s guitar style was so vocal, and he was an amazing “time” player, too. He was in the groove, but he was also so loose. Very fluid and horn-like. That gave his guitar playing a vocal quality that I really love. Miles Davis had that quality to his playing, too.
Jimi’s guitar style was as unique and as immediately identifiable as that of any of the world’s greatest singers. Jimi was a singer, so I think that awareness came out in his guitar playing. Hendrix influenced jazz musicians more than any other rock musician, in my opinion.
Many jazz guitarists changed their approach to the instrument once they heard Hendrix, and that influence caused jazz guitar to become less percussive and more vocal in nature.
JOE SATRIANI, rock guitarist
Electric Ladyland is simply the best collection of electric guitar playing ever recorded. I love where that record takes you.
When I was first starting to play the guitar, it was cathartic for me to try to get all the way through Electric Ladyland. I was so strongly affect-ed by it that I could only take it in small doses.
Electric Ladyland represented a huge step into the future. People listened to music differently years ago—I think the art of listening to music is lost. There are so many different things vying for your attention now, so I don’t think people give music the same amount of attention as they did back in the ’60s and ’70s. Getting together with your friends just to listen to an album like Electric Ladyland was not only something people did, it was an event! That opened the door to a different experience, and Electric Ladyland is an album you can sit with for a long time and get a lot of things out of. There was a time in my life when I listened to it every single day.
Electric Ladyland showed more sides of Jimi Hendrix than anything he’d previously released. With the slow “Voodoo Chile,” you could sense the proximity of the instruments in the room, and it created a clear image of the music as it happened. Jimi’s rhythm guitar playing on “Have You Ever Been … (To Electric Ladyland)” is virtually the epitome of what he brought to guitar playing. The rhythm part was the compositional message of the song. He had an incredibly natural gift as a rhythm guitarist.
AL KOOPER, legendary producer / songwriter / multi-instrumentalist
Jimi and I were friends; we lived about a block away from each other on 12th street in New York. We saw each other all the time, went to the same bars, jammed at the same clubs. I really liked him, and we’d been over to each other’s place a bunch of times.
When he asked me if I would play on Electric Ladyland, I was very honored. I had played with him many times before that, but not on any-thing “official.” There was a very healthy jam scene at that time, at places like the Café A Go Go, The Scene, and Generation Club. We were always at one of those three places. Jimi would show up with this Nagra tape machine, which was a very high quality, state-of-the-art portable reel-to-reel. He recorded every jam he took part in.
The Electric Ladyland track I played on was “Long Hot Summer Night,” but I overdubbed my part; I don’t believe I played live with the rhythm section. To me, the situation was a little unfortunate, because I don’t think “Long Hot Summer Night” is a stand-out track in Hendrix’s discography, and I’m not crazy about my playing on it, either. We had done so many great things together that were not documented, so I feel a little bad about that.
The day I did that session; I got there early and I started to play one of his guitars, just to see what it was like for a righty to play a guitar strung for a lefty. He walks in and says to me, “Do you like that guitar?,” and I said, “I can’t tell—no one but you could play this thing, set up like this.” He laughed and said, “It may feel bad for you, but it’s great for me.”
Then he said, “Why don’t you take it?” and I said, “That’s out of the question!” That was the end of that, until the next day, when the guitar was delivered to my apartment. That’s the kind of guy Jimi was.
I think of Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland as the principal albums of his lifetime, and “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” is one of my favorite tracks of all time. I’d heard Jimi play that song many times before it was recorded.
ERIC JOHNSON, rock/fusion guitarist
I love the entire Electric Ladyland album, from beginning to end. It takes you on this incredible trip, this wonderful journey. It’s classic Jimi Hendrix, which is to say that it’s classic music. Electric Ladyland is one of the greatest rock masterpieces of all time.
If I were to pick the songs that stand out to me, they would be the slow “Voodoo Chile,” “Gypsy Eyes,” and “All Along The Watchtower.” Every one of these songs features an entirely different approach to the guitar, but they are all very expressive, lyrical, and emotional. The tone on the slow “Voodoo Chile” is as big as a house. I’ve heard that Jimi used a small Fender amp for that song. As a whole, Electric Ladyland is a very inviting album to listen to.
JOHN SCOFIELD, jazz guitarist
I first saw The Jimi Hendrix Experience live way back around 1968 at Hunter College in New York. Seeing Hendrix live stopped me from wanting to be a Blues guitar player. It was so happening—Jimi was so nimble, he was such a great showman, and the music was so soulful. I felt that I could never do anything like that, at anywhere near his level. It was a bit intimidating, and, honestly, it pushed me in the direction of becoming a jazz player.
The song that always killed me on Electric Ladyland was the shuffle, “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” and its second half, “Still Raining, Still Dreaming.” From the moment I heard that song, with the great organ work by Mike Finnigan, and Jimi’s great guitar solo, I was blown away. It’s so Junky, so in-the-groove. Jimi is talking with his guitar on that track.
KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD, blues guitarist
Electric Ladyland is, without question, one of the greatest and most innovative rock albums of all time. My favorite cuts are “Crosstown Traffic,” which is timeless and so groovin’, “1983 … (A Merman I Should Turn To Be),” which is beautifully crafted and unabashedly original, and, of course, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
I think I could listen to Hendrix for the rest of my life and never fully comprehend his genius.
MIKE KENEALLY, guitarist (Frank Zappa)
When I first heard Electric Ladyland, I was only about 12 years old. It seemed like such a long, sprawling thing to try to get your mind wrapped around. There’s so much music!
And the music itself was so different from anything I’d heard. “Moon, Turn The Tides … Gently Gently Away,” with all of the bizarre, electronic sound effects, was totally confusing to me. Now, I love it so much. That track offers evidence that Jimi had constructed an alternate world, one that made perfect sense to him, and he was trying to clue the rest of the world into the fact that this place existed.
A real standout track, for me, is “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp.” Just the very sound of the wah-wah guitar playing the signature lick in tan-dem with the harpsichord is so strong, so musical. It’s simple, but it’s very evocative, and sounds very inspired. It’s almost Brian Wilson-like in the way it combines unusual sound elements in order to create a vibe that had never been touched before. There’s also something spooky about the sound quality of the recording—it’s so saturated.
I also love the long “Voodoo Chile” jam; it sounds like they’re in a nightclub. It’s so greasy, and so relaxed. It’s in its own time zone. Electric Ladyland, as a whole, has this confidence that you will follow it wherever it decides to take you.
DAVID GRISSOM, guitarist (Storyville)
I recently pulled out my original LP of Electric Ladyland, the one that I bought when I was about 13, just learning to play the guitar. And I had an incredible flashback just holding the thing in my hands. Then I put the record on, and as I went through it, I got goosebumps!
This is the record where Hendrix invited us into his living room. With songs like “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” you feel like it’s 2 a.m. and you are there, sitting right next to him. I think he was just trying to capture on tape what was happening around him, as opposed to trying to make a “record.” Consequently, none of that uptight business stuff got in the way of the music. It was just a pure expression of where he was at, musically, at that time.
The records that came before Electric Ladyland were more of the concise pop format, and this one broke it wide open. Each different part of Electric Ladyland creates a mood. If you listened to the whole thing in one sitting, it took you somewhere. Today, that rarely happens when people make records; it’s “Let’s put our singles as tracks 1, 2, and 3,” and the rest is often lesser material. Come on! The last two songs on Electric Ladyland are “All Along The Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)! ”
“1983 … (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” has an incredible melody. And the tone! That was one of the first Hendrix songs I learned to play, and I still remember the feeling of sitting there and learning to play it. You could write the music down on paper, but you could never notate the vibe and the soul.
The tone Jimi got on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is out of the ballpark. I don’t even think anyone could get that tone today. But there is a lot to be said for the fact that it was Jimi, and nobody sounds anything like him, anyway! A large percentage of the sound came from his hands. That solo is probably my favorite rock guitar solo of all time. The tone, the phrasing, the intensity … it’s got it all!
JIMMY VIVINO, guitarist (“Late Night with Conan O’Brien”)
I remember being a kid, going to the record store, and having to choose between the two double albums that were out at the time, Cream’s Wheels Of Fire and Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. I only had enough money for one, so I bought Wheels Of Fire and I stole Electric Ladyland! I put my ass on the line for Hendrix!
As a kid, Jimi Hendrix’s music seemed so unapproachable; it was like Miles Davis or something. Nobody I knew could recreate Jimi’s guitar playing. The Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page stuff I could figure out, but something like “Have You Ever Been … (To Electric Ladyland)” – the R&B / Curtis Mayfield thing-was totally beyond me. Incidentally, Jimi’s bass playing on that track is incredible.
The vibe of Electric Ladyland was way ahead of its time. It still is. The influence of Jimi Hendrix is always there; it’s in everything you do, and it cannot be denied.
CHRIS LAYTON, drummer (Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble)
Electric Ladyland was a very dimensional record, and in it one can hear all the different aspects of Jimi Hendrix as an artist. There are so many things on that record that had never been done before. As crazy and weird as you would want to get in the making of an album, I don’t think you could reach the proportions of Electric Ladyland.
With the greatest artists, of which Hendrix is one, everything is wrapped up into one incredible package. As a guitar-playing musician, he was an enigma, because he had everything together; he was great on every level. Many people think of Jimi Hendrix just as a guitar player, but I love the way he sang, and I love the songs that he wrote. You can listen to Jimi’s records forever and you will always hear new things that you’d never heard before. I think that’s the mark of a truly great artist.
Listening to Hendrix hooked me into the idea of playing spontaneously. Listening to Electric Ladyland, I’d think, “I wonder if they could play this song the same way again.” I soon realized that they could play it just as well, but the results would be very different. This is because, each time, the song would be approached with the same sense of spontaneity.
Hendrix played with a free spirit. He had the basic composition in mind, with the lyrics and the chord progression, but besides that, the attitude was, “Let’s get in there and play, and whatever comes out, comes out.” I love that feeling in the music, and that probably represents the largest influence Hendrix has had on my approach to playing music.
There was a certain challenge to performing anything by Hendrix. Everything Jimi Hendrix played had so much richness to it. Execution, depth of spirit, fire, energy-however you want to characterize it-it was prevalent on everything that he did.
WARREN HAYNES, guitarist (Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and Govt. Mule)
Electric Ladyland is one of the best records ever made. It represented a turning point for Jimi: he moved into a lot of different experimental modes and was really clicking on all fronts. Electric Ladyland, along with Axis: Bold As Love, contains some of my favorite Hendrix music. That era for Jimi was just phenomenal. His rhythm playing was great, and all of the different tones and textures he was experimenting with were fascinating. He was constantly breaking new ground.
The stand-out tracks to me are “All Along The Watchtower,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” and “Rainy Day, Dream Away.” Each tune is so different from the other, and each represented a different milestone for Hendrix.
STEVE VAI, rock guitarist
Electric Ladyland represents the peak of Jimi Hendrix’s genius in the studio environment. It’s the No. 1 album in my Hendrix discography. Songs like “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” are landmarks in rock guitar performance.
If there is an album we should all hold midnight candle-burning vigils to, while endlessly prostrating in a dizzying realm of idol worship, it’s Electric Ladyland. Cool title, too. And I dig the European cover with the naked concubines.
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