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On This Day In Music… May 12, 1967: Jimi Hendrix Releases 'Are You Experienced', Changes Rock Music Forever

Hendrix's debut album 'completely changed notions of what a guitar could sound like, or indeed, what music could sound like'.

jimi hendrix are you experienced
Source: Agencia el Universal / GDA Photo Service/Newscom/The Mega Agency

'Are You Experienced' was recorded over 16 haphazard sessions between gigs.

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Jimi Hendrix was never really a studio musician, so much as an incendiary live performer who also made some recordings. It just so happened that the three studio albums he wrote during his tragically short lifetime – 1967’s Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love, and 1968’s Electric Ladyland – were also all bona fide classics. And of the three, it was the debut, released on May 12, 1967 in the U.K., that was the real game changer.

Until Are You Experienced, albums were seldom regarded as an artistic entity in their own right, so much as a collection of songs either already released or intended as singles, with a handful of filler tracks to make up the numbers. The great exception was the Beach BoysPet Sounds, released almost exactly a year earlier, which had shown the value of an LP as a standalone statement, but it would be after Are You Experienced – and Sgt Pepper, which would follow three weeks’ later – that the way in which artists approached albums would be changed forever.

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Source: Philippe Gras / Le Pictorium/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Hendrix was a sensation from the moment he arrived in London.

Not that Hendrix himself intended any of that when he recorded Are You Experienced. As the single most exciting live performer in London at that time, gigging was the thing, and recording sessions (helmed by Chas Chandler of The Animals) were hastily fitted in where time, energy and live commitments allowed.

Chandler had met Hendrix in New York just nine months before the album’s release. The guitarist was scraping a living performing in the coffee bars of Greenwich Village, and in the summer of 1966, was playing at Café Wha? when Chandler caught his set. The Animals had been at the forefront of the “British Invasion” of the previous two years, but despite their success Chandler had grown disillusioned with the band, later saying: “We toured non-stop for three years, doing 300 gigs a year and we hardly got a penny.”

When Chandler saw Hendrix play, however, he was entranced. Life as a bassist for the Animals may have palled, but in the 24-year-old boy with the wild hair and the wilder guitar sound, he saw a future star. There and then he persuaded Hendrix to come with him to London, where he would form a band around him and finance a record.

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But in the age where the 45 was king, it was the idea of a Hendrix single that drove Chandler to take Hendrix under his wing. And it was Jimi’s rendition of the folk-blues number “Hey Joe” that he wanted to record.

On September 24, 1966, Jimi Hendrix arrived in the U.K. – and immediately set about becoming a sensation, jamming with anyone who would let him near a guitar in the blues clubs of London – including Cream, at an October gig in the Polytechnic of Central London.

“He did ‘Killing Floor’, a Howlin’ Wolf number I’ve always wanted to play, but which I’ve never really had the complete technique to do,” guitarist Eric Clapton said later. “Ginger [Baker] didn’t like it and Jack [Bruce] didn’t like it. They’d never heard the song before. It was just, well, he just stole the show.”

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Source: mega

Chas Chandler formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience around his protege.

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In part inspired by Cream’s “power trio” formula, Chandler teamed his protégé with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, naming them The Jimi Hendrix Experience. And with Hendrix already the hottest live name in town, he wanted to get that single recorded as soon as possible.

On October 23 they entered De Lane Lea studios to record “Hey Joe”, with Chandler urging Hendrix to write something new to use as the B-side. The following day he returned with “Stone Free”, and by the time they next found time to book a studio, on November 2, he’d also composed “Can You See Me”.

“Hey Joe”, released in December, was an immediate hit, reaching No. 6 in February 1967. As it climbed the charts Hendrix continued to gig… and continued to write, turning out “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Purple Haze” (both of which would appear on the U.S. edition of Are You Experienced, though not the British release).

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The success of “Hey Joe” financed further recordings. “Purple Haze” was released in March and followed “Hey Joe” into the upper reaches of the charts, eventually peaking at No. 3.

And still Chandler continued to record with the band, squeezing in sessions where he could, with the trio laying down future classics in just a few takes.

Singles were still foremost on Chandler’s mind, but as more and more tracks were recorded, it became obvious there was enough material for an album. Between October 23, 1966 and April 4, 1967, no fewer than 16 frantic studio sessions were racked up – and barely a month later, Are You Experienced was unleashed.

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It was an immediate smash, reaching No. 2 in June (denied only by Sgt Pepper), selling more than a million copies within seven months and remaining in the British Top 40 until January the following year. And with the possible exception of the Beatles’ first LP, Are You Experienced was also heralded by many critics as the most important and innovative debut album ever released. Hendrix’s unfettered and explosive fusion of blues, rock, folk and soul was simply unlike anything that had been heard before, with rock critic Charles Shaar Murray declaring in the 2013 book Jimi Hendrix and the making of Are You Experienced that the album: “completely changed notions of what a guitar could sound like, or indeed, what music could sound like”.

On August 23 Are You Experienced was released in the U.S., with the songs “Red House”, “Can You See Me” and “Remember” removed to make way for the hit singles “Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary”. The album shot up to No. 5 and remained on the chart for 106 weeks, 76 of those in the Top 40.

In December the follow-up, Axis: Bold as Love reached No. 3 in the U.S. and the following October, Electric Ladyland hit No. 1. Tragically, it would be the last studio album Hendrix ever recorded.

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