23
Oct 06

THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE – “Voodoo Chile”

FT + Popular105 comments • 9,381 views

#293, 21 November 1970

I was playing this song and my wife walked in.

“Who’s this?” she asked.
“The Jimi Hendrix Experience”
“Oh. Couldn’t he have got a better singer?”

I’ve never really bothered trying to get into Hendrix. Guitar heroics don’t generally interest me, and by the time I got into music the churning vitality of his stuff had got lost under layers of rock icon varnish. For instance: at school we had three options on a Sunday morning – a solemn early morning service for the actual believers, a later standard-issue service, and a secular ‘talk’ for the agnostics. At one of these talks, the trendiest of the three chaplains delivered a lecture – nay, a meditation – on Hendrix, culminating in playing “The Star Spangled Banner” over the school’s PA system. I was excruciatingly bored and embarassed by the whole thing.

At the same time, though, I was listening to music clearly inspired by “Voodoo Chile” – ‘baggy’ music had rediscovered the wah-wah, and Stone Roses guitarist John Squire’s own personal rerun of sixties pop was taking him deeper into Hendrix territory. So this single is oddly evocative of the turn of the 90s, stabs at flares and bowl cuts and trying to reconcile a love of the Happy Mondays with a puritan horror of drink and drugs. (The horror lost.) Which might go to show that music lives better when well meaning fans try to make it than when they try to teach you about it. Even so I never wanted to dig back into the sixties source material – partly because I was sixteen and affected not to care about old stuff, and partly because Hendrix’ gruff blues mumble is quite unattractive.

I’m glad this single reminds me of something, though – it grounds my response to it, stops it sounding quite so freakish in the context of this pop procession. Freakish in a good way – the strafing solos, the grinding pulse of the drums, the way the sound drops in and out like some alien radio broadcast, the aggression. And also in a less good way – after the dramatic band entrance and first verse its five minutes meander, and I can’t get much of an emotional toe-hold on it. Maybe that’s not surprising – this is a rock album track, plucked from its parent to serve as a rushed memorial. As a pop single – something it was hardly meant to be – it works best as yet another farewell to the sixties, and a slightly awkward intrusion of the musical stories unfolding outside the singles chart.

{democracy:11}

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Comments

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  1. 1
    rosie on 23 Oct 2006 #

    I thought I’d commented on this.

    It’s a funny thing, but although I know the track very well, I had no idea it was in the singles chart, let alone number one!

  2. 2
    Daniel_Rf on 23 Oct 2006 #

    Maybe much of it is just down to the fact that they dressed better, but somehow I’ve always thought that the Jimi Hendrix Exprience, despite having become sort of guiding lights for an aesthetic where musicianship beats catchyness and the traditional conception of songcraft, were actually quiet good at the whole Pop thing, hit singles and everything. Their hits fit in nicely with the Mod Pop and Freakbeat of their era, which is something that can’t be said for a lot of other groups of their movement, from Jefferson Airplane to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

    I *think* this might deserve a higher grade – great opnening line! – but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard it, and anyway most probably you’ll soon be at the mercy of much verbal abuse by googlers and non-googlers alike here, so I won’t grumble much.

  3. 3
    Daniel_Rf on 23 Oct 2006 #

    “dressed better” – than the other bands they get grouped with, I meant.

  4. 4
    Tom on 23 Oct 2006 #

    Like I say, I don’t know much about Hendrix’ other stuff – this is the first thing I’ve listened to with any intensity.

    As with most marks, I can only go on how much I’ve enjoyed the thing. I enjoy this in a different way from most things, certainly.

  5. 5
    wwolfe on 23 Oct 2006 #

    I’m amazed this was a #1 single. When I read references to Hendrix’s upcoming entry over the past couple of weeks, I assumed it would be “All Along the Watchtower,” since that was his only American Top 40 hit. That one at least seems like a single – or, perhaps more accurately, it gestures in the direction of being a single. “Voodoo Chile,” by contrast, seems utterly outside of and uninterested in the disciplines involved in making hit singles. As such, seeing it here is like seeing an ox at a dog show: it may be a perfectly fine beast, but it looks truly bizarre in its present company.

    I agree with your take on the record’s strengths and weaknesses. For me, the best context to hear it was in “Withnail & I,” where its placement on the soundtrack in the scene where the two protagonists drove blindly through a wild night storm was a perfect visual and sonic expression of the chaotic historic moment that produced it. Plus, it was about four minutes shorter than the too-long record.

  6. 6
    intothefireuk on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Some years ago I bought a Hendrix A & B sides compilation on CD mainly because I had never owned anything by Hendrix and thought it long overdue I should (and even though I was persuaded as a child that it was ‘just noise’ by my parents because my neighbour used to play it at full volume). I was suprised at the bass heavy distorted sound coming out of my speakers (an mp3 won’t do it justice) which seemed to distance it somewhat from other 60s artists I had heard on CD. I suspect there is no time when VC would have sounded less out of place as Hendrix & co. seem to be on a trip that no one else was (or were willing to take). The sounds he conjured (strangled) out of his guitar were unique and in many ways have never been equalled and I’m sure others who are more eloquent than I can describe it better. Suffice to say I was impressed but as great a musician and performer as he was he wasn’t always a great songwriter (he probably didn’t need to be). VC in particular is so uniquely Hendrix it probably couldn’t be performed by any other artist and make sense. Personally I love what he did and this would therefore lead me to award it a slightly higher mark but as a pop song (which as Tom rightly points out it was never meant to be) I can see it has its limitations.

  7. 7
    Tom on 24 Oct 2006 #

    It’s worth pointing out that – as far as I can tell – this VC is the song that appears on its album as “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. Whether that’s more or less far out I wouldn’t yet know!

  8. 8
    Matthew K on 24 Oct 2006 #

    The non “Slight Return” version is much spacier and slower, it’s a cooking, brooding jam recorded in the studio when a camera crew came in to get some footage of the Experience making their album. It really is a stunning track, starts with the sound of people idly chatting, then Hendrix sings the opening line and the band just plop down into a comfortable groove, which slowly builds like a tsunami. I think Steve Winwood is on organ as well. The Slight Return is great for the big surges of guitar, but the other version is an order of magnitude better I reckon.

    But the single deserves at least a 7, who else was doing this at the time? I hate guitar histrionics as well, the difference with Hendrix is that the music just spilled out of him, rather than being inserted into an instrumental break for pose value.

  9. 9
    blount on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I LOVE GUITAR HISTRIONICS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    other folx definitely doing the ‘what if we made our guitars sound like AWESOME JET FIGHTERS PLUS TIGERS PLUS RACE CARS OMG LOL VRRRRRROOOOMGRROOAAAAAAAAAR’ at the time albeit not as well/as ‘pop’ even as hendrix, who of those late 60s titans seemed the most the singles act to me – all his albums sound like a collection of singles plus a couple of b-sides plus obv filler (i mean this as a compliment btw), even the most ‘albumy’ one (electric ladyland from whence this sprung) seems to be very hodge-podge ‘here’s some new stuff and some old stuff and some stuff we had lying around’. love love love this track – hendrix maybe at least as strong a root of getting off on NOIZE as the velvets, and decidedly more upfront about ‘gawd this is FUN’. you can trace prince + funkadelic + sonic youth + my bloody valentine + god knows some heavy metal (and maybe some madchester though i don’t really hear that tom – that alley’s more page maybe?) from him and you can trace chitlin circuit + swinging london + (maybe too much at times) dylan to him = i got nothing bad to say about him. i definitely prefer his BACDAFUCUP songs to his dylan takes and proto-‘wonderful tonight’ ballads (though i love his BACDAFUCUP dylan take, ‘all along the watchtower’ (i’d give it a 9), helps to have dylan handling the dylan part), of his straight blues numbers this is my fave (it’s the most ridiculous in every way), i’d give it an 8, ‘crosstown traffic’ would get like 10 squared times infinity or something. spining on something from the ‘woodstock’ thread where mod said he prefer’s hippie’s positism to punk’s negativity, i think i prefer punk when it’s heart on the sleeve hopeful or idealistic/in love at least, and i definitely prefer hippie when it’s bad trips and negativity (or at least defeated and downcast) – stuff definitely resonates, especially lately (read= past five years).

  10. 10
    fivelongdays on 24 Oct 2006 #

    It just says a hell of a lot when a psychadelic blues jam was the best selling single in the country. Happy days.

  11. 11
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Blount gets it.

    10 out of 10 out of fucking 10.

  12. 12
    rosie on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I wasn’t ever a great fan of Hendrix, nor of musical pyrotechnics – as a master of guitar playing give me Richard Thompson any time – but Hendrix had a certain something. I wouldn’t give this 10 but it’s worth an 8 – simply for the sheer cheek of getting something like this, which belongs in a smoky basement at three in the morning, to the top of the singles charts. NOt as good as All Along The WatchtowerPurple Haze but the experience of listening to it just now, through cans at full volume, is as freaky an experience as I’ve had since I was at Uni!

  13. 13
    Lena on 24 Oct 2006 #

    One of my favorite quotes about music ever is by Hendrix – “Rock is so much fun. That’s what it’s all about – filling up the chest cavities and empty kneecaps and elbows.” I feel – I can’t really pinpoint every moment – that this song is almost a history of recorded music all by itself, blues and rock and pop and even post-war jazz all thrown together; it soars and smiles and slams and surprises…it marks the ending of a time and yet opens the door to the 70s before it goes…to me this is a 10 (obviously!)…

  14. 14
    Kat on 24 Oct 2006 #

    This is my favourite Hendrix track. I can’t stand the widdling on Star Spangled Banner, but for the most part I really enjoy all the tracks on the greatest hits compilation. This one in particular sounds wild and furious and COOL. Jimi snarling away “I said I didn’t mean to take up all your sweet time, I’ll give it right back to you one of these days…” like he’s singing down a tube. Magic stuff. I would give this a 9.

  15. 15
    Tom on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Blount’s comment easily the most persuasive so far, but keep ’em coming!

    (re. the ‘cheek’ of getting this to the top of the charts – dude died! High price to pay for cheek! :) There wasn’t anything like “Grandad” by Clive Dunn near the top of the charts either, and I’m not boosting that mark.)

  16. 16
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    In actuality that chart was a remarkably good one – a few questionable records (Des O’Connor at 30, Gerry Monroe at 33) but nothing screamingly naff.

  17. 17
    jeff w on 24 Oct 2006 #

    At work, we have a used books/CDs/DVDs “dump” for stuff even charity shops would turn their noses up at – in the case of the CDs, they’re usually newspaper freebies in card sleeves. Aware that Voodoo Chile was coming up, I grabbed a Hendrix comp CD that someone had added to the dump recently, since I don’t actually own anything by him on CD; I have one vinyl LP of his Radio 1 sessions and some stuff on cassette that is probably in storage somewhere. Nonetheless, I have heard quite a lot of Hendrix stuff over the years (and seen plenty of film of him performing live too); I just wanted to refamiliarise myself with “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” in time for Tom’s post.

    It was only when I got the CD home that I realised these Hendrix tunes were live recordings from a Royal Albert Hall concert. Still, “Voodoo Chile” sounded not unlike the studio version and any number of other live versions I’ve heard. This reminded me just how much the mystique of Hendrix has been devalued by the cottage industry that was set up after his death to make publicly available every last note of his playing that was captured on tape. (Said mystique had already been given a knock during my second year at Uni, when I shared a flat with a guitarist who demonstrated how easy it was to replicate Hendrix’s playing.)

    I’m displaying my prejudices here, I know: my answer to ‘where does a record end?’ is “with the record”. I’m sure that plenty of less talented musicians would suffer in much the same way if they were given the Hendrix treatment. But with Jimi in particular, it seems to me that without a certain level of mystery surrounding the “how” and “why” of his studio recordings, he is nothing.

  18. 18
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    The amount of ill-informed bullshit accumulating on this thread is astounding.

  19. 19
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Frank Marino could “replicate” Hendrix and so could Robin Trower. But they weren’t Hendrix, hadn’t lived his life and so couldn’t play AS he did.

  20. 20

    jeff the first hendrix i owned was a live album and (to me at the time) (=late 70s) it seemed just murky and baffling — so i didn’t get him for years (now that i know a lot more abt improv, and guitar-noize generally, i’d love to revisit that LP but i sold it decades ago) (ie haha basic point: PLAY THE RECORD LOUD — i was much too considerate of my student neighbours to do any such thing!)

    for years i knew this song as “voodoo chilli” on the assumption that it was somehow about a country in south america — proof if proof be need be that a. i don’t listen very closely to the words in songs, and b. i am an idiot

  21. 21
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Gil Evans live at the Royal Festival Hall in Feb ’78 was one of the greatest gigs I have ever been to; the show climaxed with “Voodoo Chile” arranged as a feature for fuzz-electro-tuba (Bob Stewart).

    Gil also got it, even though I agree with CSM that on his Hendrix album he would have been better using Archie Shepp as soloist and not used guitars at all.

  22. 22
    Ward Fowler on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Hendrix himself wasn’t very confident abt his singing abilities, but for me the fragility and uncertainty in his voice helps to undercut and complicate the monolithic macho virtuosity of his gtr playin’ (which I love).

    I can’t think of a HEAVIER sounding song that has reached number one; ten out of ten, fer sure

  23. 23
    Pete Baran on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Marcello, it seems to me that your point is one of the problems underpinning the Hendrix myth, and partially what Tom hints about above with his appeal to Baggy (or Baggy’s appeal to him). I knew guitarists who could note for note replicate Hendrix but were frankly fuzzy and boring because they weren’t Hendrix. This question of what is in the music apart from the notes (and perhaps even the situational context) is a vexing one, but one i agree with you on. It is also the reason why I despise 90% of live Jazz, slavishly imitating, rather than where the excitement in the original recording relied on the tension of improvisation. Again not a big Hendrix fan, but the occasions I do listen to him, there is that “first time something has been played” feel about it (which the bootlegs can sometime dispell, or put in a more workmanlike context).

    I guess what Jeff is saying is that to what extent does out knowledge of Hendrix (good and bad) influence our listening as much as Hendrix’s life distinguishes his playing. The hard nosed scientist in me would say that’s all there is, but the cloth eared aesthete that rules my passions disagrees.

  24. 24
    Tom on 24 Oct 2006 #

    The heavier thing is interesting cos I was surprised at how un-heavy it sounded – this not meant in a bad way: I was expecting it to plod more. I think my ears have been seduced by the modern compression techniques I hear so much about on ILM.

  25. 25
    Tom on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I’m going to add a ‘should have been a 10’ to the polls from now on, by the way. I fully expect p^nk s to tick it every time.

  26. 26
    Kat on 24 Oct 2006 #

    > I can’t think of a HEAVIER sounding song that has reached number one

    WOT NO STILTSKIN ;-)

  27. 27
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I suppose the advantage in my upside down upbringing is that I heard Sharrock and Bailey before I heard Hendrix, thus to my six-year-old ears “Voodoo Chile” getting to number one was like the first free jazz number one*, viz. good heavens other people like this as well! It’s not just me!

    *another one of those coming up later…

  28. 28
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Improv types are of course v. keen on Not Being Categorised As Jazz, and in the long term that has probably proved to be hugely advantageous.

  29. 29
    Pete Baran on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Agreed. This is soooooo Jazz.

  30. 30

    i have always (ph34r my contr4ri4nism) assumed that the miles-hendrix link-up — which was planned but obviously never got to happen — would have been in itself a bit disappointing (hendrix for once intimidated and trammelled; miles as usual manipulative and controlling — and the “hendrix-types” miles later used, except maybe on dark magnus and agharta, were on the whole skewed too much towards orchestraed muso-biz elements in rather than electric free-jazz-as-freedom-from-form)

    what i do wonder is what the aftermath would have been — when they STOPPED working together; a jazz-accredited hendrix, w/o access to possible chart success and the lulu show, but on the avant-circuit alongside, oh, amm, would i think have lopped off some of his edges, but who knows? i’m not sure that hendrix himself had any presence in the 70s — his place was taken by an army of confused projections

    still, the fact that something as unpredetermined as this poked up through into full-on pop had enormous consequences for mainstream rock, in that it allowed CASUAL NOISE to become part of the everyday non-virtuoso teen palette, not as momentary freak-out but as the ground itself setting the stage for QUEEN hurrah

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