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}

6

Comments

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  1. 31
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I think the answer would have been Bill Laswell (the Herbie Hancock link that the Miles connection would have afforded). I can easily see Hendrix on CellulOid circa ’85 with Sly/Robbie, Brotz/Shannon, Lemmy/Pharaoh…

  2. 32

    i hadn’t really thought the idea through to the 80s — an ulmer-hendrix duo wd have been awesome i think

  3. 33
    jeff w on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Pete gets my point. Marcello (wrongly) extrapolated from one – admittedly not very useful – sentence.

  4. 34
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Why write that sentence then?

  5. 35
    Håkan Eriksson on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Personally, I think Jimi is a great singer. The voice is as important as the guitar to me.

  6. 36
    markgamon on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I’ve been waiting for this one to show up.

    11 out of 10. More than that, really: it’s off the scale. But everyone who’s commented that it seems a little odd at the top of the pop charts is quite right. Voodoo Chile was out of place in the charts.

    The reason it got to number one is because Hendrix had just died. End of story, in so many ways.

    I can remember the first time we saw Hendrix on the TV like it was yesterday. No-one but no-one had ever dared look so outlandish. More to the point, NO-ONE but no-one had ever SOUNDED so outlandish. We rushed out and bought Are You Experienced the minute it came out. And we were stunned, as anyone with any sensitivity for the guitar would have been.

    Hendrix didn’t just make bluesy jams – though some of his stuff might sound a little like that to today’s more experienced ears: he rewrote the book of what a guitar could do. He remains the most exceptional guitarist in the electric instrument’s history, technically and as a innovator, but what’s more important is what he did to the sound of rock recordings. Listening to that first album was like plugging into the music of the spheres, and it got better on succeeding recordings.

    The opening bars of Voodoo Chile are still, to this day, among the most thrilling, physically exciting music I’ve ever heard. Maybe you had to be there, first time round, but this one kicks off an emotional disconnect without fail. So does Watchtower, come to that.

    Sorry, but I think his voice is great too. You wouldn’t ask him to sing an opera, but one of the wonderful things about this ‘popular’ music we all love is that it allows people to sing in their natural voices.

    Curiously, I wasn’t that familiar with the Electric Ladyland album that this came off until recently. I knew the singles, but by some quirk of finance I’d never heard all the album. I have to report that some twenty years after the event, I found tracks on there that were still thrilling. They really DID make ’em like they used to.

    You’re right, Tom. Measure this as pure pop music, with ‘being number one’ as the arbiter of excellence, and 6 is about right. But there are better measures. Just ask a blues musician what he thinks.

  7. 37
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Pop has never been pure; it’s an oxymoron (were it pure, no one sane would bother with it).

    As pop music “Voodoo Chile” gets about 28 million out of 10. There are only two number ones in this list to which I would be prepared to give >10 (i.e. the equivalent of A++). This is the first of them.

  8. 38
    Pete Baran on 24 Oct 2006 #

    One of the key tenets of geezaesthetics is that you can’t describe the rapture. I think this discussion interesting has a few attempts at trying to come to terms with this problem.

    Marcello isn’t trying, just hinting that he feels this is the best it can get – which I have to admit makes me want to listen to it more.

    Blount wrestles metaphorically to put the feeling into words, and is surprisingly successful: probably due to usage of the phrase “AWESOME JET FIGHTERS PLUS TIGERS PLUS RACE CARS OMG LOL VRRRRRROOOOMGRROOAAAAAAAAAR”. I think he might be right (his passion suggests it) but I am worried its not a club I can join.

    Everyone one of Gamon’s sentences feels like a nail in the coffin (or a buff on the plaque) of this record.

  9. 39
    markgamon on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Sorry you think that, Pete. I was trying to describe what it felt like at the time.

    Forgive me if I failed. Feel free to listen to Marcello. He put it a lot more succinctly than me.

    By the way, what’s a ‘buff on the plaque?’ Something to do with teeth?

  10. 40
    Pete Baran on 24 Oct 2006 #

    A half arsed reference to the blue plaque outsid ethe house where Handel and Hendrix both lived in London – only awarded to dead, and culturally acceptible artists.

    For me Voodoo Chile was always placed in an unfortunate position of me believing it was number one when I was born. Turns out this wa san error as it was number one when my sister was born so a lot of the time I spent trying to like it as a teenager was wasted – and probably would have been better spent listening to it when I was a bit more open to its charms.

  11. 41
    markgamon on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Oh. And ‘geezaesthetics’. Wassat?

  12. 42

    geezaesthetics

    (mr pteeth shd have provided a link)

  13. 43
    xyzzzz__ on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Tom (or anyone) – how long is the ‘(slight return)’ version that got to no1?

  14. 44
    markgamon on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I Missed that geezaesthetics thing. I’ll get back to you.

    Blue plaques are put up to attract tourists. They’re irrelevant.

    I feel like I should be backpedalling here. Not quite sure what I did to upset Pete. Maybe I’ll give up writing for the day and play my guitar instead.

  15. 45
    Brian in Canada on 24 Oct 2006 #

    How long is it ?
    Voodoo Chile : 15:05
    VC ( slgith return ) : 5:14

  16. 46
    Brian in Canada on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I always loved the guitar-slingers and Hendrix was/is still one of the greatest. I was hooked at ” Are You Experienced ” and loved every album along the way for the mighty mighty guitar playing. He did revolutionize the instrument and although some of hi-jinx were all show ( setting the axe on fire & playing with his teeth ! ) and all the fancy clothes (( aka Band of Gypsies ) he was unique and his playing totally fantastic. He’s was the complete package.

    I was looking up the length of time for VC and a hit I got said VC by Stevie Ray Vaughn & cover version by Jimi Hendrix ! And another nod to Hendrix’s leacy is the recent cover of ” Axis Bold AS Love ” on John Mayer’s latest CD.

    I saw Hendrix live and ther are some old photo’s on this sight http://www.nashtheslash.com – go into the sight and click on ” Rock Photo’s ” and the Hendrix concert at The Coliseum is listed. There is also interseting history of The Rock PIle , a Toronto place where the early history of rock in Canada was written. Sorry I am nor savy enough to provide link. I’m just a ol’ old boy.

  17. 47
    Lena on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Blue plaque nerd corner:

    HENDRIX, Jimi (1942-1970),
    Guitarist and Songwriter, lived here 1968-1969.
    23 Brook Street, Mayfair, W1
    Westminster 1997

    The only other thing I have to say about this song is that there are songs by certain musicians that seem…inevitable? As if they were waiting for a long time to some how get to it…they are fun and bear a lot of listening as well…I realize this is a subjective opinion but for me this is that song for Hendrix, and that may be one of the factors that took it to #1 – beyond his death…though if you think about it in that context, then it is a fitting memorial for him too – “if I don’t meet you in this world, I’ll meet you in the next one, and don’t be late”….

  18. 48
    Chris Brown on 24 Oct 2006 #

    I don’t like guitar hystrionics, but for me Hendrix was better able to get away with this than some because he was able some of the time to make a fairly focussed single, and I’d count this among them. The only album of his I really know is Electric Ladyland, which my Dad had on a double CD with the naughty cover (since replaced). Maybe it’s because I was born so late, but this doesn’t actually sound hugely outlandish to me.

    I’ve got to admit that he ranks among the acts whom I can’t now hear aside from the myth, but I’d probably give this about 6 myself – I think it’s a better than average record but I don’t really like it more than that.

  19. 49
    Tom on 24 Oct 2006 #

    Julio – just over 5 minutes, from memory.

  20. 50
    Doctor Mod on 25 Oct 2006 #

    spining on something from the ‘woodstock’ thread where mod said he prefer’s hippie’s positism to punk’s negativity

    Eh? No, “mod” (as in Doctor Mod) didn’t say this, nor, as far as I can tell, did the mod[erator]. Doctor Mod was in Tulsa and [s]he wasn’t thinking about “positism.”

  21. 51
    blount on 25 Oct 2006 #

    doh – i mean gamon!

  22. 52
    markgamon on 25 Oct 2006 #

    Blount – you DO? But why?

  23. 53
    Martin Skidmore on 25 Oct 2006 #

    I never cared for Hendrix at all – I think the unfortunate influence on all that horrible ’70s rock that I lived through is part of the problem, and while it’s unfair to blame Jimi for that (well, partly unfair) as they missed a lot of what he was trying to do, there is such a thing as retrospective influence, and that makes Hendrix sound worse. I kind of like his singing – he’s going for a soulful bluesy style, and while he isn’t much good at it, it’s a style I like.

    I’d have given this 4 or 5, I think.

  24. 54

    if it’s not hammering shut the last coffin panel, the authority i’d appeal to persuade tom isn’t any of those cited so far: it’s MUCH more “pop”, but it’s just as central to hendrix’s known belief-systems
    viz SUPERHERO COMIX

    the last phrase of “(slight return)” (=”if i don’t meet you no more in this world, i’ll meet you on the next one, and DON’T BE LATE”) — which was a gift to the marketing department obv in ref this release (the hero’s farewell message to the living) isn’t at ALL about the “greatest adventure of all” ©p.pan)… he didn’t know he was going to die young and he didn’t plan to either — “world” means what it means to ANY SF/comics fan — viz planet, or parallel world, or neighbouring plane of the multiverse; and the song’s an apology for intrusion here on our world/in her life (from someone creeping sadly away while his lover sleeps)

    “voodoo chile” is a VERY marvel topic, surely? viz: yes JH has these awesome superpowers (cf guitarplayin), but at the same time (cf delivery and manner) he is a shy and vulnerable soft-spoken man, cut off by circs (inc.talent) from all that surround him (not just his uk compadres but the place and people he came from also) — the song is abt the tension between this sudden vast scale of unleashed ability in ONE (technical) sphere vs still feelin all diffident child-like hurt within, far from home and very lonely

    anyway the way his guitar paints always reminds me of the way marvel artists visually depict the clash of elemental powers — lines and pop-art swirls and pulsing clouds of pan-coloured energy as backdrop to battlin superheroes vs s’villains — this achieved, his drop into gentle half-whispered melancholy as the antagonist front central was at the time really startling: “i am the space-alien cut off from all like me — i can do things you only dream of BUT ME, I STILL MISS JUST BEING ORDINARY ME NOW AND THEN”

    (also i never feel it as histrionic — even at force it feels gentle and relaxed to me — unlike many of his successor show-offs he doesn’t really seem to be testing the limits of his powers as the carnival spectacle; it’s more like something he doesn’t quite know how to turn off)

    later on this kind of pop culture would flood into black music — spaghetti westerns and kung fu into reggae; comix and the godfather into rap — but as a direct and overt adopting of a pop-pulp vernacular it seems pretty original (that said, some of the earlier blues figures WERE fascinated by the uncanny and by electricity as a power, but i’d REALLY hesitate to build this similarity up into an “influence”) (and not just bcz there’s no such thing as influence hurrah)

  25. 55
    Tom on 25 Oct 2006 #

    I like this – Hendrix as Silver Surfer! (Joe Satriani was the guitar hero who blatantly self-identified with the Surfer, of course).

    Excellent UK comix artist Brendan McCarthy, who illustrated the Hendrix bio for short-lived mag Revolver, had a kind of psychedelic Jack Kirby style going on (Ward F and Martin will know more of this I suspect) (and not to say Jack K couldn’t do psychedelia himself)

    The opening lines of Voodoo Chile are very superhero, of course.

    Of course in pop vs rock terms (the albums vs singles narrative a lot of the comments box massive have touched on) this is indeed a visitation from a parallel world, an intersection of several planes (if you want a comics image I’m reminded of the 90s Alan Moore Marvel pastiche where a character called the Hypernaut fights a 4-dimensional beast, and can only perceive 3-D slices of its inconceivable bodymass) (I can’t remember who the Hypernaut is meant to be a parody of!)

  26. 56

    haha the moment i wrote “intersection of planes” i wz reminded of HORRIBLE HORRIBLE MICHAEL MOORCOCK so there is clearly a grim downside to this interpetation also — jh as JERRY CORNELIUS the PAN-COSMIC DANDY with his hat tilted JUST SO sigh bah

  27. 57

    actually YOU wrote “intersection” not me — MM obviously haunts the margins of my brane WHATEVER i’m writing :(

    i’ll have to check if charlie shaar murray talks much about this in his hendrix biog — he knows LOTS abt marvel etc and pulp sf AND abt hendrix and blues — but i don’t recall him expanding on this so much

    (and i don’t know enough abt marvel to pinpoint any exact crossovers)

  28. 58
    Brian in Canada on 25 Oct 2006 #

    Although the Jimi as comic character is a lot of fun, it’s more likely that Voodoo Chile , comes from same well of blues songs that use super-human attributes in song. Like ” I’m A Man ” , “I’m Ready” and “Seventh Son”…..

  29. 59

    honestly, brian, i doubt it —

    first: the metaphor the “same well” bears no relationship to how ppl actually came on music, blues or any other kind, by the late 50s — it WASN’T this vast passive sea of mutual telepathic ethnic heritage which black folk could all magically access, and had to willy-nilly (one of the things you have to deal with, with hendrix, is how out of synch he was with his own notional community)

    second: it should be obvious enough not to have to say, but black folk just like white folk also read books and comics — hendrix DEVOURED pulp sf — and watch movies and playfully adapt and adopt same; the “same well” theory assumes a weird pseudo-sociological colour-bar* in what the roots of black pop might be, which simply makes NO SENSE ANY MORE — certainly not after 25-odd years of rap, and how it
    absorbs and reuses ALL available cultural input; let alone how g.clinton and cohorts whirl through pop-cultural material from outside the sociologically “proper” realm (that thread cites clinton on hippy conspiracy theory, but but his buddy bootsy was clicking directly into kids TV as HIS lyrical framework)

    three: if we’re tryin to explore why hendrix is EXCITING and LIBERATING then FUN and IMAGINATION are our best maps — besides the song is FULL of blatant science-fiction images, language which is plainly NOT pro forma blues hand-me-down (tho i’d accept a counter-argument that the “essence” of “blues” means nothing if it doesn’t mean this formal and thematic adaptibility)**

    *this possibly had a certain truth to it when yr discussin delta blues in the 30s — rural music from a VERY isolated and impoverished region — but is just NONSENSE when it comes to black urban life from the 20s onwards; and even then, the earliest blues-as-blues were URBAN and WRITTEN, and full of references to fashions and movies and stuff in the general air, inc. non-black stuff, before percolating back out INTO country areas. yet STILL there’s a habit of assuming that black pop folks are merely somehow passively unable to do anything except “tap into the available folk consciousness”

    **anyway what i think is more likely the point is that the r&b he learnt on the backing-musician circuit was as much something he could dip into and adapt as the superhero comix he was readin while he was on that circuit — they weren’t in a “hierarchy of acceptable influence” for him, so they REALLY REALLY shouldnt be for us

  30. 60
    Ward Fowler on 25 Oct 2006 #

    Re: Hendrix and Comix

    Firstly it was Floyd Hughes, not Brendan McCarthy, who illustrated CSM’s Hendrix strip in Revolver. Brendan was always pretty anti-hippie, in art and life – his ‘Electric Hoax’ strip in Sounds has a gd claim to being the first (uk) punk comix strip. Crosstown Traffic by CSM is still the only decent Hendrix bk I’ve ever read, but the Revolver strip is DIRE – a bit like Oliver Stone’s Doors movie but w/out any of the phun.

    Heavy Metal magazine once did a whole ‘Rock’ issue that included a laughably literal-minded strip version of ‘Voodoo Chile’.

    Vastly underrated English comic artist Paul Bignell once told me that in the 1980s, Chelsea School of Art never admitted any prospective student who had a drawing of Jimi Hendrix in their portfolio.

    Lord Sukrat’s argt is obv. v. convincing – THE Marvel catchphrase is “with great power comes great responsibility”, and that has become perhaps the central bio-narrative of Jimi’s ‘real life’ on Earth (cosmic gunslinger neglects talent/abuses drugs and PAYS THE PRICE). Another possible source of Hendrix imagery – esp. all the swirly oceanic stuff on Electric Ladyland – might be Mati Klarwein’s seminal, garish painted cover for Bitches Brew (which I think predates EL by some months??)

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