Mitch Mitchell died last week. For the uncultured among you, Mitch was the drummer to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jimi’s band for his first three albums. Mitch had a distinctive rhythm heavily influenced by jazz. Now, there is no doubt that when you back up Jimi Freakin Hendrix, no one in the crowd is going to pay much attention to the drums. Jimi is the show. But Mitch gave significant contribution to Jimi’s sound without trying to compete for the spotlight. He’s on the short list of great drummers.
So with that in mind, I give you five badass songs by James Marshall Hendrix.
Manic Depression – Are You Experienced 1967
Are You Experienced is a shockingly impressive debut album. It obliterated any limitations that Rock and Roll previously was perceived to have had. It is loud, abrasive and primal but not angry or dark. It was groundbreaking but completely unpretentious. No artsy crap here. It is relentlessly energetic ranging from the head bangin, ear bleeding glory of Purple Haze and Stone Free to the psychedelic chill of The Wind Cries Mary and Third Stone From the Sun. Every song is different. Every song is brilliant. This is a record that needs to be consumed in its entirety. It deserves your full attention as you listen to each of the 22 songs in order. The next road trip you take, invest about two hours and explore this unbelievable piece of work.
Manic Depression is a pretty well known song from Jimi. I chose it because it illustrates Mitch’s unique rhythm. The guitar hook, bass line and drums are all truly bipolar. It is both loud and mellow.
Little Wing – Axis Bold As Love 1967
(for some reason I can't stream Little Wing. So here is a clip of Jimi playing it live at The Royal Albert Hall on Youtube.)
It’s one thing to blow the doors off of the entire genre of Rock and Roll with you debut album. But to then follow it up with a completely different sounding, equally brilliant sophomore album within the same year is astounding. Seriously, when was the last time any major modern band even bothered to release two albums in the same year? Much less two records (really three since Experienced was a double album) of this depth and quality? He recorded and released 35 songs on only his first two albums in the year 1967 and every one of them are amazing and distinct. How many great songs does Nickleback have?
Little Wing is a classic covered in concert by every guitarist aspiring to be considered “great”. Stevie Ray Vaughn released a fantastic instrumental version of it. But Jimi’s lyrics and vocals are an overlooked characteristic of his music that deserves attention. He has a great delivery.
Voodoo Child ( Slight Return )
Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) – Electric Ladyland 1968
Jimi used very little overdubbing. Most of the time, all the noise you hear is coming from one guitar. There is no rhythm guitar or no lead guitar in Voodoo Chile. Just a single right handed Stratocaster being played upside down producing this layered magnificent chaos. Jimi bought a wha pedal from Frank Zappa just prior to writing and recording this song which gives his guitar that porn funk you hear in the intro. This song is a good example of the atonal “noise” that is often associated with Jimi’s music. It’s not for everyone. But I love it.
Castles Made Of Sand
Castles Made of Sand – Axis Bold As Love 1967
As much as I love the face melting power of Jimi’s heavy stuff, I find I listen to his mellow songs a lot more often. He knows how write a tune that just makes you float. You can hear a lot of backwards guitar work in this song, including a full solo. It sounds so strange and so beautiful. Jimi’s lyrics and vocals are outstanding, as always.
My Friend – First Rays of the New Rising Sun released 1997
With all the feedback, drugs, volume, distortion, drugs, stage antics, burnt guitars, smashed guitars, raped guitars, drugs, flamboyant uniforms, groupies and more drugs, Jimi is ultimately just a Blues Guitar player. This song was recorded with a bunch of army buddies called the Band of Gypsies after the Experience broke up. No elaborate solos or distorted power chords here. It’s just a great barroom jam session.