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Singled Out Classics: Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced?


04/03/2009
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(antiMusic) It was 42 years ago today that Jimi Hendrix entered the studio to record one of his most famous songs: "Are You Experienced?" Obviously we couldn't ask Jimi to tell us the story of this song but we are lucky enough to hear from Hendrix expert John McDermott, bassist Billy Cox, and legendary producer Eddie Kramer who was the sound engineer for Hendrix. They recently teamed up for pen "Ultimate Hendrix: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Live Concerts and Sessions," a new book that is a wet dream for any Hendrix fan looking for the inside story to their favorite songs and Hendrix performances. Backbeat Books was kind enough to send us an excerpt of the book which deals with this historic date and the recording of "Are You Experienced?". Here it is!

The breathtaking "Are You Experienced?" was built start to finish during this session. Eddie Kramer recalls the song's construction. "The structure of the song was recorded first, with Jimi's rhythm guitar, Mitch's drums, and Noel's bass recorded forward." Hendrix's initial take, a loose but often spectacular effort, began with the guitarist strumming the song's distinctive introduction. This part, Kramer says, came from Hendrix's penchant for discovering new sounds. "Jimi had practiced that riff at home, so he knew what it would sound like backward," explains Kramer. "At Olympic, we experimented with the sounds and placements to see what would work best."
A second take barely began before a mistake occurred and Kramer called for a new take. This effort also fell short before a complete fourth take began to showcase the refinements Hendrix had begun to make, trimming parts and tightening the rhythm playing throughout the song. The fifth take was superb, but Hendrix felt he could do better. He called for a playback and cautioned that there were some parts of the take where the group had speeded up. The group returned to the studio and recorded a brief end part for the previous take. Kramer then called for a playback, after which Hendrix kicked off a new take—this classic performance supplied the album's unforgettable title track.

With the basic track having filled all four of the available tracks, Kramer created a four-to-four reduction mix. One of the newly open tracks was dedicated to a backward rhythm track, featuring backward guitar, bass, and percussion. This was first recorded forward, and then Kramer turned the tape around and played it backward on a second machine, while another machine recorded the output to the open track on the four-track master.
Hours of private studying had helped Hendrix master this difficult technique on his personal reel-to-reel tape machine. Fascinated with sounds, Hendrix listened to tapes backward just to study the possibilities of the technique.

Hendrix's fascination with backward tapes caused some mild friction with Mitch Mitchell, who struggled to replicate these unique sounds on demand. "Mitch had started to get uptight because Jimi would want him to play all of the different rhythms we had discovered by playing tapes backward at the flat," says Chandler. "We'd play around with backward tapes to hear the rhythm, which was actually the drums backward. Jimi would want Mitch to play that rhythm."

In addition to the hypnotic effect created by the backward guitar parts, Hendrix further embellished the final master with a piano overdub. "That's Jimi playing the octaves on the wonderful, old, out-of-tune, upright piano at Olympic," says Kramer. "That piano sound, reminiscent of a bell tolling, was an essential part of the basic rhythm track."

Despite all of the experimentation, the group's approach to "Are You Experienced?" was concise, with Chandler encouraging Hendrix's creativity within the boundaries he had established. "This was when Chas's firm hand was on top of the creative process," says Kramer. "The session was very organized."

Want more? You gotta read the book. Read all about it right - here



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