Are You Experienced
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The sky looms large in the lyrical imagery of Jimi Hendrix, a former paratrooper fascinated by science fiction who for some time worked with a group of musicians he called "the Sky Church".
Up From the Skies, Angel, Little Wing and Night Bird Flying are just a few of the original compositions which find the guitarist looking upwards for inspiration, as with his second single, Purple Haze, which contains one of rock's most frequently misheard and misquoted lines. Instead of "'scuse me while I kiss the sky", he is thought by many to have sung "'scuse me while I kiss this guy". Hendrix was something of a joker, and in concert he is said to have occasionally sung the words that way - pointing as he did so towards drummer Mitch Mitchell or bassist Noel Redding, the two musicians with whom he made Are You Experienced, one of the most explosive rock albums of the 1960s.
Purple Haze was already a hit single in Britain and, as was the practice at the time, was left off The Jimi Hendrix Experience's debut album, which opened instead with the lascivious Foxy Lady.
For the US release different tracks were selected, which meant the American record buyer got three British hit singles - Purple Haze, which opened that version of the LP, Hey Joe, and The Wind Cries Mary - but lost the great slow blues number Red House, along with two less essential tracks, Remember and Can You See Me? Hendrix protested, but Americans - so the Seattle-born musician was told - weren't interested in the blues.
Most recent CD reissues include all the Experience music officially released either as single or album tracks before their second LP, Axis: Bold As Love.
All three albums by the original Jimi Hendrix Experience - Experienced, Axis and Electric Ladyland - are classics, and essential listening for anyone interested in 1960s rock. Thanks to producer Chas Chandler's cost-conscious eye on the studio clock though, the first is the most focused and disciplined, and yet paradoxically also the most stylistically diverse.
There are many extended live recordings of Red House but the studio version proves Hendrix could also make his point as a bluesman with feeling and concision in less than four minutes.
Third Stone From the Sun blends Wes Montgomery-style jazz guitar lines with sci-fi fantasy, while Manic Depression features a drum part from Mitchell clearly inspired by Elvin Jones' playing with John Coltrane. Fire draws heavily on Hendrix's experience playing funky rhythm guitar on the US chitlin' circuit, and the album also features the gentle melodicism of May This Be Love and the full-on psychedelia of Are You Experienced itself.
Are You Experienced may be of its time but it remains one of the albums that best defines its era.
Hendrix died 42 years ago on September 18, 1970. He was 27. Shortly before his death he was performing a blues called Midnight Lightnin'. "We gotta keep movin', keep on groovin', understand both sides of the sky," he sang.