Songwriter or Sound Maker Serie: Jimmy Hendrix

It is no secret to anyone that over the the 20th century music has become, over the 20th century, an industry. Behind this statement only, confusing inuendos have been made over and over. For exemple, way before music was an industry, it was already a business. If you pay attention to the life of librettists and composers in the Vienna of the second part of the 18th century, you will find that there already was a question of what pleases the mass, what sell and does not, as well as network was as important as talent. Being myself a songwriter I have been asking myself a few question about othere artist’s relationship to what is, in today’s music industry the “leading product”: songs. Over the centuries songwriters, musicians and composer have, it seems to me composed songs over 3 major gravity centers :
– The songwriting of a song as gravity center of its quality, meaning the complexity and simplicity of melodic lines, chord progression, harmony and rythm.
– The sound, which used to only mean the arrangement (the instruments you choose) and has meant more and more production (from the tules one use to record to the sounds one uses)
– the lyrics, what is said and not said

Because it is clear to everyone by now that what we used to called songs are today seen as product once they have reached a consequent audience, I would like to explore here and there, the relationship of artists we all know to their own songs. The “how” and  the ” why” they wrote or still write , and if a relationship between creativity and business was ever clear to them.

I would like to start with singer songwriter and guitar hero Jimmy Hendrix. If there is a few things that can be said about Jimmy Hendrix’s work, to me,  if there had to be only one thing to remember of him, it is his sound. Let’s explore through the excerpts of 2 different interview he gave in 1070.

Interview #1 : Made on 4 February 1970, this interview titled The End Of A Big Long Fairy Tale, appeared in parts in Rolling Stone in 1970 and in a fuller form in Guitar Player magazine in 1975.

When you put together a song, does it just come to you, or is it a process where you sit down with your guitar or at a piano, starting from ten in the morning?

“The music I might hear I can’t get on the guitar. It’s a thing of just laying around daydreaming or something. You’re hearing all this music, and you just can’t get it on the guitar. As a matter of fact, if you pick up your guitar and just try to play, it spoils the whole thing. I can’t play the guitar that well to get all this music together, so I just lay around. I wish I could have learned how to write for instruments. I’m going to get into that next, I guess.”

So for something like Foxey Lady, you first hear the music and then arrive at the words for the song?

“It all depends. On Foxey Lady, we just started playing actually, and set up a microphone, and I had these words [laughs]. With Voodoo Child (Slight Return) somebody was filming when we started doing that. We did that about three times because they wanted to film us in the studio, to make us [imitates a pompous voice] ‘Make it look like you’re recording boys’—one of them scenes, you know, so ‘Okay, let’s play this in E; now a-one and-a-two and-a-three,’ and then we went into Voodoo Child.”

When I hear Mitch churning away and you really blowing on top and the bass gets really free, the whole approach almost sounds like avant-garde jazz.

“Well, that’s because that’s where it’s coming from—the drumming.”

Do you dig any avant-garde jazz players?

“Yeah, when we went to Sweden and heard some of those cats we’d never heard before. These cats were actually in little country clubs and little caves blowing some sounds that, you know, you barely imagine. Guys from Sweden, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or Stockholm. Every once in a while they start going like a wave. They get into each other every once in a while within their personalities, and the party last night, or the hangover [laughs], and the evil starts pulling them away again. You can hear it start to go away. Then it starts getting together again. It’s like a wave, I guess, coming in and out.”

Here is another excerpt from a Jimi Hendrix interview at Heathrow Airport, 27 August 1970.

How much part do you play in the production of your albums? For example, did you produce your first [Are You Experienced]?

“No, it was Chas Chandler and Eddie Kramer who mostly worked on that stuff. Eddie was the engineer, and Chas as producer mainly kept things together.”

The last record [Electric Ladyland] listed you as producer. Did you do the whole thing?

“No, well, like Eddie Kramer and myself. All I did was just be there and make sure the right songs were there, and the sound was there. We wanted a particular sound. It got lost in the cutting room, because we went on tour right before we finished. I heard it, and I think the sound of it is very cloudy.”…..

…Which musicians do you go out of your way to hear?

“Nina Simone and Mountain. I dig them.”

What about a group like the McCoys?

[Sings intro to Hang On Sloopy, which featured Rick Derringer on guitar.] “Yeah, that guitar player’s great.”

Were you really rehearsing with Band Of Gypsys 12 to 18 hours a day?

“Yeah, we used to go and jam actually. We’d say ‘rehearsing’ just to make it sound, you know, official. We were just getting off; that’s all. Not really 18 hours—say about 12 or 14 maybe [laughs]. The longest we [the Experience] ever played together is going on stage. We played about two and a half hours, almost three hours one time. We made sounds. People make sounds when they clap. So we make sounds back. I like electric sounds, feedback and so forth, static.”

Are you going to do a single as well as an LP?

“We might have one from the other thing coming out soon. I don’t know about the Experience though. All these record companies, they want singles. But you don’t just sit there and say, ‘Let’s make a track, let’s make a single or something.’ We’re not going to do that. We don’t do that.”

Creedence Clearwater Revival does that until they have enough for a record, like in the old days.

“Well, that’s the old days. I consider us more musicians. More in the minds of musicians, you know?”

But singles can make some bread, can’t they?

“Well, that’s why they do them. But they take it after. You’ll have a whole planned-out LP, and all of a sudden, they’ll make, for instance, Crosstown Traffic a single, and that’s coming out of nowhere, out of a whole other set. See, that LP was in certain ways of thinking; the sides we played on in order for certain reasons. And then it’s almost like a sin for them to take out something in the middle of all that and make that a single, and represent us at that particular time because they think they can make more money. They always take out the wrong ones.”….

As we can read, Jimmy Hendrix relationship to music and songs seemed to be more a relationship to sound, performance and search of color (which is a surprise to no one) than pure songwriting. In his organisation, it is entirely someone else job, (this someone else being here  Eddie Kramer) to transform a sound into a product which is what happens today with the Atlanta Trap trend for exemple. Producer have become increasly marketed as the creator of the product. Mike Will Made it, is more famous today than most of the artist he has done production for. And the position of the artist is articulately less naive and more pragmatic when it comes to selling and transforming a music into product for a market. This part 1 is the beginning of serie which might lead to nowhere by might also throw some light on a few artist works.

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