The first records I had were given to me. From Uncle Terry I had ‘Help’ – The Beatles, ‘After Math’ – The Rolling Stones,’The Times they are a changin’ and ‘Bringing it all back Home’ – Bob Dylan, and from my cousin Carol came a record with the most amazing psychedelic cover. That record was ‘Electric Ladyland’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
I played all of these records over and over on an old record player built into a box container. This featured an integral loudspeaker, a heavy cream bakelite arm, and a special ratchet type mechanism whereby one could stack records on top of each other. As one record finished playing, the ratchet would release another on to the platter. The record player smelt of bakelite, wood and dusty electronics.
At that time The Beatles were my favourites. Bob Dylan sounded angry and his harmonica playing was ropey, but there was something prophetic, anthemic and heartfelt about these songs that kept on drawing me back, I used to wonder if ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was written about The Rolling Stones. The latter I could take or leave. The Jimi Hendrix record I had wasn’t the regular double album with the naked women on the front; this was a trimmed down single album. The cover had a yellow background and some sort of alien landscape rendered in purples, greens and pinks. I have parted company with the record now; some would be Jimi Hendrix pretender borrowed it too many years ago. At the time I didn’t realise that this wasn’t the regular version of the album. With hindsight I wonder why the album was trimmed down to just one slice of vinyl. However if you are going to do such a thing then you might as well do it in style. Which is exactly what the editor had done. The second side was basically the fourth side of the original, and the first side contained the essential bits from the rest – ‘Voodoo Chile (slight return)’, ‘House burning down’, ‘All along the Watchtower’ and so on. But the last side. This contained music unlike anything I had heard before. Starting with ‘Rainy Day, dream away’ and then segueing into the underwater / outerspace ambient oddesey of ‘1983..(a merman I should turn to be)’ and ‘Moon turn the Tides gently, gently away’. This set moved from stoned blues into jazz and then further out into sheer exuberant sonic exploration. The record predates Miles Davis’s ‘In a Silent Way’ by one year. Shortly before his untimely death Jimi Hendrix was to collaborate with Miles Davis. Unfortunately the whole deal fell through, due to the ego and unreasonable financial demands of the latter. It is a great shame that the collaboration never happened. To my mind ‘In a Silent Way’ is Davis’s finest hour. Davis had seen Hendrix play, and had even contrived to be absent from a party Hendrix was attending, whilst leaving a score of his there for Hendrix’s appraisal. (Evidently Davis was unaware of the fact that Hendrix couldn’t read music.) If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Davis truly flattered Hendrix. I now own the full ‘Electric Ladyland’ on C.D., and to this day the first, rustling, wah-wah gyrations of Voodoo Chile that prequel the adrenaline fueled overdriven fury can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And ironically this is the record, all those years ago that first piqued my interest in synthesisers. Obviously a synthesiser must have made the exotic sounds that so marked out the last side? No, it was just Jimi with a headfull of psychedelics and a bucketload of talent.