Growing up my family could not afford a record player, but summers meant two weeks spent at my maternal grandparents’ house where my Aunt Kay (not even three years my senior, she was much more like the big sister I never had) begrudgingly allowed me to play her very hip collection of 45 rpm single records in her bedroom, first on one of those “suitcase” record players with the tweed outer covering, then later in the living room on my grandparents’ massive walnut-clad Magnavox stereo console the size of a Hyundai.
Among Kay’s “Light My Fire” and “For What It’s Worth” singles that Summer 1967 I noticed a new one which I had never heard. But I hesitated because the label was the same as the one on my grandparents’ Frank Sinatra crooner albums, while the unfamiliar name of the band was way too long and odd sounding: the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Plus some moron evidently misspelled the guy’s first name! Could I really risk a whole 2:51 of my precious access to Auntie’s cool record collection and that high-horsepower stereo on a song called “Purple Haze”?
I went for it. The tonearm set down gently onto the vinyl donut, the butterscotch label with the little riverboat logo spinning toward my musical salvation. Immediately the room pulsed with more quaking, foundation-rattling bass than anything I had ever heard before, threatening to make Grandma’s china cups and saucers dance right off their shelves. The otherworldly chord progressions, I concluded, had to be coming from some advanced alien being. These sounds exciting the synapses in my brain were emanating from the musical meteorite which had landed before me and which was now orbiting the record player’s spindle. And what were those high-pitched Martian sounds on the ride out of “Purple Haze” which sound like wind chimes on acid?(Decades later veteran recording engineer Eddie Kramer would reveal that it was actually a recording of Jimi’s guitar sped up several times, then played back over earphones placed near a microphone. Brilliant.)
What I “experienced” that early summer evening 45 years ago was in effect a close encounter of the second kind, whereby chords of cosmic rays bombarded my brain and vibrated my soul at some atomic level, administered by one James Marshall Hendrix. Jimi mutated rock’s DNA, and we have been trying to decode the Hendrix genome for almost half a century.- Redbeard
( Back & white photo Hendrix with Wilson Pickett 1966)