Editor’s Note: Due to a technical hiccup, this article that was originally scheduled for Sunday 20th September was inexplicably not published on Sunday 20th September. We’ve fixed it now, so here’s John’s take on Electric Ladyland.
Instead of trying to praise and commend Electric Ladyland for the sheer genius of an album, as so many writers and critics have done over the last 50 years, I feel it is more important to explain why Jimi Hendrix is so hard to imitate as a musician and why it is almost impossible to impersonate the sound of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The complexity of Hendrix’s riffs and melodies intertwine perfectly with Noel Redding’s jazzy bass and the blistering beats of legendary drummer Mitch Mitchell to create an album with so many themes, and all the while making it look easy to copy. That is one way to see how difficult the band are to imitate; they make it seem so simple.
A prodigal son of the blues guitar, Hendrix mastered the impossible by incorporating distortion and non-traditional musical elements to create his most famous work. He was able to give elements of sound which don’t traditionally correspond to the basic structures of songwriting, such as the wah wah pedal, flanging ,echo ,and chorus effects, the spotlight. As in to say, all the things that make a guitar sound strange, was the focus of the song, rather than simply a solo, or a sound.
The use of experimental songwriting is littered throughout the entire album, but none of it is the same shtick. Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ for example, is unique as a standalone Jimi Hendrix Experience cover, in its somehow deliberate aping of the original whilst sounding nothing like it in other ways, whereas ‘House Burning Down’ offers an insane range of solo riffs and social commentary through its lyrics. Each song is a new experience. Each one gives you a new sound, a new technique never heard before, and that’s just Hendrix. Add the driving force of strong drumming (as heard on ‘Little Miss Strange’) and the strong reassurance of an exhilarating bass (as heard on ‘Crosstown Traffic’), and you have one of the exciting bands ever to have lived.
The difference between The Jimi Hendrix Experience and other blues and rock artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughn is, with Vaughn, it’s incredibly easy to understand how to play his music, but it is also incredibly difficult to play. His style, as well as other great American blues artists, was not complicated, it was just perfectly played. With Hendrix, he was able to take the music genre in a completely new direction by adding things no other blues and post-rock artists would ever think of; he gave it his own flavour, his own personality. That’s something which no one, apart from the great Jimi Hendrix, would be able to emulate.