STANDING ADVISORY: If the Jimi Hendrix video in the link above has been deleted or moved, please Google Jimi Hendrix Red House, Live in Stockholm, January 9, 1969 or search for it on Youtube or other video websites.
This is not a performance, but a clinic in classic blues done in psychedelic slow-mo. (Boys don’t try this at home.) From the first few lines – cool as a cucumber ‘neath an alpine cave stalactite, Hendrix hews to a vibe that is as retro as it is iconoclastic, and inspired, as it is, by his own sheer mastery of the form. And Hendrix’s patented stage chill is on full display here, part effortless cool, part machismo clandestino but all Hendrix, drop by painstaking drop, slipping into celluloid lore. Wordz.
This should be required r̶e̶a̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ listening for all poseurs who aspire to the form, from jump blues hackers to Malmsteen-esque shredders. Hendrix the master of psychedelic rock comes back from the jagged edge unsung to redefine the genre that in years gone by fed his muses the way underground rivers feed bubbling springs.
This is not blues as Olympic showboating, but blues as an organic form informed by the original instrument; the human voice. Hendrix showcases the inventive minimalism of a master at the top of his game by breaking down blues to their elemental memes. The result is as heady as an upper laced with a downer. “I want to cry” is the most common refrain of Youtubers who hear it. “Thank you for posting this,” say the fans stunned by Hendrix’s blank-yo-momma “swagga.”
One of the first things you notice is that there is no frenzy here. Flop-house pyros need not apply. Fretboard fireworks, which Hendrix was perfectly capable of at this stage in his career, took a distant back seat to deliberate story telling. Hendrix’s singing voice is sure and his playing more finely nuanced than anything you will ever find on celluloid.
The meter and rhyme of Hendrix’s playing, languid phrases that belie the maliciousness of his intent, are evident from the very first bar. These are not blues for dilletantes or shaggy-haired poseurs. No, these are blues for grown men and wimmins, and enchanted boys with old souls. Hendrix’s pedigreed noodlin’ hacks back to T-Bone Walker and B.B. King and the height their powers. It prefigures the advent of soul as a shibboleth of form that cannot be faked.
The extended solo intro hacks back to B.B. King in “How Blue Can You Get,” Live at the Cook County Jail (1971); that unsung blues classic that stood the genre’s form on its head and still came out smokin’. (The inventive virtuosity of the younger B.B. King still stuns the mind: The pentatonic runs that veer off into jazzy territory and the mildly driven tone that still sounds fresh and daring after all these years. It is doubtful that B.B. King’s fretboard chops ever surpassed the form displayed here.) But we digress …. heheheh.
The sound in this “Red House” clip shows why Jimi Hendrix ultimately chose Fenders over Gibsons. While weight, and iconoclastic style may have figured into it the equation, the first few lines of this song show why Hendrix’s voice was channeled more by Fenders, than by Gibsons. The first coupla lines on the Gibson SG neck pickup sound dead and uninspired, Hendrix’s intent to start on a mellow vibe notwithstanding. He soon switches to the bridge pickup and the “Burstbucker-esque” pep and effervescence begins to mimic the fender sound. The first ripple of emotion begins to register on Hendrix’s face.
While the Fender vs Gibson debate will never die, this much we know: Some artists are Gibsonsesque(Warren Haynes et al) and others are Fenderesque. Hendrix was a Fenderesque to his psychedelic core.
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