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What were your first impressions of Jimi?
Ha, my first meeting with Jimi Hendrix! I was a young engineer at a studio called Olympic down in Barnes. We’d just opened to studio in January ’67, and I was upstairs in the control room. I got a phone call saying ‘hello Eddie, there’s this American chap here with all the big hair, and you do all that weird shit so why don’t you do him!’ That’s how I got the call to do Jimi Hendrix! I remember when he first walked into the studio - obviously his reputation preceded him. I didn’t do the first single or the b-side, but we started right after his initial success.
He walked into the studio, he was wearing this sort of rather grubby white raincoat, belted over. He was very shy, he sat in the corner, didn’t say too much. The next thing, I was looking out the doors of the studio, and there was Gerry Stickles, his roadie, carrying a couple of Marshall stacks. So I got a bit scared about that, but once we got going and set up, and Jimi started plugging in and getting sounds, it’s was like ‘yeah, this is amazing!’ The sounds that were emanating from the amplifier was like, wahey!
Obviously you captured such an incredible, raw guitar sound via his fingers, via the Stratocaster, via the Marshall, and people were bringing him pedals all the time. What are the challenges of getting that tone onto tape as far as an engineer’s concerned?
It was a challenge, only in the sense that when it got loud, you just had to be set. Jimi was very adept at controlling the volume, so even though the amp might have been set at ten – don’t anybody go to 11, please – he was able to control the volume from the Strat. So for instance, like on Little Wing, he would pull the volume back specifically, and not have it all cranked. Then when the solo comes, woof! You’d always be expecting the unexpected, that was the thing with Jimi. He loved messing around with pedals, Roger Mayer was always in and out of there, tweaking, getting the soldering iron out, and we were able to create some sounds that nobody else had.
He would get a sound out in the room, I’d mic in up and I’d run in the control room and start twiddling around – I think they’d call me a knob twiddler – and I’d get some EQ and some compression and some reverb, fatten it up and do my thing to it. We would go back and forth, upping the ante and trying to top each other, seeing who could top each other in terms of getting crazy sounds. It was always like that. But the one thing about Jimi I have to quickly say, his sense of humour, he had this marvellous, absolutely acerbic sense of humour. He would take the piss out of me, Mitch, Noel, and he’d take the piss out of himself too and make the session run really light.
It comes through a lot, the playfulness, in the music as well. But People, Hell And Angels, you mixed all of that, you were in the room and engineered a lot of it. What’s different about this particular compilation? To the casual observer, they might think they’ve heard some of these songs before, but they’ve never heard these performances have they?
Well, the whole idea of what we were trying to do for this album was to find as much material as was left in the vault – and we’ve been looking at this stuff a long time, we know where all the stuff is, John McDermott, myself and Janie Hendrix, the three who do all the records – so we had planned this a while back. We kept cataloguing and putting stuff aside, knowing that we were going to do, eventually, the final studio album. We found all these great performances, and we probably had about 15 or 16 songs, and we whittled it down to the 12 best.
It’s an unusual record in the sense that it’s stripped down to Jimi in the studio, just bass drums and guitar for the most part. Then there’s surprises with the horn section, his friend Lonnie Youngblood. He’s actually done a track in ’66, before he met Chas Chandler in New York, before he was discovered, he’d done a track with Lonnie Youngblood as well. So to hear him play, riffing like a jazz musician, against Lonnie Youngblood, it’s really cool, because he understood how a jazz musician thinks, and he sublimated his ego into this role of rhythm guitar. He was a session guy playing rhythm, and then when the solo comes, woof, off you go.
You’re right, that’s one of the great things about that particular track, Let Me Move You, he’s vamping, playing a lot of rhythm guitar. We hear a lot of Billy Cox and Buddy Miles as well, as it’s particularly evident in Hear My Train A Coming, it’s such a heavy rhythm. We’re used to Mitch Mitchell playing all across the kit..
OK, imagine you were Jimi Hendrix and you had done Are You Experienced, Axis, Electric Ladyland, all in a period of 18 months, and Electric Ladyland was no walk in the park, that was a double album. And so towards the middle of ’68, Jimi’s searching, he’s looking for stuff that is not quite like the Experience. He experimented with musicians and friends of his who were not in the Jimi Hendrix Experience to change the direction. He was a restless soul. And thank goodness the studios were available, he would call up the Record Plant or Hit Factory or whatever, and jam, which was fantastic – this is the result, what we have here.
And you’ve got Steven Stills on bass on Somewhere.
Can you imagine Steve Stills on bass? It’s so cool. Steve Stills was a good friend of his, and it gives it a different tone, a different vibe, and that’s what Jimi was looking for, he was trying to figure out ‘what’s my next move?’ And you’ll find by the end of 69 it peaks with Woodstock, and three or four months after that you’ve got the Band Of Gypsies, so you can see the direction he was going in.