Behind Hendrix’s lyrics – An Interview with Christian Lloyd
Wordplay is one of Jimi Hendrix’s lesser-explored talents. We caught up with Christian Lloyd – author of Hendrix at Home: A Bluesman in Mayfair – to discuss the humour, wit and synaesthesia that permeated Hendrix’s lyrics.
Do you think Hendrix became more conscious of his lyric writing as his career progressed?
Yes, he lacked confidence in his song writing early on but worked hard on his lyrics, with much help from Chas Chandler (Hendrix’s manager during the formative years of The Experience) who was an astute editor. The later lyrics are quite aphoristic and sensitive.
Hendrix was famously inspired by Bob Dylan. To what extent do you think his lyrics were influenced by the Folk tradition?
I think Hendrix was more influenced by blues in his writing than folk. Dylan’s hot streak around Blonde on Blonde was more influenced by beat poetry and surrealism than folk and it was this innovative mode that influenced Hendrix rather than Dylan’s folk lyrics.
Hendrix often used colours to describe musical ideas. Do you believe this is something he effectively transferred to his lyric writing?
Yes, he was synesthetic so associates colours consistently with emotions e.g. in the lyric to the title song Axis: Bold As Love you can trace patterns of colour throughout his lyrics. “One Rainy wish” is a good example – “Gold and rose, the colour of the dream I had”.
Charles Shaar Murray has suggested that the Divine Feminine is a common feature of Hendrix’s late song writing. Do you notice a shift in the way Hendrix describes female protagonists throughout his career?
Yes, many of the women in his early songs are manipulative or sex objects but later on signify redemption e.g. “first rays of the new rising sun”. I think he liked women and wasn’t a misogynist. There was always an element of self-mockery early on, for example in “Foxy Lady” or “Crosstown Traffic”.
At Handel & Hendrix in London, we meet people from all age groups and cultures that have been inspired by Hendrix’s song writing. What is it about his lyrics that seems to be standing the test of time?
He’s a great phrase maker and often memorable in word choice and the way he puts things generally. His wit, humour and memorable phrases (e.g. “is it tomorrow or just the end of time?”) still have wide appeal.
Hendrix at Home: a Bluesman in Mayfair by Christian Lloyd was published by us here at Handel & Hendrix in London in 2016.
“In February 2016, Jimi Hendrix’s former home at 23 Brook Street in Mayfair was opened to the public with its rooms meticulously restored to appear as they were when the guitarist lived there in 1968 and 1969. Visitors to the address can now read a 98-page book that delves deeper into his time at the flat than ever before.” Mojo
“Lloyd focuses on Hendrix’s nine months as a London resident; a lesser-covered period in his life when he was the nearest he ever got to being settled down. We hear about Jimi choosing curtains, going shopping, building his record collection, going clubbing, giving interviews and hosting parties, along with appearing on Lulu’s TV show and at the Royal Albert Hall in February 1969; his last indoor gig in the UK.” Record Collector Magazine
“A fascinating new twist on the guitarist’s short, nomadic life.” Shindig! Magazine
“The book explores the innovative guitarist’s life in the district: a personally and musically significant time for the adopted Londoner, who was then at the height of his fame.” Mayfair Times
Dr Christian Lloyd is Academic Director at Queen’s University Bader International Study Centre in Sussex. He has published on subjects ranging from Britpop to Virginia Woolf, to virtual music.