Spotlight on Electric Ladyland on its 50th Anniversary
Hendrix’s masterpiece returns revamped for 2018 – we take a look at how it came to be over 50 years ago.
In the Summer of 67’, following an emphatic public response to Axis: Bold as Love, Jimi Hendrix was busy plotting his next move. Warner had agreed to bankroll his third album and Jimi was making inroads with American producers that promised to match his musical ambitions. Eventually, the guitarist was drawn back to New York in a bid to realise his sonic potential. Here, Hendrix part-funded the creation of Record Plant – an avant garde studio that boasted one of the first 12 track recording systems in America. Inside this futuristic, living-room-like space Hendrix would track one of the most expressive Rock albums of all time.
Hendrix initially had misgivings about working stateside. In his carefully compiled memoir Starting at Zero, he pines for the familiarity of UK producers, writing “when you’re with an engineer over there, you’re with a human being”. Perhaps this is unsurprising given that Jimi’s professional and social life had up until this point been firmly rooted in London’s famously tight-knit musical network. This affiliation made the decision to uproot his recording operations to New York all the more unexpected. Whilst some would argue there was a sense of inevitability to Hendrix’s US return, it marked a departure from the route Chas Chandler had seemingly carved out for him. Chandler discovered Jimi and was responsible for bringing him to London in 1966. However, by 1968, management duties had passed to Chas’s old business partner, Mike Jeffrey. It is unclear as to whether Hendrix or Jeffery first spawned the idea of recording Electric Ladyland in America. Regardless, we can say with some certainty that an introduction to Gary Kellgren went a long way to convince Jimi of a transatlantic shift.
A young engineer from the Midwest, Kellgren had already worked on the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat and Frank Zappa’s We’re Only in It for the Money. As noted by Rolling Stone in 2018, “one of Kellgren’s audio signatures was the psychedelic phasing sound heard on Eric Burdon’s anti-war anthem, Sky Pilot”. As an innovator in the intentional use of guitar feedback, it is likely Jimi would have been enticed by such sonic exploration. Without doubt, Kellgren possessed the understanding and willingness to drive The Jimi Hendrix Experience towards their desired soundscape.
Up until this point Hendrix had publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the fruits of his labour in the studio. Ever the enigma, Jimi seemed to at once ache for the familiarity of UK producers and resent their inability to realise his artistic vision. Kellgren sought to bridge this gap that seemed to exist between the guitarist and previous producers – albeit with the continued assistance of Hendrix’s long-standing engineer, Eddie Kramer. Archivist John McDermott suggests that “Gary’s success came from the fact that he could communicate with the artist in a way that was real; they dug him as a person”. Chris Stone, who co-founded Record Plant studios with Kellgren, builds upon McDermott’s assertion, “Hendrix loved Gary, they were co-pilots behind the board.” In the aftermath of Hendrix’s love affair with the London music scene it was this prolific relationship between artist and engineer that was to form the working foundations of Electric Ladyland and, ultimately, the trailblazing studio in which it was conceived.
“Kellgren didn’t build Hendrix a studio, it was a home” Chris Stone
With this relationship in mind, Electric Ladyland embodied one of the only successful attempts to harness Hendrix’s expressive capacity. Speaking on Canadian TV prior to the album’s release, Jimi mused “I’m playing all I know, just playing the way I feel,”. Kellgren recognised the importance of liberating his artist in a way that previous collaborators, including the mentor-like Chas Chandler, had not.
by Bobby Bertoli
You can buy the recently reissued Electric Ladyland Deluxe Edition 50th Anniversary Vinyl Box Set from our online shop.