Psych album of the week: the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love (1967)

The Experience’s second LP is a totemic psychedelic-rock release. Make no mistake, though: Hendrix had no interest in limiting himself

Hendrix

Left: The controversial cover art of Axis: Bold as Love. Right: A flyer for the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Vancouver concert on September 7, 1968.

0

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was remarkably prolific. This is especially remarkable when you consider that the band’s entire existence unfolded in the space of about 33 months.

Between its formation in September of 1966 to its dissolution in June of ’69, the trio of singer-guitarist Jim Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell released three original studio albums. These LPs—Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland—cemented Hendrix’s status as the world’s greatest living rock guitarist.

And it’s those three records upon which his legacy rests; he would die without completing another.

No limits

The Experience’s second LP, Axis: Bold as Love, is a totemic psychedelic-rock release. Make no mistake, though: Hendrix had no interest in limiting himself to either psychedelia or rock.

You can hear echoes of his days as a Chitlin’ Circuit sideman, for example, in the slippery R&B grooves of “Wait Until Tomorrow”. “Up From the Skies” is built on a jazzy shuffle, while “Little Wing” is a lilting ballad during which the guitarist puts his mastery of soulful blues licks on full display. It’s a master class that few have equalled since—although Stevie Ray Vaughan came damn close in 1984 with his instrumental take on the same tune.

The record’s crowning glory, however, is the closing track, “Bold as Love”. Hendrix mixes colours and emotions up into a metaphorical take on the human condition. It’s one of his finest turns as a lyricist. Hendrix gets full marks for the song’s composition, and Redding and Mitchell stand as his equals for their powerful performances. Producer Chas Chandler and engineer Eddie Kramer, though, deserve recognition for the song’s pioneering use of flanging and phasing effects. These are especially evident during the track’s explosive coda—but more about that later.

About that cover…

The LP’s cover art superimposed an image of the band’s members (painted by Roger Law, from a photograph by Karl Ferris) over a mass-produced religious poster depicting the Hindu deity Vishnu.

Hendrix hated it. So much so, in fact, that he stated publicly, “The three of us have nothing to do with what’s on the Axis cover.”

Nor was he the only one who wasn’t happy with the image. Hindus have expressed dismay over the appropriation of Vishnu. The Malaysian government went so far as to band the artwork—in 2014, a full 47 years after the album’s release.

This wouldn’t be the last time the Experience’s album design decisions were taken out of the artist’s hands. For the cover of Electric Ladyland, Hendrix had requested a specific photo by Linda Eastman (later McCartney). She had shot the band hanging out with some kids at the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park.

Reprise Record’s ignored Hendrix’s wishes and used a blurred Karl Ferris photo of his face instead. Even worse, the band’s U.K. label, Track Records, put a mildly sleazy photograph of naked women on its version. And not just two or three naked women, mind you, but 19 of them.

Hendrix’s long-overdue vindication came in 2018, when Sony released the 50th-anniversary edition of Electric Ladyland, complete with the front cover he had originally envisioned.

Hendrix-Ladyland

Sonic psych-out

The coda to “Bold as Love” closes the album. Mitch Mitchell kicks things off with a titanic drum fill, flanged for maximum mind-melting impact, before Hendrix takes the lead. In what is arguably his finest guitar solo, he encapsulates all of the song’s colours and emotions into just over a minute of sheer bliss. The phased sound seems to swirl around the listener’s head like a spiral galaxy of stellar tones.

Trippiest lyrics

“White-collar conservatives flashing down the street/Pointing their plastic finger at me/Pretty soon their kind will drop and die/But I’m gonna wave my freak flag high” (“If 6 Was 9”)

“The sky was filled with a thousand stars/While the sun kissed the mountains blue/And eleven moons played across the rainbows/Above me and you” (“One Rainy Wish”)

In their own words

Axis was the first time that it became apparent that Jimi was pretty good working behind the mixing board, as well as playing, and had some positive ideas of how he wanted things recorded. It could have been the start of any potential conflict between him and Chas in the studio.” (Mitch Mitchell)

Discussion


Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *