Iconic axeman Jimi Hendrix was a perfectionist, an artist with such a unique creative vision that his work is still as mind-blowing today as it was in his countercultural heyday. Although he was revered as a guitar god throughout his life, many believing that everything he touched turned to gold, Hendrix himself didn’t always see it that way.
Always the perfectionist when it came to his art, it turns out that Hendrix hated the first album covers of each of his albums that were released in his lifetime. His first record, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s 1967 debut Are You Experienced, kicked off this trend of hatred. Memorably, the original UK release featured Hendrix wearing a cape with arms wide open, with bandmates Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell under each wing.
“(Hendrix’s) music at the time was pretty wild, and the prevalent thing at the time was psychedelic and all things strange, so you had to do something odd,” said the photographer, Bruce Fleming, quoted in the book Jimi Hendrix and the Making of Are You Experienced. “The more outrageous and outlandish you got, the better. So I went for a dark green background – deep, deep green – and then just him with his cloak up”.
Fleming wanted to capture the magic of Hendrix’s music and that the way that “this guy could fly, literally”. Many people disliked the album cover, and none more so than Hendrix himself. Although it became one of his most famous images, Hendrix allegedly said it made him “look like a fairy”, and had another image made for the US release, one shot by Karl Ferris .
Regardless of Hendrix’s disdain for the cover of his debut, Ferris was again hired for the band’s second effort, Axis: Bold as Love. He took a portrait photograph of Hendrix, which was then turned into a religious style artwork by Roger Law attempting to depict the Hindu deity Vishnu.
“When I first saw that (cover) design, I thought, ‘It’s great,’ but maybe we should have an American Indian,” Hendrix is quoted as saying in Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Experience. Although he acknowledged the skill behind the artwork, beyond that, he said: “The three of us have nothing to do with what’s on the Axis cover”.
With the trend, it transpired that Hendrix particularly loathed the cover for 1968’s Electric Ladyland. Prior to the album’s release, he had been unequivocal on what he wanted the cover to look like. He even sent the label specific instructions regarding its creation. His concept would have used a picture taken by Linda McCartney (then Eastman) which featured Hendrix playing with children on the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in Central Park, New York.
Despite everything, the McCartney picture wouldn’t see the light of day until the album was reissued for its 50th anniversary. The label, acting of their own will, went for something completely different. It was another photograph, by that man Ferris again, captured during Hendrix’s iconic performance at London’s Saville Theatre.
Electric Ladyland ended up getting various international covers, but the UK issue was the most infamous by far. This cover features 19 naked women, which caused so much offence that many places refused to stock it, labelling it “pornographic”.
“I didn’t know a thing about the English sleeve,” Hendrix told Melody Maker in 1968. “Still, you know me, I dug it anyway. Except I think it’s sad the way the photographer made the girls look ugly. Some of them are nice-looking chicks, but the photographer distorted the photograph with a fish-eye lens or something. That’s mean. It made the girls look bad”.
Hendrix being, well, Hendrix, was also not keen on anything to do with Band of Gypsys, the last record released before his death. “If it had been up to me, I never would have put it out,” he revealed. “From a musician’s point of view, it was not a good recording and I was out of tune on a few things. The thing was, we owed the record company an album and they were pushing us, so here it is”.
Next time you’re kicking back listening to the brilliance of Jimi Hendrix, when you take a look at the record cover, just think how peeved he would have been that you’re holding a record that has an artwork that, to him, should never have been committed to his music.