Jimi Hendrix is every guitarist’s idol. Not only that, he made instrumental music so popular that even those who didn’t particularly notice the specifics about music arrangement or instrumental solos started appreciating these finer aspects in a song. In his short but highly productive career, he not only pioneered the use of the guitar as an electronic sound source but also evolved as a singer-songwriter. It’s something that can be clearly seen on his and his band’s sophomore record.
Axis: Bold As Love was released in 1967 by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, a band famously comprising of Jimi Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. By the time of release, the band’s first album Are you Experienced had created quite a stir among the critic circle for giving psychedelic rock music a new direction and, perhaps because of it, the record became a commercial hit too. With success ringing int heir ears, the band began to record songs immediately after their first album and headed into London’s Olympic Studios in the summer of 1967.
Many songs were created, sometimes half-made, most of which were discarded, some of which were highly improvised and very few survived the edit. The recording sessions happened in segments alternating with the band’s one-month live gigs over Europe and then their debut in Monterey Pop Festival. This festival made Hendrix finally famous outside Europe, something which Paul McCartney can be thanked for after he agreed to join the board of organisers on the condition that The Experience would perform at the festival. Author Keith Shadwick later stated, “[Hendrix] was not only something utterly new musically, but an entirely original vision of what a black American entertainer should and could look like.”
The album contained thirteen songs, seven on side one and six on side two. Though there are some great tracks, the album lacks consistency. One may argue that the extraordinary tracks make up for the comparatively ordinary ones, and it’s a robust retort. Lyrically it showed Hendrix’s growth as a songwriter, even Redding’s contribution in this field is noticeable. But the real victory came as the album once again brought forth the originality of Hendrix’s music.
By blending different genres in perfect ratios, it created a new soundscape that was refreshing and a bit mellow compared to their previous work. Needless to say, the lead guitar is mesmerising, stealing the show with guitar solos and expressions that feel akin to that of a singer projecting their vocal range. While the balance of songs is slightly weighted towards the middle of the road, with some lacking power and others providing a heavy punch, there are three songs on the record which shine brighter than any other.
Two-and-a-half minutes long, ‘Little Wing’ can only be faulted for its brevity. The slow and melodic tune is rich with a blues flavour. Once you get the taste of it, you’ll want it to go on forever. The lyrics, written by Hendrix, are somewhat abstract, referencing an ideal guardian-angel figure. In a 1967 interview, he explained: “Most ballads come across in different ways. Sometimes you see things in different ways than other people see it. So then you write it in a song. It could represent anything.”
The guardian-angel figure could have religious connotations or it could simply be the embodiment of positive emotions like hope, love and peace. Hendrix has however described the song as being “based on a very, very simple Indian style.” It was one of the few songs from the album which the band played in live concerts.
Also written by Hendrix, the style of ‘If Six Was Nine’ has been referred to as “acid-fueled blues”, the now-iconic amalgamation of blues and rock music. Hendrix lost the master tape just before the album’s release. The band’s manager Chas Chandler and engineer Eddie Kramer remixed most of side one in a single overnight session, but they could not match the quality of the lost mix of ‘If 6 Was 9’. Hence, the track consists of some background noises. Noel Redding had a tape recording of this mix, which had to be smoothed out with an iron as it had gotten wrinkled. Hendrix being a perfectionist was not happy with the quality of the work and wished they had more time to work on it.
The noise, however, didn’t affect the song or its spirit. It became the embodiment of the socio-cultural dichotomies that existed between the hippies and the “white collared conservative” business world of the establishment during the Counterculture movement of the ’60s. With “I’m the one that’s gonna have to die when it’s time for me to die/so let me live my life/the way I want to,” Hendrix voices the message of the youth movement of which he was now leader and lord.
The title track of the album is, of course, special in many ways. The song contains two verses and two choruses in which Hendrix compares certain emotions and personas with definite colours. The use of extensive metaphors highlights how far Hendrix was willing to stretch himself as a musician. His guitar playing throughout the song is marked by chordal arpeggios and contrapuntal motions, with tremolo-picked partial chords. The guitar solo at the end is undoubtedly the show-stopper. There couldn’t have been a better way to close the album.
Is this Jimi Hendrix and The Experience’s best album? No. Is it still a vital expression from one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived? Certainly. And for that reason alone, it is worth revisiting. Below, listen to Jimi Hendrix and the Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love.