‘Are You Experienced,’ the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut album, was released on May 12, 1967 in Great Britain, changing the course of rock ‘n’ roll history.
On this day in 1967, the Jimi Hendrix Experience released its debut album, Are You Experienced, in Great Britain. Three months later, the American version was released and rock music hasn’t been the same since. The title itself posed a provocative question at a time when Britain and the United States, not to mention much of western society, was experiencing consequential change in attitudes about sex, drugs, and one’s purpose in life.
The album cover released in the United States with art work by Karl Ferris featured a Day-Glo yellow background and a fisheye lens photo of the band members. Their colorful, flamboyant clothing inferred the personality traits of each band member. The purple, psychedelic lettering boldy announced the name of the band and the album. Playful and yet slightly ominous, the cover presented an Alice in Wonderland riddle that even before a note was played, compelled one to consider the question, Are You Experienced?
The band was a racially integrated trio of musicians: American, Jimi Hendrix, on guitar alongside British musicians Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. Hendrix was “discovered” by Chas Chandler, the ex-bass player of the rock group The Animals. At the time, Hendrix was scratching out a living playing clubs in Greenwich Village in New York City. Prior to this, Hendrix had honed his craft playing back up musician with the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and Curtis Knight. In 1966, he performed under the name Jimmy James in the group Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.
The music of the Jimi Hendrix Experience synthesized elements of rock, soul, blues, pop, and psychedelic rock. Their sound was from another planet. The songs featured a cacophony of overdubbing, backward tape tracks, tape loops, and sound layering. While Redding and Mitchell ground out driving rhythms, Hendrix explored a sonic terrain of wah-wah and chorus pedals, fuzz and feedback distortion all wrapped up in virtuoso guitar work.
What makes Are You Experienced so special is the concoction of different genres of music and cutting-edge sound engineering created primarily by Hendrix and translated by legendary recording producer Eddie Kramer. The result is an Odyssey-like excursion through poetic odes, psychedelic episodes, dazzling blues renditions, and chaotic instrumental jams. Songs like “Purple Haze”, “Fire”, “Foxy Lady” and “Can You See Me” (on the British version) took on a classic hard rock feel before rock had any classics to speak of. Each song contains a frenzy of guitar pyrotechnics and driving rhythms. The tunes lend themselves to AM as well as FM radio formats and were familiar songs in live concerts.