Are You Experienced is the debut studio album by English-American rock band the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Released in 1967, the LP was an immediate critical and commercial success, and it is widely regarded as one of the greatest debuts in the history of rock music. The album features Jimi Hendrix‘s innovative approach to songwriting and electric guitar playing which soon established a new direction in psychedelic and hard rock music.
By mid-1966, Hendrix was struggling to earn a living playing the R&B circuit as a backing guitarist. After being referred to Chas Chandler, who was leaving the Animals and interested in managing and producing artists, Hendrix was signed to a management and production contract with Chandler and ex-Animals manager Michael Jeffery. Chandler brought Hendrix to London and began recruiting members for a band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, designed to showcase the guitarist’s talents.
In late October, after having been rejected by Decca Records, the Experience signed with Track, a new label formed by the Who‘s managers Kit Lambertand Chris Stamp. Are You Experienced and its preceding singles were recorded over a five-month period from late October 1966 through early April 1967. The album was completed in 16 recording sessions at three London locations, including De Lane Lea Studios, CBS Studios, and Olympic Studios.
Released in the UK on May 12, 1967, Are You Experienced spent 33 weeks on the charts, peaking at number two. The album was issued in the US on August 23 by Reprise Records, where it reached number five on the US Billboard Top LPs, remaining on the chart for 106 weeks, 27 of those in the Top 40. The album also spent 70 weeks on the US Billboard Hot R&B LPs chart, where it peaked at number 10. The US version contained some of Hendrix’s best known songs, including the Experience’s first three singles, which, though omitted from the British edition of the LP, were top ten hits in the UK: “Purple Haze“, “Hey Joe“, and “The Wind Cries Mary“.
In 2005, Rolling Stone ranked Are You Experienced15th on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The magazine placed four songs from the album on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: “Purple Haze” (17), “Foxy Lady” (153), “Hey Joe” (201), and “The Wind Cries Mary” (379). That same year, the record was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress in recognition of its cultural significance to be added to the National Recording Registry. Writer and archivist Reuben Jackson of the Smithsonian Institution wrote: “it’s still a landmark recording because it is of the rock, R&B, blues … musical tradition. It altered the syntax of the music … in a way I compare to James Joyce‘s Ulysses.”
Are You Experienced and its preceding singles were recorded over a five-month period from October 23, 1966 to April 4, 1967. The album was completed in 16 recording sessions at three London locations, including De Lane Lea Studios, CBS, and Olympic. Chandler booked many of the sessions at Olympic because the facility was acoustically superior and equipped with most of the latest technology, though it was still using four-track recorders, whereas American studios were using eight-track.
Chandler’s budget was limited, so in an effort to reduce expenditures he and Hendrix completed much of the album’s pre-production work at their shared apartment. From the start, Chandler intentionally minimized the creative input of Mitchell and Redding. He later explained: “I wasn’t concerned that Mitch or Noel might feel that they weren’t having enough—or any—say … I had been touring and recording in a band for years, and I’d seen everything end as a compromise. Nobody ended up doing what they really wanted to do. I was not going to let that happen with Jimi.” When the Experience began studio rehearsals, Hendrix already had the chord sequences and tempos worked out for Mitchell, and Chandler would direct Redding’s bass parts.
October to December 1966
Chandler and the Experience found time to record between performances in Europe. They began on October 23, recording “Hey Joe” at De Lane Lea Studios, with Chandler as producer and Dave Siddle as engineer. The song featured backing vocals by the Breakaways. Soon after the session began, Chandler asked Hendrix to turn his guitar amplifier down, and an argument ensued. Chandler commented: “Jimi threw a tantrum because I wouldn’t let him play guitar loud enough … He was playing a Marshall twin stack, and it was so loud in the studio that we were picking up various rattles and noises.” According to Chandler, Hendrix then threatened to leave England, stating: “If I can’t play as loud as I want, I might as well go back to New York.” Chandler, who had Hendrix’s immigration papers and passport in his back pocket, laid the documents on the mixing console and told Hendrix to “piss off”. Hendrix laughed and said: “All right, you called my bluff”, and they got back to work.Redding wrote in his diary that they completed two songs during the October 23 session, but the second one has never been positively identified. Author Sean Egan speculated that it might have been Howlin’ Wolf‘s “Killing Floor” or Wilson Pickett‘s “Land of a Thousand Dances“. Chandler decided that they should use an Experience original for the B-side of the single, so he encouraged Hendrix to start writing; he composed his first Experience song, “Stone Free“, the following day.[nb 1] Chandler, in an effort to minimize studio expenses, purchased rehearsal time at the Aberbach House in London.He abandoned this practice after realizing how quickly the group could learn songs while warming up in the studio. On November 2, 1966, the Experience returned to De Lane Lea to continue work on their first single. During the session, they recorded “Stone Free” and a demo version of “Can You See Me”. This marked the first time that the Experience recorded a song that was eventually included on the original UK release of the album.
Chandler had been dissatisfied with the sound quality at De Lane Lea, so he took the advice of Kit Lambert and booked time at CBS Studios. On December 13, 1966, after taking a five-week break from recording while they performed in Europe, the Experience reconvened at CBS.[nb 2] Assisted by engineer Mike Ross, the band were especially productive during the session, recording instrumentation and vocals for “Foxy Lady” and basic instrumental tracks for “Love or Confusion”, “Can You See Me”, and “Third Stone from the Sun“. Ross recalled the impact of Hendrix’s Marshall stacks: “It was so loud you couldn’t stand in the studio … I’d never heard anything like it in my life.” When Ross asked Hendrix where he would like the microphone placed Hendrix replied: “Oh, man, just put a mic about twelve feet away on the other side of the studio. It’ll sound great.” Ross agreed, and with a Neumann U87 tube mic he recorded Hendrix’s guitar playing in a large room that, according to Ross, “was absolutely vital to the uniquely powerful Experience sound.” Ross noted that input from Mitchell and Redding was minimized, and he asserted that Chandler was clearly “the one in charge” of the sessions. The band played together live at CBS; the lead and backup vocals were overdubbed. Despite his dwindling finances, Chandler encouraged the Experience to record numerous takes of a song, affording them the luxury of repeated attempts at a satisfactory recording.With a live instrument track as the foundation of the recordings, they eschewed the common practice of piecing together parts of several takes to make one continuous piece. After the December 13 recording session, the band made their television debut, on Britain’s Ready Steady Go!
On December 15, 1966, finishing touches were made on the four rhythm tracks that were recorded the previous session.[nb 3] Although Chandler enjoyed working at CBS and he appreciated the high quality of the recordings they made there, he ended his professional connection with the studio after a disagreement between him and owner Jake Levy over his failure to make payment. Chandler had planned to pay Levy for the sessions after the album was completed, but Levy demanded payment upfront. Chandler viewed this as an unreasonable expectation, and he vowed that he would never again do business with CBS.[nb 4] The fifth and final song recorded there was “Red House“. As stereophonic sound was not yet popular among music fans, these recordings were all monauralmixes; Ross explained: “back then … mono was king. All the effort went into the mono.” He estimated that they spent no more than 30 minutes mixing any one track.[nb 5]
The first Experience single, with “Hey Joe” as the A-side and “Stone Free” as the B-side, was released in the UK on December 16, 1966. Track Records was not yet operational, so their distributor, Polydor Records, issued the single with their logo. It reached number six on the UK chart in early 1967. On December 21, 1966, Chandler and the Experience returned to De Lane Lea with Dave Siddle as engineer. They recorded two alternate versions of “Red House” and began work on “Remember”; both tracks were significantly re-worked in April 1967 at Olympic Studios.
January to April 1967
After a three-week break from recording while they played gigs in England, including a December 29 appearance on Top of the Pops, the Experience reconvened at De Lane Lea on January 11, 1967.As “Hey Joe” was gaining chart momentum in the UK, they began working on their second single, which featured Hendrix’s second songwriting effort, “Purple Haze”, as its A-side. The track presented a more complex arrangement than the band’s previous recordings, and required four hours of studio time to complete, which Chandler considered extravagant. The session was the first time that he and the group had experimented with guitar effects. Acoustic engineer Roger Mayerintroduced Hendrix to the Octavia, an octave-doubling effect pedal, in December 1966, and he first recorded with the effect during the guitar solo of “Purple Haze”. When Track Records sent the master tapes for “Purple Haze” to Reprise for remastering, they wrote on the tape box: “Deliberate distortion. Do not correct.”
On January 11, 1967, the Experience worked on their third A-side, “The Wind Cries Mary”, a song that marked their first use of overdubbing in lieu of retakes as a method of achieving a satisfactory track. Chandler explained: “There were five guitar overdubs all linking in together to sound like one guitar.” The song, which Redding and Mitchell had not yet heard before that day, was completed during the session. Chandler had decided that they should discard the rough version of “Third Stone from the Sun” from December 13 and re-record the song; they completed a basic track for the piece, but were unable to achieve a finished master. The group managed to produce an acceptable live recording of the basic track for “Fire” after seven takes. Next, they attempted Hendrix’s newly written ballad, “The Wind Cries Mary“. Without the benefit of rehearsals, the band recorded the song in one take, to which Hendrix added several guitar overdubs; Chandler estimated that they spent approximately 20 minutes on the completed rhythm track. According to Chandler, by this time Redding and Mitchell had begun to complain about their limited input. Chandler explained that financial considerations influenced the creative dynamic: “[They] were sort of fighting the fact that they had no say during recording sessions … they were starting to come up with suggestions, but … We didn’t need to be arguing with Noel for ten minutes and Mitch for five … We just couldn’t afford the time.”
Between January 12 and February 2, 1967, the Experience took a break from recording while they played 20 dates in England, including a second appearance on Top of the Pops, on January 18.Chandler was dissatisfied with the sound quality of the January 11 recordings and frustrated by the large number of noise complaints that they had received from people living and working near De Lane Lea. He explained: “There was a bank above the studio … and it was at the time when computers were just coming in … we would play so loud that it would foul up the computers upstairs.” Brian Jones and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones encouraged Chandler to try Olympic Studios, which was considered the top independent London studio. Despite the growing chart success of their first single, Chandler’s money problems persisted. Olympic required advance payment for studio time, but Polydor had not yet released any funds to Track for disbursement. When Chandler went to Polydor asking for relief they responded by guaranteeing him a line of credit at Olympic.
“I would fill the four basic tracks with stereo drums on two of the channels, the bass on the third, and Jimi’s rhythm guitar on the fourth. From there, Chandler and I would mix this down to two tracks on another four-track recorder, giving us two more tracks to put on whatever we wanted, which usually included Jimi’s lead guitar and vocals as well as backing vocals and some additional percussion.”
With his budget concerns alleviated, Chandler booked time at Olympic, where on February 3, 1967, he and the Experience met sound engineer Eddie Kramer. During Kramer’s first session with the group, he deviated from the standard recording method that they had been using at CBS and De Lane Lea, which was to record bass and drums in mono on two tracks. He instead recorded Mitchell’s drums on two tracks in stereo, leaving the remaining two tracks available for Redding’s bass and rhythm guitar parts played by Hendrix. Kramer’s unorthodox approach, which was inspired by Hendrix’s complaints regarding the limitations of four-track recordings, captured the live sound of the band using all four available tracks.[nb 6] Kramer and Chandler then pre-mixed and reduced the first four tracks down to two, making two more tracks available for lead guitar overdubs and vocals. This method satisfied both Hendrix’s perfectionism and Chandler’s desire to reduce the number of takes required for a satisfactory rhythm track, thus minimizing their expenses. Another change instigated by Kramer was the use of a mixture of close and distant microphone placements when recording Hendrix’s guitar parts whereas, during previous sessions, the microphones had been placed about twelve feet away from Hendrix’s amplifiers. In addition to the usual choices, Kramer used Beyer M1 60 ribbon microphones, which were typically not used to record loud music.
During the February 3, 1967, session at Olympic, the Experience improved the January 11 master tape of “Purple Haze” by re-recording the vocal and lead guitar parts, and adding another Octavia guitar overdub, which was sped-up and panned at the end of the song. The group reconvened at Olympic on February 7, continuing their work on “Purple Haze” by recording Hendrix’s rhythm guitar and vocal parts, as well as Redding’s background vocals. They spent time overdubbing ambient background sounds by playing tapes through a set of headphones that were held near a microphone, creating an echo effect as the headphones were moved closer; they completed a final mix of “Purple Haze” the following day. During the session, they worked on the De Lane Lea master tape of “Fire”, replacing everything except Redding’s bass line, which he double-tracked in an effort to accentuate the recording’s lower frequencies. Kramer placed the second bass line on a dedicated track and blended Redding’s original bass line with Mitchell’s newly recorded drum part. They also recorded Mitchell and Redding’s backing vocals. “Foxy Lady” was also reworked on February 8; Redding recorded a new bass line and Hendrix and Mitchell added overdubs to their existing parts. After recording backing vocals by Redding and lead vocals from Hendrix, Kramer prepared the song’s final mix.
Hendrix was not as confident a singer as he was a guitarist, and because he strongly disliked anyone watching him sing he asked the engineers at Olympic to construct a privacy barrier between him and the control room. This created problems when the studio lights were low, and the engineers were unable to see him, making his visual cues and prompts difficult to communicate. As was the case at De Lane Lea, Hendrix’s penchant for using multiple amplifiers at extreme volume drew criticism and complaints from the people living and working near to the studio. Olympic tape operator George Chkiantz recalled: “Sometimes, it got so loud we’d turn the [control booth] monitors off and there was really very little difference.” Chkiantz noted that reactions to Hendrix’s music were not always positive: “I seem to recall a lot of musicians, a lot of people, saying, ‘I can’t see what all the fuss is about myself’, or ‘I don’t know how you listen to all that noise; I’d be scared to work with him’ … Chas was convinced that he was on to something. Not everyone was convinced that Chas was right.”Another issue that complicated the sessions were the large number of female fans who would show up at the studio wanting to watch the Experience record. As a habit, Hendrix would indiscriminately tell people where they would be on any given day, which led to large groups of fans following him everywhere. Olympic employees were tasked with keeping them under control and at a safe distance so as to not unduly burden the recording process. Chkiantz commented: “It was extraordinary. I worked with the Stones. I worked with the Beatles. I worked with Led Zeppelin. I was not as jumpy; it was not as difficult as with Hendrix. It was something of an open house. Hendrix was not difficult at all, but I personally would have preferred not to have loads of girls lurking in the woodwork.”
On February 20, 1967, the Experience continued working on Are You Experienced, but scheduling conflicts at Olympic led Chandler to book time at De Lane Lea. During the session they recorded “I Don’t Live Today“, which featured a manual wah effect that predated the pedal unit. They managed to complete a working master by the end of the day, though Hendrix eventually recorded a new lead vocal at Olympic.
March and April
The Experience took a week break from recording while playing gigs in England, and returned to De Lane Lea on March 1, 1967, to attempt a studio recording of Bob Dylan‘s “Like a Rolling Stone“.Although the song had long been a staple of the group’s live show, they failed to achieve an acceptable basic track, owing mostly to Mitchell’s inability to keep consistent time during the session.
The second Experience single, “Purple Haze”/”51st Anniversary”, was released on March 1. It entered the UK singles chart on the 23rd, peaking at number three. During that month, the band took another long break from recording while they played gigs in Belgium, Germany, and the UK, including appearances on the UK television show Dee Timeand the BBC radio show Saturday Club.Scheduling conflicts at Olympic led Chandler to book a March 29 session at De Lane Lea. On this date the band worked on another newly written Hendrix composition, “Manic Depression“; they finished a rough mix by the end of the session that was later rejected in favor of a re-mix completed at Olympic. On April 3, the Experience returned to Olympic, adding overdubs and completing final mixes on several unfinished masters. During the eight-hour session, the band recorded three new songs, including “Highway Chile”, “May This Be Love“, and “Are You Experienced?“. As the album’s title track featured backwards rhythm guitar, bass, and drums, replication of the beat caused Mitchell some consternation when attempting the song live.[nb 7] Chandler completed final mixes for “I Don’t Live Today”, “Are You Experienced?”, and “May This Be Love” before the end of a session that Kramer described as “very organized.”
In an effort to free up space for Hendrix’s lead vocals, further reduction mixing was completed for “Are You Experienced?” during a session at Olympic on April 4, 1967. With the title track complete, the Experience shifted their focus to the January 11 rough demo of “Third Stone from the Sun”. Chandler decided that they should discard the original De Lane Lea tape and record a new version of the song. During the session, Kramer prepared a reduction mix of “Highway Chile”, which made two tracks available for Hendrix’s lead guitar and vocal overdubs.Though stereo and mono mixes were completed for the song, Chandler preferred the mono version, which he paired with “The Wind Cries Mary” for release as the group’s third UK single. A reduction mix was prepared for “Love or Confusion”, and Hendrix took advantage of the newly vacant tracks by adding lead guitar and vocals. A final mix was completed before the end of the session. On April 5, Chandler participated in a mastering session at Rye Muse Studios for “Highway Chile” and “The Wind Cries Mary”, during which preparations were made so that Track could begin manufacturing vinyls.On the 10th, he and the Experience returned to Olympic, spending the bulk of the session on editing dialogue segments for “Third Stone from the Sun”, which were then slowed down and mixed into the song. Kramer concentrated his efforts on the song’s complicated mix: “The song was like a watercolor painting … each track was composed of four, fairly dense composite images.”
After the April 10, 1967, recording session, the Experience spent the next two weeks playing shows and attending promotional appearances in England, including a spot on the BBC television program Monday Monday and BBC2‘s Late Night Line-Up.Chandler, Hendrix, and Kramer completed the final mixing of Are You Experienced at Olympic by 3 a.m. on April 25. Chandler had agreed to audition the finished LP for Polydor’s head of A&R, Horst Schmaltze, at 11 a.m., so after a few hours of sleep he prepared a suitable vinyl demo and traveled to Polydor. Chandler recalled: “As Horst started to put the needle on the record, I broke out in a cold sweat, thinking … when he hears this, he’s going to order the men in white coats to take me away … Horst played the first side through and didn’t say a word. Then he turned the disk over and played the other side. I started thinking about how I was going to talk my way out of this. At the end of the second side, he just sat there. Finally, he said, ‘This is brilliant. This is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.'” Horst immediately became an ardent supporter of the album and the band, championing the marketing and distribution of their debut LP.