(Since its inception in 1973, the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame has enshrined nearly 1,000 recordings across all genres. The Making Of … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of the essential recordings of the 20th century. You can read more Making Of … accounts, and in-depth insight into the recordings and artists represented in the Hall, in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition book.)
Are You Experienced?
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
(As told to Alan di Perna)
By January 1967, when we started work on Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix had already had a run of successful singles in the UK with "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cries Mary." A lot of that work, as well as some other tracks, had been recorded at De Lane Lea Studios in London, but Jimi and the Experience had to get out of there because there was a bank above the studio and they couldn't play loud. But they'd heard about Olympic Studios, where I was a staff engineer. It had just opened up and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were really one of Olympic's first clients. It was brand-new and it was the hippest recording studio in the UK, if not all the world. The Helios mixing console we had was like nothing else around.
Jimi was very shy when he first came into the studio. He just sat quietly in the corner and waited for the amps to arrive. He didn't say much until the amps were situated and the drums set up. Then he plugged in and we were off to the races! The sheer volume set me back a bit. But that's what you deal with as an engineer.
We took the original tapes that they'd recorded elsewhere and overdubbed, fixed and tweaked what had been done previously. Then we just kept on recording and adding more tracks. Jimi was writing material with his producer and manager, Chas Chandler. He was living in Chas' apartment in London and they'd stay up all night working on lyrics, chords and the rest of that. And they'd come into the studio with a completely written song.
We were recording on 4-track tape back then and it was quite a process. You'd cut your initial basic four tracks and then you'd have to mix that down in stereo and transfer it to another 4-track machine. You'd fill up the two free tracks and mix all of that back down to the first machine. There was a lot of bouncing back and forth.
We were lucky to get what we got, especially as the budget was still pretty tight back then. There was no time to mess around, and Jimi was very disciplined. The album's title song is a perfect case in point. There are a lot of backwards tape tracks on that one — drums, bass and guitar. We cut basic tracks and then flipped the tape over. At the end of the session, I made Jimi a copy of the backwards tracks. He went home and rehearsed himself all night to figure out what the guitar was going to do. He came in the next day, said, "OK, roll the tape from this point. ..." And he knew from the downbeat precisely what the guitar was going to sound like and what the melody was going to be. He was playing the melody in real time, but he'd figured out how it was going to sound backwards. He was brilliant that way.
(Veteran music journalist Alan di Perna is a contributing editor for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His liner notes credits include Santana Live At The Fillmore East, the deluxe reissue of AC/DC's The Razor's Edge and Rhino Records' Heavy Metal Hits Of The '80s [Vols. 1 and 3].)