Trophies Of War: 50 Years of Jimi Hendrix Experience's Axis: Bold As Love
In that time, he was able to release three albums with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Are You Experienced acted as their loud and flashy introduction. Electric Ladyland proved to be their grand finale, featuring some of their most memorable songs.
Axis: Bold as Love "heralded a new subtlety in Hendrix's work”, according to author Peter Doggett. It explored new themes lyrically, and reflected Hendrix’s "growing interest in science fiction and outer space.” Kris Needs called the record a "transitional, but often overlooked, masterpiece."
This December marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Axis: Bold As Love.The journey of making the album is almost as chaotic as the record itself. Read on to learn more about the recording of this impressive document of one of the greatest to ever pick up a guitar.
Hendrix first picked up the guitar when he was only 15 years old — an acoustic he bought for $5. After joining several bands, and playing a few gigs, Hendrix eventually found himself in trouble. At 18, he was caught driving a stolen car for the second time. The police gave him an ultimatum to either join the Army or go to prison.
On May 31, 1961, James Marshall Hendrix officially enlisted in the Army. He was often disciplined for sleeping in, masturbating and smoking weed. A year later he was honorably discharged after breaking his ankle during a parachute jump.
After his discharge, Hendrix spent years working as a struggling musician. In 1966, the young musician had a gig at the Cheetah Club in New York. Linda Keith (Keith Richard’s girlfriend) was in the audience that night.
She saw something special in Hendrix, and introduced him to the infamous Chas Chandler of The Animals. Chandler knew there was something different about Jimi. So, he took him under his wing, with the caveat that he change the spelling of his name from Jimmy to Jimi.
On Hendrix, Eric Clapton says, "He asked if he could play a couple of numbers. I said, 'Of course', but I had a funny feeling about him. He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way. I mean he did a few of his tricks, like playing with his teeth and behind his back, but it wasn't in an upstaging sense at all, and that was it... He walked off, and my life was never the same again.”
With Chandler at his side, Jimi secured a two-album record deal with Track Records in 1967. Unfortunately, the deal required them to produce both records that year.
Recording for their debut album Are You Experienced began right away. The band spent five months with Eddie Kramer at Olympic Studios. The final mix was finished at 3 AM on April 25th, and the album was released on May 12, 1967.
By that time, the Experience was already recording LP number two, Axis: Bold As Love. They had taken a week off to catch their breath and returned to Olympic Studios in London. Chas Chandler was set to produce and the legendary Eddie Kramer returned to engineer.
Mitch Mitchell: "Axis was the first time that it became apparent that Jimi was pretty good working behind the mixing board, as well as playing. He had some positive ideas of how he wanted things recorded. It could have been the start of any potential conflict between him and Chas in the studio.”
The Olympic Sessions
Recording for Axis: Bold As Love began on May 4th, 1967. At the time, Olympic was outfitted with a “Dick Swettenham-designed Helios desk" and an Ampex four-track tape machine.
"Generally speaking it was either a 67 or [a Beyer] M160 or a combination of both, which I still use today. It might be slightly different, of course, but the basic principle's the same — a ribbon and a condenser, along with compression and EQ and reverb. All that stuff was always added during recording.”
Mitch Mitchell's kit was "positioned on a riser within a roofed, open-sided booth to give it depth and miked with a combination of U67s and AKG C12s.”
Hendrix would overdub all of his vocals afterwards, using a Beyer M160 and a three-sided screen for privacy. Kramer once said about Jimi:
"He'd always face the other way. He hated to be looked at. He was very shy about his vocals. The truth was, he had a great style and I loved his vocals, but he hated them. He was so embarrassed by them.”
The Axis sessions began with recording "She's So Fine”, written by bassist Noel Redding. Jimi was particularly excited for this song, because it was written in A and used an open G chord, which he fancied.
It took the band 23 takes to get the track down, after which Redding overdubbed his vocal, and Jimi played the infamous recorder part. Chandler wasn’t happy. In an interview, he once said, "If the band can’t play [the song] in 2 or 3 takes, they shouldn’t be in the studio — they’re not good enough."
Much of the writing for Axis took place in the studio, and many of the songs were recorded live using experimental techniques. Eddie Kramer said the following about his approach with Jimi in an interview for The Recording Engineer's Handbook:
"I wasn’t afraid of recording an artist in the room live as he was cutting. To me, anything that was in the room was fair game to be recorded. Don’t forget that I had an artist who was an absolute genius, so it made life a lot simpler."
"You put the mics up, place them correctly, and give the artist the room and the facility to work in and make sure it sounds cool so when they walk into the control room they say, 'Oh, that sounds just like I was playing it out there.' That’s the goal. To capture the essence of what the artist is actually doing in the studio.”
In a later interview with SOS in 2005, Kramer said:
"Jimi would walk into the studio, have his amp set up and start playing, and I would hear something and immediately I would start manipulating the sound. Try to make it better or different, or try to be creative with it. I think what he appreciated was the fact that I wouldn't just stick a mic up and hope for the best. We were experimenting!"
Kramer also mentioned experimenting with drum recording techniques on Axis, and his first time recording in stereo:
"Hendrix’s stuff was done on four-track. On Are You Experienced we used mono drums and mono guitars and so forth. We would fill a four-track up then dump it down to another four-track, leaving two tracks open, then you may have to do that again. On Axis: Bold As Love, I was recording stereo drums which made a big difference."
"When it was mono I just used a single overhead, a snare mic and bass drum mic. There might be one or two tom mics but that would be it. When I went to stereo I probably used a pair of 251’s or 67’s, I can’t remember which"
"I was just trying to get that left to right image when the toms would go left to right. I always record from the drummer’s perspective and not from the listener’s perspective."
By the end of the first week, they had basic tracks recorded for seven songs, although only three would make it on the album. The following week, they returned to the studio, when Jimi sat down at the harpsichord in the studio and began writing "The Burning of the Midnight Lamp”. After a few takes, they had a short demo finished, and spent the rest of the week fleshing it out.
On The Road
The sessions for Axis were sporadic. After two weeks in the studio, the Experience took a month off to tour Europe. They returned to Olympic on June 5th for another two weeks of recording, before leaving for tour again.
The success of "Purple Haze”, and "Hey Joe” had earned the Experience a set at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, where Jimi famously set his guitar on fire and "created one of rock's most perfect moments."
After the festival, Chandler saw an opportunity for exposure and booked them to open for Jefferson Airplane for five shows at The Fillmore. After outperforming them two nights in a row, The Experience were eventually promoted to the top of the bill.
While the band was in California, Chandler booked three days at Houston Studios in Los Angeles, which he quickly regretted. He said:
"I booked three days there because I was told it was a state-of-the-art studio, but it was dire. The place was like a rehearsal studio compared to Olympic. Los Angeles was so far behind at that time.”
Hendrix was inspired, and wrote “Little Wing” as his "impression of the Monterey Pop Festival put into the form of a girl.” During the recording, Hendrix played his guitar through a rotating Leslie speaker for the first time. The song started much rawer, according to Kramer, but the band convinced Jimi to tone it down.
Another week on the road. More shows in LA, and a few in New York. Two more days in a different studio, this time at Mayfair in London.
The title track for Axis: Bold As Love has been described as "the most ambitious piece on Axis.” It took the band 27 takes to get the rhythm tracks down, provided a platform for what Andy Aledort calls as "simply one of the greatest electric guitar solos ever played".
The end was in sight. The record was almost finished. It had taken weeks, but after 100s of retakes and countless arguments, they had finally finished recording.
And then Hendrix left the master tape for side A in a cab…
To this day, it’s never been found. The clock was ticking. The deadline was fast approaching and the label was getting antsy. Hendrix, Chandler and Kramer spent the night remixing side A.
But there was something special about the lost mix of “If 6 Was 9”. Thankfully, bassist Noel Redding had the mix on cassette for reference, but the tape was wrinkled. After ironing out the kinks in the tape, side A was finally restored.
After everything, Track decided to hold off on releasing the album because Are You Experienced was still performing well, and they didn’t want to eat into the sales.
Finally, Axis: Bold As Love was finally released in the UK on December 1, 1967 and in the US in February 1968. It peaked at number five and spent 16 weeks on the charts.
Q Magazine even went so far to say that Axis: Bold As Love "dazzles as the Experience creates a genre probably short-lived because nobody else could play it"
However, there was one person who wasn’t impressed with the record — Jimi. He felt it could have been better if they had been given more time.
Ever the perfectionist.
"And all these emotions of mine keep holding me from giving my life to a rainbow like you. But they’re all bold as love. Just ask the axis."