Listen to this track by Trans-Atlantic amp-stacking power trio The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s “Bold As Love”, the almost-title track and closer to their 1967 album Axis: Bold As Love, their second.
A lot of casual music fans consider Hendrix to the best virtuoso rock guitarist that the world has ever seen. This is an arguable point, of course. But, if someone were to make that statement, they’d have some pretty solid ground to stand on.
His ability to blur the lines between rhythm and lead parts changed the way many players even thought about guitar playing. His effortless range that allowed him to touch upon the blues, jazz, folk, and pop guitar playing of the times, and to integrate them to the degree he did was revolutionary. His experiments with phasing and deliberate distortion are matched only by his keen melodic sense, with every lick serving as a second voice to his singing.
Even if his guitar skills were a huge aspect of Hendrix’s talent, and remain to be a major part of his contribution to how rock music is made today, his range as an artist went beyond it, and into other areas, even by the band’s second album. And what were those areas, exactly?
Well, one area in which he excelled was a sort of fantastical approach to songwriting. It would have been easy for him, and for bassist Noel Redding and drummer ‘Mitch’ Mitchell to be a very good jam band, simply laying down long passages for festival crowds. They had the chops to do anything they wanted, instrumentally. But, Hendrix was a lyricist, too, equally influenced by Bob Dylan as we was by B.B King and Buddy Guy.
“Bold As Love” is about trying to keep track of one’s own emotions, and the facets of one’s personality that are often ruled by them. It’s probably my favourite example of his skills as a songwriter; a full-colour excursion that is a fine example of psychedelic rock associated with the times. But, it’s also a timeless example of how the best songwriters are able to integrate disparate lyrical ideas and musical elements into something that is downright transcendental.
Another aspect of Hendrix’s talent, specifically here on this tune, is his hand at texture with the overall sound on a recording. The interplay of the band is notable. So is the addition of phasing. But, Hendrix’s addition of other textures (extra bass, the harpsichord lines in the outro), and getting the right take (this song took 27), was an example of his keen ear for how the whole song should sound, not just how well the playing comes off. It’s a subtle difference. This is what separates Hendrix from many of the flashy, showboating players who followed in his footsteps.
Finally, there’s his voice. Evidently, Hendrix was initially embarrassed by the sound of his singing voice. Maybe that’s because he spent a while backing up some impressive vocalists well before he became one himself while serving as a sideman (and taking careful notes) on the Chitlin Circuit; Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, Wilson Pickett, and Jackie Wilson, among many others.
Yet here, it’s a soulful, dextrous instrument, wrapping itself gently around the intricate lines of the lyrics. As much as he was able to integrate many different styles into his guitar playing, it’s often missed that he was able to do so with his voice as well, as distinct an instrument as his guitar.
I often wonder what would have happened if Jimi Hendrix had lived to have a lengthy career, well beyond 1970. But, one thing is certain; he had plenty of options beyond just being a flashy guitar player.
Time has seen off all three members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But, check out the official Jimi Hendrix site to keep tabs on upcoming Hendrix-related materials, and to review some of the key points in the short career of a game-changing act.