Saturday, August 13, 2011
Interview with Jacoba Atlas, Hullabaloo, February 1969
THE JIMI Hendrix Experience just spent six weeks in Los Angeles, ensconced in a rambling home in Benedict Canyon that was once occupied by the Beatles. If any house can be a celebrity, then this one is. The Beatles lived in it for a portion of the madness now known as Beatlemania – the summer of 1966. It was this house that was guarded by electronic fences and electric cops, this house that found itself penetrated by air by a rented helicopter.
Today, things are different with the "Beatle house." The once tightly locked gate is now open; the police are far away, the atmosphere congenial. As I approach Hendrix's temporary haven, the Experience's road manager, Jerry (I forget his last name), opens the door and ushers me into a spacious living room very comfortably furnished in House Beautiful style.
Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, and various other people are sitting around not really watching daytime television. They are eating home-delivery chicken and throwing the bones into a large fireplace which is – strangely – burning in the 80-degree October heat. A sign on the kitchen door orders guests to stay out.
Jimi himself is in the bedroom, mulling over some tapes of the group's "live" performance at Winterland in San Francisco. He finally comes out, dressed in green and turquoise, and we retreat into the dining room for the interview. He seems reticent at first – the answers are short, guarded – but the mood quickly changes as the questions begin to touch on today's controversies.
Q.: Why do you feel that you don't get airplay on the rhythm-and-blues stations?
Jimi: It just takes time. We haven't been exposed in this one area as much as we have in other areas. But we're as open to it as we are to anything else.
Q.: But why don't we see you on the R&B charts?
Jimi: Well, it's all right. Our music may not be R&B to them; it may not be what they think of as R&B. It doesn't bother me. Everyone gets his chance.
Q.: Do you feel that people are too hung up on musical categories and won't listen to your records because of labels?
Jimi: Yeah. But sometimes they don't listen to something because it sounds completely alien to them and to what they've been used to. It's like if a colored actress wants to make it in Hollywood, she has to be twice as good. It's like that with us: we have to be 10 times as good to get the soul people to listen to us.
Q.: Why did you decide to use additional musicians on Electric Ladyland?
Jimi: They were just on a couple of tracks.
Q.: Do you mean that they sort of wandered into the sessions and that you thought they'd be good on a particular track?
Jimi: Yeah, like that. Al Kooper is on one track. Steve Winwood is on another. They just happened. There were also some cats from Kansas who hung around while we were recording, and I used them, too.
Q.: Do you feel any limitations with a three-man group?
Jimi: No, it's not like that. You do have to work much harder. I may want to add some people after a while, but not as a permanent thing. I'll just add things when I need them.
Q.: Are you planning to cut down on your touring?
Jimi: No – because, first of all, I love playing. As I said before, a lot of people don't have a full understanding of us yet, and if we stopped touring, they'd never understand. Nobody would hear us.
Q.: Do you find it difficult to produce your own records?
Jimi: No – in fact, it's quite the opposite. It's not difficult at all because I know exactly what I want to do. I know exactly what I want to hear. Before, sometimes I'd finish a thing, and somebody else would come along and goof it – in the cutting of the record or in the pressing – they'd screw it up. Right now, I want to release a special cut for the R&B stations. I want to release 'House Burning Down'.
Q.: You just cut a "live" album at Winterland. How did it go?
Jimi: It was great. But I was out of tune a few times. We'll use one or two of the things, maybe three of them.
Q.: What are some of the problems in cutting a "live" album?
Jimi: Well, we can play, but I'm out of tune most of the time. I mean, you might not even notice it. Like, we start playing, but with the way I play the guitar, it might jump out of tune, and so I have to take away 30 per cent of my playing for three or four seconds to get the guitar back in tune to keep playing right. But it's all natural, you know. It's so groovy like that because you can get to the people just a little bit more.
Q.: Does an audience's response have an effect on your playing?
Jimi: Well, sure. Naturally, you try to play a little better when you get good feelings from an audience. I have to hold myself back sometimes because I get so excited – no, not excited: involved.
Q.: Is the recording scene very different in London?
Jimi: In London, they have less equipment and it's not as good as the equipment they have here. Therefore, they work twice as hard. Even the engineers are involved in getting the best for you. Which is good. They have more imagination over there. It's groovy. Even the limitations are beautiful because they make people really listen – and the people are very, very, very good. They're almost critics themselves. It's all very positive. Over here, all an engineer does is his thing. He's a complete machine, just like the tape recorder he's working. But that's only in some instances. We have a good cat. He's on the ball.
Q.: I understand that the atmosphere in London is generally more free –
Jimi: Yes, that's what it is – the atmosphere and the engineering, everything. When you're with an engineer over there, you're with a human being. You're with someone who is doing his job. Over here, you feel that the human being is missing, that the studio isn't interested in anything but the bill, the $123 an hour. There's no atmosphere, no anything. We've never recorded seriously here yet. We did cut 'Burning of the Midnight Lamp' and Electric Ladyland in New York, though. And the engineer was really together.
Q.: Why did you record in New York?
Jimi: Well, because we were doing some gigs there! We were on tour and we happened to be in New York.
Q.: Electric Ladyland took quite a while to finish, didn't it? Six weeks ago, I remember asking you when it would be completed, and you said, "Constantly." What was the problem?
Jimi: It was because we were on tour, because we were working at the same time. It's hard – because you want to do your best on an LP, you want to play and sing to the best of your natural ability and your natural talents. You have to have time. You can't rush through things.
Q.: If you could work with additional musicians right now, who would they be?
Jimi: Roland Kirk. Lee Michaels. I'd just jam, though. I wouldn't want to play with anyone too long. We jam all over the place. It's not to show that we can play, but it's a communication between musicians. It's just groovy to play with other people. As I said before, we're not trying to go in any particular direction. We're not hung up on ourselves. That's why we play with other musicians, why we play other music. Because it's fun, you know.
Q.: How did you get into electronic music?
Jimi: I don't know. (Laughing) With the feedback amplifier and the wah-wah pedal.
Q.: Do you want to do more of that sort of thing?
Jimi: I don't know. I'll do whatever the song calls for.
Q.: Do you have any interest in computerized music?
Jimi: Not necessarily, no. I like instrument music.
Q.: What are you working on right now?
Jimi: There's one song I'm writing that's dedicated to the Black Panthers, and that's the sort of thing we might go into. It doesn't just pertain to race but to symbolism and today's things and to what's happening today. By that time, the President will be elected.
Q.: That will mean either a lot of change or absolutely no change at all.
Jimi: Well, we plan to make it a whole new thing, regardless of who is elected.
Q.: Living in London as you do, do you get a different perspective of America?
Jimi: I was digging America so much until I went over there (to England) and came back and then went over there again and went all over Europe and came back here and saw why people put this country down. I still love America – quite naturally – but I can see why people put it down. It has so much good in it, you know, but it has so much evil, too, and that's because so much of it is based on money. That's really so sick. People here are losing their peace of mind – they're getting so lost in all of these rules and regulations and uniforms that they're losing their peace of mind. If people would just take three to five minutes a day to be by themselves to find out what they wanted to do, by the end of the week, they'd have something. If people would only stop blaming. You can see how frustrating it is – the black person argues with the white person that he's been treated badly for the last 200 years. Well, he has – but now's the time to work it out instead of talking about the past. We know that the past is all screwed up, so instead of talking about it, let's get things together now. But that's all child's games. You know where the truth is. Quite naturally, you say, "Make love, not war" and all of these other things, but then you come back to reality – there are some evil folks around, and they want you to be passive and weak and peaceful so that they can just overtake you like jelly on bread. You have to fight fire with fire. I mean, I'm getting myself personally together in the way of music and what I'm going to do.
I'd like our next album to be a double set again and to have about 20 tracks on it. Some tracks are getting very long, that's why you can only get about 20 tracks – our type of tracks anyway – onto two records. But, you see, our music doesn't pertain to one thing. It just happens that the white people can dig it all of a sudden because some of them are very freaky and have imagination as far as different sounds are concerned. I love different sounds as long as they're related to what we're trying to say – or if they touch me in any way. I don't like them to be gimmicky or different just for the sake of being different.
It's all going to come about soon, but the way that America's going now, it's all getting kind of lost. Those three to five minutes of contemplation I was talking about, that's how you can get yourself together and be friends with your neighbors – maybe even say hello and see if you can knock down all of those complexes. You have to go down into a really bad scene before you can come up with light again. It's like death and rebirth. After you've gone through all of the hell of dying, you've, got to find out – and face – the facts to start a nationwide rebirth. But I'm not a politician, you see. All I can say is what I've been seeing: common sense.
Q.: But the masses are saying just the opposite.
Jimi: You know who is really living in fantasy land? It's the damned masses. The masses. The point is, Who is wrong and who is right? That's what the point is – not how many people.
Q.: But the amazing thing is, is that the masses feel that we are the ones who are living in fantasy land, that we are the sick ones –
Jimi: That's what I'm saying: If you want to sit around and talk about it, you can go on like this for the rest of your life. What I'm trying to say is that somebody has got to make a move. The others are just waiting around until you run to jelly. Then, they tick you off.
Q.: How much contact have you had with the Black Panthers?
Jimi: Not much. They come to the concerts, and I sort of feel that they're there – it's not a physical thing but a mental ray, you know. It's a spiritual thing. But I don't care if people are white – let me tell you something, I don't care as long as people are doing their jobs, that's what it is. Our thing is completely wide open. I'm for the masses and the underdog, but not for just trying to get the underdog to do this or to do that – because I tried that before and I got screwed so madly millions of times. So now, I'm for just anybody who can do the job.
Q.: Will things have to be destroyed before we can achieve a better world?
Jimi: Quite naturally, you have to destroy the ghettos. You have to destroy those. Physically.
Q.: What about the mental barriers?
Jimi: Maybe we can just scare half the people with common sense. Take cancer and cigarettes on TV – we don't say yes and we don't say no, we just tell the truth. You blind your head to the TV all of the time by watching some dreary program – really the fantasy side of life! – and then you say, "I'll just get a joint and do this." But the problem is still there. When you come back out, it's there, the street is there.
Q.: But who is going to do all of this?
Jimi: I don't know, man, I'm doing the best I can. Everybody's going to have to get off their ass. All that I can say is just common sense. We're going to use our music as much as we can. We're going to start, if people will start listening. Some things may not come yet – but they will.
Q.: Was it easier for you in Europe?
Jimi: Well, everyone has problems. In Europe, people have a little more contact with one another. There's a little more communication, and everything's not all freaked out. In just saying hello and goodbye, there's more warmth. I live all over, though, so no place is really my home.
Q.: When you want to relax, what kind of music do you put on?
Jimi: I dig anything that holds my interest.
Q.: Thank you for a fascinating interview.
Jimi: My pleasure.
© Jacoba Atlas, 1969