Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 18: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)"

Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Song: "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)"
Album: Electric Ladyland
Year: 1968

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (FULL "JAM" VERSION) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (SLIGHT RETURN) (will open in new tab)

Though music history has amazing artists scattered across the decade, there are an elite few who have become so revered, that they transcend their era and truly know few, if any, equals from any other point in history.  For some, it was due to their vocals, for others it was due to an unsurpassed talent on a particular instrument, and for many others, it was an ability to see music from a completely unique perspective.  Naturally, there have been a number of artists that excelled in multiple areas, and it is these performers that command the utmost respect and simply the mention of their name.  Truth be told, there are few names more synonymous with the psychedelic movement or guitar expertise than that of the late Johnny Allen Hendricks, better known as Jimi Hendrix.  Over a period of only four years, Hendrix completely rewrote the books on rock and roll and made countless innovations in how the guitar was played, as well as recording techniques.  So many of his songs with both The Jimi Hendrix Experience as well as the short-lived Band Of Gypsys have become true rock classics, and yet it is his final album with The Experience, 1968's Electric Ladyland, that may very well be his finest effort.  Filled with some of the most stunning psychedleic musical explorations ever recorded, Hendrix clearly pushes his talent to their limits, and the sheer genius that was Jimi Hendrix can be found in the albums' strongest and most famous track, "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)."

The songs' title is often overlooked by causal listeners, but the addition of the "(Slight Return)" is there due to the fact that the "full" version of "Voodoo Chile" is found earlier on Electric Ladyland.  The first version passes fifteen minutes in length and epitomizes Hendrix's love and talent for pure blues recordings.  The song is as much of a straightforward "jam session" as one will find anywhere, and it is from this recording that the "(Slight Return)" version was birthed.  However, aside from the common core musical phrasing, the two pieces are not very similar, as "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" is far more aggressive and direct.  Truth be told, "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" is without question the greatest heavy metal, psychedelic-blues song ever recorded, and the main riff played by Hendrix is of equal stature in terms of legendary guitar work.  Further separating it from its counterpart, the other musicians on "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" are the "normal" Experience lineup, while the extended jam featured Steve Winwood and Jack Cassidy alongside Mitch Mitchell.  Bringing in a number of different percussive elements, Mitchell gives "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" a tone like no other, as the maracas almost sting the track, and present a brilliant contrast to his basic blues drumming.  Noel Redding also plays a mesmerizing bassline, but much of it his overshadowed by pummeling guitar work from Hendrix.  The fact that only three musicians were able to create such a massive wall of sound is nothing short of astounding, and it much the reason that "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" remains such a classic more that four decades later.

Even with the superb performances of Mitchell and Redding, it almost goes without saying that the spotlight never moves far from Jimi Hendrix at any point during "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)."  In a way unlike any other performance in history, on "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," Henrdix manages to match the sound and soul in his voice to that of his guitar.  Both his voice and guitar bend, clearly letting the mood of the song guide them as opposed to a strict, pre-arranged progression.  It is this element that gives the song its amazingly soulful feel, as well as reinforcing its base in blues.  Furthering the clear connection to the blues, the lyrics are laid out in classic blues style, and they range from psychedelic slag to one of the most well known lines ever recorded, when Hendrix sings, "...if I don't meet you no more in this world, I'll meet you in the next one, don't be late..."  Without question, Hendrix is at his musical peak during "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," as one can easily see his performance as the culmination of his constant innovation and work to push his guitar to its absolute limits.  The blend of blues and psychedelia, all played at an absolutely blistering volume had never been heard before and has rarely been matched since, and one can easily see "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" as a song that launched thousands of guitar players dreams.  Though he had many fantastic songs, it is the playing of Jimi Hendrix on "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" that cemented his name as a true guitar god.

The true magnificence of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" is the fact that for every earth-shaking guitar chord there is, the song has an equally impressive subtle aspect that cannot be ignored.  It is through these elements that the true genius of Jimi Hendrix can be experienced, and they are numerous throughout "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)."  Perhaps the most noticeable and enjoyable is the pan effect that Hendrix used on his guitar and various places during the song.  As the music slides from one side to the other, it gives an almost breathtaking feeling of movement, and it makes "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" one of the most stunning songs to experience through headphones.  Countering this idea, the sheer volume and power with which Hendrix plays almost demands that the listener turn the song up as loud as possible, and whether one is playing a real guitar or an air guitar, few songs continually command excessive "rocking out" in the way that "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" is able to achieve.  This adds even more to the legend of Jimi Hendrix, and it is moments like this that have placed him in one of the most vaulted places in the entire history of recorded music.  While most artists take decades to reach such a position, Hendrix was able to do so in just a few short years, and the fact that "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" was the final song on his final album with his first band serves as a fitting "end" to his work within that group.  Though there are many "classic" rock songs and many unforgettable riffs, there is simply no other song in history that even remotely packs a similar punch and absolute onslaught of musical majesty that one finds within The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 1968 song, "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)."

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