Local musician and songwriter Doug Walters recently put some words together about the albums that had the most profound effect on him and changed his life. This is the part five of the ongoing weekly series:
Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Smash Hits
I knew about Jimi from the radio. A little. But it wasn’t until Kelley McLeod, the neighborhood rocker, really hipped me to Jimi properly that I began a lifelong fanatical obsession. Kelley was a musician. His band practiced at his house. I noticed that when a mic or a guitar was pointed at the speaker, it howled and screeched in beautiful cacophonous feedback. I thought that was he coolest shit I’d ever heard. Kelley, picking up on this, had me put on the headphones and blared “Foxy Lady” off Smash Hits.
And, sweet dancing Jesus, it was all over. My life and purpose and reason for existence finally became crystal clear. The lights clicked on and everything made total sense. And in that moment, the real me was born. And there was no turning back. Jimi Hendrix made me know there was a God. And I came face to face with Him in the first few bars of “Foxy Lady.” Hallelujah.
Kelley let me borrow Smash Hits (the U.S. version). And I wore that sucker out. Boy, you talk about heavy. That thing blew my little mind. It had it all. The blues, the soul, the rock, the psychedelia. That album was full of color. The production was trippy too. All the hard stereo stuff. I’d never heard anything like it. It sounded like it was outer space or something. But the also had such an earthy grit to it. It was so well rounded and dynamic. And multidimensional. He was such a master of the hard and the soft. The yin and the yang. The subtle, sweet, smoothness of “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Hey Joe.” And the fire and the attack of “Manic Depression” and “Foxy Lady.”
“Manic Depression” was heavy, man. Heavy. That very well be my all time favorite Hendrix song. It still gives me goose bumps almost every time I hear it. Sometimes I’ll go to Moe’s to eat just because I know I’m going to hear that song. “Depression” was definitely Mitch Mitchell’s finest moment for sure. And that guitar solo? Good God almighty was that thing mean. That shit was frightening. It sounding like a freight train barreling straight for you. Nasty. Raw. Almost too intense. That tone… wow. You know he had the full stack cranked. Probably left Olympic studios in splinters on that one.
Jimi employed a lot of the room in his recordings, placing the mike about six feet in front of his Marshall full stacks. That’s two 100 watt Super Lead Marshall and four cabinets. Sixteen 12” Eminence speakers. 200 watts, people. 200! On 10, rest assured. But that’s how he got that monster tone. (And who was going to tell Jimi Hendrix to turn down?!).
The coolest thing about “Manic Depression” to me was (and is) right at the intro about two or three seconds into the song. The space after the first three chords. There is a rest but you still hear the overtones from the drums and the amps ringing out in the room. It’s like the air molecules just got brutally annihilated and are trying to regroup. Like an unsettled calm before a Category 10 hurricane. Little do the doomed molecules know they have about three minutes and 40 more seconds of relentless punishment to look forward to. I used to rewind that section over and over, trying to cue up just the rest section to hear that settling. It was like a game to me.
“Hey Joe,” the only cover (and actual smash hit), was a trip. Those background vocals by the Vemon Girls sounded so cool and hauntingly beautiful. They really gave the song depth. It was so ironic to me that that song had such an angelic-ness to it while Jimi was singing about killing his old lady for cuckolding him. I loved how he said “..and that ain’t too cool…” That solo was classic Jimi. He could take those bluesy pentatonic licks and rock them like nobody could. They always hit you deep in the heart.
“Red House” was a favorite too. When I heard the intro to “House” it was just like it was for me with Duane. I instantly connected to it. I was impressed that my dad was impressed by it. He was a blues purist and didn’t really get Jimi. The over the top, loud, in your face stuff was not his thing. Plus Jimi’s undeserved bad reputation kind of kept my dad from digging him. The old man and I never really connected much, but I was very glad to bond with my dad over this tune.
The bass sounded so cool and high in the mix. Noel was actually playing a guitar on the track for the bass. And all that reverb and hard stereo stuff. It was fresh and new and old school at the same time. Blues from Pluto. I loved how he said, “…that’s alright I still got my guitar, look out…” and then went into the coolest solo my ears had ever heard. And as they solo progresses, they dial the delay up more and more until it’s just a big wall of psychedelic bluesy badness at the end. Jimi’s vocal tone sounded particularly cool in “House.” He sounded like he was in a good mood. Easy going. Full of wit and laid-back light heartedness. Even though he was singing about being dumped. I loved his attitude. Like, “It’s cool if you don’t want me anymore, I’ll take your sister… she seems more fun anyway…”
Smash Hits was a perfect album. A lot of fun. But heavy too. It was the perfect introduction to Jimi for me. It roped me in with the singles. They have that instant connection factor. I see that in my stepdaughter when I play those songs for her. She relates instantly. (She always thinks “Foxy Lady” is me playing and singing when she hears it. Guess how tickled that makes me…) Hits also has several songs that weren’t on any album. The UK version has even more previously unreleased material. A lot of bang for the buck.
I can’t say how much I appreciated Kelley for introducing me to Jimi properly. It was one of those rare moments when all the stars lined up and three souls became one. Hits changed my life more than any other. It created my destiny right then and there. I dedicated my life and every ounce of my being to that moment of inspiration. I’m not ashamed to say that it’s been my life’s goal to carry and ultimately pass the torch that was handed to me on that fateful day. It’s taken me 25 years to get it together (and I am still trying), but one day I’d like to do for some lonely, misunderstood kid what Jimi did for me with Smash Hits. If I can do that, then I’ll die a happy man. That’s what a real album is supposed to do. Inspire you. What else can you do for someone?
next week: Rush