Jimi On Songwriting: Highlights From Hendrix On Hendrix

On October 1, Chicago Review Press will release Hendrix on Hendrix, a collection of vintage articles and Q&As with legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who died on September 18, 1970. Here are some choice quotes from the book that offer a glimpse into his psyche as an artist and songwriter.

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Up to now I’ve written about 100 songs, but most of them are in these New York Hotels I got thrown out of. When I go back I’m going to collect them from these hotel rooms where I missed the rent — I’m not ashamed to say that. I can write no happy songs. “Foxey Lady” is about the only happy song I’ve written. Don’t feel very happy when I start writing.

“From Jimi Hendrix Talks to Steve Barker (January 1967),” by Steve Barker. First published by the Jas Obrecht Music Archives (www.jasobrecht.com) from original interviews by Steve Barker BBC/www.otwradio.blogspot.com and Wire magazine/www.thewire.co.uk.

Blues, man. Blues. For me that’s the only music there is. “Hey Joe” is the blues version of a one-hundred-year-old cowboy song. Strictly speaking it isn’t such a commercial song and I was amazed the number ended up so high in the charts. “Purple Haze” is commercially even worse.

“Jimi Hendrix Shows His Teeth” Jan Waldrop | From Humo, March 11, 1967.

Particularly for the younger generation, the kids always think it’s easy to grab a guitar, and go on stage and make music. Could you tell them that it’s not as easy at all?  

No, it was very hard for me. At first I was so scared. I wouldn’t dare go on stage. Like, I joined this band, and I knew about three songs, and when it was time for us to play on stage… I had to play behind the curtains. I couldn’t get up in front. Plus you get so very discouraged. You hear different bands playing around you, and the guitar player seems like he’s always so much better than you are. Most people give up at this point because they get very discouraged. But just keep on, keep on, [and] you can make it. That’s the only way I tried to make it, is being very persistent.

Are you still living with a lot of musicians at your house?  

No. I just try to have some time by myself so I can really write some things. I want to do more writing.

What kind of writing?  

I don’t know. Mostly just cartoon material. make up this one cat who’s funny, who goes through all these strange scenes. I can’t talk about it now. You could put it to music, I guess. Just like you can put blues into music.

Are you talking about long extended pieces or just songs?  

Well, I want to get into what you’d probably call “pieces,” yeah – pieces, behind each other to make movements, or whatever you call it. I’ve been writing some of those. But like I was into writing cartoons mostly.

If the cartoon is in your head, do you have the music too? 

Yeah, in the head. Right. You listen to it, and you get such funny flashbacks. The music will be going along with the story, just like “Foxey Lady.” Something like that. The music and the words go together.

When you put together a song, does it just come to you, or is it a process where you sit down with your guitar or at a piano, starting from ten in the morning?  

The music I might hear I can’t get on the guitar. It’s a thing of just laying around daydreaming or something. You’re hearing all this music, and you just can’t get it on the guitar. As a matter of fact, if you pick up your guitar and just try to play, it spoils the whole thing. I can’t play the guitar that well to get all this music together, so I just lay around. I wish I could have learned how to write for instruments. I’m going to get to that next, I guess.

So for something like “Foxey Lady,” you first hear the music and then arrive at the words for the song?  

It all depends. On “Foxey Lady,” we just started playing actually, and set up a microphone, and I had these words [laughs]. With “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” somebody was filming when we started doing that. We did that about three times because they wanted to film us in the studio, to make us [imitates a pompous voice] “Make it look like you’re recording boys” — one of them scenes, you know, so “Okay, let’s play this in E; now a-one and-a-two and-a-three,” and then we went into “Voodoo Child.”

You did “All Along The Watchtower” on the last [album]. Is there anything else that you’d like to record by Bob Dylan? 

Oh yeah. I like that one that goes, “Please help me in my weakness” [“Drifter’s Escape”]. That was groovy. I’d like to do that. I like his Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. His country stuff is nice too, at certain times. It’s quieter, you know.

Your recording of “Watchtower” really turned me on to that song when Dylan didn’t.  

Well, that’s reflections like the mirror. [Laughs] Remember that “roomful of mirrors”? That’s a song, a recording that we’re trying to do, but I don’t think we’ll ever finish that. I hope not. It’s about trying to get out of this roomful of mirrors.

Why can’t you finish it? 

[Imitates prissy voice] Well, you see, I’m going through this health kick, you see. I’m heavy on wheat germ, but, you know what I mean [laughs] — I don’t know why [takes a pencil and writes something].

You’re not what I’d call a country guitar player. 

Thank you.

You consider that a compliment? 

It would be if I was a country guitar player. That would be another step.

Are you listening to bands like that doing country, like the Flying Burrito Brothers? 

Who’s the guitar player for the Flying Burrito Brothers? That guy plays. I dig him. He’s really marvelous with a guitar. That’s what makes me listen to that, is the guitar.

From “The End of a Big Long Fairy Tale,” by John Burks

Why is it that I keep hearing Mick Jagger’s name? We are into different things, but I suppose we have got certain things in common. I’d like to get involved in starting a record company with the Rolling Stones, which they’ve talked about. Music is my life. It’s about life and feelings, and you must take time for ti like any other occupation. In my case, I sacrifice a part of my soul every time. There are also certain moments when I  feel I’ve got to write, especially before I go off to sleep, when all the thoughts run through my brain. My guitar is my medium and I want everybody to get into it. I want to turn the world on. Music and sound waves are cosmic when they vibrate form one side to the other.

I am not sure I will live to be 28 yeas old. I mean, the moment I feel I’ve got nothing more to give musically, I will not be around on this planet anymore, unless I have a wife and children, otherwise I have got nothing to live for.

I love reading fairy tales, H.C. Andersen and Winnie the Pooh. Fairy tales are full of fantasy and like music they appeal to your sense of imagination. I never play a song the same way twice. I cannot play something that I do not feel for and that I can’t put my soul into.

“From Jimi Hendrix: I AM Not Sure I Will Live to Be 28 Years Old” Anne Bjørndal | Originally titled, “Jimi Hendrix: Jeg er ikke sikker på, jeg bliver 28 år.” From Morgenposten, September 6, 1970.

[On being called the source of psychedelic music:]

That’s something I’ve heard but it’s difficult to accept. I listen to some of the things I’ve written and think “damn.” I wonder where my head was at when I wrote that.

Most of my writing was a clash between fantasy and reality and I felt you had to use fantasy to illuminate some aspects of reality. Even the Bible does that. You have to give people something to dream on.

From “The Last Hendrix Interview,” by Keith Altham, reprinted by permission of Keith Altham.

Reprinted with permission from Hendrix on Hendrix by Steven Roby. Text copyright 2012 Steven Roby. Published by Chicago Review Press (distributed by IPG). Available 1 October 2012.

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