The Jimi Hendrix Experience
At Last...The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2008, Volume 15, #12
Written by John Metzger
Thu December 11, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
At first, MTV and its offshoot VH-1 didn’t have to do much to influence the music industry. The existence of the stations alone was enough to alter the landscape of how albums and singles were promoted. By the end of the 1980s, however, merely being a vehicle for the major labels to highlight their latest wares wasn’t enough. Both MTV and VH-1 needed to do something to re-establish their respectability and extend their cultural relevance. For its part, in 1989, MTV launched Unplugged, a series that allowed artists to present their material in a different light. It took a few years for the program to find its rhythm. Once it did, however, Unplugged became a huge hit, and musicians began to use the show not only to highlight their new endeavors but also to revisit — and reinvent — some of their best-known works.
Using the opportunity that Unplugged had presented, VH-1 raised the stakes in 1996. Its new program Storytellers allowed songwriters to explain their compositions as well as the settings in which they were created. A year later, the station debuted Classic Albums, a show that was designed to spotlight the cornerstones of rock and pop. There is no doubt that the latter series was geared toward a niche market. After all, each episode spent nearly an hour focusing upon a specific period of time in an artist’s history, and it frequently revolved around the creation of a single outing. Still, for fans of a particular performer, the stories that were told — and they way they were told — were wholly enthralling, to the point where what could have been a tedious exercise ultimately was made widely accessible.
At Last...The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland expands significantly upon the original 50-minute episode of Classic Albums that was devoted to Jimi Hendrix’s third effort. Considering that he had passed away more than two decades before the documentary was filmed, it is left to the many collaborators that Hendrix had on Electric Ladyland — Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Steve Winwood, and Dave Mason, among them — to provide the context, if not the reasoning, behind the creative decisions that he made while giving birth to the outing. The tensions within his group, the insanity of his schedule, and the social and political climates in America are outlined peripherally, of course. The main emphasis of the show, however, is to dissect the endeavor, piece by piece, examining how it fit into Hendrix’s vision as well as the cultural landscape.
Throughout At Last...The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland, engineer Eddie Kramer serves as a terrific tour guide. Sitting at a mixing panel with full access to the original recordings, he delves into Electric Ladyland with unrestrained adoration. Gleefully switching from track to track, he highlights different aspects of the songs, from bass lines to drum beats and from sound effects to angelic vocal harmonies. At times, Kramer is joined by Hendrix’s then-manager Chas Chandler as well as bass player Jack Casady, and the music serves as the impetus for them to reminisce about the affair. During one segment, Casady plays along with Voodoo Chile, and without pause, he closes his eyes and slips back in time to recapture the mood in the studio when the cut was committed to tape.
On Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love, Hendrix had ceded control to Chandler. With Electric Ladyland, he took matters into his own hands. Not only was he bursting at the seams with ideas he wanted to explore, but he also was liberated by the process. Hendrix was willing to try anything once: The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones attempted to add piano to All Along the Watchtower, though the concept quickly was abandoned. Likewise, the urban funk of South Saturn Delta — which undeniably influenced Miles Davis’ On the Corner — was never completed.
During one scene in At Last...The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland, drummer Buddy Miles insightfully draws a correlation between the experimental tendencies of Hendrix and The Beatles. Yet, even those who understand the obviousness of this statement will be moved by the degree of makeshift instrumentation and tape manipulation that were folded into Electric Ladyland’s composition. A restless spirit, Hendrix repeatedly tinkered with sounds, gadgets, rhythms, and melodies until he was able to capture a song on tape in precisely the manner that he heard it in his head. In the end, At Last...The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland achieves its goal of providing a new perspective from which to view music that, at times, has become so overexposed that it has been in danger of being taken for granted. This is, of course, the greatest gift that a documentary such as this could possibly provide. ½
Of Further Interest...
Electric Ladyland [Deluxe Collector's Edition] is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box