Eclectic Ladyland: Jimi Hendrix’s record collection
Sean Doherty of Handel & Hendrix runs through a selection of records from Jimi Hendrix’s personal collection, from Ravi Shankar to The Red Crayola…
Words by Sean Doherty
Jimi Hendrix’s music is most often categorised as Psychedelic Rock. It’s true that his use of ground-breaking guitar effects, ambient overdubs and atonal harmonisation give a lot of his music a kaleidoscopic edge. However, ‘psychedelic’ wasn’t a term that sat easy with Jimi, in fact he was cynical of any excessive categorisation of music. Hendrix even said he was disinterested in what he called “freak out psychedelic music”. He claimed that this was not what The Experience set out to create, adding “I don’t want anybody to stick a psychedelic label around my neck”. Certainly, one of Hendrix’s greatest challenges was coming to terms with the pigeonholing some fans forced upon him.
Hendrix’s record collection meanwhile confirms his dedication to breaking down the barriers of various music genres. Jimi’s records give us a unique insight into his tastes and influences, and they cover blues, jazz, folk, rock, psychedelia and even a handful of classical LPs.
Hendrix was an impulsive record buyer. His favourite albums are even covered in marks and fingerprints, showing that he saw his LPs as the means of delivering music, not a collection of precious artefacts. By January 1969, Jimi and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham had around 100 LPs in their flat in Mayfair, but interestingly very few singles, as Jimi disliked their sound which was usually compressed for radio play.
We also know that Jimi would listen at home on top-notch equipment: a Bang & Olufsen turntable connected to a Leak-70 amplifier and two 30-Watt Lowther speakers. This was a very expensive and powerful set-up for the time. Because Hendrix liked to listen to records very loud, he had to stick a coin with Sellotape onto the turntable arm… Otherwise it would jump up and down the louder it got. The fact that even these capable speakers, specially reinforced by the manufacturers, occasionally blew during parties and had to be taken in for repair shows how high the volume would get!
Here are 12 records from Hendrix’s collection that show the depth and breadth of Jimi’s listening habits:
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
In 1965, as a struggling musician in New York, Hendrix was already enough of a Dylan fan to spend his last money on this album. The Brook Street copy of this LP has Hendrix’s blood on its sleeve, after he cut his hand on a broken wine glass then picked up the album.
Ravi Shankar – Sound of the Sitar
Hendrix’s albums by Ravi Shankar were presents from Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, a great supporter, who was a ‘World Music’ listener, and knew Hendrix would be open to the different scales and structures of Indian classical music.
Richie Havens – Mixed Bag
Richie Havens, an old friend from Hendrix’s Greenwich Village days, dropped by Hendrix’s flat in Brook Street to present Jimi with this record, his latest album. Havens then demonstrated his anti-war anthem Handsome Johnny to a small party in the flat on Hendrix’s Epiphone acoustic guitar.
Muddy Waters – Electric Mud
Electric Mud attempted to “modernise” Muddy Waters via the addition of wah wah and other voguish sounds. When he heard it in Mr Love, the café below his flat in Brook Street, Hendrix asked the co-owner, Doug Kaye, what it was. When told it was Muddy Waters’ latest, Hendrix at first refused to believe it, before smiling and saying “I used to follow him. Now he’s following me”.
Handel – Great Choruses from Handel’s Messiah
Hendrix owned two copies of Handel’s Messiah, both of which show signs of wear and tear. This rendition by the English Chamber Orchestra promised period sounds which would have been uncanny listening so near to where it was composed.
The Bee Gees – 1st
Kathy Etchingham describes this as, “one of the first records in the collection. We used to listen to that quite a lot. Jimi thought their harmonies were really great.”
Otis Redding – The Immortal Otis Redding
During 1963 Hendrix toured with Solomon Burke in a five-act lineup which also included Otis Redding. Burke struggled with Hendrix’s flashy playing: “five dates would go beautifully, and then at the next show, he’d go into this wild stuff that wasn’t part of the song. I just couldn’t handle it anymore.” One night on the tour bus Burke traded Hendrix to Otis Redding, exchanging him for two horn players.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
Two Virgins had to be distributed in the UK by Track Records; EMI’s board declined to take the risk of an obscenity prosecution over the full frontal cover image. Even One Stop Records (Hendrix local record store when he lived at 23 Brook Street, Mayfair), where Jimi bought his copy, sold the album in a brown modesty bag. Kathy Etchingham remembers Hendrix bought it on a whim because of the cover.
Sam Gopal – Escalator
Released just as Hendrix left Brook Street, this LP features a young Lemmy on guitar (he also wrote several of the songs). Lemmy had roadied for the Jimi Hendrix Experience at their 1967 Royal Albert Hall show, getting the job from his flat mate, regular Jimi Hendrix Experience roadie Neville Chesters.
The Red Crayola – The Parable of Arable Land
Not all of Hendrix’s album selections imply significant musical influences; some were bought for very superficial reasons. Hendrix picked up this album on an impulse because the cover artwork was similar in style to his own drawings.
The Dream – Get Dreamy
Hendrix was gifted a copy of this rare album on tour; it was inscribed by Dream guitarist Terje Rypdal, who wrote “with all the respect we can give a fellow musician, we wrote Hey Jimi as a tribute to you. We hope you like it and enjoy the rest of the LP too.”
Django Reinhardt – Django
Features the fast finger-picking style of a self -taught Romany master of the guitar. Hendrix named his group Band of Gypsys in Django’s honour.
In a single street in London separated by a wall are the homes of two of history’s most significant musical artists: Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel. The top floor of 23 Brook Street in Mayfair is the flat where Jimi Hendrix lived with his girlfriend, record player and guitar from 1968-69. Now open permanently to the public, visitors can step back in time to 60s London and visit the room where Hendrix slept, partied, worked and relaxed. Find out more at https://handelhendrix.org/
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