Revisiting the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s First Studio Session
When Chas Chandler discovered Jimi Hendrix in New York in June 1966, the Animals' bassist was impressed by Hendrix's performance of "Hey Joe." Chandler brought Hendrix to London that September to record the American rock standard as a demo to secure a recording contract.
Oct. 23, 1966, marked Hendrix's first day of recording at London's De Lane Lea studios as a member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The session would yield the first instrumental tracks of "Hey Joe," one of the most memorable songs of their debut LP, Are You Experienced.
Once they'd arrived in London, Chandler recruited guitarist Noel Redding, who would play bass, and drummer Mitch Mitchell to back Hendrix. Short of cash for extended studio time, Chandler rehearsed with Hendrix at his apartment.
"When I started with Jimi, we were sharing the flat and doing all of our work there," Chandler recalled in Ultimate Hendrix. "The flat was Jimi's rehearsal room. That was such an advantage. When we took the Experience into rehearsals, Jimi had already developed the song to the point where he could indicate the chord sequences and tempo to Mitch and I would work with Noel about the bass parts. Then everything would come together."
Chandler chose De Lane Lea studios because the Animals had recorded their big hit "House of the Rising Sun" there. But problems cropped up at that first session.
"When Jimi first came to London, his visa had been restricted," said Chandler. "I had received an extension, one that carried us through the date I had scheduled for us to record 'Hey Joe.' The day we were recording 'Hey Joe,' I had gone over to the immigration office in the morning to get some papers completed for a three-month extension of his passport. It took so long that I came straight from immigration to De Lane Lea.
Listen to the Jimi Hendrix Experience's 'Hey Joe'
"Right after we started, Jimi threw a tantrum because I wouldn't let him play his guitar loud enough in the studio. It was a stupid argument over sheer volume. He was playing through a Marshall twin stack and it was so loud in the studio that we were picking up various rattles and noises. He said, 'If I can't play as loud as I want, I might as well go back to New York.'"
"'Hey Joe' is a very difficult song to do right and it took forever," Redding recalled in his autobiography Are You Experienced. "The Marshalls were too much for the mikes and Chas and Jimi rowed over recording volume. That 'loud,' full, live sound was nearly impossible to obtain (especially for the bass) without the distortion, which funnily enough became part of our sound. No limiters, compressors or noise reduction units yet."
"In my pocket I had his passport and immigration papers," continued Chandler. "I took them out, threw them down on the console, and said, 'Well, here you go. Piss off.' He looked at them, started laughing, and said, 'All right, you called my bluff!' and that was it."
During the two-hour session, all Chandler could afford, the Experience laid down the preliminary backing tracks for "Hey Joe." Hendrix's lead vocal and backing vocals by the Breakaways, a group of female session singers, were recorded later. The finished demo, however, did not immediately impress record companies.
"Chas tried to interest Decca," wrote Redding. "No luck. But then they'd turned the Beatles down, too."
"Hey Joe" would become a Top 10 hit single in the U.K. before it was released in the U.S. in 1967 as part of the Are You Experienced album.