Red House (song)

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"Red House"
Song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience from the album Are You Experienced
Released May 12, 1967 (1967-05-12) (UK)
Recorded CBS Studios, London
December 13, 1966
Genre Blues
Length 3:44
Label Track (no. 612 001 (UK))
Writer Jimi Hendrix
Producer Chas Chandler

"Red House" is a blues song written by Jimi Hendrix and originally recorded in 1966 by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The song is a slow twelve-bar blues, "one of the most traditional in sound and form of all his official recordings".[1] It was developed during Hendrix's pre-Experience days while he was performing in Greenwich Village, and was inspired by earlier blues songs. Hendrix recorded several studio and live versions of the song during his career; "Red House" has also been recorded by a variety of blues and other artists.

Background[edit]

"Red House" was inspired by blues songs Hendrix was performing with Curtis Knight and the Squires in 1965 and 1966. One Hendrix biographer calls the Hendrix/Knight version of "California Night" as "a dead ringer, both in structure and mood, for his 1967 perennial 'Red House'".[2] "California Night" (sometimes misidentified as "Every Day I Have the Blues";[3] both songs use the verse "Nobody loves me") was originally recorded by Albert King in 1961 as "Travelin' to California".[4] "Travelin' to California" is a slow (70 beats per minute) twelve-bar blues in the key of B with lyrics that follow the common blues theme of the rambling man and his lost love.

"California Night" features an early vocal performance by Hendrix and uses Albert King's lyrics and arrangement. Two versions were recorded live and issued on European bootleg albums in the 1970s and 1980s.[5] It is believed that these were recorded December 26, 1965 at George's Club 22 in Hackensack, New Jersey[5] and in one, Hendrix reminded the band "B" before counting off the song. Hendrix's performance has been described as "a staggering display of blues guitar playing that is worthy of mention in the same breath as his later efforts with the Experience..."[3] Although his guitar tone and phraseology is compared to that of Buddy Guy, he also uses techniques "that simply transcend any previous models, and breaks new ground" and shows that "his ability to spin out long and consistently surprising lines across the standard blues changes is already full grown".[3]

Another biographer calls Knight's and Hendrix's arrangement of Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Running" (also known as "Baby What You Want Me to Do") "closely parallel [to] that of 'Red House', down to the parallel-harmony bass part and the loping rhythmic feel".[3] In 1966, during his residency as "Jimmy James and the Blue Flames" at the Cafe Wha? in New York City's Greenwich Village, Hendrix continued to develop his slow blues number that became "Red House".[6]

Recording and composition[edit]

"Red House" was one of the earliest songs recorded by the Experience. The recording took place Tuesday, December 13, 1966 at the CBS Studios in London following their performance of "Hey Joe" for the Ready Steady Go! music television program.[7] Producer Chas Chandler explained:

The 'Red House' on the album [Are You Experienced] came about during the last fifteen minutes of [the 12/13] session. Noel [ Noel Redding ] even played rhythm guitar on the track, playing the bass line. Jimi just winged through one take for reference and we started rolling.[8]

Redding added, "I had borrowed a terrible old hollow-body electric guitar from someone at the studio...because I liked to play along on rhythm to familiarise myself with a sequence, not being quite at home on the bass yet".[9] The guitar was tuned down one-half step, with the tone controls set to resemble a bass guitar.[10]

Additional takes of the song were recorded at De Lane Lea Studios on December 21, 1966, which closely followed the earlier arrangement.[8] However, both Hendrix and Redding had problems with missed notes and the takes were not used, except for a backing track that Hendrix later overdubbed at the Olympic Studios on March 29[11] or early April 1967.[8] When preparing the final mixes for Are You Experienced, Chandler chose to use the track recorded at CBS: "Later when we were scrambling to put the album together, we carted that [12/13 track] out and gave it a listen. We remixed it at Olympic and added it to the album".[8] The De Lane Lea/Olympic version was later used for the American Smash Hits album.[8]

"Red House" is a slow (66 beats per minute) twelve-bar blues, usually notated in 12/8 time in the key of B.[12] Although Hendrix fingered the song in the key of B, he usually tuned his guitar one-half step and sometimes one step lower, resulting in a lower pitch.[12] The song opens with a diminished seventh chord frequently found in blues songs, as "heard at the start of Robert Johnson tunes like 'Dead Shrimp Blues', 'Kind Hearted Woman', and '32-20 Blues'".[13] After the four-bar intro, Redding and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell come in while Hendrix solos up to the vocal at bar thirteen. After two twelve-bar vocal sections, Hendrix solos for twelve bars, then finishes up with another vocal section, following the same arrangement Albert King used for "Travelin' to California".

The song's most prominent characteristic is Hendrix's guitar work. His playing has been described as a "close approximation of the human voice... scooping and bending his phrases to maximum expressive effect".[1] John Lee Hooker commented "That 'Red House', that'll make you grab your mother and choke her! Man, that's really hard, that tears you apart. He could get down, he could mash it, yeah, Lord! He had so many blues".[14] Bassist Billy Cox of Hendrix's post-Experience Band of Gypsys described "Red House" as "Jimi's way of using his musical roots, everything he knew and understood best, in a pop context".[13]

Lyrics[edit]

The song's theme is "as old as the blues itself; the singer's woman doesn't love him any more and has moved".[15] However, Hendrix puts a humorous twist on it. Upon returning to his lover's home after "about ninety nine and one half days", the singer realizes he has been shut out:

Wait a minute something's wrong, the key won't unlock the door (2×)
I got a bad, bad feeling that my baby, don't live here no more

As he ponders his situation, he concludes:

I might as well go back over yonder, way back yonder 'cross the hill (2×)
'Cause if my baby don't love me no more, I know her sister will

According to Noel Redding, Hendrix told him "the song was written about Hendrix's old high school girlfriend Betty Jean Morgan".[15] Jimi's brother, Leon Hendrix, also felt that it was about Betty Jean, "with a reference to her sister Maddy".[16] Linda Keith, Keith Richards' then-girlfriend and early Hendrix supporter, referred to her friend's Manhattan apartment, where Hendrix occasionally stayed, as the "Red House".[17] It has been suggested that its "red velvet walls and decor influenced Jimi's writing"[18] as well as his relationship with Keith.[1][19] However, Billy Cox, who knew Hendrix since his Army days, explained, "As far as I know, 'Red House' didn't have any significance in reference to a particular person, place or thing. It was just a blues number that Jimi put together".[13]

Releases[edit]

The monaural mix of early recording from December 13, 1966 at the CBS Studios in London was issued on the UK version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's debut album Are You Experienced. At the time, it was industry practice in the U.S. to include singles on albums. So when the album was released in the U.S., "Purple Haze", "Hey Joe" and "The Wind Cries Mary" were included at the expense of "Red House" and two other songs. Hendrix later questioned the choice and commented "Everybody was scared to release 'Red House' in America because they said, 'America don't like the blues, man!'".[20]

In 1969, the version of the song recorded at De Lane Lea/Olympic and mixed in stereo was included on the American Smash Hits compilation.[8] This version was later released internationally on the 1984 Kiss the Sky compilation. The original mono take became available in the U.S. and Canada when it was released (without most of the studio talk at the end) on the 1994 Blues album. More current reissues of Are You Experienced and Smash Hits include one of the versions of "Red House", depending on the country of origin.

Variations[edit]

"Red House" was a staple of Jimi Hendrix's concerts and jam sessions and often his performances showed considerable variety. "Although Hendrix seeks to follow roughly the same musical roadmap in each performance, visiting many of the same locations, he never takes the same route twice".[12] Some later renditions show B.B. King influences as well as the use of T-Bone Walker-style ninth chords and "a taste of Curtis Mayfield-style rhythm playing".[12] Also, it was one of few songs that Hendrix sometimes used a guitar other than a Fender Stratocaster, choosing mostly a Gibson Flying V and occasionally a Gibson SG Custom. Redding normally accompanied him on his signature Fender Jazz bass, instead of a guitar; Cox also used a bass.

Variations on a Theme: Red House, a music reference with analyses, transcriptions, and accompanying CD explores several live versions. Several more performances have been released on various live and compilation albums over the years.[21][22][23] Generally, these later performances were much longer (on Variations they range from seven to fourteen minutes) than the original recording and slower (36 to 60 bpm with shifts in tempo, on Variations). Some of these variations, recorded at different points in his career, include (all live, except where noted):

Renditions by other artists[edit]

"Red House" has been performed by many blues and other musicians. Albert King, whose "Travelin' to California" has been cited as inspiring Hendrix, recorded a version for his final studio album, Red House. Another Hendrix influence, Buddy Guy, recorded it for Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. John Lee Hooker recorded a "more or less straight" version that appears on Variations on a Theme and a tribute album and later a "radically Hookerized and thoroughly deconstructed version" for the Van Morrison-produced Don't Look Back.[28] Live versions include those by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Leslie West, Boz Scaggs with Slash, Paul Gilbert, Walter Trout, Gary Moore, Joe Satriani, Great White, and Steve Vai, and Eric Johnson on G3: Live In Concert.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Shadwick 2003, p. 93.
  2. ^ Murray 1991, p. 139.
  3. ^ a b c d Shadwick 2003, p. 67.
  4. ^ "Travelin' to California" was issued as a single (King 5588) and included on Albert King's The Big Blues album; he also recorded it for Chess in 1961, released as "California" in 1969 on Door to Door (Chess LP-1538).
  5. ^ a b Shapiro, Gleebeck 1990, pp. 581, 584.
  6. ^ Shadwick 2003, p. 80.
  7. ^ Shadwick 2003, p. 92.
  8. ^ a b c d e f McDermott 2010, pp. 28–29.
  9. ^ Redding 1990, p. 45.
  10. ^ Black 1999, p. 67.
  11. ^ Shadwick 2003, p. 107.
  12. ^ a b c d Wheeler 1992, p. 3–7.
  13. ^ a b c Fairchild 1994, pp. 21–22.
  14. ^ Fairchild 1994, p. 18.
  15. ^ a b Cross 2005, p. 175.
  16. ^ Shapiro 1990, p. 172.
  17. ^ Shadwick 2003, p. 78.
  18. ^ Roby 2010, p. 148.
  19. ^ Hendrix dedicated his performance of "Red House" at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival to Linda Keith. Roby 2010, p. 182.
  20. ^ Fairchild 1994, p. 12.
  21. ^ Belmo 1998, pp. 415–25.
  22. ^ Greenwald, Matthew. "Red House — Song Review". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved December 4, 2013. 
  23. ^ Ward, Thomas. "Red House — Song Review". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved December 4, 2013. 
  24. ^ Hendrix introduced the song as featuring Redding on guitar, leading one commentator to wrongly conclude that Redding played lead while Hendrix played bass.
  25. ^ Murray 1991, p. 220.
  26. ^ The TTG version is actually a composite of two songs, with an earlier recorded TTG jam named "Electric Church" serving as the intro (Variations on a Theme includes an extra 1:15 of the intro jam).
  27. ^ Hendrix broke his high E-string during "Red House", but continued with five strings.
  28. ^ Murray 2002, p. 463.

References[edit]