Voodoo Chile

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"Voodoo Chile"
Song by the Jimi Hendrix Experience from the album Electric Ladyland
Released September 17, 1968 (1968-09-17) (U.S.)
Recorded Record Plant Studios, New York
May 2, 1968
Genre Blues rock
Length 15:00
Label Reprise (Cat. no. 2RS 6307 (U.S.))
Writer Jimi Hendrix
Producer Jimi Hendrix

"Voodoo Chile"[1] is a song written by Jimi Hendrix and recorded in 1968 for the Jimi Hendrix Experience album Electric Ladyland. The song is Hendrix's longest studio recording and features additional musicians in what has been described as a "studio jam".[2] "Voodoo Chile" is based on earlier blues songs and became the basis for Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", "one of Jimi Hendrix's best-known and influential songs".[3]

Background[edit]

"Voodoo Chile" evolved from "Catfish Blues", a song which Hendrix performed regularly during 1967 and early 1968. "Catfish Blues" was an homage to Muddy Waters, made up of a medley of verses based on Waters' songs, including "Rollin' Stone", "Still a Fool", and "Rollin' and Tumblin'".[4] In April 1968, Hendrix recorded a number of solo demos in a New York hotel,[5] including an early "Voodoo Chile", which "he'd been refining privately for some months".[6] It used elements of "Catfish Blues" with new lyrics by Hendrix and included a vocal and guitar unison line.

"Voodoo Chile" has been called "virtually a chronological guided tour of blues styles" ranging from early Delta blues, through the electric blues of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, to the more sophisticated style of B.B. King, and the "cosmic blurt" of John Coltrane.[7] Lyrically, the song is "part of a long, long line of supernatural brag songs".[8] Hendrix's song opens with:

Well the night I was born, Lord I swear the moon turned a fire red (2X)
Well, my poor mother cried out, 'Lord, the gypsy was right', an' I see'd her fell down right dead ...

"Hoochie Coochie Man", the Muddy Waters/Willie Dixon blues classic, opens:

The gypsy woman told my mother, before I was born
'You got a boy child comin', goin' be a son of a gun' ...

In later verses, Hendrix "gives them an individual twist with his references to 'the outskirts of infinity' and 'Jupiter's sulfur mines'".[9]

Recording[edit]

During the Electric Ladyland recording sessions at the Record Plant, Hendrix and the band often explored the New York City club scene and frequently jammed with the performers. After one such jam at the nearby Scene Club, Hendrix brought a group of twenty or so back to the studio,[10] including Steve Winwood, Jack Casady, and Larry Coryell. Hendrix proceeded to record "Voodoo Chile" with Mitch Mitchell (drums), Winwood (organ), and Casady (bass) (Coryell was invited to play, but declined, feeling that the music did not need him).[11] A number of hangers-on were also present, who provided the ambient crowd noise.

Steve Winwood recalled "There were no chord sheets, no nothing. He [Hendrix] just started playing. It was a one-take job, with him singing and playing at the same time. He just had such mastery of the instrument and he knew what he was and knew his abilities".[12] Engineer Eddie Kramer saw it differently: "The idea that these jam sessions were informal is something that I completely disagree with. They may have seemed casual to the outside observer, but Jimi plotted and planned out nearly all of them. He'd reason that if he had his songs together, if he really wanted to pull out what he heard in his head, he needed the right people ... and that's what he did".[12]

Recording began about 7:30 a.m. and three takes were recorded. During the first take, Hendrix showed the others the song while the recording equipment was adjusted. During the second take, Hendrix broke a string (these two takes were later edited together and released as "Voodoo Chile Blues" on the posthumous Hendrix compilation album Blues).[11] The third take provided the master that was used on Electric Ladyland.

"Voodoo Chile" opens with a series of hammer-on notes, similar to Albert Collins' intro to his "Collins Shuffle".[13] Hendrix played through a Fender Bassman head, providing a "very warm" amp sound[11] with his guitar tuned down a whole tone.[14] Although Hendrix "remains the focal point throughout 'Voodoo Chile'", the other musicians make contributions, taking it beyond the blues. Winwood "created a very English, hornpipe-like dance that was very Traffic-like",[11] with Mitchell deftly responding to changes in direction[9] and Casady "laying down the groove."[15]

Hendrix wanted to create the atmosphere of an informal club jam, but "the noise level generated by those who had observed the session was not sufficient".[11] So ambient crowd sounds were recorded from 9:00 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. and added to the track. Hendrix and Eddie Kramer later mixed the track, adding tape delay and other treatments.

Voodoo Child (Slight Return)[edit]

The day after recording "Voodoo Chile", Hendrix with Mitchell and Noel Redding returned to the studio for the filming of a short documentary. Rather than repeat what had been recorded the day before, they improvised on "Voodoo Chile", using some of the imagery and guitar lines. As Redding recalled: "We learned that song in the studio ... They had the cameras rolling on us as we played it".[16] The song became "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", one of Hendrix's signature songs, and has been covered by numerous artists. Both songs were released on the Electric Ladyland album.

Confusion over title[edit]

Jimi Hendrix occasionally used different names and spellings for some of his songs. In his handwritten lyrics, he used "Voodoo Chile" for the longer song, while he used both "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" for the following one recorded with the Experience.[17] However, in his handwritten album notes for Electric Ladyland sent to his record company, he listed the songs as "Voodoo Chile" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)".[18] When the album was released in the U.S. by Reprise Records on September 17, 1968,[19][20][21][22] these spellings for the two songs were used.[23] When the album was subsequently released by Track Records in the UK, the songs were listed as "Voodoo Chile" and "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)".[24] In 1970, the "(Slight Return)" song was released as a single in the UK in 1970 and it was simply titled "Voodoo Chile", without the further designation.[25] Later album reissues usually follow the Reprise or Track album spellings, depending on the country of origin.[26]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Phonetical approximation of "child" pronounced without the "d". This spelling was also used for Hendrix's song "Highway Chile".
  2. ^ Shadwick 2003, p. 132.
  3. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Voodoo Child (Slight Return) — Song review". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved March 9, 2011. 
  4. ^ Fairchild 1994, p. 22. Waters' songs in turn were based on earlier Delta blues songs, including Robert Petway's "Catfish Blues", Tommy McClennan's "Deep Sea Blues", and Hambone Willie Newbern's "Roll and Tumble Blues".
  5. ^ Later released with the Green and Sienkiewicz 1995 book.
  6. ^ Shadwick 2003, pp. 132, 153.
  7. ^ Murray 1991, p. 147.
  8. ^ Murray 1991, p. 148.
  9. ^ a b Shadwick 2003, p. 153.
  10. ^ Hendrix's practice of inviting large groups to the studio led Noel Redding to storm out of the Record Plant earlier that evening and he was not present during the recording of "Voodoo Chile".
  11. ^ a b c d e McDermott, Kramer, Cox 2009, p. 101.
  12. ^ a b Black 1999, p. 146.
  13. ^ Roby 2010, p. 101.
  14. ^ Shadwick 2003, p. 247.
  15. ^ Vitka, Bill (2010). "Inside Electric Ladyland with Jack Casady". Blues Revue. Retrieved March 9, 2011. 
  16. ^ McDermott, Kramer, Cox 2009, p. 102.
  17. ^ Janie Hendrix 2003, pp. 171–172.
  18. ^ Taylor 1997, pp. 17–18.
  19. ^ Shadwick 2003, p. 160.
  20. ^ Black 1999, p. 162.
  21. ^ Brown 1992, p. 93.
  22. ^ In several books authored by McDermott, a release date in October 1968 is used. McDermott, Kramer, Cox 2009, p. 121.
  23. ^ "Jimi Hendrix Experience, The — Electric Ladyland Images (Reprise)". Discogs. Zink Media, Inc. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Jimi Hendrix Experience, The — Electric Ladyland Images (Track)". Discogs. Zink Media, Inc. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Jimi Hendrix Experience, The — Voodoo Chile Images (Track single)". Discogs. Zink Media, Inc. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Jimi Hendrix Experience, The — Electric Ladyland: versions". Discogs. Zink Media, Inc. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 

References[edit]