DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

And now we take another trip through the National Recording Registry.

(Soundbite of National Recording Registry intro)

ELLIOTT: The Library of Congress takes 50 audio recordings each year to preserve, 50 that have played a significant role in American history and culture. Last year the list included an album that changed the course of rock music.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: This week's chapter in our series from the National Recording Registry, Are You Experienced, the first album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The cast includes a musician.

Mr. VERNON REID (Musician): This is Vernon Reid. I'm a guitarist, songwriter, composer and music producer. And I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Jimi Hendrix.

ELLIOTT: An engineer.

Mr. EDDIE KRAMER (Audio Engineer): My name is Eddie Kramer. I was involved in the Are You Experienced album as engineer.

ELLIOTT: And a musicologist.

Mr. REUBEN JACKSON (Archivist): I'm Reuben Jackson and I'm an archivist at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

(Soundbite of song "Purple Haze")

Mr. JACKSON: It's still a landmark recording because it is of the tradition, you know, the rock, R&B, blues, what have you, musical tradition. But I think it altered the syntax of the music, if you will, in a way I compare to, say, like James Joyce's Ulysses. You read this, you read, you know a page or two of Ulysses and maybe you listen to just Purple Haze and you think, my goodness, what is this?

(Soundbite of song "Purple Haze")

Mr. JIMI HENDRIX (Musician): (Singing) Purple haze was in my brain. Lately things don't seem the same. Acting funny but I don't know why. Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Mr. KRAMER: It was such a groundbreaking album. If you'll pardon the expression, it really rocked the music world. It set it on its ear, because nobody had ever heard psychedelic rock and roll guitar, heavily, heavily influenced by the blues. And here's a man who is completely at one with his guitar and able to create sounds that nobody had ever heard before. In the pantheon of rock and roll guys, Jimi is the king in terms of guitar players. I haven't heard anybody as good.

(Soundbite of song "Purple Haze")

Mr. REID: I think Jimi's singing, I think his lyrics have often been given short shrift in consideration of his guitar playing, because his guitar playing is so overwhelmingly powerful.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. REID: Like now there's almost like a guitar industrial complex. I mean there's maybe thousands of different ways to make a guitar sound insane, but at that time, you know, it was just - it wasn't that way. I mean it's hard to describe. Like he is the very basic material. His guitar oftentimes was really out of tune. The way he was hearing it was so beyond those sort of - oh, the guitar's out of tune. It was like he was having a discussion on a whole other level with the instrument and this is - it's very difficult to control a guitar at that volume (unintelligible) the volume level of the instrument literally takes over. To turn that into something that's musical is really pretty amazing.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JACKSON: I think the explosive quality of the record is real - I mean it's a result of a lot of things. His interests in science fiction. In fact, this guy wrote a lot of poetry and was very influenced by Bob Dylan. I think he was musically charismatic, a very sensual guy. It was just the whole package.

(Soundbite of song "Are You Experienced")

Mr. HENDRIX: (Singing) If you can just get your mind together then come on across to me.

Mr. JACKSON: Experienced - you know, is he talking about drugs? Is he talking about sex? Is he talking about all of the above? It's kind of inferred, but then you've got those kind of backwards swirling guitars contributing to this sort of lyrical foundation.

(Soundbite of song "Are You Experienced")

Mr. HENDRIX: (Singing) But first, are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have.

Mr. KRAMER: Jimi's backwards guitar was an effect that he rehearsed. Contrary to popular belief, I would say Jimi Hendrix was extremely well prepared. I would give him rough mixes of songs that we'd been working on and he would take them home and experiment on his own tape machine. By the time he came back to the studio the following day, he would have planned out precisely what he was going to play. And we would turn the tape upside down, because obviously the back's now playing to the front, and he would know precisely where he was by the sound of the tape. So he would stop there, play it from there and record from there to there. And out would come this incredibly beautiful melodic solo that was perfectly structured from the beginning to the end.

(Soundbite of song "Are You Experienced")

Mr. HENDRIX: (Singing) Let me prove it to you.

MR. JACKSON: Are You Experienced I think is the groundbreaking album that everybody should listen to first before you get onto the rest of the music that he wrote. This is a milestone. Much in the same way that any of the great jazz musicians had made classic albums, I think Jimi had made his first statement.

(Soundbite of song "And the Wind Cries Mary")

Mr. HENDRIX: (Singing) After all the jacks are in their boxes and the clowns have all gone to bed, you can hear...

Mr. JACKSON: I was in a school recently doing some poetry with some fifth graders and a young lady had a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt on, and I - of course I had to ask her about this. And she said, oh, I just love that music. It just makes me want to go in my room and paint and write things. And you know, he was someone who painted and wrote. So it - it's not just for old school guys, you know, if a fifth grader can just get kind of wide-eyed and excited as this young lady did. I thought, boy, you know, this guy really had something, and still does.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: Are You Experienced, the first album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Another chapter from the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress, produced by Ben Manilla and Media Mechanics. You can hear tracks from Are You Experienced at our Web site npr.org. That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

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