Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s and 70’s. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
Thirty one years ago, Jimi Hendrix died of a drug overdose in London. He was 27 years old.
For more than three decades, this music has inspired and humbled guitar players everywhere.
Jimi Hendrix once said, “When I die, I want people to just play my music, go wild and freak out, do anything they want to do.”
As a kid in Seattle, Jimi Hendrix taught himself to play by listening to blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
The Song Purple Haze is one of Hendrix’s most widely known personal anthems.
Part of the lyrics were formed from some of Jimi’s free verse ramblings that he jotted down from time to time.
Hendrix claimed this was inspired by a dream where he was walking under the sea. In the dream, he said a purple haze surrounded him, engulfed him and got him lost. It was a traumatic experience, but in his dream his faith in Jesus saved him.
At one point, Hendrix wrote the chorus as “purple haze, Jesus saves,” but decided against it.
This song was written under the guidance of Hendrix’ manager, ex-Animals bassist Chas Chandler. They had just released Hendrix’ first single, a cover of Tim Rose’s “Hey Joe” and were looking for a follow up. Chandler was impressed when he first heard the riff, and inspired Jimi to finish writing the song. On the original recording, you hear the line up of the Experience with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. The opening chord of two riffs then an interval of flattened fifth is the d5 or “tritone,” which has long been regarded as the “Most imperfect of dissonances” and was generally avoided in composition for that reason.
Hendrix claimed this had nothing to do with drugs, but it’s hard to believe they weren’t an influence. The lyrics seem to vividly portray an acid trip, and Hendrix was doing plenty of drugs at the time.
Jimi and producer Chas Chandler used some unusual studio tricks to get the unique sound. To create the background track that sounds distant, they put a pair of headphones around a microphone and recorded it that way to get an echo effect.
Hendrix wrote the lyrics on the day after Christmas in 1966. He wrote a lot more than what made it to the song. The track was developed at a press function that he attended at East London’s Upper Cut Club, run by the former boxer Billy Walker. Hendrix launched into the scorching riff in the club’s compact dressing room and every head turned. “I said, write the rest of that,” said Chandler. “That’s the next single!” It was premiered live on 8 January 1967, in Sheffield in the north of England.
For one of the guitar tracks, Hendrix used a device called an Octavia, which could raise or lower the guitar by a full octave.
This contains one of the most misheard lyrics ever, with “Scuse me while I kiss the sky” interpreted as “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” Hendrix added to the confusion by sometimes singing it that way and pointing to one of his band members.
A month before Hendrix died, he opened a recording studio in Greenwich Village called Electric Lady. One of the studios is known as “Purple Haze” and contains a purple mixing board. The studios have remained active with The Clash, Weezer, Patti Smith and Alicia Keys all recording there at some point.
This song is apparently referenced in an episode of The Simpsons. Homer is shopping (for useless garbage, of course) and finds a back massaging chair called the Spinemelter 2000. Homer sits in the chair and orders the store clerk to put it on full power. As the chair begins to massage Homer, he tells his family, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky…”
When the recording was sent to Hendrix’s American label, a note said, “deliberate distortion, do not correct.”
The track was the penultimate song Hendrix played in concert, on September 6, 1970, days before his death.