Monday, March 18, 2013
Track of the Week: Jimi Hendrix, "Drivin' South"
There was a period of time in my life, at the ages of 17 and 18, when I listened to Jimi Hendrix on a daily basis. There didn't seem to be anything that had ever passed through my ears that was this absolutely mind-blowing and creative. I psyched up for debate rounds by listening to "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" on my Walkman and blasted his live cover version of "Sunshine of Your Love" from the hand-cranked windows of my humble Mazda while driving the streets of my Nebraska hometown.
Hendrix put out only a meager three studio albums during his career, which left me searching for other material by the guitar god. I tried to stay away from the numerous and unending records of previously unreleased material of dubious quality that have been put out after his death. Instead, I delved into live albums, such as the exquisite Live at Winterland and Live at Monterey. I was most awed by his improvisational cover versions and instrumentals, which totally jettisoned the traditional rock song format for a kind of transcendant musicality I would later find between the grooves of Miles Davis and John Coltrane records.
Years after my high school infatuation and living in Berlin, I stopped into a record store and found a copy of Hendrix's sessions for BBC's Radio One cheap. Back in those pre-iPod days there was only so much music I could take with me on an overseas trip, and I keep seeking out things to buy that would give me a change of pace. I enjoyed the cd, which certainly has plenty of blistering live versions of familiar Hendrix tracks. But then "Drivin' South" came on and I felt the spirit move in me like it had when I first imbibed songs like "Are You Experienced?" as a teenager.
It starts fast with a killer rhythm reminiscent of the blues, but somehow completely foreign from it. Unlike so many of his imitators, Hendrix understood the guitar as a rhythmic instrument, and typically used the guitar to establish the foundation of a song, rather than to engage in indulgent soloing and pyrotechnics. On "Drivin' South" there are no words, just an absolutely radiant guitar. Once the rhythm gets set, that guitar comes blasting down out of the sky like the wrath of God, and proceeds to explode with a marvelously unpredictable energy. Every time I listen to this song I feel better just thinking that I am a member of a species that could produce someone capable of conjuring such divine sounds from a musical instrument. That's about the highest praise I could give a song.