The similarities between the opening acoustic pattern of "Mr. Guy Fawkes" (recorded October, 1968) and "All Along the Watchtower" (AATWT - recorded January to August, 1968)) are striking. The pastoral sensibilities of acoustic Donovan or Jimmy Page (interestingly, the same sound and rhythm appears in Shuggie Otis' "Strawberry Letter 23") paired to The Band influenced beat, strum pattern, and tambourine. Is that Jimi on bass? Makes sense sonically... the warmth of the playing is Hendrixian.*
With the first section, imagine Levon Helm instead of the Eire lead singer, howling "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Hendrix was such a Dylan aficionado that he took The Band at face value, from where they were coming...**
I'm guessing with this recording Hendrix directed the band members in the beginning, ala with Dave Mason's acoustic strum in AATWT. Based on who Jimi was jamming with in Los Angeles at the time, could have easily been Andy Summers or Robert Wyatt.
Delving into the beginning of the song further - it is as if the acoustic riff section of AATWT and the wildcat screech part were separated at birth, into orchestral movements.*** So the opening is actually more straightforwardly folksy and the end more straightforwardly jammy.
The song quickly expands, with Hendrix' harmonic, rhythmic, and (dare I say orchestral) ideas at work. The vibe goes from The Band to decidedly British smooth harmonies at :023 that seem to include Hendrix in falsetto mode, as in "Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)."
Then the creepily effective (even the lead singer's teeth-grinding voice works for this) transition of the song from a sleepy love song to a wretched tale of terrorism/social justice (full disclosure: I am reading Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent at the moment).
The protagonist turns out to be Guy Fawkes, a character made relevant these days by Watchmen and Anonymous, singing about blowing up an emblematic British structure (probably also about the gunpowder aspects of male/female relations):
He keeps her locked up in a metal box
and sings so softly
I've got my love to keep me warm
The atom bomb sound effect could have been a joint decision by a few musicians sitting around pretty late and pretty high. A very late 1960s sound effect, it was probably only really fresh on "A Day In the Life," with the acoustic, orchestra-generated bomb suggesting social holocaust. Perhaps it was put in after Hendrix left the producer's chair, as a way of bridging two dissimilar jams.
Or maybe it is not haphazardly placed. The bomb effect is a recurring motif in Hendrix' work. Whether in Machine Gun or the earlier avant-feedback sheets of sound that led into Purple Haze. (The latter had morphed into This is America - Star Spangled Banner by the landmark October, 1968, Winterland concerts). Hendrix was always thinking about the war in Vietnam, he probably knew some cats who wound up fighting and dying. He tried translating the sense of powerless anguish people felt within the machine. ***
If the bomb effect had been realized through avant-feedback and not through stock BBC footage, this section could have been a classic. Amazing missed opportunity, cuing you into maybe the corporate recording structure of the time. For all the talents of those Hendrix surrounded himself with, very few had real sonic ideas to match his. This was partly Jimi's fault––he did not have a full unit of communicating musicians, ala the Dead or Miles Davis (to bridge wildly disparate genres).
Nuclear detonation is followed by a proper electric guitar jam, with many of the climactic All Along the Watchtower licks. The difference being that the rhythm player has a whole different, proto prog-rock thing going. To me this is annoying, pointing to the idea that as early as 1968 Hendrix had gotten into a non-organic scene.
Next, we are in an atonal world of pure orchestration that is haunting, at first. Something that sounds '68 Floyd followed by these urban soul string stirrings that would not be out of place on Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By" or "Ode to Billie Joe." Sadly, the thumping strings that follow come across as heavy-handed, old fashioned––only made palatable by Pink Floyd in songs such as Atom Heart Mother by the fact they were distending the genre.
“Lovely hall, very prestigious, no rock band had ever played there. Only one problem, a member of the band had to play in a symphonic context. Jimi and Noel flatly refused, so I thought OK, what the hell, I’ll do it. Would I mind having tea with Leonard Bernstein? Which I did; charming chap. He suggested that I might like to play percussion with The New York Brass Ensemble. It was fine, I went on with them, with a collar and tie on and did some Bach and a little Mozart after which the Experience played. It was a great gig...”
By the time the idea of symphonic orchestration caught up with Jimi again (Gypsies, Suns, & Moons was its own thing), with the planned Gil Evans collaboration that would presumably pull in Miles Davis, Hendrix was dead. Another month and they would have begun arranging the instrumentation in newly completed Electric Ladyland. Testament to this, album art by Mati Klarwein, the same guy who did Santana's Abraxas, had already been created.
Why is this all interesting to me? I have taken some Hendrix concepts that were only realized in acoustic hotel - home tape settings and started conceptualizing them in a semi-orchestral format as part of the "Fabric Suite" within the project Fabric - Chasing Sun.
Joe Cocker (speaking of an Oct, 1968, LA jam): "At that time whenever Hendrix felt the urge to play at home he had the Irish guys from Eire Apparent on tap to back him up because he particularly liked their bass player Chris Stewart."(Team Rock, "Jimi Hendrix: His Life And Times," 2012). Unheralded Van Morrison connection: EA's Eric Wrickson had formerly been a member of Them.
*** The reason why AATWT sounds fresh to this day is not simply that it is a blues rendition of the Dylan acoustic song. It is a radical, yet balanced, melding of ethnic and social sensibilities. A bridge between people who might not always agree. And yeah, it has Jimi on guitar, a cat named Dylan on lyrics.
#fabric #JimiFlute #ChasingSun