Cover Story Interview with photography by Karl Ferris
Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Are You Experienced?"
Subject: Are You Experienced?, a 1967 release (on Reprise Records) by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, with cover photo & design by Karl Ferris
Considered by many music fans and critics as one of the (if not THE) greatest debut record from a rock-era artist, Are You Experienced (with or without the ?) also illustrated how records were produced, packaged and tailored for distribution to the world's music marketplaces. Released in the U.K. in May, 1967, the record was a compilation of the fantastic music and performances that had been wowing crowds in London theaters up to that point. Those crowds included most of members of the leading musical acts of the time - including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Hollies, The Who (and many others) – who'd all come to watch and listen in stunned amazement to the trio's musical magic.
In the 40+ years (yes, that long ago!) since its release, the record's influence on both the musicians who've striven "to play guitar like Hendrix" and those who create "Best Of" lists continues, with EVERY top guitarist today confirming Hendrix's influence on their playing and the record's positions on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" (#15) in 2003 (following up its #5 ranking in 1987's "Best Albums of the Last 20 Years" and #5 on a similarly-titled list published in 2001 by cable net VH-1. It is now also a national treasure in that it has also been selected to be permanently preserved by the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry and archive.
The performances included on the album include many compositions that would become Hendrix's signatures, including "Purple Haze", "Manic Depression", "Hey Joe", "The Wind Cries Mary", "Fire " and "Foxey Lady". After 3 of the band's singles hit the Top 10 charts in the U.K. and the incredible buzz following their mind-boggling performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the act's record label rushed to release the record in the U.S. by the end of August.
While the music on the LP represented the leading edge of musical prowess and technical sophistication, the packaging in the U.K. was not what Hendrix thought accurately matched the act's psychedelic and forward-reaching nature, and so he took this complaint to manager Chas Chandler, who then called upon well-known London photographer Karl Ferris to work with him and the artist to come up with imagery for the upcoming U.S. release that would be a better match to the music. Karl was kind enough to provide Cover Stories with excerpts from an upcoming biography and coffee table book of his most-recognized photos so that we could give you the complete story about "the making of" the universally-recognized psychedelic image that was used on the cover of this seminal record. So, if you'll 'scuse me….
In the words of the photographer, Karl Ferris -
The first time saw I Jimi Hendrix was at his début showcase of "The Experience" at the "The Bag O'Nails" club in London in January 1967. This was where I saw members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton and many other in the 'rock elite' watching awestruck as Jimi unleashed his powerful music on them. They were thunderstruck and completely blown away as evidenced by the awesome silence after he finished, followed by a thunderous applause, with all those jaded 'rock stars' going crazy over his performance. Pete Townsend turned to Clapton and said "We might as well go and work for the Post Office now". Jimi was the talk of the London after that…
Later, in May 1967, apparently Jimi saw my Hollies Evolution cover which had recently been released and said to his manager Chas Chandler that he wanted something similar - "something psychedelic" - on his Are You Experienced? album when it was to be released in the USA. He was not happy with its UK cover which, he said, 'made him look like a fairy', so he sent Chas off to contact me. We set up an appointment to meet at Jimi's flat in London, and I took my portfolio along.
He loved my work - especially the psychedelic shots - and asked me if I would create a newalbum cover design for the Reprise Records release in the U.S. I said 'yes' and that I would have to absorb his music for inspiration. He said that I should accompany him to Olympic studios, were he was recording his next LP, titled Axis Bold As Love. I was totally mind-blown by what I heard there. The shear power of his psychedelic experimentation was awe inspiring, but when taking a break from playing he was a very nice, unaffected and a shy kind of a guy. He asked me where I was from and I mentioned that I had lived in Vancouver for 4 years. He was surprised and said that he also had lived in Vancouver with his grandmother for a while. We then started smoking joints and swapping Vancouver stories, and we got on famously.
At 4am the next morning, I went home with some tapes of the session and the music from the UK Are You Experienced record to use for inspiration for the US album design. I played the music all day and raved about the music to my girlfriend Anke, saying that it sounded so "far out" that it seemed to come from outer space. This gave me the idea of the group traveling through space in a Biosphere on their way to bring their unworldly space music to earth, and so I then set about sketching some designs of this.
For the cover, I decided to use my new "infrared" technique which I had invented, which combines the photographic color reversal image with the heat signature (and, seemingly, the ability to see the Life Force of plant and human life - it even appears to capture auras !).
To create the spherical photo I decided to use a giant 'fisheye' lens invented by Nikon (which was much bigger than my Nikon F camera). I would shoot in Kew Botanical Gardens in London, where they had the kind of foliage that would react well to my "Infrared" technique.
Jimi loved this idea when I explained to him how this technique worked, and as I leave nothing to chance and design all the elements of my album cover shots (I had fashion and styling experience from my work in fashion photography), I wanted to pick out the clothes that the group members were going to wear in the shot. I first went to Jimi's flat to see what he had, and when I looked in his cupboard I saw a painted jacket that an artist had given to him, saying "I painted this for you". It had large double-pupil eyes painted on the chest, smaller eyes circling the back and psychedelic swirls everywhere else. I said, "This is it! The eyes represent the 'mirror to the soul' and the psychedelic vision". Jimi agreed and said he felt is was part of him and called it the "Gypsy Eyes" jacket.
Later that evening. when Jimi was coming out of the shower before the gig later that night, I was amazed to see his hair all knapped out, as he would normally wear it like the English guys, straightened out and lacquered down into a long 'Beatle cut'. I said to him, 'Why don't you wear it like that, it looks far out', but he said 'it looks like shit!' I countered 'No man, it looks unique and spacey – it's just what we need for the cover'. His hair just needed to be evened up and so, at my suggestion, his girlfriend trimmed it into a ball and we had what was later called an "Afro", after the Sudanese Africans who had always worn their hair like that. The next day, when Jimi's bandmates Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell saw his hair, they really liked it, so I suggested that they have it, too. My hair stylist Johanna permed their hair into "Afros" so they would have a uniform look and we then went shopping in Kings Road boutiques for outfits for the guys.
When everything was ready, we hired a Rolls Royce limo and drove down to Kew Gardens, where I found the perfect tree which had foliage that reached the ground. I had the guys stand back inside the leaves and shot them through the fisheye lens from a low angle, to emphasize Jimi's hands. We didn't shoot long as we had arrived late and we ran out of light, but we returned the following day and shot some more. After the session, to celebrate we walked across the road to an ancient Elizabethan Pub and downed many ales and smoked joints in the garden (it was a good thing that we had a chauffer to drive us back to London!).
When I got the shots back from Kodak, I was amazed and pleased with spherical fisheye picture and the colors that had been created in it. As it turned out, the shot used on the Are You Experienced? U.S. cover was the first frame on the first roll - it was just meant to be – and another fisheye image from that session would later become the international Smash Hits photo cover.
The Kodak lab manager had great praise for the pictures when I picked them up, so when I next took them over to Jimi's house, he was very pleased and excited and said that the shot was really psychedelic and truly represented his music. 'You are the only photographer that is doing with photography what I am doing with music - knocking down the barriers and going far out beyond the limits'. He said that he wanted this image for the covers of his U.S. and international releases of his debut album and that I should design the whole album cover for submission to Warner/ Reprise Records. I said that I would be delighted. He then called up Mitch, Noel and Chas to come over and see the new album cover shots. Everyone was very pleased, as they were seen as the perfect images to represent "The Experience" worldwide. We planned a big celebration party that night. We took some LSD and went to the Bag O'Nails club (where Jimi jammed with Jeff Beck) and then took some groupies back to Jimi's flat and partied all night.
The next day, I began work on designing the album cover. I started with the 'spheres flying through space' concept, but as this would be a very wide format, this would only work on a double gatefold cover. I found out from Chas Chandler that Reprise was being cheap and would only produce a single cover, so I had to rethink the design. I began with the approved fisheye shot, over which I placed a gold leaf matte with a hole cut to fit the circular photograph, and added purple filigree psychedelic lettering printed on the gold metallic matte, which would make the lettering also seem metallic. I had an artist friend of mine do the lettering, for which I paid Ł20 UK to own.
I then organized a photo session in my studio for the back cover shot. I wanted to make a group portrait - emphasizing the group's Afro hair styles – and so I shot it in black and white with their hair backlit to make 'halos' around their heads. The guys loved that shot also.
I then made a printer-ready 'slick' of the finished design and sent it to Reprise Records for printing the final cover. Unfortunately, they decided to pursue a cheaper route and not use the gold matte design layer, but to print it all together - photo, lettering and border all in one layer - using gold ink instead for the gold matte surround.
Disappointingly, by choosing this cheaper arrangement, the label's Art Director was given the AD credit, although it was still my same design and art direction. When Jimi saw the release, he was very upset, as it lost a lot of its visual impact he wanted by using the gold ink border instead of the metallic gold matte surround layer, and also because they had claimed the Art Direction credit. He was very apologetic to me and disappointed, but as it was already out, there was nothing he could do about it, but he said that he wanted to use one of the studio portrait shots for the Axis Bold As Love album that he was currently working on. He said that although the design for that record was by someone else (featuring a Hindu poster design from India), they wanted to use my head shot of the group as an illustration to replace the Hindu god heads that were featured in the center. And so, as it turned out, with the photos I supplied to Reprise for the cover of 1968's Electric Ladyland album - the final 'Experience' album that was released - my images were on all three of the U.S. 'Experience' albums issued in Jimi's lifetime.
I was fortunate and am very proud of my association and friendship with Jimi. He was a prince of a man and we spent many creative hours together discussing philosophy, art, and music. I was also fortunate to have been able to watch many of his mesmerizing performances in the studio and on stage.
He was the ultimate performer - you just couldn't take your eyes off him. He once told me that "the music played him", but he played the guitar with total mastery, with every inspiration that came into his mind instantly transmitted through his fingers to caress, slide, strum, beat and squeeze the music out of his guitar. Like a wizard, he would move around his instrument concocting musical magic that would entrance everyone who heard it. He had perfect pitch and timing. He would first play the melody and then go further out in his improvisation than anyone else could, and all the while you could still hear the melody, he could immerse himself deeply in a psychedelic, electronic improvisation and then suddenly, on the beat, he'd bring it back to the melody of the tune. He was the perfect combination of soul and technique - a total genius, an Amadeus Mozart for the Twentieth Century.
Here is a recreation ("AYX Alternate Bubbles") of the very first double-gatefold cover design that Jimi's new US record company (Reprise) did not want to do, allowing him only a conventional single-cover design.
About the photographer, Karl Ferris -
Karl Ferris is known as "the Innovator of Psychedelic Photography". A photographer to the "British Rock Elite" - Eric Clapton, Cream, Donovan, The Hollies and Jimi Hendrix - Ferris was invited as their personal photographer to create their "Images". He was given an insider access to the "Experience" that defined the 60's and the world.
As a World War II baby, who grew up in Hastings, England in the 50's, Ferris learned two things that would later affect his life, the first being the history of Hastings, conquered by the Normans in 1066. This peaked an interest in this medieval period of history and he would bicycle around Norman castles and fantasize about battles, knights, chivalry and heraldry. The second thing he learned was an appreciation of art, having a showing of his early paintings at the Hastings Museum. He later went on to study at Hastings College of Art focusing on the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting which would later influence his psychedelic photography of the 60's.
After school and with dreams of traveling to India, Ferris signed up as a steward on a P&O liner that went to Australia via India. After returning to England he served two years with the Royal Air Force for his National Service (Conscription) as an aerial photographer. During this period he became friends with a fellow conscriptee, who was a member of a Liverpool Mersey Beat group, and he was introduced for the first time to this type of music.
He was invited back to Liverpool to see a new group - The Beatles - who were appearing at the Cavern Club and was introduced to them. He was then hooked on "Beat" music from which the Beatles took their name. After his military service, Ferris immigrated to Vancouver, Canada working as an assistant to master photographer Harold Nygard. From him Karl learned the skills of composition, form and texture. He also began an involvement in the "Beatnik" lifestyle and began hanging out in "coffee bars" listening to poetry readings and progressive jazz of such artists as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coletrane and Ornette Coleman. He shot his first music subjects at these gatherings for local newspapers and magazines. He also began to take fashion shots of girl friends and models, building up a Portfolio. Nygard told him that he had a real talent in this, but should return to London where the Mod Fashion scene was going on.
In 1964 Karl returned to England and the happening Beat scene. Ferris received commissioned work as a fashion photographer for Teen magazine "19" and later Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, French Mode and Marie Claire. These commissions brought him to such locations as Paris, Cannes, Munich, Ibiza and Morocco. When he wasn't working he would join into the "Scene", after meeting up (and eventually dating) Denmark's Top Superstar model of the time, Karl was introduced to a Pop group called the " The King Bees" who invited him to sing "Rolling Stones" cover songs with them, so he began touring in and around Copenhagen doing this.
He eventually returned to England for a "shoot" offer with Vogue. The Beatles had just released " Rubber Soul" and Karl had the chance to meet up with their official photographer, Robert Freeman, who encouraged Ferris to experiment with different styles of images - which he promptly did - in his unique psychedelic style. On a trip to the Spanish island of "Ibiza" he met and began shooting the "Fool" - Simon and Marijke's Innovative Psychedelic Fashion designs. They were eventually printed in the fashion section of the London times. This was the first time such psychedelic photography and fashions had been seen anywhere. He and the Fool were invited to come to London to shoot some more "Psychedelic" fashion features.
From this Ferris received many commissions. He also began working on "Psychedelic Happening shows" combining projections of colored liquid and photographs over freeform dancers. The likes of Paul McCartney, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, T Rex, Pink Floyd and John Lennon dropped by and began participating, by playing music, with these shows. Ferris was also invited to do a stage light show for Pink Floyd, which is believed to be the first one ever done in England in 1966.
Ferris met with Jimi Hendrix in 1967 through Chas Chandler, who "discovered" Hendrix. Karl received the compliment of a lifetime when Hendrix remarked to him, on seeing his portfolio, "You're doing with photography what I'm doing with music - going far out beyond the limits".
Karl also created the Album cover images for Donovan's "Gift From A Flower To A Garden", "Wear Your Love Like Heaven", For The Little Ones" and "Hurdy Gurdy Donovan" and for The Hollies' "Evolution". He was also instrumental in creating their "Images" for the shoots, which then became their recognized public image. During the years 1967-69, Karl Ferris was one of the preferred photographers to the British Rock elite, shooting also many PR photos for them.
In 2003 Ferris began his quest to re-visit a time in music that defined a generation with, "The Ferris Experience" Happening. Exhibiting the famous Record Album cover photographs and a Psychedelic multimedia video and slide show, opening in Vancouver, Canada at The Exhibitions Gallery . It was be the first time in 35 years that such an exhibition had been unveiled. In 2005, Karl's Happening show and photo gallery exhibit began a tour of major cities in the USA starting with the San Francisco Art Exchange (continuing in Toronto and other cities in 2006). Also in 2006, a filmed documentary called "Psychedelic Revolution - The Karl Ferris Experience" went into production (to coincide with the 40th anniversary of "the Summer of Love"). To watch this 17-minute documentary on YouTube, please click on the following link - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pp54sT9qGQk. In 2008, books of his Hendrix and Donovan photographs (including DVDs) will be published.
All images featured in this Cover Story are Copyright 1967 and 2008, Karl Ferris and Karl Ferris Photography.
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