From 1966 through 1969, Noel Redding played bass in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Twenty years later, he wrote me this long, bittersweet account about his time with the band and what happened to him afterwards.
The back story: Soon after Jimi Hendrix arrived in London in 1966, Noel Redding became the first recruit for his as-yet-unnamed band. Until then, Noel had been a lead guitarist; he’d just auditioned for the Animals. Jimi’s benefactor in England, Chas Chandler, was the bassist in the Animals. Redding agreed to give bass a try, and on September 29, 1966, after jamming on “Hey Joe” and “Have Mercy on Me Baby,” Jimi offered Noel the gig as bassist in his band. Chandler tutored Noel on his new instrument, and on occasion Jimi showed him parts he wanted to hear. When Mitch Mitchell came in on drums, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was complete. (For more about this period: Jimi Hendrix in London, 1966.)
Noel Redding played bass on the Experience’s first three studio albums – Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland – and composed and sang the songs “Little Miss Strange” and “She’s So Fine.” He’s also heard on many albums that came out after Jimi’s death, including the Experience’s live recordings. On the side, Noel had a band called Fat Mattress, which opened several shows during the Experience’s 1969 U.S. tour. Tension flared between Jimi and Noel, and on June 1, 1969, Noel Redding left the Experience and returned to Great Britain. Billy Cox, Jimi’s Army buddy, took his place on bass. Little was heard from Noel after that.
Fast forward twenty years. In 1989, while I was an editor for Guitar Player magazine, we scored an unreleased recording of the Jimi Hendrix Experience playing “Red House.” In those days, we often included a flexi-disc “Soundpage” in the issue, which readers could tear out and play on their turntables. Jim Marshall provided us with a stunning cover photo, and I volunteered to write the copy.
I invited Billy Cox, Joe Satriani, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Noel Redding to participate in the issue. The first three were easy to find, and they all agreed to sit down for interviews. My only contact for Noel was an address in rural Ireland. So I crossed my fingers and sent him a letter with some questions and my fax number. A couple of weeks later, a large brown envelope arrived with my name and address written in his large, beautiful penmanship. The return address was a house in Ardfield, a small coastal town near Clonakily in southwest Ireland. Inside were six hand-annotated pages from a dot-matrix printer. Noel, bless his heart, not only answered my questions, but had formulated them into an essay. His insights into his life at the time, and his experiences in the Experience, were quite telling. I used portions of the document for my cover story, but here, for the first time, are the document’s complete contents.
Noel began his cover letter “Thanks for the offer. Much appreciated.” Next he wrote, “One thing I want to say is that if you plan on putting me on the same page with Alan Douglas, Chip or Leo Branton, you can leave me out. I won’t appear beside them.” Douglas was then the producer and overseer of Jimi Hendrix’s posthumous recordings, while Leo Branton, I later learned, was Al Hendrix’s lawyer. Leo Branton, Jr., also an attorney, was nicknamed Chip. The letter also yielded a clue about Noel’s finances at the time. “This is the first time I’ve used the FAX system,” he’d typed in the printout. “The local travel agency has given me permission to use their machine.” But then at the side of this paragraph he hand-wrote, “Changed mind! Too expensive!!” and so he mailed it. His having played in a world-famous rock band had brought him no guarantee of future financial security.
Noel opened his essay by addressing Jimi Hendrix’s blues roots, the original studio recording of “Red House,” and how they performed the song in concert. His final paragraph gives insight into the Live at Winterland CD and the tensions during the Experience’s final tour, which sometimes left them feeling “like death warmed up.”
On the next page, Noel described his feelings about his records with Jimi finding new listeners, being in the record charts again, and being re-issued on CD. He praised Warner Bros. for sending him gold and platinum awards, noting that this “goes a small way towards making up for the lack of royalty checks.”
On page three, Redding addressed some of the changes in the music business since the breakup of the Experience, including the use of false packaging to lure the collectors. “If you’re lucky,” he continued, “you’re dead and can become a cult figure.” He bemoaned the spate of new releases and bootlegs, adding, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see an lp of burps and farts come out.”
Redding went on to describe unreleased Hendrix material still in the possession of the Experience’s first producer, Chas Chandler. He ended his essay by pointing out that Experience music endures because they played a “good variety of music.” He concluded the document with a five-paragraph bio detailing his post-Hendrix musical experiences, his lawsuits with the Hendrix estate, a dark period when he “gave up, got depressed, stopped playing, tried to do other things,” and his subsequent happy return to live music – this time, acoustic music played on guitar.
Five years later Noel Redding and Carol Appleby co-authored a book, Are You Experienced?: The Inside Story of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He carried on his fight for royalties until his final days. On May 11, 2003, Noel Redding passed away at home in Ardfield, Ireland.
For more on Jimi Hendrix:
Donations to help maintain this Archive are appreciated.
© 2013 Jas Obrecht. All rights reserved. This article may not be reposted or reprinted without the author’s permission.