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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The History of Red House


"Red House" is a song written by Jimi Hendrix and originally recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966. The song, a slow twelve-bar blues, "is one of the most traditional in sound and form of all his official recordings". It was developed during his pre-Experience days while Hendrix was performing in Greenwich Village and was inspired by earlier blues songs. Hendrix recorded several studio and live versions during his career; later, "Red House" has been recorded by a variety of blues and other artists.
"Red House" has "the twelve-bar structure, the lyrics, the accompaniment, and the arrangement [that] are more or less conventional" with Hendrix's guitar performance setting it apart. Billy Cox described "Red House" as "Jimi's way of using his musical roots, everything he knew and understood best, in a pop context". The song is a slow twelve-bar blues, usually notated in 12/8 time in the key of B (although played in fingered key of B, Hendrix usually tuned his guitar 1/2 step lower resulting in a pitch of B♭).

The theme of "Red House" is "as old as the blues itself—the singer's woman doesn't love him any more and has moved". According to Noel Redding, Hendrix told him "the song was written about his old high school girlfriend Betty Jean Morgan", although her house was reportedly brown. It has been suggested that Linda Keith's (who brought Hendrix to the attention of Chas Chandler) friend's New York apartment with "the red velvet walls and decor influenced Jimi's writing". However, for Billy Cox "As far as I know, 'Red House' didn't have any significance in reference to a particular person, place or thing. It was just a blues number that Jimi put together".

According to Hendrix biographers, "Red House" was inspired by blues songs that Hendrix was performing while he was with Curtis Knight and the Squires in 1965 and 1966. One calls the Knight/Hendrix version of Albert King's "Travelin' to California" (from his The Big Blues album, later re-recorded as "California" for Door to Door) as "a dead ringer, both in structure and mood, for his 1967 perennial 'Red House'". The song (sometimes listed as "California Night") featured an early vocal performance by Hendrix and in one version he reminded the band "B♭" before counting off the song. Another calls Knight's/Hendrix's arrangement of Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Running" (also known as "Baby What You Want Me to Do") "closely parallel[ing] that of 'Red House', down to the parallel-harmony bass part and the loping rhythmic feel"
"Red House" was one of the earliest songs recorded by the Experience. The song opens with a diminished 7th chord frequently found in blues songs, as "heard at the start of Robert Johnson tunes like 'Dead Shrimp Blues', 'Kind Hearted Woman', and '32-20 Blues'". After the four-bar intro, Redding and Mitch Mitchell come in while Hendrix solos up to the vocal at bar thirteen. After two twelve-bar vocal sections, Hendrix solos for twelve bars, then finishes up with another vocal section. The song's most prominent characteristic is Hendrix's guitar. John Lee Hooker commented "That 'Red House', that'll make you grab your mother and choke her! Man, that's really hard, that tears you apart. He could get down, he could mash it, yeah, Lord! He had so many blues".

The song was recorded with Noel Redding playing the bass part on an electric guitar (tuned down 1/2 step), with the tone controls set to resemble a bass guitar. According to Redding, "I had borrowed a terrible old hollow-body electric guitar from someone at the studio...because I liked to play along on rhythm to familiarise myself with a sequence, not being quite at home on the bass yet".

A monaural recording from December 13, 1966 at the CBS Studios in London was issued on the UK version of Are You Experienced. Despite Hendrix's complaints, the song was omitted from the US release of the album, because the recording company reportedly argued that "America does not like blues". However, a second take of the song with additional overdubbing by Hendrix in early 1967 was issued on the 1969 American Smash Hits compilation. This stereo version was later released on the 1984 Kiss the Sky compilation, making it available outside the US. The original mono take became available in the US and Canada when it was released (minus most of the chat at the end) on the 1994 Blues album.

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