Why Jimi Hendrix Brought In Steve Winwood on the Epic ‘Voodoo Chile’ Recording
How loose were Jimi Hendrix recording sessions by 1968? So loose that Hendrix manager Chas Chandler quit producing Experience recordings. (He didn’t like the lack of focus.) But they were also loose enough for other musicians to enter the studio and record on songs that turned up on Electric Ladyland. (Buddy Miles did that on “Still Raining, Still Dreaming.”)
In a word, things had shifted a great deal from the Are You Experienced (1967) sessions. Hendrix was exploring new sounds with new players, and he didn’t want to be limited to set studio times. While that annoyed bassist Noel Redding to no end, it also opened the door to some great recordings.
The jewel of that crop might be “Voodoo Chile,” the 15-minute extended blues jam that took up most of side 1 on Electric Ladyland. That track featured Mitch Mitchell on drums, Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, and a young Steve Winwood on organ.
Jimi Hendrix asked Steve Winwood to jam on ‘Voodoo Chile’ after a night at a club
By the time of the Electric Ladyland sessions, Hendrix was splitting his time between Steve Paul’s The Scene club and the nearby Record Plant studios. During the day, he and his band (primarily Mitchell and Redding) would record for the double LP.
By night (anywhere between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m.), Hendrix and whoever he brought back from The Scene would get to jamming. In the case of “Voodoo Chile,” Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer believed Hendrix had a clear plan in mind for that jam with Casady and Winwood.
“The way Jimi conceived of it was, ‘I want to jam, but I know the guys I want play this,'” Kramer said in his behind-the-scenes look at the recording. “Jimi goes into The Scene one night and Steve Winwood’s there, Jack Casady’s there. And Jimi’s thinking, ‘Yeah, I can get these guys to play this track.'”
While many musicians would lose that thread between the club and their after-hours jam, Hendrix didn’t. “Jimi’s vision was very clear,” Kramer said. “[Hendrix thought], ‘I want this jam but it’s got to be done in a very specific way.'”
Hendrix, Winwood, and the band nailed the lengthy track in 3 takes
In Ultimate Hendrix, Hendrix fans get a look at the raw data of the “Voodoo Chile” session. It didn’t get started until quite late (7:30 a.m.), so you can assume it was a happening night at The Scene. And though the song itself is long, the band got it down quickly.
Kramer scrambled around the studio setting up microphones and testing levels while Hendrix mapped out “Voodoo Chile” with his three-piece backing band. After a run-through, rehearsal-type take, the group went for it on the second take.
However, that one fell apart when Hendrix broke a guitar string. The third take was the charm. After listening to it, Hendrix decided he wanted more sounds from the crowd of friends who had joined them at the studio. They weren’t loud enough on the recording, so Hendrix overdubbed more noises that morning around 9. A masterpiece had been born.