Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 176
Wed. July 24, 2013
“If 6 was 9”
If you were to guess which Jimi Hendrix song was the quintessential anthem for his private psychedelic revolution, that epic would have to be Axis Bold as Love’s “If 6 was 9.” A song that started off as a blues jam became something more of a personal guitar odyssey;” If 6” was the song that captured the demonstration spirit from this usually soft spoken guitar genius. In David Henderson’s ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky: Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child, the guitarist described the essence of “If 6 was 9” as a nontraditional blues song when he explained, “You can have your own blues. It doesn’t necessarily mean that folk blues is the only type of blues in the world. I heard some Irish folk-songs that were so funky—the words were so together and the feel. That was a great scene. We do a blues one on the last track of the LP [Axis Bold as Love] on the first side; it’s called “If Six Were [sic] Nine.” That’s when you call a great feeling of blues. We don’t even try to give it a name. Everybody has some kind of blues to offer, you know?”
The kind of blues that Jimi Hendrix offered in “If 6” was something more mind-blowing. You see, in most of his songs, Jimi Hendrix allowed his axe do the talking; the guitar was more of the star of the show. On “If 6 Was 9,” Hendrix’s usually more laid back vocals become more confrontational against the system that has kept the guitarist from realizing his dreams through his own lyrics and chords. Call them, “the man,” “the record industry;” “rock or blues purists,” you name it, anyone who inhibited Hendrix from realizing his creations were targets. Jimi created his own private soundscape universe with his own musical language and “If 6 Was 9” was his declaration of independence. “If 6 Was 9” reflected the fact that Hendrix didn’t really fit anywhere and the guitarist never apologized for this living in his own cloud of excess and spontaneous creativity that kept him writing and performing till the very end.
According to Richie Unterbergeger’s The Rough Guide to Jimi Hendrix, “If 6 Was 9” almost didn’t appear on Axis Bold as Love, as Richie wrote, “When Hendrix misplaced the master tapes for half the album shortly before it was due for completion, re-creating the original mix for this song in particular proved especially difficult.” Fortunately Noel Redding had a rough mix at home.” Talk about having your mind blown, what if engineer Eddie Kramer hadn’t saved the Axis Bold as Love master tapes and “If 6 Was 9” never lived to hear the light of day?
In John McDermott’s Ultimate Hendrix, Eddie Kramer talked about the troubles of trying to save the master track from “If 6 was 9,” when the engineer explained, “The one we had the most trouble with was “If 6 Was 9.” I could never get close to what we already done in terms of quality with the previous rough mix. As it turned out, Noel did. Chas [Chandler, Jimi’s manager] sent someone off to his flat in a cab and they returned with this tiny, three-inch plastic reel that the tape was falling off. Before we put it on the machine I had to iron out all the wrinkles. The tape was a nightmare. That tape, though, [is] the version that you hear [today.]”
If you’re wondering what Jimi Hendrix thought of this dynamic classic, the guitarist raved about his Axis creation saying this in Ultimate Hendrix, “I adore “If 6 Was 9” That was a complete jam session, then we put the words on afterwards. That’s me on the flute. Gary Leeds and Graham Nash did some foot stomping and that’s (Chas) Chandler’s big feet on the fade out. “If 6 Was 9” is what you call a great feeling of blues.” With “If 6 Was 9,” Jimi Hendrix rewrote the definition of blues. This was Hendrix’s very personal protest anthem of spirit, with the guitarist giving his peace and love identity a breath of Jimi’s introspective fire within the psychedelic soundscape of “If 6 Was 9.”
I believe David Stubbs said it best, when he wrote in his book Jimi Hendrix: The Stories Behind Every Song, “Once again, Hendrix imagines himself as not really of this planet, his true spiritual essence residing outside of and beyond the earth, beyond harm. And so, as his guitar intimates of cataclysms yet to come, Hendrix remains oblivious, engaging in shrill blasts of whale song from the Olympian heights of the upper registers. And, when you contemplate Hendrix’s posthumous fate, his music still shrieking and reverberating down the ages, more alive in many respects than when he was still around and only dimly recognized for what he was, you could argue that with “If 6 Was 9,” he got it just about right.”
Editor’s Note: [Wow, extraordinary piece of music journalism. We urge you to pick up a copy of Stubbs’ Jimi Hendrix: The Stories Behind Every Song. Essential writing on America’s most famous “Purple Haze” guitarist.]
Stubbs was right, “If 6 Was 9” sounds like Hendrix’s calling from the clouds look up and embrace his timeless, electric spirit and let this Axis Bold as Love epic take you on Jimi’s personal trip; unleash Hendrix’s psychedelic bluesy brilliance inside your mind today.