Jimi Hendrix was a megastar. At his short-lived peak, he was the world’s highest earning musician. But record companies were uncertain how to sell the man behind the music who was banned by the BBC. For the album Are You Experienced, photographer Karl Ferris snapped the band with a fisheye lens and infrared film.
For Axis: Bold As Love, another Karl Ferris image was mashed-up with a religious poster of the Hindu deity Vishnu.Hendrix thought it “disrespectful”, adding that “the three of us have nothing to do with what’s on the Axis cover.”
Hendrix soon took matters into his own hands – or at least he tried to, laying out to US label Reprise Records how he wanted the cover of Electric Ladyland to look. He liked Linda McCartney’s photograph of the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Central Park, posing with some children on José de Creeft’s Alice in Wonderland sculpture.
Here are the pictures we would like for you to use anywhere on the L.P. cover – preferably inside and back, without the white frames around some of the B/W ones, and with most of them next to each other in different sizes and mixing the color prints at different points, for instance.
Please use cover picture with us and the kids on the statue for front or BACK COVER (OUTSIDE COVER) and the other back or front side, (outside cover) Please use three good pictures of us in B/W or color.
We would like to make an apology for taking so very long to send this but we have been working very hard indeed, doing shows AND recording.
And please send the pictures back to
Jimi Hendrix Personal & Private
c/o Jeffrey & Chandler
27 EAST 37th ST. N.Y. N.Y.
After you finish with them.
Please, if you can, find a nice place and lettering for the few words I wrote named… “Letter of the room full of mirrors.” on the L.P. cover.
The sketch on the other page is a rough idea of course…But please use ALL the pictures and the words – Any other drastic change from these directions would not be appropriate according to the music and our group’s present stage – And the music is most important. And we have enough personal problems without having to worry about this simple yet effective layout.
So out of respect for their start turn, Reprise ignored his requests and used yet another Karl Ferris photo, this one taken in 1967. In the UK, Track Records, thought sex sold – and that Hendrix’s sex appeal was lacking – so for his third album (and the last studio outing to be issued in his lifetime), they used a picture by David Montgomery of 19 naked women. Hendrix told Melody Maker magazine:
“I didn’t know a thing about the English sleeve. Still, you know me, I dug it anyway. Except I think it’s sad the way the photographer made the girls look ugly. Some of them are nice looking chicks, but the photographer distorted the photograph with a fish-eye lens or something. That’s mean. It made the girls look bad. But it’s not my fault.”
“It makes us look like a load of old tarts. It’s rotten,” on of the models, Reine Sutcliffe, told Melody Maker. “Everyone looked great, but the picture makes us look old and tired. We were trying to look too sexy, but it didn’t work out.”
“Linda McCartney shot the original picture of Electric Ladyland in New York. She took a picture of a little white kid and a little black kid playing together. It was peace, love, harmony – all that stuff. But the record company in London looked at it and said: ‘What the hell is this? This isn’t gonna sell records.’ So that’s when I got the job.
“I’ve met a lot of people who told me they had the Electric Ladyland album but they’d never listened to it. They just liked the naked girls. I think the people from the record company arranged it all. I knew the girls were going to be topless and [UK cover art director] David King just said to me: ‘We’ll do it Thursday night’. I can remember that, that it was a Thursday night, because I was working in the daytime. So they went to all these London clubs and rounded up all these girls by saying to them: ‘We’re taking pictures of Jimi Hendrix and would you like to be in the picture with him? You’ll make five pounds.’
“On the big day, all these girls came into the studio – I think there were 19 of them – and slowly started undressing. Then I put them into some kind of grouping and took a Polaroid of it, to see what the lighting was like. David King and maybe somebody from the record company looked at it and said: ‘It doesn’t look good with their knickers on. Okay girls, can you take your knickers off?’ The girls all said no. So David offered them more money. I think, with haggling, they gave them another three pounds each. Also, for some reason Hendrix never showed up. That’s why some of them are holding albums.
“Deep down in my heart I knew that this picture could be controversial, so I kinda made sure there was nothing really showing, just their boobs. The other thing is that, in a situation like that, I was shooting on Kodachrome film, which was a transparency. Which meant that either you were right or wrong on the exposure. So I had all these girls and all these different skin tones. My normal habit would be to take four different exposures. When I got them back the colour was absolutely beautiful – all the girls’ skin tones looked like babies’ bottoms. It was really beautiful and I was very pleased with it.
“I gave David all the film and made a couple of choices and that was the end of it. But when the album came out, it was really dark and murky. So I called them up and said: ‘I know it was a low budget, but jeez!’ They said: ‘There’s nothing wrong with that picture, that’s how we wanted it. Your correct exposure was too nice and open and clean. I wanted it a bit more gritty.’ So that’s what David King did. He was the art director so he was the genius. Evidently, Jimi Hendrix didn’t like it. But I don’t actually believe that, because Jimi was quite a ladies man. He was a promiscuous character, so I couldn’t see why he was being all puritanical.”
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