Immediately, the words “Purple Haze” conjure a psychedelic image of the 60’s, championed in by the explosive musical force that is Jimi Hendrix. When producer Chas Chandler heard Hendrix tinkering with the song’s opening riff, he said, “That’s the next single!” A truer prediction has never been spoken. With Chandler’s encouragement, Hendrix worked out the rest of the song in a dressing room of The Uppercut Club in London that afternoon, on December 26, 1966. Later that day, Hendrix would play a set, billed as “The American Top Soul Singer.”
Over the years, the interpretation of Hendrix’s lyrics for “Purple Haze” would come under scrutiny. At first, Hendrix stated they were derived from a dream. “I dream a lot and I put my dreams down as songs. I wrote one called ‘First Look Around the Corner’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze,’ which was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” He later said he had written a thousand words about a “mythical scene,” but the content was reduced to make the single more radio-friendly.
Some time later, Hendrix claimed that the song was inspired by an experience with a woman in New York. He said that he was transfixed by her, as if she was using voodoo magic over him. “He [the song’s protagonist] likes this girl so much, that he doesn’t know what [state] he’s in, ya know. A sort of daze, I suppose. That’s what the song is all about.”
Of course, there’s also the drug references associated with “Purple Haze.” While never confirmed, lyrics like “purple haze, all in my brain” optimistically indicate psychedelic drug use. The song has become a symbol of the 60’s counterculture, and has since lent its name to a strain of marijuana.
Regardless of what it meant, the Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded the song two weeks later, on January 11th, 1967. After some overdubs and producing, the song was released as a single on March 17th. The Experience’s debut album, Are You Experienced? (featuring “Purple Haze”) would be released a couple months later. The rest, as they say, is music history…
[Cover photo via Genius]