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Jimi Hendrix "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)"
Writers: Jimi Hendrix
Producer: Chas Chandler
Album: Electric Ladyland (1968) (UG Score 9.4)
Recorded: May 3, 1968
Released: October 16, 1968
Label: Track Records
Genre: Psychedelic rock, Blues rock
Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs of all time - #102
Story behind the song
"Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" is the last song on the last album – Electric Ladyland (UG Score 9.4) – Jimi Hendrix recorded before he died tragically on September 18, 1970, after ingesting too many prescription sleeping pills and too much red wine. It was also the very last song Jimi performed live, just 12 brief days before his death at a girlfriend’s flat in London. Hendrix dedicated the album to his groupies, who he called "Electric Ladies." The original album cover was adorned with naked women, but the ensuing controversy prompted the label (Reprise Records) to swap it out for a photo of Hendrix. The musician wasn't pleased with either version; he wanted to bring in photographer Linda Eastman, who would be more famously known as Linda McCartney, to shoot the cover, but the label nixed the idea.
The original song "Voodoo Child" is actually a different recording to the one with famous wah-wah effects that you hear covered all the time. And the "Slight Return" variant is more common. If you listen to the Electric Ladyland album they're both included. The original is around 15 minutes long, then Jimi gets on with the rest of the album... only to "return" (with the more well-known version) at the end of the album.
He was all of 27 – a wild, bright light snatched from us in all his power and glory. "Voodoo Child" is a song that both celebrates and mourns one of the most influential, awe-inspiring, creative geniuses of our time. It's fitting the swan song of the undisputed champion of the Rock riff is an explosion of raw, slashing guitar prowess – barbed and furious – all flowing through an upside-down, right-handed Fender Stratocaster as if it were plugged directly into the heart of God (or the Devil, depending on who you are). Jimi is the "Voodoo Child," and the song sums up the man – an extraordinary talent who lived a fast, frenzied and sometimes violent life that ended suddenly and tragically. Voodoo, a religion known for its magical ritual and healing capabilities, can be traced back to its tribal roots in Africa – as can Jazz, Blues, Gospel and by way of musical DNA, Rock-N-Roll. Of course, blues masters like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King who had such a strong influence on Jimi were all black, and they created a musical form rooted in the oral tradition of slavery – steeped in sorrow and despair. There’s a reason they call it the Blues, and these guys lived it through merit-less persecution and discrimination.
The exact meaning of "Voodoo Child" is up for debate, but what makes this song a truly brilliant piece of Rock-N-Roll is the raw passion, abandon, fury and unabashed irreverence with which Jimi performs, both vocally and instrumentally. It’s as if he’s waited a lifetime to get the message off his chest – pumping dark, primordial rage through the strings of his guitar. There’s an artistic vengeance in "Voodoo Child" that remains unmatched since his tragic death some 40 years ago.
There are no official music videos for this song, so here's a fan video with a compilation of significant moments in Jimi's career.
"Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" became a standard of Hendrix's concert performances and would vary in length from seven to eighteen(!) minutes.
Live at Woodstock in 1969.
Live at Stockholm in 1969.
Behind the scenes
A variety of musicians has recorded "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," sometimes using the shortened title "Voodoo Child".
Joe Satriani - lead guitar, Teddy "ZigZag" Andreadis (Gun 'N Roses, Alice Cooper) -vocals and organ, Bruce Kulick (KISS, Grand Funk Railroad) - guitar, Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper) - guitar, Phil Soussan (Ozzy Osbourne) - bass, and Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath) - drums. Videotaped by Ken Steinhardt at the Wine, Wisdom, & Rock Experience at The Louis M. Martini Winery, St. Helena, CA, August 17, 2013.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's version even was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1985.
Gear and settings
Jimi owned and used a lot of guitars during his career. But the Fender Stratocaster was definitely his guitar of choice and the instrument that became associated with him. He bought his first Strat about 1965 and used them almost exclusively thereafter.
The Strat's easy action and relatively narrow neck were ideal to his evolving style and boosted his enormous dexterity - Hendrix's hands were large enough to fret across all six strings with the top joint of his thumb alone, and he could reputedly play lead and rhythm parts together.
Hendrix is known for playing right-handed guitars that were turned upside down and restrung for left-hand playing. This had a significant effect on the sound of his guitar, because of the skew of the bridge pickup, his lowest string had a brighter sound while his highest string had a darker sound, which was the opposite of the Stratocaster's original design.
1968 Fender Stratocaster Olympic White
No guitar expresses a greater convergence of artist, event, and instrument than 1968 Fender Stratocaster played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Taken alone, this guitar is rather usual. Firstly, it was made during CBS's ownership of Fender, the period of lowering quality. It’s a stock right-handed Stratocaster with Olympic White finish. Although the maple fingerboard seems to be integral with the neck, as it was on 1950s Fenders, in reality, it is separate; the giveaway is on the back of the neck, where there is no evidence of the walnut "skunk stripe" that is present on all Fender one-piece necks.
The string gauges would run .010, .013, .015, .026, .032 and .038.
The crucial point is that Jimi used the .015 for the third because the actual sound the .017 for the third in this setup is very G-heavy.
This guitar was sold at Sotheby's auction house in London in 1990 for 174,000 pounds and resold in 1993 for 750,000 pounds.
Despite the fact, that Jimi preferred Strats, if you look throughout Jimi’s career you will see that the used a wide variety of guitars. He’s played Flying Vs, Les Pauls, SGs, Jaguars, and a wide range of acoustics.
That’s why you are not obliged to usу only Strats to achieve a Hendrix sound – because Hendrix didn’t limit himself to one type of guitar. You can test different guitars and you shouldn’t feel that only certain guitars will achieve a Hendrix-like tone.
Amps and effects
The best way to understand the essential components of Jimi's tone is to look at the rig he used in his famous performance at Woodstock in 1969. It’s a very simple rig that gives you a good idea how to achieve the similar sound.
What Hendrix Used
- Marshall Superlead “Plexi” Heads (100 watts) (UG Score 9.3) with four speaker cabs;
- Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face (UG Score 7.7);
- Vox Wah Pedal (UG Score 8.8);
- Univox Univibe;
- Univibe Pedal;
- Coiled cable.
Jimi Hedrix's 1969 guitar rig. Image via Guitar.com
One of Hendrix's signature effects was the wah-wah pedal.
In July of 1967, while playing gigs at the Scene club in New York City, Hendrix met Frank Zappa, whose The Mothers of Invention were playing at the adjacent Garrick Theater. Hendrix was delighted by Zappa's application of the pedal, and he experimented with one later that evening. He used a wah pedal during the opening to "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", creating one of the best-known wah-wah riffs of the classic rock era.
A key component to achieving a Hendrix tone is fuzz distortion. Hendrix used a Fuzzface pedal to add more dirt and drive to his amp. Fuzz distortion is rather diverse from common distortion or overdrive pedals. If you don’t have a fuzz pedal you’ll find it very hard to reach Jimi Hendrix' tone.
The Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face pedal Hendrix used has been so popular Dunlop still produce them today and even made a signature JH-F1 Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face (UG Score 8.7).
Of course, you can find other fuzz pedals, but the Fuzz Face is the best choice for a Hendrix sound.
The Uni-Vibe was created to mimic the sound of a Leslie speaker. Think of it as a chorus/vibrato/phaser pedal. Uni-Vibe is important because of its characteristic and unique effect. It's used to create juicy, swirling, hypnotic tones and to add some unique texture to your tone.
The coiled cable has a great influence on the Hendrix' tone. These coiled cables remove a lot of the higher frequencies which decreases the brightness you hear. That's important because straight cables will retain more of the higher frequencies.
Hendrix used a wide range of amps so don’t limit yourself. It is clear that a significant part of what made Hendrix unique is that he experimented a lot with his gear and its settings. He is usually associated with Marshall amps because he used them towards the end of his life. But in the studio, Hendrix had plenty of different brands and models available. He was known to use Fender Twin Reverb and Bassman amps.
Don’t think that you have to copy Jimi Hendrix’s rig setup exactly to reproduce his tone. If you find you prefer a different brands or order of pedals then you should do it. While the basic gear you use is important, you can achieve Hendrix tone on a wide range of guitars, amps, and pedals. Hendrix didn’t always play a Stratocaster into a Marshall – he played a wide range of guitars and amps. If you already have an amp and don’t want to buy another one, that’s fine – you can still use it.
In an interview Roger Mayer who had worked with Jimi Hendrix said:
This setup, used by Jimi at Woodstock, is typical of the stage setup he used during that time period. Jimi was very aware that a simple chain of effects - along with few important options - would greatly free his mind to concentrate on performing and that a lot of control could be obtained from the guitar volume.
- Gain - 7
- Treble - 5
- Mid - 5
- Bass - 8
- Reverb - 5
These are top tabs rated by the UG community:
Half-step down tuning: Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb
E minor, or Ebm, assuming that guitar is tuned down a half-step.
Jimi's style was based on unusual chord progressions and innovative rhythms, riff-based songs, octaves and double-stops, thumb chords with pinky movement, whammy bar usage, and, of course, sound effects.
Jimi is best known for his innovative rhythms. This refers to mixing chords, and chord partials (two notes of a chord) with single-notes.
One of the shapes that Jimi commonly used for composing were double-stops. Double-stops are two-note chords played within a scale. In these double-stops, a higher note typically rang throughout, while a hammered-on embellishment occurred on the lower string.
Hendrix relied heavily on both major (1, 2, 3, 5, 6) and minor (1, b3, 4, 5, b7) pentatonic scales. Intro riff and the rest of the song is based around the E minor pentatonic scale.
Song breakdown (Original version from "Electric Ladyland")
Though the whole song structure can be described as Guitar solo: 0:00 - 5:12, let's try to make a breakdown with approximate defining of its parts.
Intro: 0:00 - 1:04
Jimi starts with pretty clean tone and heavy wah pedal (using dead notes for the first 10 seconds), then kicks on his fuzz face pedal (wah off at this point) and goes into an e minor chord and improvised off of that for the remainder of the song which creates its easily recognized sound.
Verse: 1:04 - 1:42
In the verse, the main riff is kept playing with vocals coming in.
Chorus: 1:42 - 1:54
A short chorus is mainly played with power chords.
Solo: 1:54 - 2:37
Solo is started with lots of bends and followed by very fast picking and ends by slow tempo power chords, mixed with single notes.
Verse 2: 2:37 - 3:27
There is no exact point, where the solo ends and the second verse starts, because of the Jimi's style of playing. The second verse has different sonic structure and is more slow and calm, than the first one.
Chorus: 3:27 - 3:39
The second chorus, unlike the second verse, has the similar structure as the first chorus.
Outro: 3:39 - 5:12
The outro is an improvisation part, which is always different if we compare to the live versions, but mostly uses the variations of the main riff.
Remember that playing every single note exactly like Hendrix does will be impossible. Many of the guitar riffs are too random and more instinctual than precise.
There are some phrases of notes that are very distinct, so they are shown note-for-note. But for much of the song, Hendrix repeats the same riff with slight variations. It is more important to know how to play a usual version of this riff and make your own variations just like Hendrix does instead of trying to reproduce every single note just like the recording.
Take a look at Jimi’s solos that are found throughout the whole song. These solos are described note-for-note but getting the structure and the overall vibe of the solo is the most important thing to confidently perform it.
Full song lesson with the use of wah-wah pedal
Find out how to achieve Jimi's tone using a wah pedal.