Why Jimi Hendrix Hated All of His Album Covers
Legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix was notoriously a perfectionist, which may explain why he hated the initial album covers given to each of his releases.
The 1967 debut LP Are You Experienced thunderously announced the Jimi Hendrix Experience to the world. Tracks such as “Foxy Lady,” “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” would become some of Hendrix’s most recognized hits, but the band's frontman was less than impressed with the album’s cover.
The original U.K. release featured the image of Hendrix wearing a cape, with arms wide open as he towered above bandmates Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell.
“[Hendrix’s] music at the time was pretty wild, and the prevalent thing at the time was psychedelic and all things strange, so you had to do something odd,” explained the cover’s photographer, Bruce Fleming, in the book Jimi Hendrix and the Making of Are You Experienced. “The more outrageous and outlandish you got, the better. So I went for a dark green background - deep, deep green - and then just him with his cloak up.”
The photographer’s goal was to capture the otherworldly appeal of Hendrix’s talent. “There was an alchemy about it," Fleming noted. "There was something strange going on here, different. This was a man who was flying at night. This guy could fly, literally. That’s what I tried to get across.”
Unfortunately, most people didn’t get that message - including Hendrix. The strange pose combined with the photo’s drab colors made some music fans question whether the image was supposed to be funny. Hendrix reportedly hated that the picture made him “look like a fairy” and demanded a different image for the album’s U.S. cover.
That photo, shot by Karl Ferris, used a fish-eye lens and color reversal to create a psychedelic visual. The cover, which featured purple lettering on a bright yellow background, would become one of Hendrix’s most identifiable images.
A Ferris photo would also be used on the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s sophomore LP, Axis: Bold as Love, albeit in a very different way. Artist Roger Law used a portrait of Hendrix, taken by Ferris, and incorporated it into religious artwork depicting various forms of the Hindu deity Vishnu.
“When I first saw that [cover] design, I thought, ‘It’s great,’ but maybe we should have an American Indian,” Hendrix is quoted as saying in the book Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Experience. While he appreciated the creativity of the artwork, its deeper religious message made little sense to him. “The three of us have nothing to do with what’s on the Axis cover.”
For 1968’s Electric Ladyland, Hendrix was emphatically clear on what he wanted the cover to look like. The rock icon sent his label expressed instructions regarding the album artwork, even going so far as to sketch out his idea to make sure his message made sense. The concept would have utilized a picture taken by Linda Eastman - the future Linda McCartney - that featured Hendrix playing with children on the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York’s Central Park.
Despite his crystal-clear desires, the label went with something completely different (the Eastman picture would later be used for the album's 50th-anniversary cover). Instead, Electric Ladyland would feature another Ferris photograph, this time a red-and-yellow image captured during Hendrix’s performance at London's Saville Theatre.
International releases of Electric Ladyland included further variations. Notably, the U.K. edition featured an outer sleeve showing 19 naked women. This led to controversy, as some stores refused to carry the release, calling the images pornographic. Hendrix had no problem with the photograph, but was miffed that he hadn’t been involved in the decision.
“I didn’t know a thing about the English sleeve,” Hendrix told Melody Maker in 1968. “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.”
In France, Electric Ladyland again was given a different cover. Record label Barclay, which handled Hendrix releases in France and Benelux, chose to go with a photograph by Alain Dister for its artwork. The image featured a hand adorned with a colorful shirt sleeve, using one finger to push down on a portrait of Hendrix.
The final album released before Hendrix's death was Band of Gypsys, his only release outside of the Experience. The live LP's cover featured a photograph of the guitarist during his Jan. 1, 1970, performance at Fillmore East. Hendrix dismissed the cover, and the album as a whole.
"If it had been up to me, I never would have put it out," he admitted. "From a musician's point of view, it was not a good recording and I was out of tune on a few things. The thing was, we owed the record company and album and they were pushing us, so here it is."
Like Electric Ladyland, Band of Gypsys' U.K. edition stirred controversy with its distinctive cover. The image featured puppet versions of Hendrix, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones and BBC Radio presenter John Peel created by artist Saskia de Boer. Hendrix had loose connections to each of the other artists - he had covered Dylan, recorded with Jones and appeared on Peel's program. Still, it was the appearance that upset people, as the unflattering puppets and dreary surroundings came across as upsetting to some. Responding to public pressure, U.K. label Track replaced the image on future pressings, instead using a picture of Hendrix performing at the Isle of Wight festival.