With more than 8,000 Jimi Hendrix artifacts in its collection, the Experience Music Project could devote acres of gallery space to the Seattle guitar legend who transformed rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1960s.
“It’s an institutional mandate to always have a Hendrix presence,” says Jacob McMurray, curator of “Jimi Hendrix: An Evolution of Sound,” which opened earlier this month at the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. “Hendrix has continued to be a pillar of the institution’s foundation.”
Creating new ways to experience the Jimi Hendrix legacy is a labor of love for an institution founded in the 1990s by Seattle billionaire Paul Allen as a Hendrix museum. Its scope was expanded to encompass all genres of popular music—and later science fiction.
“It’s kind of crazy that someone who died at 27 accomplished so much in such a short number of years,” said McMurray, who joined the museum in 1994 and was co-curator (with Jim Fricke) of the last major Hendrix exhibit, in 2003.
The 2003 exhibit explored a more personal side of the famous Seattle native through photos, diaries, letters and small but telling artifacts.
By contrast, “An Evolution of Sound” explores Hendrix’s distinct talents and how they influenced the direction of rock in the turbulent ’60s and beyond—for Hendrix aficionados as well as casual fans.
“My goal is to appeal to the total Hendrix nerds who want to delve deep and geek out on the guitars and stuff like that—but also appeal to people who don’t know anything about guitars or music,” McMurray said during a tour of the exhibit.
“It’s not about his guitars; it’s not about his pedals and all the technical stuff. It’s about trying to break everything down into a basic vocabulary of why his sound endures today, what evolutionary factors went into it, and why he’s remembered today.”
Driven by feedback
“An Evolution of Sound” grew out of an exhibit earlier this year, “Message to Love: Remembering and Reclaiming Jimi Hendrix,” which invited museum visitors to write their thoughts and questions about Hendrix on wall panels, as if scrawling graffiti on blank canvases. Some wrote, “Hendrix is God” and “I [heart] Jimi,” while others wondered how the guitarist developed his unusual sound and influenced other musicians.
This feedback was translated into a road map for “An Evolution of Sound,” guiding McMurray and his team to create a revealing exhibit in a relatively compact, 900-square-foot gallery nearly one-fifth the size of the landmark exhibit “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music.”
“This [exhibit] very consciously tries to slim it down a little bit and make each item a little more precious,” McMurray said. “I think there are only 35 objects in this room. But I think it’s going to make a very compelling story.”
On display for the first time at EMP is the original album artwork for “Are You Experienced?” (the 1967 debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience).
Visitors can listen to a number of early Hendrix singles, among them “Hornet’s Nest,” a bluesy, garage-rock song recorded in 1966 by Curtis Knight and the Squires (featuring Hendrix).
There’s also a rare, eight-string Hagstrom bass introduced in 1967. It was one of the few basses Hendrix played.
At the entrance to the gallery is a mock stage that shows Hendrix in the flamboyant green-and-yellow costume he wore at the Isle of Wight Festival, as well as at his last Seattle show in 1970.
The remainder of the gallery (which includes artifacts from the Hendrix family and Experience Hendrix) is divided into the five stages of his career—the Seattle Scene (1942-61), the Chitlin’ Circuit (1961-65), The Village (1965-66), the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1966-69) and the World Stage (1969-70).
Along one wall, the focus is on the guitars Hendrix played during the various phases, among them the circa-1958 Sears Silvertone electric (lent by the Joseph Gray family) that he played at the beginning of his career and the white Fender Stratocaster he played at Woodstock.
Much more colorful than the standard-issue white Stratocaster are shards of the decorated guitars Hendrix, who died in 1970, destroyed at the Monterey International Pop Festival and Saville Theatre in 1967 and Royal Albert Hall in 1969.
The five stages of Hendrix’s career also are highlighted in a “life map” along the back wall of the gallery. Each period is packed with small artifacts and trivia.
An interactive display allows visitors to listen to four songs—”Dolly Dagger,” “Crosstown Traffic,” “Nightbird Flying” and “Easy Rider”—and understand how Hendrix recorded them.
“In ‘Crosstown Traffic,’ he uses a comb to make that (distinctive) sound,” McMurray said.
Another interactive area allows visitors to sample the sound-effects devices Hendrix used.
In a small lounge at the center of the exhibit, a video screen plays four songs from each of eight Hendrix concerts from 1966 to ’70, allowing visitors to compare different versions.|Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
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