Every UK Number One Song: Voodoo Chile


“Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix Experience was number one on 21st November 1970 and stayed there for one week.

I understand that Jimi Hendrix was amazing at what he does, has had a huge influence on the music industry and died too young but I just never got it.


Music writer John Perry calls it “interstellar hootchie kootchie”, which blends Chicago blues and science fiction. At fifteen minutes, it is Hendrix’s longest studio recording and features additional musicians in what has been described as a studio jam. It was recorded at the Record Plant in New York City after a late night jam session with Hendrix, Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, organist Steve Winwood, and bassist Jack Casady. “Voodoo Chile” is based on earlier blues songs and became the basis for “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, recorded by the Experience the next day and one of Hendrix’s best-known songs.

“Voodoo Chile” uses a phonetical approximation of “child” pronounced without the “d”, a spelling that was also used for Hendrix’s song “Highway Chile”. For the shorter Experience recording, Track Records in the UK used the title “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” for the British Electric Ladyland and “Voodoo Chile” for the 1970 UK single. Although many live recordings of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” have been issued, only the three takes of the original studio jam, “Voodoo Chile”, are known to exist. A composite of the first two takes is included on the 1994 Blues album.

“Voodoo Chile” evolved from “Catfish Blues”, a song which Hendrix performed regularly during 1967 and early 1968. “Catfish Blues” was an homage to Muddy Waters, made up of a medley of verses based on Waters’ songs, including “Rollin’ Stone”, “Still a Fool”, and “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”. In April 1968, Hendrix recorded a number of solo demos in a New York hotel, including an early “Voodoo Chile”, which he had been developing for some time. It used elements of “Catfish Blues” with new lyrics by Hendrix and included a vocal and guitar unison line.

Music critic Charles Shaar Murray describes “Voodoo Chile” as “virtually a chronological guided tour of blues styles” ranging from early Delta blues, through the electric blues of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, to the more sophisticated style ofB.B. King, and the “cosmic blurt” of John Coltrane. Lyrically, he adds, the song is “part of a long, long line of supernatural brag songs”. Hendrix’s song opens with:

Well the night I was born, Lord I swear the moon turned a fire red (2×)
Well, my poor mother cried out, ‘Lord, the gypsy was right’, an’ I see’d her fell down right dead

“Hoochie Coochie Man”, the Muddy Waters/Willie Dixon blues classic, opens:

The gypsy woman told my mother, before I was born
‘You got a boy child comin’, goin’ be a son of a gun’

In later verses, Hendrix, a fan of science fiction, adds references to “the outskirts of infinity” and “Jupiter’s sulfur mines”.


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