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Jimi Hendrix's Iconic Album Covers Revealed

Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced album cover, 1967 © Karl Ferris

We are delighted to welcome photographer Karl Ferris to our collective. Best known as the principal innovator of 'psychedelic' photography and photographer to the 'British Rock Elite'. Karl Ferris has worked with some of the greatest names in music including Eric Clapton, Cream, Donovan, The Hollies and most notably Jimi Hendrix.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 'Are You Experienced' is often considered to be the greatest debut album of all time. Yet, when it was released in the UK, Hendrix was unhappy with the artwork as he didn't think it reflected the act's psychedelic and forward-reaching nature. So manager Chas Chandler called upon Karl Ferris to come up with some alternative imagery for the upcoming U.S. release that would better match the music. Karl went on to design the classic cover art for the album and worked with Hendrix on a number of other projects during 1967.

In an interview with Music Dish e-Journal, Karl Ferris recalled, "The first time saw I Jimi Hendrix was at his début showcase of "The Experience" at the "The Bag O'Nails" club in London in January 1967. This was where I saw members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton and many other in the 'rock elite' watching awestruck as Jimi unleashed his powerful music on them. They were thunderstruck and completely blown away as evidenced by the awesome silence after he finished, followed by a thunderous applause, with all those jaded 'rock stars' going crazy over his performance. Pete Townsend turned to Clapton and said "We might as well go and work for the Post Office now". Jimi was the talk of the London after that...

Jimi Hendrix, Can You See Me?, 1967 © Karl Ferris

Later, in May 1967, apparently Jimi saw my Hollies Evolution cover which had recently been released and said to his manager Chas Chandler that he wanted something similar - "something psychedelic" - on his Are You Experienced? album when it was to be released in the USA. We set up an appointment to meet at Jimi's flat in London, and I took my portfolio along. He loved my work - especially the psychedelic shots - and asked me if I would create a new album cover design for the Reprise Records release in the U.S. I said 'yes' and that I would have to absorb his music for inspiration. He said that I should accompany him to Olympic studios, were he was recording his next LP, titled Axis Bold As Love. I was totally mind-blown by what I heard there. The shear power of his psychedelic experimentation was awe inspiring, but when taking a break from playing he was a very nice, unaffected and a shy kind of a guy.

At 4am the next morning, I went home with some tapes of the session and the music from the UK Are You Experienced record to use for inspiration for the album design. I played the music all day and raved about the music to my girlfriend Anke, saying that it sounded so "far out" that it seemed to come from outer space. This gave me the idea of the group travelling through space in a biosphere on their way to bring their unworldly space music to earth, and so I then set about sketching some designs of this.

For the cover, I decided to use my new "infrared" technique which I had invented, which combines the photographic colour reversal image with the heat signature To create the spherical photo I decided to use a giant 'fisheye' lens invented by Nikon (which was much bigger than my Nikon F camera). I decided to shoot in Kew Botanical Gardens in London, where they had the kind of foliage that would react well to my "Infrared" technique.

When I got the shots back from Kodak, I was amazed and pleased with spherical fisheye picture and the colours that had been created in it. When I took them over to Jimi's house, he was very pleased and excited and said that the shot was really psychedelic and truly represented his music. 'You are the only photographer that is doing with photography what I am doing with music - knocking down the barriers and going far out beyond the limits'. He said that he wanted this image for the covers of his U.S. and international releases of his debut album and that I should design the whole album cover for submission to Warner/ Reprise Records".

Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland, 1967 © Karl Ferris

"I was fortunate and am very proud of my association and friendship with Jimi. He was a prince of a man and we spent many creative hours together discussing philosophy, art, and music. I was also fortunate to have been able to watch many of his mesmerising performances in the studio and on stage."

Karl Ferris's collection of Jimi Hendrix prints are available to buy here

Jimi Hendrix Experience, London, 1967