Essential Listening #22: Red House

“Red House” is a blues song written and performed by Jimi Hendrix. It is one of his most famous and enduring works, showcasing his prowess as a blues guitarist and singer. Here are the key details about the song:

Song Composition and Theme

  • Writer: Jimi Hendrix.
  • Genre: Blues.
  • Theme: “Red House” is a traditional twelve-bar blues song that deals with themes of heartbreak and longing. The lyrics tell the story of a man who returns to find his lover gone, symbolized by the empty “red house.”

Musical Elements

  • Structure: The song follows a classic twelve-bar blues format.
  • Key Signature: Originally in B major, but often played in other keys like G major in live performances.
  • Instrumentation: The song prominently features Hendrix’s guitar work, characterized by his expressive bends, vibrato, and use of the pentatonic scale. The recording also includes bass and drums, providing a solid blues rhythm foundation.

Versions and Releases

  • Original Recording: The original studio version was recorded on December 13, 1966, and appeared on the UK edition of “Are You Experienced” (1967), the debut album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was left off the original US release but included in later reissues.
  • Live Versions: Hendrix frequently performed “Red House” live, with numerous recordings available from various concerts. These live versions often feature extended solos and improvisations, showcasing his guitar virtuosity.

Reception and Impact

  • Critical Acclaim: “Red House” is widely regarded as one of Hendrix’s best blues performances and a classic blues standard. Critics and fans alike praise its emotional depth and technical brilliance.
  • Legacy: The song has influenced countless blues and rock musicians and remains a staple in the repertoire of guitarists.

Notable Lyrics

  • Opening Lines: “There’s a red house over yonder / That’s where my baby stays”
  • Key Lines: “I ain’t been home to see my baby in ninety-nine and one-half days”

Live Performances and Variations

Hendrix’s live performances of “Red House” are notable for their variation and spontaneity. He often extended the song well beyond its original length, incorporating intricate solos and exploring different musical ideas. Some of the most famous live versions include performances at:

  • Monterey Pop Festival (1967): A powerful rendition that helped cement Hendrix’s reputation in the US.
  • Woodstock (1969): An intense performance showcasing his improvisational skills.
  • Live at the Fillmore East (1969-1970): Multiple versions recorded during these concerts capture the evolution of his live interpretation.

Influence and Covers

“Red House” has been covered by numerous artists across different genres, each bringing their unique style to the classic track. Notable covers include performances by:

  • Buddy Guy: A blues legend who has often paid tribute to Hendrix.
  • Johnny Winter: Known for his fiery guitar playing, Winter’s versions are a nod to Hendrix’s influence.
  • John Mayer: A modern guitarist who has frequently performed the song in his live shows.

Album Details

  • Album: “Are You Experienced” (UK edition)
  • Release Date: May 12, 1967 (UK)
  • Label: Track Records (UK), Reprise Records (US reissue)
  • Producers: Chas Chandler

Technical Aspects

  • Guitar Techniques: Hendrix’s use of string bending, vibrato, and feedback in “Red House” is exemplary. He also employs fingerpicking and slide techniques in some live performances.
  • Tuning: The studio version is in standard tuning, but Hendrix sometimes used alternate tunings in live performances, adding to the song’s unique sound.

Cultural Significance

“Red House” is more than just a blues song; it represents Hendrix’s deep roots in the blues tradition and his ability to transform it into something uniquely his own. It stands as a testament to his skill as a guitarist and his deep emotional connection to the blues.

“Red House” continues to be a pivotal piece in the study of Hendrix’s music, offering insights into his technical brilliance and profound influence on the blues and rock genres. It remains a beloved and frequently covered song, testament to its enduring power and Hendrix’s legacy.

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