If 6 Was 9 – Jimi Hendrix Experience (Axis: Bold As Love, 1967)
I remember the first time I ever heard “If 6 Was 9” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I’d bought the “Axis: Bold As Love” CD in 1994 and placed it into my car stereo and was letting the album play. When it went from “Little Wing” to this song my ears immediately perked up and I couldn’t believe that this trippy piece of genius wasn’t being played on classic rock radio stations everywhere!
Knowing what I know now, I get that it’s not nearly as radio-friendly as about 15 or so other Hendrix compositions, but 21 years on from that initial listen I’m still mesmerized at how genius this gem is, albeit it in an unconventional sense.
Opening with the great stop-start heavy guitar riff, I always got a kick out of Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding’s background vocals goading Jimi on by saying “Yeah, sing a song!” before Hendrix goes
“If the sun refused to shine, I don’t mind, I don’t mind
If the mountains fell into the see, let it be, it ain’t me”
From there the acid-y blues take over and the song gets weird, but in the best way possible. The song displays the dichotomy between the flower-children ethos with the white-collar conservative businessman and how the hippies may not have any material wealth, but they have the real freedom to express themselves in their not only their fashion, but also in the way they think about existence and approach life with minimal artifice.
Featuring Hendrix’s standard brilliance on guitar, this song actually would’ve sounded better if he’d not left the original master tapes for Side A (from which this song is on) to the ‘Axis:Bold as Love’ album in the back of a London cab. Urban legend has it that Hendrix and company had to re-mix the side in a marathon, overnight session and to salvage this song they had to get the original demo from bassist Redding’s initial reel-to-reel recording which was in such bad repair they literally ironed out the creases on the tape to save it.
While audiophiles can definitely pick out and isolate the imperfections, to my untrained ears this song was, and is still is, a testament to the psychedelic wonderment of a band at the peak of their powers and a genius who was making art with his electric guitar. Also listen for the stray recorder in the contained chaos in the last minute of the song. Now go on and fly your freak flag Jimi!