There are good guitarists. There are great guitarists. Then there is Jimi Hendrix. The man was so talented that when David Fricke of Rolling Stone
compiled his list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, he decided that “Jimi Hendrix was Number One in every way; the other 99 were all Number Two.”
The man’s records are loved and respected, but it was in concert that he truly became something extraordinary. Otherwise-rational people recall his concerts as something bordering on the mythological. Jimi Hendrix didn’t just play music, he was
music, as terribly pretentious as that sounds. So, really, it should come as no great surprise that, in the mind of Hendrix, a simple matter of being weathered in can become a song.
The day of concern was May 19th, 1968. It was the last day of the first Miami Pop Festival. There were actually two Miami Pops, and the December 1968 one was probably the one most remembered, because the crowd of 100,000 was the biggest ever on the East Coast at the time. The two concerts were completely unrelated in every way, except that they went down at the same venue and had the same name.
The first Miami Pop’s second biggest claim to fame might be the The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival
, which resulted from it. It was primarily important historically, though, in that it was promoted by Richard O’Barry and a certain fellow by the name of Michael Lang; the latter would later put on a little bitty show known as Woodstock, and he would also say that Miami Pop I was where the “seeds of Woodstock were sown.” In fact, on the 4th of July, 2012, a historical marker was unveiled at the site to memorialize it, mainly because of its connection to Woodstock.
The festival featured The Package, Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Blue Cheer, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (side note: if you want to see something crazy as hell, watch Arthur Brown’s "Fire,"
unbelievably ballsy and evil for 1968). On the second day of the festival, a Sunday, the heavens opened and rained poured down in a terrible deluge! lightning split the sky! thunder shook the earth!!
Basically, there was a storm. This forced a cancellation in the show. During this time, while Hendrix lounged with nothing to do other than sleep with groupies and do drugs, he began to dream up “Rainy Day, Dream Away.”
The song isn’t one of those that is most revered in Hendrix’s catalogue. Unlike the psychedelically apocalyptic sounds of “Purple Haze” or “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” it’s rather tame. It was eventually recorded on Electric Ladyland
, which was released October 16, 1968. The album spent two weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. charts. Critical response was mixed, largely because the album was so ambitious and unique that people didn’t quite know what to make of it. Eventually, though, critics came around, and the album is now largely considered one of the best rock albums ever made and a masterpiece of psychedelia. It works best as a cohesive piece of art, with each song best suited as a part in the greater whole. This is a concept that might be lost on many modern listeners, who view albums simply as collections of singles. Electric Ladyland
isn’t like that, and assessing its songs as single doesn’t quite work, at least not entirely.
All in all, the story of the song’s inspiration isn’t all that remarkable, but it is an interesting insight into the way one of the greatest musicians of Hendrix's time found songs in the most innocuous of places.
~ Jeff Suwak
Songplaces contributor Jeff Suwak is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of the novella "Beyond the Tempest Gate" and various works of short fiction. He also writes for The Prague Revue. He loves being berated on Twitter @JeffSuwak and receiving visitors at beyondthetempestgate.com.