Noel Redding became the first recruit for the Jimi Hendrix Experience soon after Hendrix arrived in London in 1966. Having jammed on Hey Joe and Have Mercy on Me Baby, Redding went on to play bass on the group’s first three studio albums – Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland.
Speaking to Bass Player in August 1993, Redding recalled the urgent, chord-heavy bass style he developed to drive the Experience. “We were a very spontaneous group – just plug in and play. Except for the occasional riff Jimi would ask me to double, I was free to come up with my own basslines.
“For the most part, I would anchor the tune while Jimi and Mitch Mitchell went off on tangents. Playing chords helped to fill out the sound while he was soloing, but no matter how far away they went, they knew I'd be there when they got back. I went off on a few tangents myself, but overall I preferred to keep it simple. I think that's the job of any good bass player.”
By late 1967, Hendrix was an international star, but Redding and Hendrix were barely on speaking terms – Redding didn’t play bass on All Along The Watchtower or on Voodoo Chile on the final Jimi Hendrix Experience album. Hendrix did, however, record another Redding song, Little Miss Strange, and allowed Redding's new band Fat Mattress to support the Experience's 1969 tour.
Tensions flared again, however, and on June 1, 1969, Redding left the Experience and returned to Great Britain. “The recording sessions were chaos, and on stage, it was getting ridiculous. The audience wanted us to play the old Hendrix standards, but Jimi wanted to do his new stuff. The last straw came at the Denver Pop Festival when Jimi told a reporter that he was going to enlarge the band. I went up to Jimi that night, said goodbye, and caught the next plane back to London. Jimi phoned and asked me to come back, but I said stuff it.”
Following tours and recordings with Fat Mattress, Road, and The Noel Redding Band in the early 1970s, Redding retreated to Ireland in 1978. Shortly after he began an 11 year stint playing acoustic guitar in a popular local duo with vocalist/percussionist Carol Appleby. The peaceful pace also gave Redding time to write Are You Experienced?, a memoir of his three years with Hendrix.
In the era of greatest hits compilations, Hendrix’s legacy is more lucrative than ever. How did Redding feel about the countless Hendrix reissues and the impressive sales they generated? “I'm amazed by all the re-packagings, even though many are poor in quality. Hopefully, Chas Chandler will release some of the material he has, which is basically the Experience's fourth album.”
Despite lengthy legal battles, Redding received no royalty money from the Hendrix estate. “There's word that Jimi's entire catalog is going to be bought by one of the big record companies for 30 or 40 million dollars. If they gave me and Mitch even a percentage point or two, we'd be happy – and we could help out with the publicity. But nothing has happened so far. Actually, I don’t want you to think there’s anything nasty between Jimi and I. We were still good friends. It’s just that we couldn’t work together anymore.”
As a picker whose career can be characterized as having had its fair share of both upstrokes and downstrokes, Redding remained on track by sticking to his original plan. “My goal is the same as it's been since I started out playing clubs in the early 80s: to be a good and respected professional musician.”
Redding died at his home in southern Ireland on May 11th 2003. He was 57.