Jimi Hendrix, the hero of hard rock, wasn’t the only one experimenting with fire in the late 1960s. By the time most people heard his hit song “Fire,” Hendrix already had a reputation for ferocious performances, especially after physically setting his guitar on fire at the conclusion of his show at the Monterey Pop Festival. ‘Fire’, which first appeared on The Jimi Hendrix Experiences’ first LP Are You Experienced, immediately rose to the top of Hendrix’s list of most well-known songs.
‘Fire’, which included a legendary drum performance from Mitch Mitchell, combined a pop-infused chorus with full-impact hard rock in a way that could only be imagined by Jimi Hendrix. However, in other parts of the 1960s, other musicians were singing about the fires. The most notorious of them was perhaps British eccentric singer Arthur Brown, whose 1968 song “Fire,” which he wrote and performed with his band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, became a smash.
In an interview with NME in 2022, Brown told, “Everything opened up when ‘Fire’ became a hit and I went from being an underground figure who was regarded as strange to singing and playing with people that were my influences and heroes, like John Lee Hooker and Frank Zappa. When the underground radio stations first turned the song down as not being a ‘hit’, the label took it to the major stations who saw somebody with flames coming out of his head and thought it was an outrageous novelty record that would do well in the summertime.”
Hendrix didn’t believe Brown was in competition with him despite the fact that they both had songs with the same name. Hendrix was, in fact, endorsing Brown’s ‘Fire,’ according to Brown. Brown claimed, “At the same time, Jimi Hendrix helped break ‘Fire’, because he was on the same US label as me, and took the record around the stations demanding: ‘Play this mo********** !’”
Brown also asserts that “Fire” was originally played on black R&B radio stations. He said, “With the makeup I was wearing, nobody could tell where I was from or my race, so all the stations were playing it.”
While Brown’s rendition of “Fire” did reach the mainstream charts, Hendrix’s version never did. ‘Fire’ was a number one smash in the UK and managed to climb as high as number two on the American pop charts, two achievements that Hendrix never attained in his lifetime.