Up to this point, most of Hendrix' songs were about spirituality or love. This was a change of direction, as the song is told from the perspective of a soldier trapped in a war. The song was inspired by The Vietnam War, the Black Panther Party, and the business struggles Hendrix was dealing with.
Hendrix had parted ways with his group The Jimi Hendrix Experience and recorded this with his new group, The Band Of Gypsys, which included Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. The album Band Of Gypsys was recorded live at The Fillmore East in New York City on New Year's Day, 1970. Hendrix needed one more album to fulfill his contract with Capitol Records, and decided a live album would be the easiest way to do so.
Hendrix introduced this song by dedicating it to "All the troops fighting in Harlem, Chicago and, oh yes, Vietnam."
When Hendrix sings, "I pick up my axe and fight like a bomber," his "Axe" is his guitar (as it's commonly known in England).
A studio version was never released, but Hendrix did perform this live a few times, first in September 1969 on The Dick Cavett Show. The performances could last up to 20 minutes, and the lyrics were different every time.
Hendrix used a Univibe Pedal to get the sound at the beginning of the song, which is supposed to mimic a machine gun.
When Hendrix performed at Woodstock, he played the intro to this song at the beginning of "Hear My Train A Comin'."
Suggestion credit: Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 3
Miguel from Bronx,nycWhen asked, what is so special about Jimi Hendrix? He replied: "Machine Gun"..... Miles Davis talking about Jimi Hendrix.
Jimih from Winnipeg, MbIt's "pick up my axe and fight like a farmer... but you still blast me down." As in they were mowing down innocent villagers in Vietnam... mostly farmers.
The song is told from the point of view from both sides. It's Jimi's way of trying to get the listener to understand we are all on e and the same when it comes down to it. Political ideology aside.
Chuck from Washington, DcThere is no "axe" and probably no "fight": when he repeats the phrase he combines back+like, sounds like the word "bight", hence people make it into "fight" to make sense of it. But as I pointed out the repeated phrase is slurred and riffed against the guitar. You must use the first time, where he says ...you know what I mean?" There is a mixing because he has to say "back like" so quickly, the sounds mix together. Referring to Band of Gypsys version and next comment. Also, the univibe pedal does not make it sound like a machine gun, Buddy Miles on drums is making the machine gun sound.
Chuck from Washington, DcThese comments apply to the version of Machine Gun on the Band of Gypsys record. None of the comments are correct about what he is saying. Closest I can figure he is saying "sit back like a barber." In other words, just sit back and relax (and die). He says "..you know what I mean" this is blues song code used for references to sex or something that cannot be said out straight. He repeats the phrase, but he's just riffing against the sound of the guitar and slurs the words ...
Jorge from Bronx, NyI'd remember being in junior high  when i discovered this song,borrowing a LP from the library,this song was in the Essential Hits Vol2 i'd supposed it was,this was and still my favorite among all his great music,,Long Live The Man,The Myth,The Legend!
Abasalom from Bend, OrHe could be saying pick up my axe and fight like Obama
Chloe from St. Louis, Moyou have no idea how jealous i am, ed. i wasnt born until 26 years later, so i couldnt attend.
Kevin from Los Angeles, CaI saw one web site that says .."fight like a father" which kinda makes sense but I've heard this song hundreds of times ( and at least a dozen different versions) and it always sounds like 'farmer'.
Ed from Los Angeles, CaI was a teenager and spend three weeks at the Woodstock. Drove from Toronto Canada and never went back till the draft board hit me with A1 classification. Hendrix performed this song during a drizzle at the time. His speaker wires kept the sound dying. But he played his great music while thousands of us stood under the rain. It was an amazing experience.
Daniel from Farmingdale, NyOne more small note relating to a lyric cited by Bryan from Morgantown, KY. I know it's hard to distinguish some of the words. I've always thought that what he said was "I pick up my axe and fight like a barbar, know what I mean?" with the word barbar being an abbreviated version of the word 'barbarian.' I could be wrong but that's my take on it and I've heard this song more times than I can count.
Daniel from Farmingdale, NyI was not a big Hendrix fan until I heard him in a live concert in May 1970 at the University of Oklahoma where I was a student. It was in the OU field house with terrible acoustics but the sounds from Jimi's guitar were staggering. He played Machine Gun and the guitar notes were so powerful you could almost see the sounds passing threw the air, sweeping across the cavernous interior of the building like phantoms from another realm. The song was a virtuoso indictment of the Vietnam war and the strife it had created at home in America. The lyrics, although interesting, were minimal and Hendrix instead focussed on recreating the horrendous sounds of warfare to capture his audience and kick them in the gut with the wrenching reality of what violence we as a nation had wrought. There was the sound of missiles shrieking across the sky---INCOMING! INCOMING!---and the mournful notes of ghostly beings destroyed by the mechanized violence of it all. And in the background was the steady RATT-TAT-TAT drum beat of machine gun fire---"shot him down to the ground"---as the war machine cranked relentlessly along its destructive path. This song was Jimi Hendrix masterpiece, the most brilliant thing he ever did. Six months after I attended that concert he was dead at the age of 27.
Clark from Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaIn fact, Jimi is talking about the view point of the gun - not the troops firing the weapon. Hence; "evil man makes me kill you, evil man makes you kill me" The song is from the M60's point of view, if there every was one, not the soldiers view. As Bill Graham said "it was the finest guitar playing he ever saw" and he would know booking the best bands of all time and being a veteran of Korea himself! He also did see the finest guitarists of all time too! Jimi knew what is sounded like as he was in the 101st Airborne himself. "Same why you shoot me down you'll be going just the same, three times the pain, got your own self to blame - machine gun....."
Adam from Vienna, Vapersonal favorite guitar/helicopter sound at 5:16 mark on Machine Gun from Live at Fillmore East (disc 2)
my favorie Machine Gun solo is the one from Live at the Fillmore East (disc 1) brings tears...
these are a different 2-disc set to the Band of Gypsys album but taken at the same venue, just didn't make the 6 song BoG album track list
Bryan from Morgantown, KyI believe he says "Pick up my axe and fight like a farmer", not bomber. Makes a lot more sense, especially if written in the person of a vietnamese farmer, which is the subject he is speaking about during that passage. That's how I've always heard it. IMHO
Musicmama from New York, NyThis may well be the most omonopoetic song ever performed. Jimi not only makes his snare drums and other instruments sound like machine gun fire and other aural effects of the battlefield; he uses those sounds to make us feel what a spiritual and moral crime Vietnam--and, really, any war--is. This really shows how talented a musician Jimi was.
Alex from Winona, MnI love the drumming too... the snare machine gun effect is very effective.
Kenneth from Cleveland, Msthe bass in this song is very good too
John from Brighton, MiA monster of a song. After the part where he holds the single note for a while, he delves into this sickeningly, frightfully good solo that always makes me dizzy listening to it. It sounds a bit to me like being in a washing machine. After this, he gets this distinctly muddy sound going that conjures up the image of a G.I. slithering around in the mud, hiding from the enemy.
Bill from Queens, NyThe song "Machine Gun" always reminded me of the M-60 Medium Machine Gun that we used in Vietnam. (If you saw the movie "Rambo: First Blood," you saw Sylvester Stallon imerge from the water firing it; or if you saw "Full Metal Jacket," you saw Animal Mother use it repeatedly.) Somehow Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, and Billy Cox were able to faithfully (yet, stylistically) replicate the slow and rhythmic rate of automatic fire which issued from that merciless killer of men. The large, deadly accurate, high-velocity bullets it spewed ended many lives. Jimi perfectly captured the tragedy of the technological horror that is the machine gun.
T from Here, VaYou can also hear the sound of a helicopter when Hendrix holds a single note for a few seconds about 4 minutes into the version on Band of Gypsys.