A great review by Ted Scheinman of a new Hendrix collection that came out this week. This comes from Slant magazine, Feb. 28th…
People, Hell and Angels isn’t a jumble of Jimi Hendrix B-sides, nor does it feature half-formed songs given the ProTools treatment. And there isn’t a single “live” track to be found on the album. (Robert Christgau wrote in 1986 that “after years of repackaging, only suckers and acolytes get hot for another live Hendrix album.” Christgau was not an acolyte.) In fact, People, Hell and Angels delivers crisper delights than 2010’s Valleys of Neptune, interpolating less obvious (and far less accessible) material while also standing as a well-crafted, deftly paced album in its own right. The longest song runs less than seven minutes—a quantifiable indication of the album’s unthreatening nature, and a testament to the good sense of Eddie Kramer (Hendrix’s George Martin and the engineering sage behind the new album).
Recorded, sometimes in secret, between March, 1968 and December, 1969, People, Hell and Angels comprises 12 tracks that pop with an electricity born of Hendrix’s sense of forward motion—in his capital-A art, but also in his own playing and ability to galvanize a rotating band of non-Experience types, including Stephen Stills, Lonnie Youngblood, Rocky Isaac, plus perennial accomplices Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, and Buddy Miles. In other words: 19 Great Performances this ain’t, and thank God. Instead, we get airtight playing and new, consistently interesting material—plus more than a glimpse of the musical space toward which Jimi was feeling his way. This is Hendrix shifting into funk, but also minimalism-as-maximalism via virility and volume—that is, in the vein of Sabbath and Zeppelin (two bands forever indebted to Hendrix), People, Hell and Angels contains a quartet of songs each built on a single one- or two-string monster riff. Chord changes matter about as much here as they do on Bitches Brew. Read the rest of this entry »
And true kings of this earth.
So I say it’s up to us to straighten
Out this mess…
We got to go through hell…
And then that’s the last of this
Black must be bold
Because it’s gold and true
Kings of this world…
So let them go to the moon.
Yes let them go to mars.
Because deep down inside
They’re really from the stars. Read the rest of this entry »
David Harris’ review from the final issue of Mojo-Navigator Rock & Roll News (August 1967) of Hendrix’s debut album. Hendrix was just beginning to become known in America, and this review definitely was prescient…
Yes we were. Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell are without a doubt the most important musical, and in some ways, dramatic, happening in the world today, as this English L.P. and their appearances locally have proved. Hendrix has shaped his music, his stance, his stageshow, and his cool out of a myriad of definable and an infinity of indefinable influences; and yet from this synthesis emerges a completely unique and original genre. Read the rest of this entry »
Taken from the PopMatters website, March 12, 2010, comes this dissection of Jimi Hendrix’s recorded output — the first 3 albums with the Experience, the unfinished First Rays of the New Rising Sun, and the new collection of outtakes, Valleys of Neptune. And I agree with Mr. Murphy’s statements that, first, Hendrix’s music never gets dated or old sounding, and will remain brilliant for as long as humans walk this earth, and secondly, the DVD documentaries included with these albums are great but should have been much longer. Listening to Eddie Kramer talk about the makings of certain songs is extremely fascinating and enlightening. Each DVD is about 17 minutes long but clearly could have gone on for 2 hours without being boring. Hopefully someday they will do a definitive documentary with Mr. Kramer discussing every song Hendrix recorded…
Get excited. There is a new Jimi Hendrix album fully comprised of previously unreleased material.
I know I was excited when I first heard the news of Valleys of Neptune, which takes the name of one of Hendrix’s most widely bootlegged tunes. I was, in fact, so excited, I caught myself reconsidering the concept of Intelligent Design and felt the existence of Santa Claus was, all of a sudden, conceivable. Then I actually heard the album and am now here to tell you about it.
Get excited, but don’t get too excited. Here’s the deal: Valleys of Neptune is not, as some of the early buzz is incorrectly reporting, the last material Hendrix was working on before his death in September, 1970. Nor is it a collection of polished or even complete studio sessions; rather, it is a smattering of assorted jams, sketches and works-in-progress—some of which would be repurposed on Hendrix’s posthumous album, the one he was working on just before his death (of which more later). On the other hand, this is new, previously unreleased music by Jimi Hendrix! That alone is cause for unrestrained celebration, and the arrival of this album is—and will remain—one of the significant musical stories of 2010. And there’s more: in order to properly commemorate the occasion (and the fortieth anniversary of Hendrix’s passing), all of the original studio albums are being reissued with the deluxe remaster treatment, including bonus DVDS (of which more later).
It would be understandable to assume that Valleys of Neptune represents Hendrix’s final recordings, and, again, it’s disconcerting to see this release erroneously being described as such. In fact, the songs are mostly culled from a series of sessions in early ’69, more than a year before Hendrix laid down his final tracks. Fans will recall that the double-album Hendrix was unable to complete before his premature departure from this planet was released posthumously in as faithful a fashion as possible (first as the single album The Cry of Love and much later, and more satisfactorily, as the double-album length CD First Rays of the New Rising Sun).
These sessions do represent the last occasions that the original Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded together, and bassist Billy Cox, who would replace Noel Redding, can be heard for the first time on several songs. The press materials describe Valleys of Neptune as “12 fully realized studio recordings.” That is not exactly a misnomer, but it’s misleading. Again, this is Jimi Hendrix material recorded in the studio which means, by definition, it is serious stuff. But in the interest of accuracy, these are mostly rough, unfinished and occasionally unfocused cuts. If that sounds like semantic nitpicking, it is offered out of deference to Hendrix: not for nothing, but these recordings were all in the can many months before Hendrix died, and there are good reasons none of them, in their existing form, made it onto an album before now.
While listening to the new songs repeatedly over the course of a week, I kept thinking how revelatory they would be to watch as much as hear. If this studio footage had been caught on video, it would offer a fortuitous chance to see Hendrix (and his band mates) testing out material and taking the creative process for a test drive. As they exist, these tracks should best be received, and appraised, as the interesting and often quite worthwhile results of typically inspired jam sessions. Also interesting, if not especially illuminating, is the opportunity to enjoy Hendrix revisiting some of his famous songs. The set kicks off with “Stone Free,” a significant song that was the B-side of Hendrix’s first single, “Hey Joe.” As is the case on all 12 tracks, the guitar playing is, unsurprisingly, astonishing. It will be interesting to see how many aficionados feel this, or any of the other new versions improve upon the originals. For my money, they do not come close (“Stone Free” lacks the dangerous and almost desperate vocals, while “Fire,” incredibly, sounds almost tame and misses the machine gun ferocity Mitch Mitchell employed so indelibly on the debut album).
The results are more compelling when Hendrix updates two songs that were (and, based on his live performances, remained) crucial stepping stones for his rapid development, “Red House” and “Hear My Train a Comin’.” The former gets slowed down and dragged out for more than eight minutes, featuring the full spectrum of Hendrix’s dexterity and imagination. The latter, heretofore best represented as an acoustic blues, gets the plugged in and amped up live-in-the-studio treatment. Both songs are triumphant and illuminate the ways Hendrix continued to utilize traditional blues in the service of his ambitious but sophisticated acumen. Another concert staple, the band’s aggressive interpretation of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” is a launching pad for Hendrix: for almost seven minutes he employs many of his favorite tricks, toying with tempo that at one instant echoes the original, stops on a dime, and veers off into entirely other places. The other cover is a spirited update of the great Elmore James’s “Bleeding Heart” that splits the difference between sloppy and inspired, just as one would expect (and hope) for from a jam session.
The highlight of the album has to be the title track which, of all the songs, comes closest to standing alongside Hendrix’s better material. It is immediately evident that the close-but-not-quite version we hear is the result of considerable work, and the liner notes confirm that it had evolved over time from a solo demo. The ethereal drone and cymbal wash that introduce the track recalls “Angel,” but the gears shift and the guitar soars into the main melody, full of the clean, crisp pyrotechnics we associate with vintage Hendrix. The lyrics are a tad half-baked (this was, after all, 1969) and it’s intriguing to imagine how this song would (should?) have worked as in instrumental.
The rest of the songs feature sounds and motifs that would resurface on subsequent work. For instance, “Ships Passing Through the Night” is an early run at “Night Bird Flying” and “Lullaby for the Summer” would eventually coalesce as the superior “Ezy Ryder.” “Lover Man” is based on B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and “Mr. Bad Luck,” which would mutate into “Look Over Yonder” is in fact a holdover from Axis: Bold as Love. The set closes with the instrumental “Crying Blue Rain” which leaves the proceedings on a tentative, softly hopeful note. And that seems just about right, aesthetically and historically. As we know, Hendrix would continue to work with Billy Cox (and Buddy Miles, captured for posterity on the seminal Band of Gypsys set), and he would revisit some of this material to great effect in the final months of his life. Valleys of Nepune, then, is not the Holy Grail, and it doesn’t need to be. That already exists anyway, and it is celebrated in spectacular fashion with the deluxe CD/DVD reissues of the four proper alums that preceded and followed these ’69 sessions.
It is exceedingly refreshing to see that Sony’s Legacy Recordings is making the most of this opportunity and reissuing the official Hendrix catalog, with bonus (DVD) material at incredibly—bordering on unbelievably—reasonable price points. Ten bucks for remastered sound and a mini-documentary DVD? This is no brainer, redefined. Which brings us to the crucial question: what more can possibly be said, at this point, about Jimi Hendrix? Actually, it is entirely fair to propose that we have not yet said enough about him. As it has long since been established that he is the Alpha and the Omega of electric guitar, conversation tends to stop there: what more needs to be said, we say, when we don’t say anything more. As a result, the actual scope of his virtuosity tends to, however unintentionally, get reduced to stock phrases (see above) and the sorts of encomiums that preempt elaboration. So how do we explain the truly singular genius that is Jimi Hendrix? Aside from the innovation (he did it first), apart from the obvious (he did it best), what sets him apart?
When it comes to Hendrix, there is really no conjecture. The growth he displayed in only a couple of years is unlike anything we’ve witnessed from just about any other musician or composer, ever. We’re talking light years, the universe expanding; real quantum type shit. Put it this way: Miles Davis, who didn’t have many good things to say about even the best jazz musicians, made no bones about his desire to get Hendrix in the studio to collaborate. That’s like Michael Jordan saying he’d like to play some pick-up, or Sugar Ray Robinson asking you to spar with him.
1967: there are the immutable opening salvos, those hit singles that remain radio-friendly four decades on (“Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “Fire,” “Foxey Lady”) and the moodier harbingers of what lay ahead (“Manic Depression,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Love or Confusion”) and then there are the outright masterpieces. Consider “The Wind Cries Mary”: written the night before, brought to the studio the next day and captured in one take. An example like this underscores the seismic shift that blasted an unsuspecting world when Are You Experienced hit the streets, the unambiguous arrival of a major, scary talent. But (as the companion DVD details in a series of interviews with engineer—and unsung hero—Eddie Kramer) it is the subsequent embellishment, courtesy of five overdubbed guitar parts, that move this track from mere classic to one-of-a-kind epic: the mood and feeling of melancholy Hendrix conveys calls to mind Poe’s edict about the totality of effect.
Then there is the psychedelic space jazz of “Third Stone From the Sun”: the ways Hendrix navigates an almost surf-rock elegance with proto-thrash distortion and makes it sound not just natural but inevitable, is part of why the first album continues to merit consideration as the most fully realized debut album in rock history. Finally there is the title track, which truly is one of those instances that defy time and description on so many levels. This song could only have been released in ’67, but it still sounds unsettling and slightly ungraspable in 2010. Perhaps more than any of the other tracks, this one signified the summation of Hendrix’s strategy at that stage: backwards solos, restless feedback and subtly effective piano plinks build up the tension like the song was programmed to detonate. And by the time anybody knew what had hit them; Hendrix was already back in the studio.
The songs on Axis: Bold as Love, for the most part, are concise and unencumbered (the clarity of sound on these remasters more than justifies their acquisition), and this is in no small part due to producer (and then manager) Chas Chandler, who brought a strictly-business professionalism to the proceedings all through ’67. He explains his old school M.O. on the companion DVD: “If a band can’t get it in two or three takes they shouldn’t be in the studio.” How can you not love this guy? And watching Eddie Kramer at the console, isolating guitar tracks and vocals while recalling how the songs came together is a treat true Hendrix fans will lap up like voodoo soup. Indeed, the only gripe about the bonus DVDs is their brevity; I could easily listen to Kramer and Chandler tell war stories for hours on end without getting bored, and I’m certain I’m not alone.
There is also an air of adventure and daring that augments the sometimes disorienting edge of the debut. Hendrix is clearly pushing himself, each day coming up with new ideas and electrified with the air of possibility. That vision is convincingly and definitively realized, and we can only lament the comparatively primitive technology that prevented alternate takes from surviving the sessions. Imagine, for instance, where “Little Wing” continued to go after the tapes fade out. If there is one particular moment on any of these tracks that best illuminates Hendrix’s insatiable creativity and unerring instincts, it comes toward the end of the incendiary “If 6 Was 9.” After declaring, in one of the all-time great rock and roll F-offs (“I’m gonna’ wave my freak flag high!”), a sort of whinnying, high-pitched noise slips into the maelstrom. Kramer explains that there happened to be a recorder lying around the studio, and Hendrix simply picked it up and started wailing. Kramer then applied the appropriate effects and echo, and the rest is history. In the final analysis, there is no way to improve upon practically any part of Axis: Bold as Love: this is as good as music is capable of being.
By 1968 Hendrix has relocated from London to New York City and it was during the open-ended and generally unrestrained Electric Ladyland sessions that Chandler, ever the taskmaster, famously fled the scene. “Gypsy Eyes” alone allegedly required forty different takes before Hendrix was satisfied, an intensity surpassing obsession that literally drove Chandler out of the studio. This circumstance was inevitable, and frankly necessary. Hendrix absolutely needed and benefited from Chandler’s mentoring, but now he had more than come into his own and nobody could keep up with him (he could scarcely keep up with himself). The results scream for themselves and to say that Electric Ladyland is yet another major advancement (how do you improve upon perfection?) is of course a pallid understatement.
Just as little from Are You Experienced hinted at the next installment, Axis: Bold as Love seems almost pedestrian and conservative compared to the staggering triumph of style and sound that is Electric Ladyland.
This is Hendrix’s masterpiece, and it is on this double album that practically every trick in his oversized bag is employed to its fullest extent. The storytelling skills are displayed on tracks like “Crosstown Traffic,” “Long Hot Summer Night” and “House Burning Down.” The compositional prowess is evident in every note, most especially on the song suite that covers side three and spills over to side four. What Hendrix was able to achieve, despite the contemporary limitations of old-fashioned recording equipment is, on a song like “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”, heroic. It also offers the best evidence we have of what he saw and heard inside his always-teeming imagination.
What remains vital, and compelling, all these years later is the way Hendrix appropriates blues music, creating a template that copycats are still trying, in vain, to emulate. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and the live-in-the-studio riot of “Voodoo Chile” are rock music touchstones, and nothing anyone has attempted has come particularly close to them. Hendrix himself puts it best when he boasts “Well I stand up next to a mountain/And chop it down with the edge of my hand.” That is exactly what he did, and he remains king of the mountain he scaled, and then razed.
From “Purple Haze” to “Rainy Day, Dream Away” in less than two years still seems inconceivable, even impossible. But it happened. And, of course, Hendrix continued to broaden his scope and incorporate more styles and sonic experiments (check out the full, funky brass accompaniment on the title track from South Saturn Delta), pushing past the boundaries he had already blown away. The material collected on First Rays of the New Rising Sun represent many of the songs Hendrix was assembling for another double album in the summer over 1970, just before his death. Noel Redding is gone and Billy Cox, having already worked with Mitchell and Hendrix during the Valleys of Neptune sessions, is a liberating presence that allows the band to spread out and chase the guitarist as he soars above, around and beneath them. With all due respect to Noel Redding—and nevermind the rumors that Hendrix simply played all the bass parts himself—one of the tantalizing prospects remains what avenues would have continued to open with Cox freeing Mitchell to incorporate his jazz stylings into the mix.
Back to the genius thing and how to wrap our minds around the extent of Hendrix’s gifts: Eddie Kramer analyzes “Dolly Dagger” and uses the console to demonstrate the fastidious attention Hendrix devoted to every second of every song, down to his ability to multi-track his own vocals, knowing in advance exactly where each note and inflection was meant to go. When Kramer isolates the guitar tracks on “Night Bird Flying,” it’s not just a matter of how great each one sounds and the ways they complement each other; it’s more the uncanny way each one could easily and convincingly stand alone as a fully formed statement. Many of the songs, like “Izzabella,” “Stepping Stone,” “My Friend,” “Straight Ahead” and “Astro Man” are loose and as light as Hendrix had been since some of the tracks on Axis: Bold as Love. Then there are irrepressible gems like “Ezy Ryder,” “Dolly Dagger” and “Belly Button Window” that bring the band directly into a new decade. Most of the material has a fresh and unfettered sound: much less overdubbing and Hendrix’s infatuation with “phasing”—which he took to its logical limits on Electric Ladyland (think “Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away”)—is now discarded in favor of a more straightforward assault. This direction is nicely encapsulated in the instrumental “Beginnings” where there are no frills or tricks, only a scorching workout that showcases Hendrix’s ability to create fire with any smoke.
Of course, there are also a handful of tracks that elevate themselves above the rest and go to that other place. “Freedom,” the perfect album opener, is just a clinic of where rock and roll had gone, and where it might have continued to go; “Room Full of Mirrors” is a tour de force of multi-tracked guitar bliss (including cowbell!) and “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” is, or will have to be, as suitable a farewell statement (“May I come along?”) as we could hope for. And finally, the one-two punch of “Drifting” and “Angel,” that, not that it’s necessary to quantify, might represent the most beautiful work Hendrix ever recorded. Inevitably, some measure of outright hyperbole is unavoidable: if there is such a thing as beyond perfection, it is achieved on “Angel” and “Drifting.”
And then he was gone. The magnitude of his loss remains unfathomable. There is no question, absolutely no doubt whatsoever, that he had years and years of untapped magic to explore and nourish. On the other hand, perhaps Hendrix did live and record for four decades; he just crammed it into four years. Hendrix and the gift of his music are subjects that can never be exhausted: the songs hold up, they should be studied and dissected, and above all they should be savored. They are, like the man who made them, incapable of ever being forgotten.
Lenny Kaye’s Rolling Stone (issue #79) review from April 1, 1971. This was the album Jimi was working on at the time of his death. It was supposed to be a larger work called First Rays of the New Rising Sun, but basically got split up (more or less) into this album and the soundtrack for Rainbow Bridge after his death…
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but the Jimi Hendrix section of my local record bin seems to have been growing at an astonishing pace lately. In recent weeks, we’ve been offered a bland semi-jam with Lonnie Youngblood (who?) on Maple Records, a collection of ancient tapes with the Isley Brothers (a product of Buddah, from whom it would have been nice to say that they should’ve known better), and a large assortment of bootlegs, all seemingly taken from the same series of Los Angeles Forum concerts.
But The Cry of Love is the genuine article, Hendrix’ final effort, and it is a beautiful, poignant testimonial, a fitting coda to the career of a man who was clearly the finest electric guitarist to be produced by the Sixties, bar none. This record seems more complete than the album Janis left for us, but like Pearl, it too seems strangely foreshortened, a venture caught in the process of becoming and suddenly halted. The fact that The Cry of Love is still as good as it is must serve as some sort of reminder as to just how large looms the shadow of its creator.
As a pure musician and this is not even touching his grace as a performer, or his role as the first non-Top 40 superstar–Hendrix was strangely unique in a field bred on familiarity. He was an intense craftsman, of course, as one of his earliest sides, “Red House,” attested; a fluid-fingered picker who could ripple off runs with an unexpectedly perfect style, bursting out with phrases that filled up every loose chink in a song as if they had been especially inscribed for the occasion. But more than that, Hendrix was a master of special effects, a guitarist who used electricity in a way that was never as obvious as mere volume. He took his bag of toys the fuzz-tone, the wah-wah pedal, the stack of Marshalls and used them as a series of stepping-stones to create wave upon wave of intense energy, proper settings for a scene of wrath and somehow healing destruction. It was rock and roll that was both quite in tune with and yet far ahead of its time, and in a way, I’m not sure that we’ve ever really fully caught up.
Still, and it’s important to view The Cry of Love in this light, it seems that Hendrix found it hard to sustain his creativity once he had made his initial breakthrough. His first album, Are You Experienced, was as near a total statement as he made, each cut caught in its prime and done in a way that allowed for no waste or superficiality, and try as he might, he was never able to come as close to that completeness on any of his subsequent releases. Indeed, the strengths that Hendrix displayed in his debut effort were to remain his strengths throughout his career. For one, he showed off an astonishing ability to construct a song: the opening lines to “Purple Haze” are not only remarkable in their dumb simplicity but for the fact that they set the stage for the mayhem which logically follows. For another, his music had an incongruous element of lyricism, a tender second side that could hardly be explained in the context of “Foxey Lady,” such things as “May This Be Love” or “The Wind Cries Mary.” And last, and probably most significant, he built a magnetizing presence, an overwhelming personality which totally dominated each cut, creating a flesh and blood image that had to stay with you long after you had left the record and gone home.
There were other things involved, of course, but they have more to do with the stream of rock and roll at that time rather than with Hendrix himself. The concept of the rock trio, for instance, was just beginning to strike gold, and it was bolstered by a dynamite combination of English decadence over Seattle black man that helped propel him towards success. In the end, though, even if that first album had arrived at your door in a plain blank cover, we would have known that here was something to be reckoned with, a massively exciting interstellar achievement.
But the question was, and remains, what can you do for an encore? Very early, it seemed that Hendrix had been almost captured by his audience, trapped by the totality of that first release, and he was never given room to grow. As in sports, every artist needs to work off a challenge, to have a spur in his side that makes him top himself, time after time after time. After Monterey, though, there was no challenge. At concerts, he was applauded for even the meagrest of performances, standing ovations at the most lackluster of guitar smashings, and as a result, he just didn’t try as hard. Perhaps if his supporting musicians had been stronger (and this is not to slight either Noel Redding or Mitch Mitchell, who backed Hendrix to the hilt during these early years) he might have been able to work off them and move onto some new and fresher ground. But Hendrix was a musical giant who never found anyone quite as tall as himself, and so, like all great men, he stood alone.
In actuality, Hendrix never made a bad record–his worst was usually far above most anyone else’s best–but increasingly, his albums began to break down into Good tracks and Not-So-Good tracks. Axis: Bold As Love never really lived up to the promise of its cover, composed as it was of refined explorations of some of the places “The Wind Cries Mary” had visited. Much of it was quite excellent–Hendrix was obviously looking toward moving into a new style–but it lacked the drive and kinetic force of Are You Experienced, becoming an album to be reserved for late night listening. Electric Ladyland, which came out not too long a time after, showed that things were wearing thin. The best cut on the double-record set was, almost ironically, a sort of loose blues jam around “Voodoo Child,” and despite such silver-studded highlights as “All Along The Watchtower” and “Crosstown Traffic,” the album never really got itself together.
Why? More of the reason is tied up with Hendrix’ personality and artistic temperament than we’ll ever be able to guess. But the problem, as I see it, appears to have been one of material, rather than any disintegration in his style or approach to that material. Hendrix learned his chops in blues and rhythm and blues, where a musician is given a formalized, set structure to work with, and operates within that structure, embellishing and interpreting as he will. Hendrix, however, chose to make his stand in the dawning field of rock, which though it was easily as formalized a music, still carried a different set of traditions with it: for our purposes here, the two most important being that you write your own music and that, though it should always sound familiar, should never be note-for-note the same as something you did before. Where Hendrix could spend two years backing up Little Richard, who essentially did the same song in a variety of minutely different ways, he wasn’t about to be able to pull off the same thing on his own.
And so after the first album and parts of the second, where his creativity was able to function under the new ground rules, it was becoming clear by the time of Electric Ladyland that he couldn’t keep it up. In that sense, it’s interesting that when he took on other people’s material (such as “All Along the Watchtower”) he turned in a job that was nothing short of marvelous. But as for his own compositions, it was as if he had lost the touch. They sounded contrived, put together because he was bored with the old stuff and needed something new, and the consequent artificiality only caused him to fall back on his crowd-pleasing tricks, things that time had taught him would generate some kind of response.
After Electric Ladyland, Hendrix seemed to retreat back into his guitar. The Experience dissolved, there was talk of new bands, but nothing that amounted to much. He seemed to move away from areas that were troubling him, back to the things he knew best. In large part he gave up studio recording concentrating on live appearances and jamming instead. When he appeared with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox at the Fillmore on the New Year’s Eve spanning 1969-70, it was more with the intent to be a member of a band than a solo star. Buddy did a large part of the singing and clowning around, and Hendrix seemed content to move in the shadow, working his guitar with a flair that brought all his assets to the fore. He played his instrument better than anyone else I could dream of that night, and his best moments came not in his long solos, which tended to overextend themselves, but in his fills and punctuations, the little added extras in which he most seemed to delight.
This was the way he spent his last two years–playing around, building a new studio, everything, in fact, but recording a new album – and now, after the end, we have The Cry of Love. In the sense of a breakthrough, it’s not anything we might not have expected from Hendrix. Still, the songs are all uniquely his, stylized in his unique way, and after so long an absence, they are more than welcome. Because of the general excellence of the engineering and production, it’s hard to say just how complete the album was before his death, but it is clear that if these tracks were mostly finished and in the can, then the only thing holding up their release must have been Jimi himself. They are that good.
The album opens with “Freedom,” all flashes and exuberance, and it pointedly sets the tone for the record. The tune is one of Hendrix’ best, full of straining tensions and masterful releases, ripping along at a pace that is not to be believed, picking up speed as it goes. Hendrix always knew how to kick a band, and he is at his peak here. Mitch Mitchell follows him along perfectly, and shows a few of the reasons why he was always Hendrix’ greatest foundation.
If “Freedom” exemplifies one side of Hendrix, the next cut, “Drifting,” aptly show off his other. As a composer (though that word seems somewhat out of place in this setting), Hendrix had the uncanny knack of molding his music perfectly to his lyrics. “Manic Depression” is the obvious example here, though this quality tended to come through better on his slower, prettier material. “Drifting” is no exception. A beautiful guitar figure opens the track, soft and formless, and waits as the rest of the instruments slowly slide in, seemingly revolving one around the other. Hendrix’ vocal is right up front, almost studied, filled with lovely images of “Driftin’/On a sea of forgotten teardrops/On a lifeboat …” and floating off from there. It’s a ghostly cut, one of the most moving pieces Hendrix ever created, and it says much for the breadth and scope of his talent.
After these two opening classics, The Cry of Love seems to get down to business. “Ezy Rider” is a rocker, plain and simple, and Hendrix and Co. light into it with a fury. The guitar leads are short and to the point, and there isn’t a wasted moment. The cut fades at the end and then returns with a sudden lick, almost as an afterthought–a nice touch. “Night Bird Flying” starts sluggishly, as if most of the musicians weren’t quite sure what to do with it, but picks up a little as Hendrix begins to jam with his own guitar work on another track.
“My Friend,” with its tinkling glasses and nightclub noises, could just have been the usual end-of-side-one throwaway, except for a set of lyrics which Hendrix almost casually injects. The style is Dylanesque, circa “Subterranean Homesick Blues”: slightly surrealistic, a lot of friendly nonsense, and some very aware, deeply personal lines. “And, uh, sometimes it’s not so easy, specially when your only friend Talks, sees, looks and feels like you/And you do just the same as him …” Not much. Just a little something to think about.
“Straight Ahead” greets you as you turn the album over to side two, and it’s not a particularly noteworthy way to begin. Hendrix plays a nice wah-wah guitar, but the song is dragged down by some fairly obvious Socially Significant lyrics and a lethargic reading. “Astro Man” is a whole different story, however. Of all the cuts on the album, this one has the most incomplete feel, with nobody really sure of where the song is heading. Yet building from the same science fiction chords that the Jefferson Airplane used to open “The House on Pooneil Corners,” it easily overcomes any of its deficiencies, loose limbed and rocking at every turn.
If whoever put together the pieces of The Cry of Love had a flair for the melodramatic, “Angel” might have been placed at the end of the record, its deathlike images of salvation and resurrection providing the final touch to a memorial album. But programmed as it is, side two, band three, it stands on its own merits, a beautiful piece of work. It moves nicely into a frantic “In From The Storm,” Hendrix shining at his most furious, changing the structure of the song three or four times until things finally run out of steam. The final touch is saved for “Belly Button Window,” a kind of slow and mellow blues which Hendrix performs accompanied only by his guitar, a sly smile on his face, a few light whistles as the fade comes in. You can almost see him waving as he moves in the distance.
So there you have it. If The Cry of Love had come out while Hendrix was alive, we probably would have said it was a good album, bought a million copies, and left it at that. But now that he’s gone, it has to become that much more precious, something to savor slowly because there’ll be no others. It does him justice no mean feat and I don’t think we could have ever wanted anything more than that.
I once knew a guitarist who could, upon request, imitate any and all of your favorites. Ask him for Danny Kalb, and his fingers would fly so fast that they’d be a blur on the fretboard. Jeff Beck? He could play anything from Truth, note for note, with or without the record. Request Fric Clapton, and you’d have “Spoonful,” complete even to the hint of a Jack Bruce bass line underneath. Jimmy Page? Alvin Lee? Jerry Garcia? He had them all down, one by one.
I asked him once upon a time to do Hendrix for me. He smiled a little bit, set up his fuzz-tone, hooked up an echo unit, threw a few switches here and there, and gave it a try. He couldn’t do it.
And neither, for that matter, could have anyone else. Whatever his secrets, Jimi Hendrix took them with him.
Recorded sometime in 1970, Jimi Hendrix & the Band of Gypsys (after Buddy Miles left & Mitch Mitchell was back playing w/ Hendrix). This is another live excerpt of Mitchell soloing. Not sure what song this was taken from.
Another tribute to Mitch Mitchell, who passed away yesterday in a hotel room at the age of 61, apparently of natural causes. He will be missed…
The great Mitch Mitchell performing in Sweden, Jan. 9, 1969, w/ The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This is an excerpt from “Voodoo Chile,” mainly showcasing Mitchell soloing.
Mitchell, one of THE all-time great rock & roll drummers, died yesterday at the age of 61. This posting is in tribute to this amazing musician. May he rest in peace…
Hendrix from the Isle of Wight, doing the Bob Dylan classic, which was Hendrix’s biggest charing hit. Featuring Billy Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums.
Tony Glover’s review of this brilliant double album from Rolling Stone (issue #21) – 1968…
Being a bit fed up with music as “reactive noise” (“God man, the world’s a drag, let’s play loud and drown it out”), I was sort of set not to dig this LP, but I had to. Hendrix is a good musician and his science fiction concepts surmount noise. There isn’t really a concept (no Sgt. Pepper trips here)—instead there’s a unity, an energy flow. The LP opens with an electronic track using tape loops and phasing (think of “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces for an example of phasing) called “And the Gods Made Love.” Hendrix said in an interview, “We knew this was the track that most people will jump on to criticize, so I put it first to get it over with.”
The “I” in that sentence is true—Hendrix produced and directed these sides himself. Following is “Electric Ladyland,” a fairytale trip that serves as introduction to the rest on the LP; “I want to show you the angels spread their wings.” Next is “Crosstown Traffic,” a stomp under with a heavy beat. “90 miles an hour is the speed I drive, girl,” sings Hendrix as he compares the woman with a traffic jam—”It’s so hard to get through you.”
Then a live cut, which sounds as though it was recorded late at night in a small club, at one of the jamming sessions Hendrix is known for. It features Stevie Winwood on organ and Jack Casady on bass, and is called “Voodoo Chile.” It begins with a very John Lee Hooker-like guitar intro, and keeps a blues feeling all the way through, although Hendrix’s lyrics (“My arrows are made of desire/From as far away as Jupiter’s sulphur mines”) are a far cry from “Rolling Stone” (the Muddy Waters song that’s an ancestor to this track, as well as a lot of other things). After some feedback screech, a listener says “Turn that damn guitar down!” and the track ends with Hendrix and a chick discovering that the bar in the club is closed. “The bar is closed?” she says unbelievingly.
But yes it is. Side B opens with a song by bassist Noel Redding, “Little Miss Strange,” probably the most commercial of the numbers included. Basically hard rock, the best thing about it is some nice unison guitar lines, probably an overdub, unless Hendrix has grown another couple of arms. “Long Hot Summer Night” is next, a song set in the “Visions of Johanna” scene, although Hendrix has a way out—”my baby’s coming to rescue me—.” An Earl King number, “Come On,” follows. Mostly rock/soul, the guitar break in the middle is one of the nicest things Hendrix has done.
“Gypsy Eyes” begins with a drum thumping, a simple bass line and a compelling guitar line, it’s a light groovy tune that really sticks to your synapses. (If it was possible to hum or whistle Hendrix, this would be the tune you’d most likely do.)
The side ends with “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” which was Hendrix’s last single in England, released a year ago this summer. It’s a freaky ballad, with particularly nothing lyrics and on the whole a drag … it goes nowhere. Side C is the sea or water side. It opens with “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” using a small group that includes Buddy Miles from the Flag on drums. In it Hendrix does a lot to restore the grooviness of rainy days, previously much maligned in many songs.
This fades to “1983: A Merman I Should Turn to Be” (a merman is a mermaid’s mate, of course). Hendrix’s vision of the future shows a world torn by war, on the verge of destruction as he and his lady go for a walk by the sea, and dream of living in the water. With tape loops, melancholy guitar and the flute of Chris Wood (also from Traffic) Hendrix structures a beautiful undersea mood — only to destroy it with some heavy handed guitar. My first reaction was, why did he have to do that? Then I thought that he created a beautiful thing, but lost faith in it, and so destroyed it before anybody else could—in several ways, a bummer.
Another electronic track, “Moon Turn the Tides Gently Gently Away,” heals some of the rent in your head, and the side ends peacefully. Side D opens with a continuation of “Still Raining, Still Dreaming,” only heavier and funkier—maybe just a bit too much so (iron raindrops hurt, man.) “House Burning Down” could be taken as Hendrix’s first socially conscious statement, but it ends in typical Hendrix fashion; “an eerie man from space … come down and take the dead away.”
Then comes the new single, Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”—in many ways one of the most interesting cuts here. On Hendrix’s original numbers, it’s sometimes hard to see the structure at first; the rhythm starts and stops, the changes are a bit hard to follow sometimes. But here, if you listen to the rhythm guitar track, and keep the original song in your mind, you can see the way Hendrix overlays his beautifully freaky sound on the already established framework of the song. He is true to its mood and really illustrates the line “the wind began to howl.” Last is “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” done this time with his usual backup men in a studio cut, heavier and more driving.
In other words, an extended look into Hendrix’s head, and mostly it seems to have some pretty good things in it (who among us is totally free of mental garbage?) A few random thoughts to sum up; Hendrix is the Robert Johnson of the Sixties, and really the first cat to ever totally play electric guitar. Remember, he used the wah-wah pedal before “Brave Ulysses,” and he’s still the boss. And it’s nice to see that he is confident enough so he can play some blues again—I’d like to hear more.
Hendrix, psychedelic superspade??? Or just a damn good musician/producer? Depends on whether you want to believe the image or your ears. (And if you wanna flow, dig this on earphones, and watch the guitar swoop back and forth through your head.) Hendrix is amazing, and I hope he gets to the moon first. If he keeps up the way he’s going here, he will.