Tag Archives: Band Of Gypsys

Rocks In The Attic’s Buyer’s Guide to….Jimi Hendrix

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

The summer of 1966 was a great one in London. England won the World Cup in Wembley Stadium, the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon hit the top of the charts, the American Billie Jean King won the first of her six Wimbledon titles and the Beatles delivered Revolver. In September, a pop culture atomic bomb was dropped on the city when an unknown blues guitarist was flown in by Animals bass-player Chas Chandler.

Hendrix-1In the short time between being thrust into the spotlight of swinging sixties London to his abrupt death just four years later, Jimi Hendrix redefined what was possible on the electric guitar. He personifies rock guitar and serves as the perfect mix of blues, pop, soul, R&B and psychedelia. While he only released three studio albums during his life, a wealth of live albums, compilations and posthumous studio albums have been released with varying degrees of success. This buyer’s guide aims to stick a finger to the man and raise a peace sign to all the foxy ladies.

Start off with: Are You Experienced (1967, Track Records)

Hendrix-2With only three proper studio albums available, it makes sense that these are all essential listening. It’s also good to tackle them in order, to see how Hendrix and his power-trio developed over time. The first of two albums in 1967, Are You Experienced shows us a bright new artist almost fully formed. Following on from the standard set by singles Hey Joe, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary (all three of which were left off the UK release), the debut album also gives us Foxy Lady, Manic Depression and Fire to add to Hendrix’s bulging set list. In Red House, he creates a blues standard for guitarists everywhere, and delivers two psychedelic highlights in Third Stone From The Sun and the title track. The US version of the album arrived three months later and substitutes some of the album tracks for the previously mentioned singles, but it’s the UK version of the album that should be seen as the real deal.

Follow that with: Axis: Bold As Love (1967, Track Records)

Hendrix-3Already bored with the theatre and histrionics of his stage show, Hendrix put the fuzz pedals to one side for his second studio album of 1967. A subtler, nuanced album from a singer-songwriter perspective, the material shows an artist maturing in both song composition and lyrical content. The barnstorming Spanish Castle Magic and Bold As Love remain as the only songs that might fit on their noisier debut. Everything else feels much more relaxed. Little Wing is a delicate blues ballad featuring superb use of the glockenspiel, Wait Until Tomorrow tells the story of two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, and Castles Made Of Sand shows a contemplative Hendrix addressing the issue of mortality and time slipping away. Recorded just 13 months after he landed in London, the album is an incredible achievement in both songwriting and performance. Given how swiftly he could write and record material, one wonders how many Hendrix albums there could have been had tragedy not taken him so soon.

Then get: Electric Ladyland (1968, Reprise Records)

Hendrix-4For the Experience’s third studio LP, Hendrix recorded a double-album’s worth of material at several studios in London and New York. Where the first two records had been strictly a band affair, Electric Ladyland includes many guest appearances from assorted hangers-on and musicians. Traffic’s Dave Mason and Steve Winwood, the Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady, the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and Bob Dylan-sideman Al Kooper all pop up across the album’s sixteen tracks. Again, the record gives us a high hit-rate of Hendrix classics – Crosstown Traffic, Long Hot Summer Night, early-era single Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, and his reworking of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. But it’s the last song of the album that remains as Hendrix’s magnum opus. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) begins with an ominous, faded-in wah-wah-pedal before all hell breaks loose in a psychedelic reimagining of electric blues. It’s an everlasting testament to the musical genius of Hendrix, and you couldn’t find a more fitting song to be the last track on his final studio album.

Criminally overlooked: Stone Free (1980, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-5Of course, where there’s money to be made you can always count on record companies sniffing around. Hendrix has released more albums from the grave than he did when he was alive; a raft of uneven posthumous studio records (thirteen at the last count) and dozens of compilations of varying quality. One particular favourite of mine is this 1980 offering from Polydor Records. It might suffer from the cover proclaiming it to be part of the ‘Special Price Series’, but the tracklist is killer. The usual offenders are here – Crosstown Traffic, All Along The Watchtower, Castles Made Of Sand and Little Wing – but it’s the inclusion of the non-studio album material that’s more interesting. Alongside a nice energetic version of the evergreen Johnny B. Goode, the highlight is Ezy Rider, taken from 1971’s The Cry Of Love. It’s the perfect, practically unknown Hendrix song, equal to anything released when he was alive.

The long-shot: Live At Woodstock (1969, Music On Vinyl)

Hendrix-6This one doesn’t get a great deal of love, and it’s not hard to see why. Held over to ensure he was the final act to play the festival at the behest of his manager, rather than taking the headline slot on the Sunday night, it was 9am on Monday by the time Hendrix walked onto the stage with his much larger (than usual) band. Most of the 400,000 crowd had left, the 30,000 remaining had the hangover of all hangovers, and Hendrix himself could barely hide his disappointment. In the stark morning light, Hendrix and band deliver a set consisting of early classics, later masterpieces and lots and LOTS of jamming. It’s crazy how much improvisational material is played given the stature of the event. The highlight of the performance might be when Hendrix flashes the peace sign as he launches into his reworking of The Star Spangled Banner, but my favourite moment is his blistering version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return). Amazing!

Avoid like the plague: Band Of Gypsys (1969, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-7Coming just four months after the Woodstock performance, Band Of Gypsys finds Hendrix once again playing live as a power-trio.  Captured at New York City’s Filmore East on New Year’s Day 1970, I’ve never really appreciated the heavier sound that bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles bring to the equation. The newer material is dirge-like and it just sounds like a bad trip. The sixties are officially over, they’re selling Beatles wigs in Woolworth’s, and this record shows it.

Best compilation: The Ultimate Experience (1992, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-81997’s Experience Hendrix: The Best Of Jimi Hendrix may have overtaken it as the readily available compilation, but my favourite will always be this similar 1992 release. There’s just something about the sequencing of a compilation of an artist you’re discovering that becomes way more important than it has any right to be. All Along The Watchtower followed by Purple Haze followed by Hey Joe followed by The Wind Cries Mary. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! I could do without the next song, Angel, and would swap it for the bizarrely overlooked Spanish Castle Magic, but that’s really my only criticism. Even the gold artwork on this release is so tied to the treasures within!

Best live album: Live At Monterey (1967, Legacy Records)

Hendrix-9There’s a wealth of live Hendrix material, almost as many albums as the numerous compilations available, so it’s hard to nail these just to one essential release. If pushed, I’d go for this, his breakthrough appearance in America. Introduced by the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, Hendrix opens the show with an incendiary version of Howling Wolf’s Killing Floor. The set showcases early singles Hey Joe, Purple Haze and Foxy Lady, as well as covers of Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and the Troggs’ Wild Thing. He closes by setting his Fender Stratocaster on fire, and rock music would never be the same again.

Considering that Jimi Hendrix died almost fifty years ago, there’s still a huge amount of material I haven’t yet heard. And it’s still coming out! 2018’s Both Sides Of The Sky completes a trilogy of albums intended as a follow-up to Electric Ladyland. It’s unlikely that anything will overshadow those three original studio albums by the Experience, but I’m sure there’s still the odd gem to be found.

Hendrix-10

 

Rocks In The Attic #337: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Stone Free’ (1981)

RITA#337I got accused the other day of not listening to enough Jimi Hendrix. The accuser was my wife, and I guess there’s plenty of worse things she could have accused me of (laundry, the rubbish bins, etc). The thing is, with Hendrix, there’s not a great deal of material to listen to, and I think I got it all out of my system in my teens.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but I’m not going to listen to him endlessly in case I get sick of him. Hendrix is one of the cornerstones of my taste in music, my record collection and my guitar playing. Without him, my taste in music wouldn’t be as refined, there’d be some pretty major gaps in my record collection and my guitar playing would be much more average than it is now (which is pretty average).

I tend to listen to Electric Ladyland more than anything else these days – it’s a bit more of a voyage, with some really eclectic and experimental material. If I want something shorter and more immediate, I tend to go for Are You Experienced?; but of the three, the purity of Axis: Bold As Love will always be my favourite.

I found this compilation in a record shop in Withington, and you know what? Something on it really surprised me. A diehard Hendrix fan, I thought I knew it all. You see, after I devoured the three studio albums, the important live recordings (Monterey, Woodstock, Isle Of Wight, Band Of Gypsys), and a decent mid-‘90s compilation (The Ultimate Experience), I stopped. I didn’t want to dilute my interest by delving into the posthumous studio albums that were released in the late ‘90s.

These albums – First Rays Of The New Rising Sun and South Saturn Delta (both 1997) – were official releases, driven by the Hendrix family, and fully realised with the help of Eddie Kramer in the producer’s chair. They’re cash-in releases, but at least they’re a bit more authentic (and interesting) than your typical grab-bag compilation album.

Ezy Rider, one of the tracks on First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, is a true hidden gem and was included here on this 1981 compilation album, Stone Free. Before I heard it, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Hendrix. Turns out, I didn’t.

I’ve since listened to those two late ‘90s albums, together with two later releases – Valleys Of Neptune (2010) and People, Hell And Angels (2013) – and they’re not great. There’s some interesting material, but the best of the bunch had already seen the light of day on lesser releases like this one.

Hendrix fans should listen to Ezy Rider, if they haven’t already – it really stands up to the quality of material on his three original studio albums. It also proves that the man can still surprise, long after he’s dead.

Hit: All Along The Watchtower

Hidden Gem: Ezy Rider

Rocks In The Attic #226: Jimi Hendrix – ‘Band Of Gypsys’ (1970)

RITA#226The end of the ‘60s captured on vinyl – if only because this was recorded at New York’s Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve in 1969.

This isn’t usually the Hendrix album I reach for first. I’d opt for the three studio albums any day over this, but it’s well recorded and nice to hear Jimi play in a more relaxed setting than the Experience. There are some really nice, laid-back jams on this record – and then songs like Machine Gun which explode into frantic explorations.

As you might expect, it also sounds much blacker than any of the three studio albums, especially due to the soulful backing vocals provided by Buddy Miles. I never really think of Hendrix as a black artist, in the same way that I don’t consider him to be an American musician – mainly because across the three Experience albums, the backing vocals by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell are very, very white and very, very British.

As much as I love Hendrix on record, I always struggle to stay interested when I’m listening to him play live. I have the same feeling about Jimmy Page. Both are fantastic guitarists but their fondness for improvisation can sometimes turn me off. There’s a fair bit of that kind of improvisation here, and when you look at the full set-lists for the two New Year’s Eve shows that this was cut from, you can see that they’ve avoided a lot of the three minute pop songs, in favour of material not previously associated with the Experience.

I have the European re-release version of this record. Instead of the six songs included on the original release (two on the first side, and four on the flip side), the reissue I have has nine in total (five on the first side, and four on the flip side). This obviously makes the album much longer, and even the inclusion of Foxy Lady is deceptive – it’s a six minute rendition!

Hit: Foxy Lady

Hidden Gem: Who Knows