Tag Archives: Jimi Hendrix

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 #787: Jefferson Airplane – ‘Woodstock, Sunday, August 17, 1969′ (1969)

RITA#787To say that they were both the intended headliners (of the Saturday and Sunday nights respectively), both Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix did a hell of a lot of endless jamming during their sets. It’s taken me years to appreciate Hendrix’s set, I fear it may take me even longer to appreciate the Airplane’s.

The sixth individual Woodstock performance LP in my collection (joining Santana, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix), this marks the first time Jefferson’s Airplane early Sunday morning set has been available on vinyl.

RITA#787aThere’s definitely something causing this rambling lack of focus – possibly a mixture of tiredness, the after-effects of drugs, and a general bubbling anger at having to play at such an ungodly hour in the morning. Or maybe it just helps when you’re stone-cold sober and pregnant, like Joan Baez during her far more coherent Friday headline slot.

Still, the Airplane’s set delivers some real gems. Somebody To Love gets rolled out two songs in, and the band preview their upcoming studio album Volunteers by playing the title track and their version of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Wooden Ships (co-written by Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner with Stills and Crosby). This song would also be performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young during the electric part of their set later that day.

RITA#787bBut this is Woodstock, and so the highlight of Jefferson Airplane’s 90-minute set is Grace Slick’s hippy anthem, White Rabbit, which makes an appearance as their penultimate song of the morning. Forget Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, written later in a fit of regret and jealousy at having missed out on the proceedings, this is the song that defines the festival.

This album is the latest in a range of individual Woodstock performance LPs – long may they continue – with this one released by Real Gone Music. It’s a triple-LP in ‘New Dawn’ transparent blue vinyl, housed in a three-panel gatefold sleeve with liner notes. A free gift came with the album when purchased directly from Real Gone’s website – a Jefferson Airplane pillbox with three sections in the shape of the CND / peace symbol – perfect for storing your brown, green and orange LSD.

Hit: Somebody To Love

Hidden Gem: Volunteers

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Rocks In The Attic #744: Janis Joplin – ‘Pearl’ (1971)

RITA#744I’m not saying the rest of my pub quiz team are not up to scratch, but this week we were faced with a multiple choice question: Which of these three people didn’t die at the age of 27? Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, or Bob Marley.

I wrote down Bob Marley, of course; the other two being probably the most famous inductees of the original ’27 Club’, alongside Jim Morrison.

‘Janis Joplin isn’t dead,’ one of my team-mates said. ‘She was on tour here last year.’

Not only is it annoying to be questioned on something you know to be 100% correct, it’s also frustrating to have to explain yourself – particular to somebody from the generation that the question is relevant to.

‘No, she wasn’t’ I countered. ‘She definitely died at 27. The answer’s Bob Marley.’

‘Oh,’ my team-mate replied, unconvinced. ‘So Bob Marley was younger than 27?’

‘No, he will have been older,’ I said, losing the will to live myself.

As we found out when they read out the answer, Marley died at 36. I couldn’t go into the myth around him being killed by Danny Baker. There was no time.

RITA#744aPearl is Janis’ second and final studio album, released three months following her death from a heroin overdose. As well as featuring an instrumental – Buried Alive In The Blues – because she died before adding her vocals, the album also features the very last song she ever recorded.

Recorded just three days before her death, Mercedes Benz has become famous more recently for appearing in a, you guessed it, Mercedes-Benz commercial. The song is a sweet a capella by Joplin, espousing the merits of consumerism, and sounds just as haunting as Otis Redding’s final session which produced (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.

Incidentally, Otis didn’t even make 27. He died shortly after his 26th birthday.

Hit: Mercedes Benz

Hidden Gem: Move Over

Rocks In The Attic #738: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Creedence Gold’ (1972)

rita#738Our weekly Wednesday night pub quiz had a great question the other night. There’s a round called The List where you have to, erm, list ten of something. It’s either something boring – the ten longest rivers of the world, or the ten countries with the highest population, for example – or it will be something from popular culture. Ten Tintin books, ten films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ten Oscar nominations for Meryl Streep have been my favourites so far.

I’m waiting for the day that the question relates to the James Bond films…

The trick is that you only get points for an unbroken run of answers, so if you get your eighth answer wrong, you would only get seven points (even if answers nine and ten are correct). In other words, the strategy is to put down your dead-certs first, with anything you’re unsure about down at the bottom of the list.

Last weeks’ question was to name any ten of the twenty-two bands that played at the original Woodstock festival in 1969. Now, I could name ten artists who played quite easily, but the question clearly stated ‘bands’ and so it was much, much trickier.

rita#738a
Not only could I not remember some of the more obscure band names, but I also doubted how accurate the answers would be. Would they know, for example, that Hendrix’s band on the day wasn’t the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but the little-known Gypsy Sun & Rainbows? In the end, it turns out the quiz company did know this (they even had Hendrix’s second name when he referred to them as a plain ol’ Band Of Gypsies), but I was so confident that they wouldn’t, that I put it down as my tenth answer.

I got a pitiful six correct:
1. The Who
2. Canned Heat
3. Country Joe & The Fish
4. Jefferson Airplane
5. Santana
6. Ten Years After
7. Crosby, Stills & Nash (INCORRECT)
8. Big Brother & The Holding Company (INCORRECT)
9. The Mamas & The Papas (INCORRECT)
10. Gypsy Sun & Rainbows (CORRECT BUT NOT COUNTED)

rita#738bI did some healthy kicking of myself when the answers were read out. CSN was deemed incorrect because the band had been infiltrated by that Canadian interloper Neil Young by August ’69, Janis Joplin’s backing band at that time was the Kozmic Blues Band (having left Big Brother & The Holding Company the prior year), and the Mamas & the Papas was just plain wrong (I didn’t think they played, but thought that they might have been one of the bands not featured on the film soundtrack due to rights reasons, and more importantly my mother-in-law was adamant).

It’s interesting to look at the full line-up outside of the film and the accompanying soundtrack. It feels almost like bands as big as the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival have been written out of history because of their absence from the film.

rita#738cI wondered if their sets were even filmed, before old friend (and Woodstock expert) Moo sent me the link to the Creedence set on YouTube. It’s a ripper of a set, opening with a blustering version of Born On The Bayou. After the first song ends, John Fogerty looks at the cameraman and asks “Is that thing on now?” before the video cuts off. Much of the rest of the set is audio-only, with the video creeping back intermittently.

Is there a songwriter more overlooked than John Fogerty? His name should share the same breath as Brian Wilson, Lennon and McCartney and Ray Davies, but apart from the Dude, nobody else seems to care.

Hit: Proud Mary

Hidden Gem: Born On The Bayou

Rocks In The Attic #591: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Live At Woodstock’ (1969)

RITA#591
A couple of weekends ago, I saw a screening of Woodstock: The Director’s Cut at Auckland’s majestic Civic theatre as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme. I have seen Michael Wadleigh‘s film many times, having owned it on DVD for half my life, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it on the Civic’s supersized screen.

Of course, the biggest draw-card is the appearance at the end of the film by Gypsy Sun & Rainbows, the de-facto name for Hendrix’s temporary band on the day (despite Chip Monck’s stage announcement introducing them as the Jimi Hendrix Experience).

Hendrix was billed to headline the festival, the last act on the third and final day of music (Sunday). However, the storm that ripped through the festival over the weekend, coupled with several technical delays, caused the event to over-run. Hendrix was offered to play at midnight on the Sunday night, but his manager declined, wanting him to perform as the festival’s closing act, as he was billed and contracted to do so.

RITA#591b
The result is good and bad. Unfortunately, half of the audience had gone home by the time Hendrix walked on stage at 9am on the Monday morning, presumably back to their jobs working for ‘the man’ as the week started. On the film of Hendrix’s full performance, it’s clear to see the disappointment on his face on numerous occasions as he looks out at the grounds – half-full of rubbish, and half-full of tired hippies.

It’s also worth considering whether Hendrix’s meandering set-list was influenced by the time of day he played, and the massive reduction in audience numbers compared to the rest of the weekend. It’s far more improvisational than usual, particularly when you compare it to his set at the Isle Of Wight festival a fortnight later.

The one positive aspect of Hendrix playing early in the morning, is that the resulting film of his performance looks fantastic. The stage-lighting at the festival over the previous three evenings was basic, to say the least, and it’s nice to see a rare instance of Hendrix playing in daylight.

While the original cut of Woodstock only featured three songs by Hendrix (The Star Spangled Banner, Purple Haze and Villanova Junction), the expanded director’s cut also adds in a jam (the almost schizophrenic Woodstock Improvisation) and a jaw-dropping rendition of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).

For the longest time, I was bored by Hendrix’s set at Woodstock – too few actual songs, and too much improvisational material. Over the years, the jams have grown on me and now the performance is one of my first go-to’s when I put a record on the turntable. I’ve gradually become obsessed with the performance, going so far as buying the film of his set on blu-ray.

RITA#591a
The lucky thing about the filming of the festival is that they had enough actual film to capture all of Hendrix’s set. Due to the delays over the weekend, the film crews used up far more film than planned, and by the time Hendrix walked on stage on the Monday morning, they had almost run out. The Hendrix performance was also captured by a pair of enterprising young men who smuggled their movie camera into the festival and snuck on stage just before the band’s performance started. This film, a grainy black and white image, is interesting given the different perspective it provides. Presumably so that they wouldn’t run into the festival’s official camera crew, they set up their tripod behind Hendrix and so it’s great to see a moment like Hendrix throwing the peace sign at the start of The Star Spangled Banner, from a reverse angle.

This 3xLP version of Live At Woodstock is the most complete version of Hendrix’s performance available. The two songs sung by rhythm guitarist Larry Lee (Master Mind and Gypsy Woman) are excised completely, while his guitar contributions across the rest of the set are very low, almost inaudible, in the mix.

The record’s greatest mistake however, is in the sequencing of songs between sides. The segue of feedback between Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and The Star Spangled Banner – mere seconds before one of the defining moments of the 1960s – is split across sides four and five. Sacrilege!

Hit: The Star Spangled Banner

Hidden Gem: Message To Love

Rocks In The Attic #487: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Live At Monterey’ (2007)

RITA#487What a performance! From the moment that Jimi kicks into the electrifying opening guitar riff from Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor to the destruction of western pop music on the Troggs’ Wild Thing, he’s really setting out his stable to American audiences.

I’ve always regarded Hendrix as a British act – two thirds of the Experience were English, and Jimi had to come to London to kick off his solo career. Who knows what would have happened if he’d have turned down Chas Chadler’s offer to go to London? Would he have kept playing as a sideman? Would he have been noticed in some other way? They say that the cream always rises to the top, but there are plenty of examples of people being overlooked completely, or finally noticed by the mainstream when they’re well past their prime.

This was the Experience’s first show on American soil, at what was undoubtedly an important performance. After winning a coin toss to decide who played first, The Who played before Hendix, resulting in Pete Townshend destroying his guitar and Keith Moon kicking over his drum kit. Hendrix and his band had to follow this, and it’s clear that they don’t sound intimidated or nervous. Hendrix would of course upstage the Who, by not only destroying his guitar but by setting fire to it (with the help of some lighter fluid).

I recently saw the Hendrix biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side. I was excited to see it; Jimi’s one of my musical heroes. I had heard that Hendrix’s estate had not authorised the use of any of Jimi’s songs in the film, and this didn’t sound very promising. In the end, I didn’t miss any of Hendrix’s songs (Stevie Nicks’ guitarist Waddy Wachtel – he of the Edge Of Seventeen riff from Bella Donna – does a great Hendrix imitation), André Benjamin was uncannily outstanding as Hendrix, and the film covered enough of the events from that London scene before he broke through.

The problem with the film seemed to be the editing. It really felt like we were watching something that hadn’t been finished. Such a shame really, as it ticked a lot of boxes and failed at the last hurdle in how it was presented. Aw shucks.

Hit: Hey Joe

Hidden Gem: Killing Floor

Rocks In The Attic #426: Supergrass – ‘I Should Coco’ (1995)

RITA#426I’ve been waiting a bloody long time to get my hands on a vinyl copy of this – my original pressing of In It For The Money has always been very lonely next to so many Supertramp records, and I finally have a companion piece for my 7” of Alright / Time.

Recently reissued to celebrate the album’s twentieth anniversary, the re-release comes with the record’s original bonus 7” – an energetic blast through Hendrix’s Stone Free, backed with a John Peel session of one of their own songs (the sticker on the front of the record strangely says it comes with a “one sided 7” vinyl” when in fact it’s a standard double-sided 45rpm 7”).

Although I’m more of a fan of album number two, I like I Should Coco more and more with every listen. It sounds like speed, and it’s not hard to imagine how different this sounded at the time compared to all the rest of Britpop’s dull, plodding Indie rock.

Alright? Mansize Rooster? Caught By The Fuzz? It’s choc-full of hits, but for me the real gem of the album is Time. They sound like kids on the rest of the album, but with Time they really display a maturity that’s beyond their (teenage) years. They would write more soulful material like this – Late In The Day from the second album and Moving from the third album are good examples – but their debut record is really all about the energy of their live set.

What’s not to like about Supergrass? A fantastic songwriter in Gaz Coombes, a driving bass player with great backing vocals in Mick Quinn, and in Danny Goffey a madcap drummer from the Keith Moon school of percussion. The only thing not to like is that horrible rumour that Steven Spielberg saw the music video for Alright and wanted to turn the band into a Monkees-style TV experiment.

Most of the first record sounds like it was recorded in one take with very minimal production. It was actually recorded for less than the budget for the Alright video, which is a horrible example of misplaced record company investment.

Hit: Alright

Hidden Gem: I’d Like To Know