While there never seems to have been any let-up whatsoever over the past four decades bringing out “new” Jimi Hendrix product, two 2011 releases of vintage live material prove the exception to the rule:
1. These original live recordings — totaling 47 tracks over five-plus hours — have previously been semi-available only on long-out-of-print releases (not counting quite inferior-sounding bootlegs), and in the case of the Winterland performances, now features three full discs of additional material.
2. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, celebrating both its second anniversary together and the release of its landmark new Electric Ladyland, filled San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom for three nights running in October 1968. Understandably, after over a solid year on the road, the trio sounds a bit frazzled at points, often struggling to keep both in time and in tune …and not just with one another, either. Still, the passages of sheer magic, power and true resplendence (e.g.: a downright incendiary “Foxey Lady” on Winterland disc 1) much more than outnumber the odd lyrical or even musical clam.
3. Meanwhile over with Hendrix in the West, the five additional tracks never heard on its long-ago-killed-by-litigation vinyl edition include a 10-minute “Spanish Castle Magic,” which not only interlopes “Sunshine of Your Love” but even lets the late, extremely great Mitch Mitchell indulge in the kind of tasteful drum solo Ginger Baker only rarely seemed capable of. Plus, original West favorites “Red House” (in what many believe to be its definitive reading), a semi-funk afternoon soundcheck “Blue Suede Shoes” and even “God Save the Queen”/”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” from the Isle of Wight remain intact and are still guaranteed to raise a smile.
4. The vast majority of these Winterland and West remote recordings were made by the ingenious Wally Heider who, despite the obvious limitations inherent in late-1960s technology, battled above and beyond the call of duty to completely capture a band as LOUD and, um, unpredictable as Jimi’s Experience.
5. Nevertheless, onstage equipment gremlins abound throughout the Winterland gigs, especially: “Like a Rolling Stone,” for example, is prefaced with the warning “I hate to say it, but I just developed about six more broken speakers. So, we’ll see what happens,” while minutes later an increasingly frustrated Hendrix can be heard muttering “I think I got about four speakers left and about three more valve tubes. And Mitch, he’s on his third pair of arms, but …hell, I don’t give a damn. Let’s play it!”
6. Ever the showman though, Hendrix instructs one technician, “Hey man, give me some real groovy lights. Damn, I’m gonna look like Lena Horne at least!” before tearing into a picture-perfect “Star Spangled Banner” (with the explanation, “You get tired of playing notes sometimes so you get close to playing exactly what you call a true feeling. It’s really lost souls in frustration, it seems like to me. We’ll see if we can get this feeling across to you…” Cue a brief excerpt from the Bonanza theme at 2:47 in).
7. Although Experience bassist Noel Redding‘s much-needed backup vocals (on “Fire” especially) don’t seem to have made it onto tape until the May 1969 In the West performances, he does manage to more than pull off a ferociously fuzzed bass solo midway through night number one at Winterland. A few minutes later, however, Jefferson Airplane‘s Jack Casady, for some reason, replaces him on the Fender Jazz. Then the next night, Virgil Gonsalves from Buddy Miles‘ band steps up during “Are You Experienced?” with some utterly “6 Was 9” flute flourishes, I kid you not.
8. But the indisputable star throughout was, is and shall forever remain Hendrix himself, it should go without saying, who does things with and to his six strings that guitarists are still at a loss to explain, let alone emulate. Enough said.
9. Bonus points must here be awarded to the Winterland bonus disc, which includes a very revealing backstage interview from the Boston Garden prior to the Experience’s appearance there on Nov. 16, 1968. Hendrix playfully disses Frank Zappa, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and others…but does make up for it by citing Muddy Waters, Eddie Cochran and Ritchie Valens (woah!) as formative influences.
10. And, if you just can’t stop, Legacy Recordings also has just made available Jimi Hendrix: The Dick Cavett Show on DVD, a complete compendium of Hendrix’s 1969 appearances on the thinking man’s Tonight Show. Although Cavett manages to get through both his interviews with Hendrix without once mentioning Groucho Marx, he seems only marginally more convinced than fellow guest Robert “Marcus Welby” Young that the Hendrix “Star Spangled Banner” is as “beautiful” as our hero insists it is. Your ears, of course, know better.
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.