As 1969 was drawing to a close, Jimi Hendrix was virtually locked down in intense rehearsals with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox ahead of the trio’s four performances at the Fillmore East in New York. Although Jimi had a handful of new songs in various stages of development, it was clear that considerable work was required if any of this material was to be performed live. The bulk of these sessions were thankfully preserved on tape, including this, what is perhaps one of the oddest releases in the Hendrix canon; however it is actually not the first time these recordings have been made available. Back in the 1970’s, a limited edition 12” single was pressed and handed out to radio stations for promotional purposes. I don’t know how many were made, but copies now sell for quite a bit, and are highly prized by collectors. Not so this version, which retails for under ten dollars, and so offers the best value for money.
The merit of this so-called ‘EP’ is an unrehearsed medley of “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne”, recorded at Baggy’s Studios in Manhattan. But don’t expect any church choirs or heavenly singing. This is more like heavy metal, and definitely not the sort of thing to play while the family are gathered around enjoying their Christmas dinner (unless they all happen to be mad Hendrix fans). This impromptu performance captures the Band of Gypsys in all their spontaneous and weirdly distorted grandeur. Well, almost. First the sound quality is not exactly what one could describe as all that great, even by 1969 standards. Which is not surprising considering it was taped on a simple two-track reel to reel, and so was obviously and in no way intended for public consumption. There are two incarnations. The first is an edited version whilst the second is the full complete workout as recorded on that day (or night?).
As an added bonus we have a song that was originally issued as part of the 1972 War Heroes album (long since deleted of course). “Three Little Bears” originates from sessions which date from May 1968, when Jimi was busy laying down tracks for his third album Electric Ladyland. And while obviously intended as a fun albeit intentional toss off, it’s a hoot all the same, yet it is actually part of a much longer jam, whose more intriguing elements are unfortunately not included here. What this song has to do with Christmas is beyond me (have a listen to the lyrics and you’ll be as puzzled as I am), but no matter, since its inclusion is a welcome one all the same, revealing Hendrix’s more playful side.
As enjoyable as this disc is, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year is for serious Hendrix lovers only, so casual fans beware. And on a final note, a special mention should be made of the cover. Apparently the photo stems from a publicity shoot made in 1967 to help promote Jimi’s second LP Axis: Bold As love. Now how many black Santas would you have seen in those days? Not that many I bet.