In the decades following the death of Jimi Hendrix, there has been no shortage of bootlegs to sate the most devoted disciples of the late guitarist, many of whom appear possessed with an almost insatiable hunger for anything with the man’s name on it. Although as any serious music collector understands all too well, bootlegs can be hit and miss affairs. I cannot count the number of times I would arrive home after a day of hunter-gathering at some record fair with my (expensive) booty, only to feel either elated or disappointed with what I was hearing. Such is the life of the Hendrix tragic. But not just him. Be it Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or any other artist one might be obsessed with, the experience is universal. So a well deserving applause to Experience Hendrix, the curators of Jimi’s estate and musical legacy, for establishing Dagger Records, a vehicle for issuing less than perfectly preserved recordings of the world’s greatest electric gunslinger.
Ahead of Jimi’s scheduled four performances with The Band Of Gypsys at the Fillmore East on 31st December 1969 and 1st January 1970, rather than spend his time (and money) rehearsing in expensive recording studios, he chose the newly established Baggy’s Studios in New York as the place to run through new material and refine the arrangements. Rehearsals ran late into the night, and over several days, so as to ensure that the group were well-disciplined and battle ready for what was in front of them (Hendrix also owed Capital Records a LP, hence why all of this was happening in the first place).
First track “Burning Desire” is a pop-blues composition Hendrix never actually got around to completing (either that or he just felt that the song as it was didn’t really fit with his broader vision). The recording itself first appeared on the disjointed Loose Ends LP in 1973, and while it’s fairly raw, sound wise (like the rest of the album), it indeed has its moments, finding Jimi briefly stretching out a bit into Jazz-Rock territory. Hendrix next launches into an impromptu version of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” (which also appeared on Loose Ends incidentally), and what an exhilarating interpretation it is. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t recorded in a proper studio on multi-track (rather than a simple two-track tape machine).
“Message to Love” was a tune Hendrix had been working on for several months, but it was only until he brought in Buddy Miles and Billy Cox that it seemed to all fall together and really work. The trio would record a more polished studio rendition in the months ahead, but it’s fascinating nonetheless to get a glimpse into what is quite possibly the very instant when the whole thing actually fell into place. The band breaks out into “Ezy Ryder”, a high-speed funk-rock masterpiece if there was ever one, where Jimi’s mastery of lead and rhythm is on full display. He unleashes a few psychedelic Furies on “Power of Soul”, another intense funk-rock workout, almost bordering on heavy metal in places. And while I’m sure that hearing this on drugs would be amazing, I’m almost tripping out just listening to it straight! The funk continues with “Earth Blues”, a semi-gospel number, and one which Hendrix would continue to tinker with throughout the following year in the studio. Two Buddy Miles songs appear in the form of “Them Changes” and “We Gotta Live Together’, both of which were performed and issued on the subsequent live Band of Gypsys album (no doubt due to Jimi’s reluctance to include any more of his own compositions than he already had to). The band scorches its way through “Lover Man”, a song which for some reason Hendrix never recorded to his satisfaction, along with a track that will make many a fan bar-up over, and that is “Baggy’s Jam”, an R&B instrumental simply overflowing with an abundance of dazzling riffs not to mention brilliant backing by Miles and Cox.
The CD closes out with a repeat performance of “Earth Blues”, albeit in a more up-tempo mode, as if they were attempting to work out the right pace at which to play it, before ending with a reprise of “Burning Desire”, a version which is much closer to the one they performed at the Fillmore East.
What this compilation proves is that Hendrix was far more disciplined in his approach to making music than some others have claimed. Instead of the drug-addled and artistically adrift musician who’d lost his way, The Baggy’s Rehearsal Sessions remains as clear evidence that while his immediate ambitions may have been incomplete (from Jupiter to the very “Pillars of Creation”) , the man could still put in a hard day of work (or night) when called upon. And while the sound may be somewhat sub-par when compared to most of his other recordings, it nevertheless provides an essential insight into the living organism that was The Band Gypsys, and a testament to their power and glory, no matter how brief that moment was.