Question: Who needs another live album by Jimi Hendrix? Answer: Me of course. Live at Clark University was the second ‘official bootleg’ issued by the Hendrix estate in the late 1990’s, and is unique in that more than half its content consists of personal interviews with Jimi, Noel Redding, and Mitch Mitchell. Both the show as well as the interviews in question was recorded by film maker Tony Palmer, who had made his way to Worcester, Massachusetts on 15th March 1968, with the intention of documenting the event as part of a Television special he was preparing for the BBC. Although two sets were performed, only the second concert was professionally recorded (by 1968 standards), in what I would describe as above average stereo.
Based on what is presented here these shows must have been fairly brief, with The Experience performing a mere five songs, which amounts to a paltry 29 minutes in total. According to John McDermott’s liner notes, it is likely that other songs were played however no other tapes have ever surfaced to confirm this. But no matter, because what we do have is an exhilarating version of “Fire”, while the formidable “Foxy Lady” was already showing signs of developing into an opportunity for Jimi to improvise and explore a few new ideas in the process.
When compared to Cream, Noel and Mitch were arguably no match for Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker respectively, but Jimi’s rendition of “Purple Haze” is no less inspired and has enough heavy fire power of its own to bring down half of the Himalayas. Hendrix finishes the set with a rambunctious “Wild Thing”, colouring it with his usual menagerie of combustible licks, often invented in the heat of the moment, and guaranteed to get the crowd chanting for more.
But the highlight for me, as always, is “Red House”, which was often Hendrix’s ultimate vehicle for jamming. Regardless of how often I hear it, or which version, Jimi always managed to add something uniquely interesting to this blues classic. It’s a scorching rendition to be sure, and while he may have begun to tire of playing “Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze” etc, he always played his heart out on this number.
Palmer’s lengthy interviews with each band member are interesting and surprisingly informative, considering that most musicians of the late 1960’s were usually too spaced out to say anything really meaningful. Hendrix is relaxed and humble about his abilities, expressing his reluctance to put an exact label on what he was trying to do with his music, all said in an articulate, intelligent, and extremely open way, especially when talking about his pre-Experience/London days. He also comes up with some intriguing metaphors for performing, most notably “it’s like us being born every time we go on stage, it might be bad or it might be good, we don’t know”. The interviews themselves run for nearly forty minutes, and as occasionally fascinating as they are, I doubt whether even the most dedicated Hendrix obsessive would bother to listen to them more than once or maybe twice in their lifetime.
So despite the relative paucity of music, Live at Clark University is a worthy and welcome addition to the Hendrix catalogue, and another brief albeit brittle snapshot into the life of a musical genius.