When interviewed by Rolling Stone in late 1969, Noel Redding openly explained his decision for leaving the Jimi Hendrix Experience: “The recording sessions were chaos, and on stage, it was getting ridiculous. The audience wanted us to play the old Hendrix standards, but Jimi wanted to do his new stuff. The last gig at the Denver Pop Festival [29th June 1969] when Jimi told a reporter that he was going to enlarge the band… without even consulting myself… I went up to Jimi that night, said goodbye, and caught the next plane back to London.” Apparently Hendrix later rang Noel asking him to come back, but his mind was already made up. The JHE was finally over.
Noel Redding: The Experience Sessions was released as a posthumous tribute to the bassist who passed away in 2003, and a noble gesture on the part of the Experience Hendrix company to pay homage or at least acknowledge just how important Redding’s contribution was to Jimi’s own unique musical vision – a formidable task indeed for anyone much less a young and relatively inexperienced guitarist from Folkestone, England.
We open with “There Ain’t Nothing Wrong”, a song often bootlegged but never released officially until this CD came along (another recording would find its way on 2010’s West Coast Seattle Boy box set). Originally recorded in December 1967 (with Dave Mason), this version contains vocals and new bass parts overdubbed by Noel himself, more than twenty years later as part of Chas Chandler’s eagerness to issue an album of Hendrix material based on tapes from his own personal collection. Personally I prefer the original, unadulterated version as heard on the Seattle anthology, due to the fact that Redding doesn’t really add anything to what was for all intents and purposes little more than an interesting jam.
Included on this compilation are alternate takes (or should that be alternate mixes?) of “Little Miss Strange” and “She’s So Fine”, from Electric Ladyland and Axis: Bold As Love respectively. If there are any significant differences between these and what was issued originally I certainly can’t discern them. “Walking Through the Garden” (with Jimi on bass) is a pleasant slice of psychedelic English whimsy, while the trippy “Little, Little Girl” suspiciously sounds as though it’s had a major late ‘80s overhaul, along with “How Can I Live?”, which is nothing more than a bit of sloppy acid rock John Lennon could have written while in a coma.
We have two takes of the unremarkable “Noel’s Tune”, both are which are previously unissued, and are for trainspotters only, despite Hendrix’s inspired guitar on both. Next is a true alternate take of “Little Miss Strange”, minus Jimi’s overdubs, which were really what made the song interesting in the first place. A second recording of “She’s So Fine” follows, however as with most on this album, it’s Jimi’s soloing that will fascinate the listener more than anything else. Speaking of which, Hendrix’s playing on “Dream” is indeed worth hearing, even if the tune itself is somewhat ordinary.
We conclude with a dirty, grungy version of “Red House” recorded live at the Olympia Theatre, Paris, on 29th January 1968, on which Noel decided to switch from bass to rhythm guitar, replicating the sound of the studio performance as heard on the Experience’s first LP.
Putting all noble intentions aside, the reality is that there isn’t all that much reason to purchase this album except for Hendrix’s involvement. Noel was, and I say this with all due respect, a fine musician, but a lacklustre songwriter; someone whose contributions to popular music will always take second place to his far more famous and talented colleague. Would Noel have been inclined much less capable of supporting Hendrix on a song like “Machine Gun”, or the R&B flavoured “Message to Love”? Clearly Jimi was moving in directions Noel was obviously never meant for, and maybe wouldn’t have enjoyed even if he was. As Redding himself explained: “I don’t want to think there’s anything nasty between Jimi and I. We’re still good friends. It’s just that we can’t work together anymore.” I guess that’s about as good an explanation as anyone could give.