When Jimi Hendrix released his debut album Are You Experienced in 1967, he was already being hailed as a genius by critics and fellow musicians alike. Although the pop/rock scene was indeed brimming with brilliant young guitarists, Hendrix not only revolutionised the electric guitar, but gave it a whole new perspective.
Released in 2010, West Coast Seattle Boy is the second retrospective boxed set from Experience Hendrix, who have since the mid ’90s been the custodians of the late guitarist’s musical heritage. But does the world really need another mammoth collection documenting Jimi’s undisputed brilliance? Well, obviously it does. And just when you think that every cupboard and wardrobe has been raided and emptied, think again, because incredibly West Coast proves that there are still plenty of surprises in the vault remaining to be heard.
The first disc documents Hendrix’s pre-London days when he was known as Jimmy Hendrix, a fledgling virtually unknown musician eking out a meagre existence as a hired gun to anyone who was willing to offer him a gig. What this relatively short CD illustrates is the sheer number of diversity of artists James Marshall actually played and recorded with: Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, Rosa Lee Brooks and Don Covay, amongst others. Performing with such a rich array of acts explains why Hendrix was able to get more out of the guitar than anyone else at the time – simply because he had the knowledge and experience to put more in. Sure, there are hints of the Hendrix we know, yet they are few and far between, since he was always kept on a pretty tight leash by his masters.
“Fire” opens the second disc and is the same recording heard on his first LP. However the song comes in remixed form (from the original four track tapes) and as such is the best sounding version ever. We also get to hear it run to the end instead of fade out. There is an intriguing instrumental demo of “Are You Experienced?” along with an alternate version of “May This Be Love, a mono mix of “Can You See Me”, and a superb live rendition of “The Wind Cries Mary” recorded in Stockholm, Sweden in late 1967. “Little One” has long been available on bootleg, and features Dave Mason on sitar. “Mr. Bad Luck”, “Cat Talking To Me” and “Castles Made of Sand” are all Axis: Bold As Love outtakes and reveal Hendrix’s rapidly evolving skills as a songwriter.
I don’t know about you but I can live without the demos recorded with Paul Caruso on harmonica in Jimi’s hotel room on a Teac reel to reel in early 1968. However the one exception is “Angel”, which is just a beautiful song in any form. “Calling All Devil’s Children” is a blast. There are longer versions on bootlegs, but this is the finest stereo mix out there. Basically an impromptu instrumental, Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding are in perfect form throughout. The last track, “New Rising Sun” is absolutely breath taking in its simplicity and imagination, and proves that had he lived long enough, Hendrix might well have made a name for himself composing film soundtracks.
Disc three begins with a loose funky jam with Buddy Miles (drums) and an unknown organist, followed by several interesting mostly instrumental recordings Hendrix made once he had completed his third LP Electric Ladyland. We have an entertaining cover of “Hound Dog” (here titled as Hound Dog Blues), a blistering “Star Spangled Banner” and “Purple Haze” from the Los Angeles Forum April 1969, and what is perhaps the most fascinating recording of all, “Young/Hendrix”, a near 21 minute jam Jimi recorded one late night with keyboard player Larry Young. Should anyone need proof of Hendrix’s potential to become a jazz-rock pioneer this is it. A heavily truncated version was issued on 1980’s Nine To The Universe LP, but here we have the most complete recording ever made available.
Written by Larry Lee, “Mastermind” was a song performed at the Woodstock festival by Hendrix’s Gypsy Suns and Rainbows band, and which has never been officially released, and perhaps for good reason. Imagine George Benson on LSD and you’ll get my drift. “Message To Love” we’ve heard before, although this is apparently a mix prepared by Jimi himself, while the last two recordings, “Fire” and “Foxy Lady” stem from the fabled Fillmore East concerts with the Band of Gypsys in 1969/1970. The latter is especially noteworthy, where toward the end Jimi improvises his arse out in a way that will surprise even the most ardent fan.
The final CD begins with an epic “Stone Free”, another Fillmore East recording by the Band of Gypsys, and it’s a pearler. Here Hendrix’s creativity is on full display and simply has be heard to be believed. “Burning Desire” and “Lonely Avenue” are examples of the Band of Gypsys working hard in the studio. Arthur Lee and Hendrix had been acquaintances as far back as the mid 1960’s, so it should come as little surprise that Jimi would find time to contribute guitar to “The Everlasting First”, transforming the ordinary into something out of this world. We have an instrumental run through of “Freedom”, a song intended for his next album, then a bit of goofing around on “Peter Gunn/Catastrophe”. An edited form first appeared on 1972’s War Heroes, but now we get to hear it in its more complete and ramshackle glory. “In From The Storm” is a working mix made by Hendrix before he departed for London, never to return, while “All God’s Children” has to be one of the highlights of this collection, a six minute instrumental on which Hendrix tosses off note after note with complete abandon, riffs that any rock guitarist today would happily murder or pimp their own mother for.
Recorded at the Berkeley Community Theatre on 30th May 1970, “Red House” is probably about the most perfect version one will ever have the privilege of playing through their stereo. “Play That Riff” always reminds me of The Eagles “Life In the Fast Lane”, don’t ask me why, yet it remains another instance of Hendrix’s ability to come up with classic riffs at a moment’s notice.
“Bolero/Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” was a composition Jimi was developing over the summer of 1970. Unfortunately he never completed it, though what we have here is perhaps the closest indication. The final recording “Suddenly November Morning” stems from the long sought after “Black Gold” tapes, a suite of songs Hendrix had been working on in the Spring of 1970 as another potential album. Recorded at Jimi’s apartment in Greenwich Village, the song is not much more than a sketch really, albeit an absorbing one at that.
Something tells me that West Coast Seattle Boy will not be the last will and testament of an artist whose pursuit of musical endeavours was as extraordinary as it was seemingly endless. One can only hope that further artistic treasures lie in state, waiting to be excavated from those mouldy analogue vaults, and given the digital mastering they so clearly deserve.