More than 40 years after his death, Hendrix still remains out front
There are two editions of this boxed set, the original 2000 edition, and the slightly expanded 2013 version. Upon release all those years ago, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was the ultimate in musical archaeology, at least when it came to everything Hendrix, where across four CDs the listener was taken on a journey through the archives like never before, making it one of the most essential investments any Jimi aficionado could ever hope to make.
From his first recordings in London in 1966, to his very final studio session in 1970, Experience manages to cover most bases. Sure there’s a little barrel scraping along the way, which is to be expected, however the majority of what’s presented will have Hendrix admirers, old and new, amazed and fascinated in equal measure. But not all on offer is entirely new, since quite a major proportion of material selected was taken from LPs that had been long out of print.
We begin with live performances of “Purple Haze,” “Killing Floor” and “Hey Joe,” recorded at The Olympia Theatre, Paris, France on 18th October 1966. The French held a particular fondness for Hendrix, as they did for many American blues and jazz artists, so it is not surprising that Jimi would quickly find a place in the hearts of many Paris youth. Although this was only The Experience’s fourth ever gig, one can hear how already the trio were locked into each other’s energy. The Parisian audience can be heard hailing their approval, even though Jimi, Mitch and Noel had yet to release their first single.
“Purple Haze” and Hey Joe” stem from some of Jimi’s earliest recording sessions, and while they may not differ dramatically from the finished masters, there is enough variation to reveal the process that went into their creation. “Highway Chile,” first issued on 1972’s War Heroes, is given a stereo airing for the first time, as is “Title #3,” a previously unheard instrumental attempted during sessions for Are You Experienced. “3rd Stone From The Sun” and “If Six Was Nine” are little more than curios, even to the most committed anorak, including an incomplete demo of “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp.” The bluesy vaudeville of “Taking Care Of No Business” shows Hendrix’s comedic side, while an embryonic rendition of “Here He Comes (Lover Man)” is rescued for posterity, before two stellar performances from The Monterey International Pop Festival recorded 18th June 1967, in the form of “Rock Me Baby” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” both previously released but welcome here all the same. The 2013 edition includes another version of “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp,” recorded for BBC’s Dee Time, London in August 1967, before ending with an original stereo mix of “The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice” (STP/LSD?).
Things get more interesting on CD two, with early studio outtakes of “Little Wing,” “Little Miss Lover,” and a superb instrumental run though of “Bold As Love.” Another highlight is “Sweet Angel,” a recording made by Jimi on his own, as well as live versions of “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Catfish Blues,” from 9th October, 1967 at the Olympia Theatre, Paris, while “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp,” recorded live in Stockholm, Sweden on 5th September, 1967, were previously issued on the 1990 boxed set Stages.
“Somewhere” (later reissued by Alan Douglas as “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in 1975, complete with fresh overdubs), this version was first released on the blink and you’ll miss it Loose Ends compilation in 1973. “(Have You Ever Been To) Electric Ladyland”, also from Loose Ends, is notable, but it’s studio takes of “Gloria” (a raucous re-imagining) and “Peace In Mississippi” that will really grab the listener’s attention, where Hendrix manages to pull out all the stops, playing an explosive array of riffs and licks that any guitarist today would love to invent. Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” from Woodstock might be the most famous, but few knew that in March 1969 Jimi recorded a studio version, one which is at least 20 years ahead of its time, during which his guitar sounds like a modern synthesizer. Originally released on Rainbow Bridge, it remains an intriguing example of Hendrix’s far reaching talents.
CD 3 kicks off with a funky re-recording of “Stone Free” from 1969 (originally issued as part of Crash Landing), an electrifying “Room Full Of Mirrors,” along with the previously released live tracks “I Don’t Live Today” (Lifelines), “Little Wing,” an intense “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (both from In The West), and an outstanding “Red House,” from the San Diego Sports Arena, 24th May 1969. “Izabella,” by the Gypsy, Sun and Rainbows band is tentative to say the least, proving that Jimi’s attempt to expand his group and overall sound, despite good intentions, was doomed to failure.
The original Crash Landing version of “Message To Love” opens CD 4 in funky convivial fashion, and a recording that remains perhaps the most definitive. R&B chestnut “Earth Blues” is another Band Of Gypsys recording, followed by an outstanding “Astro Man,” a tongue in cheek funk tune Hendrix recorded with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. Another standout is “Country Blues,” a track often bootlegged, but finally presented here in pristine quality. Next is an early version of “Freedom,” which, apart from the dominating riff, bears little resemble to the finished article completed for First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, what was to be Jimi’s next album.
The following two cuts, “Johnny B. Goode” and “Lover Man” will already be familiar, having originally been released on 1972’s In The West, as was “Blue Suede Shoes,” an impromptu performance recorded during rehearsals for his upcoming gigs at the Berkeley Community Theatre on 30th May 1970. Hendrix shows off his instrumental skills on the lengthy “Cherokee Mist,” unleashes some proto-funk steam with “Come Down Hard On Me,” then lets rip on the funk classic “Ezy Ryder,” a song with enough riffs to make Lenny Kravitz give up his day job.
There is an alternate mix/outtake of the jazz-rock-country “Night Bird Flying,” as well as inspired performances of “All Along The Watchtower” and “In From The Storm,” from the Isle Of Wight festival, held on 30th August 1970. Yet there are two tracks which may give the more serious fan pause for thought, namely “Hey Baby/In From The Storm” and “Slow Blues.” The former, recorded on 30th July 1970 at Maui, Hawaii, is, compositionally speaking, one of the holy grails in terms of Hendrix’s future direction, while the latter, is little more than a brief snapshot, with Jimi playing some jazzy chords until an equipment malfunction in the studio suddenly brings proceedings to a hold, just as things were getting good. A metaphor really.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience truly is the ultimate in Hendrix box sets, and one likely never to be equalled (although West Coast Seattle Boy isn’t far behind). Yes, there is some repetition, and it does rely on a great deal of previously released material, if anything, what it proves is that Jimi Hendrix was not only the greatest electric guitarist of his time, but arguably the greatest of any succeeding generation.