Jimi Hendrix – Rainbow Bridge

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Long lost LP finally sees the light of day

When Jimi Hendrix passed away in September 1970, he left behind an extraordinary bevy of studio tapes, purportedly at least a thousand hours worth. Such was the man’s proficiency that from late 1968 through to end of 1969 he had amassed so much material that the guitarist could have easily released no less than three albums. But Hendrix was a perfectionist, someone who never seemed happy with his own performances, resulting in multiple takes and entire sessions devoted to numerous overdubs, many of which would be scrapped in favour of new recordings. In other words, Hendrix was a producer’s worst nightmare.

By the early ‘70s, quite a lot of the technological innovations Hendrix had originally pioneered, such as mixing techniques and the use of electronic effects, had become de rigour for most pop-rock acts, whose adoption of wah wah, reverb and univibe (or variations thereof) were as common place as eggs and chips.

And so it was that in 1971, Rainbow Bridge was conceived, an album whose entire existence owes itself to Mike Jeffrey’s promise of providing Warner Brothers with a soundtrack to the appalling film of the same name (in which even Hendrix himself made a brief cameo). And while the movie itself was soon forgotten, not so was this LP.

Compiled from various tapes by engineer/producer Eddie Kramer (with the help of Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix’s longtime drummer), Rainbow Bridge has often been lauded by some fans as being superior to The Cry Of Love, the first posthumous record issued in the wake of Jimi’s death. Although with Alan Douglas taking control of the Hendrix catalogue in 1974, the LP was subsequently deleted, meaning that by the ‘80s it had become a much sought after collector’s item.

Then in 2014, Experience Hendrix announced it was reissuing the original album on vinyl and CD. Surprising considering that every track on Rainbow Bridge had already been re-released on one compilation or another over the years. So what was the point? Two reasons come to mind: nostalgia, and the opportunity for younger fans to hear this material as it was first presented. But not only that: the analogue tapes were mastered by Bernie Grundman, who has somehow managed to restore the music to its former pre-digital glory.

Opening with “Dolly Dagger,” this funk-rock tune was slated to be the first single off his projected First Rays Of The New Rising Sun LP, and I’m sure might have raised a few highbrows if it had. Next cut “Earth Blues” (with The Ronettes on backing vocals) is the sort of soul-funk-gospel music Hendrix had been developing during and after his period with the Band Of Gypsys. On instrumental “Pali Gap” Hendrix reveals his jazz-rock alter ego, and is one of the most illuminating numbers here.

“Room Full Of Mirrors” was recorded with the Band Of Gypsys, and a song Hendrix had been working on for some time, but it wasn’t until he brought Buddy Miles (drums) and Billy Cox (bass) on board that he finally nailed it. One of his more psychedelic compositions, “Mirrors” is the aural equivalent of walking into a kaleidoscope (drugs optional). Side one ends with a surreal studio take of “The Star Spangled Banner,” recorded as far back as March 1969, and is nothing like the version he performed at the Woodstock festival five months later, more like extra-terrestrials trying to contact Earth.

Side two features a super-charged “Look Over Yonder” recorded by the original Experience, followed by perhaps one of the finest renditions of “Hear My Train A Comin’” Jimi ever made. Captured in May 1970 at the Berkeley Community Theatre, “Hear My Train” easily usurps “Red House” as the ultimate blues vehicle for Hendrix’s seemingly unlimited imagination.

Last track “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” has always been a difficult one to categorise, as it includes elements of blues, rock, flamenco, and perhaps some other musical style yet to be defined. Taken from a July 1970 session at Electric Lady Studios, “Hey Baby” is clearly unfinished, but even in demo form, it strongly illustrates Hendrix’s proclivity for otherworldly tones and textures.

At the time of its release, Rainbow Bridge was arguably the last of the better Hendrix LPs that found their way into people’s collections. Although unlike the rest of Jimi’s posthumous albums, this was the only one which was never pressed onto CD, inexplicable really, considering the overall quality on offer. But no matter. Bernie Grundman has done an outstanding job in the mastering department, enough to get any audiophile excited, and the best these songs have sounded since they were originally heard all those many years ago.