Curtis Knight (Featuring Jimi Hendrix) – Live At George’s Club 20

Raw live tapes highlight Hendrix in his pre-fame prime

There is a wealth of information and interest regarding Jimi Hendrix as a solo artist, and rightfully so. The guitarist’s unique approach and vision has rarely been bettered over the decades since his death in 1970. However what many people may not know is that before his rise to fame in England in late 1966, Hendrix had worked for a number of years as a hired hand before finally breaking it big. He toured and recorded with Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, Don Covay, and Wilson Pickett, amongst others. He worked on the gruelling ‘chitlin’ circuit,’ playing more gigs in one month than many musicians today would perform over an entire year.

So by the time ex-Animals Chas Chandler took Hendrix under his wing and offered him the freedom to be himself, Jimi was already an extremely seasoned professional, brimming with ideas and a creative energy that had largely been ignored or locked away as a sideman.

Now, for the first time, Experience Hendrix has released the most authoritative document yet of the guitarist’s tenure as a gun for hire before he became known as Jimi Hendrix (at this point he still called himself Jimmy James). And while much of the material here has been issued before on various albums over the last 50 years or so – some official, some otherwise – never before has this material been presented so lovingly and with the historical authenticity it deserves.

Recorded at George’s Club 20 in Hackensack, NJ on 26th December 1965 and 22nd January 1966, this 2CD compendium chronicles Jimi’s time when he was a member of Curtis Knight’s band, performing a multitude of the most popular pop, rock, soul, blues and R&B hits of the day, night after night, week after week, which explains the diversity of material heard here.

From Don Covay’s “Mercy, Mercy,” Chris Kenner’s “Land Of 1000 Dances” (covered by Wilson Pickett, Tom Jones and Tina Turner, to name but a few), to Ray Charles’ “What I Say,” there is literally something for everyone. Marvin Gaye’s extremely popular “I’ll Be Doggone,” and even Hank Ballard’s “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” are each given enthusiastic workouts.

But it’s the blues numbers that will interest most Hendrix fans. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man,” and Albert Collins’ “Drivin’ South” were all songs that Jimi would continue to perform after he relocated to London, and where one can hear Hendrix’s unique instrumental approach and personality shining through.

But before you rush out to buy a copy, George’s Club can only be purchased online through Experience Hendrix’s boutique record label Dagger Records, a subsidiary company set up especially to offer the more serious devotee access to some of Jimi’s lesser known and more esoteric recordings, whether studio or live. And another thing: the audio isn’t exactly what one would call outstanding, hence its release as an ‘official bootleg.’ So unless you’re an aficionado, a Hendrix scholar, or both, then Live At George’s Club 20 1965 & 1966 probably won’t mean all that much to you.

Yet for anyone fascinated to hear how Jimi sounded in his pre-superstar days, then George’s Club is about as good a place as any to begin your investigation.