The re-branding of Hendrix’s legacy begins in earnest
Throughout the 1970’s, a succession of Jimi Hendrix live albums were released, many of which were of dubious sound quality, and of even more dubious origins. But so long as people were interested in hearing anything by the deceased guitarist, then you could bet your Granny that someone out there would press it onto vinyl, legally or no. And there was certainly no shortage of rubbish. Albums such as At His Best, Experience, More Experience, and the appalling Woke Up And Found Myself Dead (featuring a heavily inebriated Jim Morrison) were all prime examples of how much of a mess Jimi’s posthumous legacy was truly in.
1972’s In The West remained that decade’s best official approximation of Hendrix in concert, along with 1971’s Isle Of Wight. But apart from these, fans had to settle for inferior product. That is until 1982, when The Jimi Hendrix Concerts hit the shops. A double album, Concerts was Alan Douglas’ attempt to compile some of Jimi’s most inspired on stage performances. The good news was that the majority of material had never been issued (at least officially), while the original multi-track tapes were carefully mastered in order to present, what must have seemed at the time, rather ancient recordings, in the finest possible sound quality.
But not only that, Concerts also validated what many serious collectors had been saying for years – that there was an absolute treasure trove of high-fidelity tapes just waiting to be unlocked to the public. At least half the LP is made up of shows recorded at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in October 1968, with the rest stemming from The Royal Albert Hall (24th February 1969), San Diego (24th May 1969), Berkeley (30th May 1970), and Randall Island (17th July 1970), making this album a reasonably well rounded representation of Jimi’s last couple of years.
“Fire,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” and the blues epic “Hear My Train A-Comin’,” all from Winterland, superbly illustrate Hendrix’s ability to create new sonic landscapes practically at whim, while on “I Don’t Live Today” (San Diego), “Are You Experienced?” and “Wild Thing” (Winterland) he discharges a barrage of pre-metal feedback that would have had The Velvet Underground practically peeing themselves.
Clearly Douglas was determined to represent Hendrix’s penchant for the blues, via a genuinely moving “Bleeding Heart” (Royal Albert Hall) and a stormy “Red House” (New York’s Randall Island). But neither can compare to “Stone Free,” an extended tour-de-force (including a subtle Flamenco interlude) during which Hendrix stretches out and expands upon his already impressive instrumental vocabulary.
Jimi’s vocal delivery for “Hey Joe” (Berkeley) might seem somewhat perfunctory, but is rescued by a stratospheric guitar solo, proving that even on an off night, his inspiration as a performer never deserted him.
No live document of Hendrix can ever be perfect, but for 1982, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts was about as good as it got in terms of range and substance. Thanks to its popularity, over the next several years further live albums would dribble their way onto the market, most notably Jimi Plays Monterey (1986), Live At Winterland (1987), and the excellent Radio One (1989), not to mention a few other EP’s and oddities in between.
Long superseded by far superior and more authoritative releases, Concerts is still worth keeping in your collection, or purchasing for a fiver, just to hear “Stone Free” and “Bleeding Heart,” both of which have yet to reappear on any current album by Experience Hendrix. Until that day comes, don’t toss it away yet.