The grave robbing continues, only to prove that there’s still enough magic left in the can
While there are no shortage of 20th Century musicians who managed to break the equivalent of the musical sound barrier within their own chosen field, when it came to the electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix was akin to the speed of light, the law of physics that dictates the utmost limit at which all matter is capable of travelling in the observable universe.
Few guitarists have surpassed him in terms of pure originality. Hendrix’s imagination itself which far outweighed his technical abilities. Not that his proficiencies on the instrument should be dismissed altogether. He was unquestionably one of the most naturally gifted and skilled guitarists not only of his generation, but of any other before or after.
In a nutshell, Hendrix was capable of communicating more in one pluck of the string than most other players could in an entire convoluted solo. Any pretentious idiot can play a hand full of notes, but at least when Jimi did it, he always added a degree of emotion and, here’s that word again, imagination.
In just four short explosive years he turned the guitar completely upside down, not just literally, but figuratively as well. So it should come as no surprise that the man left behind an enormous well of material, from which record companies continue to draw (and profit) from.
People, Hell, and Angels was another possible title for what would have been Hendrix’s fourth studio album. But don’t let the people behind this compilation mislead you into thinking that what you hold in your hands is in any way connected to Jimi’s own musical vision. What we do have is yet another collection of outtakes, jams and demos, recorded between 1968 and 1970. So, what has the estate, in all its infinite wisdom, decided to give us? Let’s press play and see.
First up is “Earth Blues”, recorded with the Band of Gypsys in December 1969. According to the liner notes this is a different take from the one Jimi selected as the final master. Is it funky? You bet. Is it exciting? Most definitely. Is it worthy of serving as the starting gun for these collected works? Not really.
The second track “Somewhere” is interesting in that the lyrics would be recycled by Hendrix for the previous track “Earth Blues”, with some modifications of course. Apart from the fact that Buddy Miles and Stephen Stills are backing him, there’s nothing really all that remarkable about it, but… Jimi’s wah wah. Here he plays it as if the Devil himself had just dropped a tab or two, played his arse off, then dared God to ‘beat that’.
Hendrix had composed no less than two blues classics in his lifetime, the first was “Redhouse”, and the other was “Hear My Train A Comin’”. Recorded in May 1969, once again Buddy Miles joins Hendrix in the studio along with Billy Cox, whom Hendrix must have been contemplating as his next bass player since the deterioration of his relationship with Noel Redding, who would leave the group only a couple months later. The performance presented here is raw and uncompromising. The way blues often should be.
And speaking of blues, “Bleeding Heart” is next. This stems from the same session as “Hear My Train…” we heard previously, and is another great interpretation of the Elmore James classic. The band starts off a little awkwardly, but once they fall into the groove, things begin to flow along nicely. For those of you who have heard all the other versions so far released, this one is perhaps the most unique, and remains a nice little jam.
Lonnie Youngblood was another old friend of Jimi’s back when they were both playing the rhythm and blues circuit. In early 1969, Hendrix invited Lonnie to join him at the Record Plant in New York, where they wrote and recorded “Let Me Move You”. To what extent this energetic rhythm and blues number represents Hendrix’s supposed new direction, or whether it was simply him blowing some steam in between Experience sessions, my guess is probably more the latter. As always, it never surprises me the amount of material that has remained unheard after all these years. And this is one of those pleasant surprises that seem to pop up every now and then.
“Izabella” was recorded following the Woodstock Music festival, which means that we are listening to another Gypsy Sun & Rainbows performance. Mitch Mitchell once commented that it was just one of those groups which simply never jelled, no matter how ardently they rehearsed. Over the band’s brief existence, Hendrix tried hard to integrate another guitarist into his sound, and as competent as Larry Lee was, he would have perhaps been better off with Jim McCarty, or John McLaughlin.
“Easy Blues” originally found its way on the 1980 Nine to the Universe album, produced by the notorious Alan Douglas. Douglas wanted to release a collection showcasing Jimi’s more jazzy, free-form side, and from that perspective it doesn’t disappoint. The good news is that we now have an extra minute or so of what was originally just a jam between Jimi’s soon to be aborted Woodstock band. Larry Lee provides solid support on his Gibson, and the rest of the group are in perfect sync throughout. Mitch in particular shines with some of his finest drumming this side of Elvin Jones. You can hear the complete version on bootleg, but it probably does work better in edited form, since it sounds a little tighter, and more structured. One of the best tracks of the album.
When Chas Chandler left the circle in 1968 Hendrix lost not only a good friend, but someone who was able to guide him, and offer the necessary discipline when it came to his song writing and preparedness in the studio. Now with no-one to steer him, Jimi would spend countless hours working out songs in front of the recording consul, generally without producing anything bearing even the slightest resemblance to a master take. “Crash Landing” was originally issued by, wait, get out your crucifix, Alan Douglas, in 1975 on the album of the same name. That version had overdubs by musicians who never even knew Hendrix, much less played with him. Here we have the original fruits captured on that evening, warts and all.
“Inside Out” has long been familiar to Hendrix fans, having made its way onto numerous bootlegs over the years, and in pretty good quality too. But its inclusion here is definitely justified. Although essentially a demo based on the riff that would later morph into “Ezy Ryder”, what’s notable is that Jimi runs his guitar through a leslie rotating speaker, giving it an ‘organ’ sound.
“Hey Gypsy Boy” is an embryonic version of what would later become “Hey Baby (Land of the New Rising Sun)”. It isn’t perfect, and why it appears on this album one has to question. Even in embryonic form it still has a hypnotic aspect to it, haunting even, as if Jimi were performing a séance through his guitar.
Not so “Mojo Man”, a song written and recorded by Arthur & Albert Allen, otherwise known as ‘The Ghetto Fighters’, and another couple of old musical acquaintances of Jimi’s. The tune dates to 1969, but Hendrix asked them to bring the tape to his newly completed Electric Lady studios in 1970, where he proceeded in laying down some overdubs, and in the process transforming what would otherwise have been a customary funk/r&b composition into something far more engaging.
“Villanova Junction” is probably more familiar as the theme which closed the film which chronicled the era defining Woodstock festival. A laconic and jazzy instrumental befitting to the final scenes of people cleaning up all the rubbish left behind after three days of peace, love, and landfill. But what was never known, until now, is that Hendrix had composed and recorded the tune a few months earlier, with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, in May of 1969. Almost identical to the version he played that day on Max Yasgur’s farmland, the song’s inclusion here seems to indicate a lack of material the Estate has left to choose from.
Ultimately, People, Hell and Angels is in no way perfect, but then how could it be? Every Hendrix listener, whether casual or serious tragic, should be happy that at this late in the day, the world can still sit back and wonder at what one man managed to create in such a short space of time.