Nocturnal experiments compiled on CD for the first time
While none of the recordings contained on this release were ever intended to be heard outside of Jimi’s inner sanctum, Hear My Music, issued on Experience Hendrix’s Dagger label, provides valuable insight into the ever fertile imagination of the 20th Century’s greatest electric guitarist. What has been compiled and presented (for serious fans only), is a unique, warts and all unveiling of Hendrix working hard in the studio, stretching out like never before, in contrast to his previous two years, where recording sessions were considerably more formal and ran within a strict budget.
Almost two-thirds of these tracks have never before been released officially, something that will no doubt get any Hendrix fanatic’s heart racing, and of those that did find their way on to previous albums, here we are blessed with the complete unedited performances as they were captured on the day (or more likely night).
Booked to perform at The Royal Albert Hall in London on 18th and 24th February, The Experience entered into Olympic Studios on the 14th to record what would turn out to be a series of inspired instrumentals, three of which are part of Hear My Music. The first, “Slow Version” (which also kicks off the album), is a not-so-subtle slab of proto-metal, reminiscent to “Midnight,” a more fully-realised instrumental Hendrix would go on to record later that year.
Of the other two, “Blues Jam At Olympic” will send any guitar freak into wah-wah heaven, while “Ezy Ryder/Star Spangled Banner” is a particular highlight, notable for being the first known studio version of the American National Anthem Hendrix performed.
“Drone Blues” (from 24th April 1969) is a frenzied, and lengthy pre-techno workout, one which has Hendrix, Billy Cox (bass), and Rocky Isaac (drums) literally flying by the seat of their pants. At once old and futuristic sounding, this improvised jam sees Jimi pushing himself into completely uncharted territory. Little wonder then that record producer Alan Douglas chose it for inclusion on 1980’s Nine To The Universe.
Another track which found its way onto that same album is “Jimi/Jimmy Jam” which, at around 17 minutes, not only makes it the lengthiest number, but also one of the most interesting.
Recorded at The Record Plant, March 15th 1969 (all tracks on Hear My Music are from 1969), this exploratory jam was made with Jim McCarty (guitar), Dave Holland (bass), and Mitch Mitchell (drums). But despite the cast involved, don’t get too excited. This is not some kind of Holy Grail proving that Jimi was indeed at the forefront of the early jazz-fusion scene (even if there are moments when it comes close). Instead what we do have is an intriguing, and at times fatiguing, guitar duel between Hendrix and McCarty, one which McCarty inexplicably described once as “embarrassing.”
Previously heard on the ill-conceived Loose Ends LP, “Jam 292” (14th May) sees Hendrix attempting to incorporate other musicians into his music. Pianist Sharon Layne and an unknown trumpeter joined Jimi for four takes of this spirited and spacey instrumental. This version was the group’s fourth attempt, and one it seems was filed away, never intended to be heard again.
“Trash Man” first made its appearance on Midnight Lightning, another controversial album produced by Alan Douglas in the mid-70s. That recording consisted of multiple overdubs, made posthumously, and was heavily edited. Finally, listeners can enjoy the unedited, complete version in all its raw and muscular glory.
The remaining four tracks stem from sessions held at Olympic Studios, London, 22nd February. On this occasion, Hendrix chose to record these solo demos sans The Experience, laying down an embryonic “Message To Love,” “Gypsy Blood” (a song never completed), and two takes of “Valleys Of Neptune” (one with Hendrix on guitar, the other with him on piano).
Ultimately, this is all pretty curious stuff, of the sort which no Hendrix scholar can live without. Perhaps eventually the estate will choose to make every studio session available, maybe via online streaming or some other format. But until that day, we will simply have to content ourselves with these flawed, yet nevertheless precious recordings.