Jimi Hendrix – Midnight Lightning

Hendrix re-imagined for the ’70s

One cannot talk about Crash Landing without also including Midnight Lightning in the discussion. And for anyone who regarded the former as an abomination, imagine how they must have felt upon hearing this, its bastard brother? Midnight… was the second instalment of albums produced by the oft demonized Alan Douglas (with Tony Bongiovi riding shot-gun). But because Crash Landing had turned out to be such an unexpected commercial hit (it did break the US Top 10, almost unprecedented for a deceased artist, even Hendrix) the record company was naturally keen for another album, hoping to repeat its success. So once again Douglas sifted through the many hours of tape, compiling a selection of songs he thought were the most worthy.

From the outset, Douglas stated that his original concept had always been to release three studio albums. The first would showcase Hendrix’s pop-rock side; the second more blues oriented; while the third would highlight some of the guitarist’s jazz leanings (at the time Douglas declared that he had in his possession a lengthy jam session between Hendrix and a pre-Mahavishnu John McLaughlin). And true to his word, Midnight Lightning came close to fulfilling that promise. Well, nearly. Ultimately what resulted was a mishmash of unrelated recordings, none of which were ever finished or intended for official release (basically the vast bulk of the entire Hendrix tape library). However whilst most serious fans, then and now, don’t really seem to give a shit whether a song was actually completed, you can bet that Alan Douglas did.

The instrumental “Trashman” bursts out in quasi-metal fashion, replete with feedback and plenty of heavy distorted riffs. Its structure is somewhat reminiscent to “Midnight”, another instrumental recorded around the same time. After hearing the complete take on Hear My Music, it seems clear that it must have gone through a process of serious editing, not an easy thing back in the pre-Pro Tools era of 1975. It certainly has its moments, and while guitarist Jeff Mironov does a splendid job of playing alongside our departed maestro, it nevertheless has a certain counterfeit quality to it.

The title track was a strong contender for inclusion on his follow-up to Electric Ladyland. Whether Jimi would have eventually nailed down a finished master is anybody’s guess, but Douglas does his best with what was fundamentally nothing more than a formal rehearsal.

“Hear My Train a Comin” can be heard in its original (and far superior) form on Valleys of Neptune (an album not without its own controversies). Credit should be given to Douglas for at least attempting to highlight the importance of blues in Hendrix’s life and music. There are plenty of overdubs, but it’s Jimi’s playing which dominates, that, along with Mitch Mitchell’s drumming which Douglas chose to retain.

When the original recording of “Gypsy Boy” surfaced on bootleg some years ago, it was one of those gold nugget moments. I’d heard the Douglas version first, but the unadulterated version seemed so much better. But having said that, I still harbour a soft spot for this posthumous recreation, which not only complements yet actually enhances the haunted and atmospheric quality of the tune overall.

“Blue Suede Shoes” is a strange inclusion, even for this LP. A brief version first appeared on the badly conceived Loose Ends in 1973 (what were the producers smoking when they compiled that one?). That recording was nothing more than an impromptu jam between Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, who were just goofing about in the studio (while imbibing a tonne of weed in the process), so it must have taken a fair amount of work to get it to where it is here.

One often associates “Machine Gun” with the Band of Gypsys, although surprisingly an attempt had been made as early as August 1969 with the Gypsy Sun and Rainbows band, and it’s this version which Douglas chose to overhaul for Midnight Lightning. The chance of there being a multi-track studio version is an exciting thought, but don’t hold your breath. Like much of the material Hendrix laid down during that time, what we have is nothing more than a mere rehearsal or run through, which means that it has none of the explosive punch or fireworks of the rendition he performed at the Fillmore East from later that same year.

“Once I had a Woman” is a sluggish blues, and if one were ignorant of how it was put together, it actually works rather well. Douglas took what was essentially a casual jam and turned it into something a bit more professional sounding (not that I’m suggesting the means justified the ends).

Jimi’s performance of “Beginnings” (or “Jam Back at the House” as it was then known) was a scorching display of instrumental genius. This version, however enjoyable as it might be, lacks that ‘seat of the pants’ experience recorded at Woodstock, and remains somewhat anaemic in comparison.

While Douglas’ intentions were obviously well-meaning, his efforts at updating and polishing Jimi’s music were misleading and dare I say shifty, to say the least. But if one were to defend his actions, and somewhat ‘creative’ approach to making records, it could be argued that in an age of Elton John and ELO, most of those in the music business were probably of the opinion that the majority of the preceding decade’s cultural output would eventually be forgotten by all except a small coterie of aging hippies feverishly clinging to their dusty record collections. And if that appears weird to us today, in this era of remastering and endless reissues, just bear in mind that both Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding effectively sold off any potential future royalties based on the belief that in twenty years or so no-one would remember them, much less a pioneering guitarist who died too young. If only they knew.

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