Cosmic string theory unleashed upon an unprepared audience
By the early 1980’s, interest in Jimi Hendrix’s music was on the ascent. Not that the late pioneering guitarist had ever been short on admirers, since by the late ‘70s a new crop of young, aspiring guitar heroes was beginning to emerge, a generation of kids who were too young to attend Woodstock, and yet had nevertheless grown up on a serious diet of what is today known as ‘classic rock.’
Alan Douglas, the man who produced and oversaw every Hendrix album released between 1975 and 1995, had decided that the time was right to delve a little deeper into the archives, issuing a series of albums in the process, starting with the experimental Nine To The Universe (1980), the double LP The Jimi Hendrix Concerts (1982), Kiss The Sky (1984), Johnny B. Goode (1986), Jimi Plays Monterey (1986) and Band Of Gypsys 2 (1986).
Yet all those LPs would pale into comparison next to 1988’s Live At Winterland, a superb collection of performances culled from The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s three night stand at Bill Graham’s Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. At the behest of Jimi’s manager, Michael Jeffery, each of the group’s six shows were professionally recorded by renowned music engineer Wally Heider, in the hope that a live LP could be fashioned together as a follow up to Hendrix’s ambitious third album, Electric Ladyland.
However for some reason the tapes were stored away, and never revisited again. Not even when Eddie Kramer was sifting through various concert tapes, for what would ultimately become 1972’s In The West, strangely, the Winterland gigs were apparently not even considered, perhaps owing to Jeffery’s continuing stronghold over his deceased client’s posthumous legacy.
But no matter, because Douglas obviously deemed that there was enough music worthy of an official release, and not only that, but a double album to boot.
No tracks were chosen from the first show on the 10th, but from the second we have an extended “Killin’ Floor,” featuring Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady adding his fluid bass-lines (Casady had contributed bass on Jimi’s moody blues epic “Voodoo Chile,” from Electric Ladyland).
Jimi puts his hand out to the cosmos on a magnificent “Hey Joe,” like a late ‘60s Eddie Van Halen, pays homage to the recently disbanded Cream on “Sunshine Of Your Love,” followed by a raucous “Spanish Castle Magic.” Hendrix stretches himself on the all instrumental “Tax Free,” a recording which borders between brilliance and chaos, while winding things down on an inspired “Red House,” a concert staple since 1966 through to his final shows in 1970.
Both “Fire” and “Manic Depression” undercut Hendrix’s R&B/Jazz leanings in a way Eric Clapton could only have dreamt of, while crowd favourites “Foxy Lady” and “Purple Haze” (from October 11 and 12 respectively) are given the full fuzz-frenzy feedback Jimi was already renowned for, then “Wild Thing,” which brings the album to a hedonistic close.
Back when this record was compiled, who would have thought that rock music from 20 years before could sound so fresh and invigorating, especially at a time when much of popular music had become so sterile and synthetic. What Live At Winterland confirmed was that what had been happening in the 1960’s was arguably far more exciting than what was going on the ‘80s, as the Seattle grunge-rock scene was soon to prove.
If anything, Hendrix was a consummate musician and performer, something which Winterland proves in spades. Whether he was truly happy with his performances over those three nights remains unclear. Yes, there were some technical problems; instruments may have gone out of tune. Yet the true spirit and essence always shines through, as they do on this often thrilling, and joyously enthralling collection.