All Along The Watchtower 45 by Jimi Hendrix

March 6, 2011

Very few people have taken a classic Bob Dylan composition and made it better. Today when a person thinks of “ALL Along The Watchtower,” it is Jimi Hendrix who comes to mind, rather than Bob Dylan.

“All Along The Watchtower” is rarely thought of as a single, but it proved to be the highest charting one of his career. Released September 21, 1968, it rose to number 20.

The vocal and the guitar work are some of the best of his career. The passion of the performance is overwhelming.

Hendrix’ short career would produce many memorable performances but this one was above the rest.

Valleys Of Neptune by Jimi Hendrix

March 13, 2010

Considering that Jimi Hendrix only released three studio albums during his lifetime, its amazing how much material has been unearthed during the forty years since his death. Valleys Of Neptune is the eleventh album of new studio material to be released posthumously.

The Legacy Label and the Hendrix Estate has embarked upon what they are calling The Jimi Hendrix Catalog Project. 2010 finds his three lifetime studio albums being reissued as deluxe CD/DVD editions, plus his greatest hits album Smash Hits is being remastered. The gem of this first wave of releases is Valleys Of Neptune which contains seven previously unreleased studio tracks and five more new recordings of some well known songs.

The material was recorded in 1969 after the release of Electric Ladyland using a variety of back-up musicians. While the album may not have a musical cohesiveness, the individual tracks are universally excellent.

The album contains only two cover songs, but both are brilliant. The old Elmore James tune, “Bleeding Heart,” was originally released on 1972’s War Heroes, but here it returns in an extended version at about twice the length. Hendrix remains true to its original style and treats it as a slow blues tune. He gives an incendiary performance on Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love.” There is no vocal, just Hendrix laying down the guitar licks which was his genius. He takes off from the original structure several times, but always brings the sound back home.

The title track is one of the legendary missing Hendrix songs. He would keep going back to the song but it would undergo a number of changes as he fiddled with it for about a year. Long time drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox join him for this sophisticated and smooth flowing song.

“Stone Free” was first introduced to the world as the flip side of the single “Hey Joe.” This version was recorded during April and May of 1969 and again includes Mitchell and Cox. The sound is much better than its first incarnation. It is the albums lead track and Hendrix’ clear guitar style is immediately recognizable.

Whether its old friends such as “Fire” and “Red House,” or new delights such as “Ships Passing Through The Night,” “Lullaby For The Summer,” or “Crying Blue Rain,” they all present Jimi Hendrix at the top of his game in the studio.Valleys Of Neptune is a worthy addition to the Hendrix catalog and is essential for any collector of his music.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Box Set)

March 23, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set is not for the faint of heart. This four CD box set of unreleased tracks, alternate versions of well known songs, and rare concert footage is a cornerstone of any Hendrix collection. This box set is no place to start if you are not familiar with Hendrix. I would recommend his first three studio albums for any type of Hendrix indoctrination. This set, however, is a good place to complete your collection or at least to explore his legacy a little deeper.

Engineer Eddie Kramer was in charge of the project. He is a familiar figure as his posthumous Hendrix production credits go back to The Cry Of Love in 1971. The tracks sound terrific as he re-mastered the sound with modern equipment which gives the music a polished feel. He also presents the tracks in chronological order which is always welcome with projects this extensive.Disc one finds three unreleased tracks. “Title #3,” “Taking Care Of Business,” and “Here He Comes” may not be of the quality of Hendrix’ first album but they certainly present his musical vision circa 1967. The gems of this first disc are alternate versions of such classics as “Purple Haze,” “Foxey Lady,” and “Third Stone From The Sun” which give a glimpse into the creative mind of Jimi Hendrix.

Disc two presents some excellent live tracks. “Fire” is taken from a 1968 concert at Clark University in Massachusetts. It is a frenetic version that shows just how technically sound Hendrix was as a guitarist. “The Wind Cries Mary,” from a 1967 Paris concert, shows Hendrix’s softer side as he provides subtle and melodic improvisations. “Burning The Midnight Lamp” from September 5, 1967, is just Hendrix squeezing every possible sound from his guitar.

Disc three is dominated by alternate versions. It is nice to hear “Hear My Train A Comin’” as a formative track as it was a concert staple. “Spanish Castle” and “Room Full Of Mirrors” show subtle differences from the recognized versions. Live versions of “Little Wing” and “Voodoo Child” come complete with feedback and all sorts of distortion that only Hendrix could produce on stage.

Disc four is a feast of unreleased material. “Country Blues,” at over eight minutes, “Lover Man,” “Cherokee,” and “Slow Blues” all make their debuts. Hendrix’ early producer, Chas Chandler, did not approve of Alan Douglas’ changing Hendrix’s material and even taking writing credits during the twenty years that he controlled Hendrix’s catalogue of music. When Jimi’s family won back control in a court battle, Chandler turned over a treasure trove of unreleased material to them. “In From The Storm” and “Slow Blues” close out the set as they were recorded at the Isle Of Wight Music Festival, August 30, 1970, just prior to Hendrix’s death.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set is a valuable addition to the Hendrix legacy. Not only does it expand the music that Hendrix left behind but it also solidifies him as a genius of the guitar who forever changed the use of that instrument and rock music.

Live At Monterey by Jimi Hendrix

March 23, 2009

Live At Monterey is a CD issued last year that presents Jimi Hendrix’ complete concert at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Hendrix was a star in England, but was an unknown artist in the United States. The audience at his performance had no idea that they were in for a music changing event as Hendrix, in about 43 minutes, changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll in the United States.

The music contained on this CD had been presented a number of times. There have been two different CD releases of which I am aware. Also some of the music appeared on the Monterey Pop Festival’s 30th anniversary box set. The quality of the sound has always been an issue.

While this CD purports to have cleaned it up and re-mastered it as much as possible; it just comes back to the issue that the recording equipment in use was not up to even 1967 standards. What this CD does have in its favor is that it retained all of Hendrix’s patter and conversation.

Hendrix kicks off his performance with “Killing Floor.” Mitch Mitchell’s drumming is always an interesting part of any Hendrix live show. Here he plays alongside Hendrix rather than playing behind him. He was an important and constant part of Hendrix’ sound as he provided the filler in Hendrix’ power trio format.

“Foxey Lady” is the familiar Hendrix. Psychedelic rock meets rock ‘n’ roll meets rhythm & blues, all propelled by his guitar wizardry. “Like A Rolling Stone” is a straight forward presentation of this Dylan classic. Hendrix is loyal to the structure and melody while providing appropriate guitar improvisations.

“Rock Me Baby” just rolls over the listener in waves. Hendrix is in straight rock mode here with some odd tuning of his guitar to provide a unique sound. “The Wind Cries Mary” is one of my favorite Hendrix tunes be it live or in the studio. The laid back but creative guitar playing is always a welcome relief in the frenetic Hendrix universe. “Purple Haze” is a live signature song by Hendrix and the use of distortion and feedback while maintaining the songs structure is always unique. Hendrix ends the concert with his memorable rendition of “Wild Thing” in which he burns his guitar at the end.

Live At Monterey and the live Band Of Gypsys albums are probably the two essential live albums by Jimi Hendrix. Live At Monterey also has a historic significance as it was his coming out party. As such, it should be a part of any Jimi Hendrix collection.

Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning by Jimi Hendrix

March 22, 2009

1975 saw the release of two more Jimi Hendrix studio albums. I remember being excited about the prospect of more Hendrix in the studio. I had assumed the supply of unreleased studio tracks had been exhausted. While Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning may not have been as strong as previous posthumous releases; there were still some interesting and quality tracks. Those were my thoughts before I realized just how the two albums had actually been put together.

This brings us to the controversial figure; producer Alan Douglas. He would somehow acquire control of the Jimi Hendrix catalogue and hold on to it for nearly twenty years; until Hendrix’s family would win control back after an extended court battle. Douglas would take un-issued tracks by Hendrix and erase everything except for Jimi’s contributions. He would then bring in studio musicians and create songs more in tune with his own vision.

Crash Landing was released in March of 1975 and was the first of the Alan Douglas productions. What would further anger a lot of Hendrix fans was Douglas taking a co-writing credit on five of the songs. The album would become a top five hit and make Douglas a rich man.

It is difficult at times to understand Jimi Hendrix’ original intent for these songs. I find it best to approach and appreciate them as they are presented. “Captain Coconut” is a classic Hendrix psychedelic tune. “Come Down Hard On Me” is almost straight blues and features him at his guitar best. “Message Of Love” and “Stone Free Again” may not be classics but they certainly feature some high points for him.

Midnight Lightning would be nowhere near as popular as Crash Landing. Douglas did not take any writing credits but again would erase all the contributions by Noel Redding, Billy Cox, Buddy Miles, and Mitch Mitchell. He even used this approach on the Noel Redding composition, “Trashman.”Midnight Lightning may be the weakest of the Hendrix studio releases. “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Here My Train A Comin’” pale next to the previously released live versions. “Midnight Lightning” does have some nice Hendrix guitar work but “Gypsy Boy,” “Once I Had A Woman,” and “Iszabella/Machine Gun” are only average at best and suffer from Douglas’ tinkering.

Many of the songs contained on Midnight Lightning and Crash Landing were re-released after 1995 and restored to their original intent as much as possible. These two albums are for the Hendrix aficionado only as they are interesting but ultimately are two of the weakest in the Hendrix inventory.

Rainbow Bridge and Hendrix In The West by Jimi Hendrix

March 22, 2009

Rainbow Bridge was released in October of 1971 and was the second album of left over studio tracks to be issued following Jimi Hendrix’ death. The tracks contained on this album, when combined with those on his previously released The Cry Of Love, completed the finished songs that were to be released on Hendrix’ planned, but ultimately unfinished, double album.

These songs were played with his last group of musicians: bassist Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell. While Mitchell and Cox had only been playing together for a few months, they seemed a good fit and Hendrix appeared comfortable with this combination.

Mitch Mitchell and Eddie Kramer produced the album, as they had done with The Cry Of Love, and reached a little a little deeper into the Hendrix catalogue of unreleased material.

“Dolly Dagger” leads off the album and is a strong track. It is a thundering and literally overwhelming rock song. Hendrix produced a guitar sound that just comes at the listener in waves and assaults the senses. I have to say, I prefer the Woodstock live version of the “Star Spangled Banner” to the one contained here. “Earth Blues,” “Hey Baby” and the creative “Room Full Of Mirrors” all show Hendrix exploring new musical directions.

There were only six new studio tracks available so Mitchell and Kramer added a rousing live version of “Hear My Train A Comin’” which was performed at a Berkeley concert on May 30, 1970 and “Look Over Yonder” which was recorded in 1968.Rainbow Bridge was an album of very good individual parts that did not really hang together as a whole. The album was another big seller reaching gold record status. While it is now out of print, all the tracks can be found on the CD release, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun.

Hendrix In The West was released February 12, 1972. The eight tracks contained on this live album were taken from concerts recorded in 1969 and 1970. Three songs featured the original Jimi Hendrix Experience and the other five the Mitchell/Cox combination.

“Red House” at thirteen minutes and “Voodoo Chile” at close to eight minutes gave Hendrix room to stretch and improvise. “Red House,” in particular, shows Hendrix’ brilliance of exploring a songs structure without completely leaving it. Interestingly these are two of the tracks that feature the original Experience.

I have always liked Hendrix’ presentation of the two rock classics “Johnny B. Goode” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Move over Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. Hendrix is true to the structure of the songs but his guitar sound and improvisation add layers and new textures to these familiar tunes.

Hendrix In The West is another album of excellent parts. The songs are pieced together from four different performances and so tend to be mini concerts in themselves. Each song should be appreciated as they present Jimi Hendrix at his best.

The Cry Of Love by Jimi Hendrix

March 21, 2009

Jimi Hendrix died September 18, 1970. He had been in the studio recording tracks for his next album until about a month before his passing and was as proficient in the recording studio as he was on stage.

He was also a perfectionist and would leave behind multiple takes of many of his songs. He would also write and develop songs while he was recording as there would be tracks of the same song that would be far different from each other. Very few artists left behind as much studio material as did Hendrix. There was also a treasure-trove of live material that had been recorded over the years. In fact, live material and concerts are still being discovered.

The Cry Of Love was issued March 5, 1971 and was the first album to be released after his death. Some of the tracks may have a somewhat unfinished feel but there were also some that were polished and rank with the best that Hendrix ever produced. The tracks, except for one, would find Hendrix recording with former Experience drummer, Mitch Mitchell and Band Of Gypsy’s bassist, Billy Cox. It would be Mitchell and Eddie Kramer who would produce the album.

The Cry Of Love can only give us an incomplete picture of the mind of Jimi Hendrix and the musical direction he was traveling. The ten songs that Mitchell and Kramer chose for the album find Hendrix still experimenting and pushing the limits of the guitar sound to places that had never been traveled but also find a new sophistication of lyrics plus some structured underlying melodies.

The ballads, “Drifting” and “Angel” are probably the strongest tracks. “Drifting” contains some of the best lyrics that Hendrix would write. There is a poetic quality to them and they paint a poignant picture with words. “Angel” features some subtle slow guitar playing that if far from the frenetic style for which he was famous.

“Ezy Rider” and “Up From The Storm” are classic Hendrix rockers. “Ezy Ryder” would appear in a number of incarnations over the years and gives a good look into the various stages of Hendrix’ creative process. “Freedom” combines guitar virtuosity and a melodic structure. “My Friend” was recorded at the Electric Ladyland sessions in 1968 and provides a good counterpoint to the other material contained on the album. “Belly Button Window” was recorded August 22, 1970 and is probably the last studio track that Hendrix ever produced.

The Cry Of Love would be a huge seller and reached number 3 on the national music charts. It may not have been Hendrix’ best album but it is still very good. It has the historical value of providing some of the last material that Hendrix would put on tape. All in all, The Cry Of Love is an essential part of the Jimi Hendrix musical legacy.

Band Of Gypsies by Jimi Hendrix

March 21, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience had disbanded. Late 1969 found Jimi Hendrix recording with bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. This configuration would only last for a short time. Mitch Mitchell would return and replace Miles as Hendrix’ drummer a few months before his death.

Band Of Gypsys was released in 1970 and rose to Number 5 on the national charts. It seems that Hendrix owed the Capitol label an album of new material to fulfill some sort of legal obligation. Hendrix, Cox and Miles recorded four concerts at the Fillmore East on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. Hendrix pulled six songs from this series of performances to form his new album. Interestingly, he used two Buddy Miles compositions so as not to waste more of his own. Band Of Gypsys was the only live album released during Jimi Hendrix’ lifetime.

Band Of Gypsys contains one of the best live performances that Jimi Hendrix ever recorded. “Machine Gun,” which clocks in at over 12 minutes, was a political statement concerning Jimi Hendrix’ views about the Vietnam war. Hendrix would use a wah-wah guitar sound, fuzztones and all sorts of feedback to actually create the sounds of war. It is creative, exhilarating, exhausting and ultimately brilliant.

“Who Knows” finds Hendrix moving in a completely different direction. This song had a funky fell with an easy flowing solo by Hendrix. It was a song suited to Buddy Miles. Miles was a great drummer but he was more melodic and funky than Hendrix would need long term. The jazz foundation of Mitch Mitchell would ultimately be a better match for Hendrix but on this song everything would come together for both.

“Power Of Soul” and “Message To Love” would move at a slower pace and find Hendrix creating some of the most sophisticated lyrics of his career. This mellow Hendrix features some tasty and melodic guitar excursions. “Changes” is probably Buddy Miles best know song. Hendrix quickly slips into the original groove and makes a few controlled improvisations before returning to the melody. “We Gotta Live Together” is not presented in its entirety. A ten-minute version would surface after Hendrix’ death and is far superior to the five minute version presented here.

Jimi Hendrix was not pleased with the Band Of Gypsys album. He may have been too critical of himself as it contains some excellent live performances. It also shows what kind of guitar sounds that Hendrix could create outside the studio. In the last analysis, Band Of Gypsys presents an accurate picture of the live Hendrix just prior his death.

Smash Hits by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

March 20, 2009

The title Smash Hits may have been a reach as Jimi Hendrix was only about two years and three albums into his recording career. He also had produced only one Top 20 single. Smash Hits did provide a good introduction to the music of Jimi Hendrix back in early 1969. The album confined itself to small two and three minute bursts of energy. Much of the jamming and creative far out experimentation is eliminated in favor of shorter songs. The album may have been repetitive and released to make some money for the Reprise label but it and Are You Experienced were Hendrix’ best selling albums during his lifetime.

Smash Hits contained six songs from Are You Experienced, two from Electric Ladyland and amazingly none from Axis: Bold As Love. The album was filled out with tracks that had been previously released in England but were not available in the United States up until that time.

Are You Experienced is an essential listening experience for any fan of rock music. While I would recommend that album over this one by far; if you want a place to start the six songs provided here are fine. Any album that contains “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Hey Joe,” “Manic Depression” and “Foxy Lady” is way ahead of the average.

Electric Ladyland donates “Crosstown Traffic” and “All Along The Watchtower.” “Crosstown Traffic” is rock ‘n’ that is not only innovative but also interesting. The tone of Hendrix’ guitar and the energy he brings to the song are still creative and exciting 35 plus years later. Hendrix even plays the kazoo and makes it work. “All Along The Watchtower” is a signature Hendrix performance and was his highest charting single release. Hendrix was an experimental wizard and here he takes Dylan’s song and gives it one of the best rock performances in history.

Four songs would make their American debut on Smash Hits. “Red House” would go through a lot of incarnations during the career of Jimi Hendrix. This song was a concert staple and would provide a jumping off place for Hendrix’ guitar excursions. The version presented here is a straight forward blues original. “Remember” is a mid-tempo track that has a moody feel. “Can You See Me” and “Stone Free” are both straight forward rockers.

Smash Hits has been made obsolete by a number of different reissues over the years. Still this album served the purpose of introducing a lot of people to the music of Jimi Hendrix and for that reason alone it should be accepted as an important link in the Hendrix musical legacy.

Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

March 20, 2009

So what did Jimi Hendrix do after he created a spectacular debut album and an equally brilliant follow-up? He released one of the best rock albums in history.

Electric Ladyland was a sprawling two disc affair that found Jimi Hendrix bringing his technical studio wizardry to rock, blues, and pure psychedelic music. The extended length of the album allowed Hendrix more room for jamming and improvisation. He had started to pull away from the confines of the basic guitar, bass, and drums of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as an array of additional instruments appear in many of the songs.

“And The Gods Made Love” starts the musical process and finds Hendrix just getting warmed up for the three songs that will follow. “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” is a title that sums up his music in 1968. No one had ever had a musical vision similar to his; so there was no one who had ever visited Electric Ladyland. The song was a slow rhythm & blues number with a soulful vocal.

“Crosstown Traffic” just blasts out of the speakers. The guitar tone is unique on this scintillating track. I have listened to this song hundreds of times over the years but still find fresh nuances. “Voodoo Chile” is a 15 minute tour de force for Hendrix to jam on his guitar. It features Steve Winwood on the organ and bassist Jack Casady from The Jefferson Airplane. While both are accomplished musicians, here they only serve the purpose of providing back-up as Hendrix takes the guitar sound to places previously unexplored.

Electric Ladyland’s best known track, and deservedly so, is the cover Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.” Dylan’s songs have probably been recorded tens of thousands of times but this may be the definitive cover. Dylan himself is said to have preferred this version over his own. The opening guitar lines, the vocal interpretation of the lyrics, and Hendrix taking off on one of his guitar excursions all add up to classic rock ‘n’ roll. “All Along The Watchtower” may not be Hendrix at his experimental best but it may be the best Hendrix ever offered.

“1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” is a lost gem in the vast Hendrix catalogue. It is science fiction for the ears. “Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)” is the old Earl King blues song. He remains true to its blues roots until taking the song in a psychedelic rock direction in the middle with the use of a wah-wah guitar sound. “House Burning Down” is a political statement, but he incorporates all types of feedback to enhance his message. “Burning The Midnight Lamp” finds him back in guitar experimentation mode.

“Voodoo Child” is the last song on the album and many people trace the evolution of hard rock through this track. It is a driving guitar feast but I will always remember the lyrics; “If I don’t meet you no more in this world, then I’ll meet you in the next one, don’t be late, don’t be late.”

Electric Ladyland would be the last studio album Hendrix would release during his lifetime. Given the vastness of the types of music and the continued experimentation; it is difficult to say where he might have gone musically had he lived.

All in all, Electric Ladyland can be considered to be the mother ship of Jimi Hendrix’ musical legacy. The best way to appreciate this album is not to read about it, but rather to listen and experience it.