Here My Train A Comin’ (DVD) by Jimi Hendrix

December 7, 2013

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During the past several years, Jimi Hendrix material has been flying out of the vaults. Hear My Train A Comin’ is the third Hendrix release that I have reviewed this year.

This film, originally a part of the PBS American Masters Series, is an excellent two-hour documentary of his life. There are home movies by drummer Mitch Mitchell, plus commentary by the likes of Paul McCartney, Billy Cox, Noel Redding, Dave Mason, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Gibbons, and more. Several of the participants have passed away, so this will be their final comments on the person and career of Jimi Hendrix.

The film follows him from his time in the U.S, Military, to his stints as an unknown sideman for Little Richard, Joey Dee, and the Isley Brothers, to the women in his life, and finally his life as a guitar superstar. Directed by Bob Smeaton, (The Beatles Anthology, Hendrix 70: Live At Woodstock), and mixed by former Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, the picture has a nice clarity with full 1080 high definition and the audio track features a 5.1 stereo sound.

The issue is, no matter how interesting this documentary may be, how many times will a person watch it? That is where the bonus tracks come in. Included are three previously unreleased color performances from different festivals, plus a March 30, 1967, performance of “Purple Haze” on the Top Of The Pops television program.

The best and most interesting of the bonus tracks are from his September 6, 1970, performance at the Love and Peace Festival on the Isle Of Fehmarn, Germany. “Killing Floor,” “Spanish Castle Magic,” “All Along The Watchtower,” and “Foxy Lady” may not have the picture quality of the rest of the material but they were the last performance of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as 12 days later he was dead.

Also included are three performances from the 1968 Miami Pop Festival and five from a July, 1970, appearance at the New York Pop Festival. There is nothing earth shattering but they help fill in the Jimmy Hendrix catalogue of performances.

Here My Train A Comin’ is a DVD with two distinct parts that fit together well as after watching the documentary, you are ready to actually see him play.  An excellent release for any fan of Hendrix.


People, Hell and Angels by Jimi Hendrix

February 26, 2013

More Jimi Hendrix from the vault will be released March 5, 2013. People, Hell and Angels gathers a dozen previously unreleased performances that focus on his work outside of the Experience. Sidemen Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, Stephen Stills, Lonnie Youngblood, Larry Lee, and a host of others (including Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell) all lend a hand on this disparate group of material.

While many of these tracks were never meant for public release, they feature some fine guitar play as they find Hendrix experimenting with new styles and sounds. Some tracks are stripped to basics but others add a second guitarist and other instruments to give them a fuller sound.

During December of 1969, Hendrix, bassist Billy Cox, and drummer Buddy Miles returned to the studio to record four tracks. One of the songs was “Earth Blues,” which was released on the Rainbow Bridge album after his death. It featured backing vocals by the Ronettes, guitar overdubbing, and Mitch Mitchell re-recording the drum parts. The song returns as a raw funky version featuring only the three primary musicians.

“Somewhere” is another song that has been released in a number of forms, all of which underwent studio tinkering after Hendrix’s death. This is a very precise rendition powered by Stephen Stills’ bass playing, which forms an underpinning for Hendrix’s wah-wah guitar sound.

Hendrix always had an affinity for the blues. He takes the old Elmore James tune “Bleeding Heart” and changes the tempo. It is Hendrix at his guitar best with only a basic rhythm section in support.

An interesting track is the nearly seven-minute “Let Me Move You,” recorded during March of 1969. During the mid-1960s Hendrix had been a session musician for Lonnie Youngblood and now the roles were reversed. Youngblood provided the vocal and his sax runs are the perfect foil for Hendrix and his guitar. The track also was one of the first times Hendrix used a 16-track recording process.

“Crash Landing” is another track that has undergone a number of transitions, the most famous being on the posthumous 1975 album that bears its name. That version featured overdubbing by studio musicians. This track has now been taken from the original master with drummer Rocky Isaac, bassist Billy Cox, and unfortunately an organist whose name has been lost to history. It has a stark and simpler feel from the versions that have preceded it.

Albert and Arthur Allen were friends with Hendrix and members of first The International G.T.O.’s and then the Ghetto Fighters. Hendrix invited them to sing background on “Freedom” and “Dolly Dagger.” They brought a third song with them, “Mojo Man.” Albert Allen provided the vocal and Hendrix both guitar parts, which were spliced together by his long time engineer Eddie Kramer.

People, Hell and Angels may not be a cohesive album but it provides insight into the mind of Jimi Hendrix as his time with The Experience came to an end. The liner notes give an excellent overview of each track


Live At Berkeley by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

July 11, 2012

Jimi Hendrix kept an odd schedule during the first part of 1970. He would spend weekdays in the recording studio and his weekends in concert with the Experience, which at the time consisted of bassist Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell. The only problem with this approach was the income stream had dried up a bit, and so it was decided to record a documentary film.

It was decided to record his two concerts at the Berkeley Community Theatre, Saturday, May 30, 1970, as the basis for the film. Experience Hendrix L.L. C. and Legacy Recordings are releasing a restored and expanded version of Jimi Plays Berkeley on both Blu-ray and DVD, July 10.

The company has gone the second mile with the resurrection of the concert. The entire second show, and the subject of this review, is being rereleased on CD. This concert by Hendrix is presented in its entirety and original sequencing. Since it is one complete concert, it gives an excellent picture into the live experience of Hendrix near the end of his life. There is a lot of Hendrix concert material out there, but this release moves to the forefront of what has been available and should please any fan.

The CD really communicates a concert experience. The show began with what Hendrix called an instrumental jam to make sure everything was in tune. “Pass It One” was a seven minute introduction to the evening’s music. This was a song in its early stages and would eventually evolve into “Straight Ahead.”

The material is a little different than the usual Hendrix concert fare as the famous was combined with some deeper catalogue songs. A laid back “Stone Free” and a slow and bluesy rendition of “Hey Joe” found Hendrix on familiar ground. The show piece was “Foxey Lady,” where played his guitar with his teeth and ground the strings against the microphone. By this time “The Star Spangled Banner” had become a regular part of his live show, which was always a showcase for his guitar virtuosity. A rollicking version of “Purple Haze” set up the concert closing “Voodoo Child,” which at over ten minutes was a virtual microcosm of Hendrix on stage.

“I Don’t Live Today” was a good example of Cox’s influence upon Hendrix and his music. He was a steady bassist and that fact allowed Hendrix to take off on his improvisations without worrying about a lack of foundational sound. “Machine Gun” contained one of those guitar solos that just need to be savored. “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” and “Lover Man” are both welcome additions to the live Hendrix experience and helped to bridge the gaps between the oft played material.

Had he lived, he would have turned 70 this year. While his material will no doubt continue to emerge and be rereleased, the Live At Berkeley CD is a fine addition the Hendrix legacy and is a worthwhile purchase for any Hendrix aficionado.

Article first published as Music Review: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Live At Berkeley on Blogcritics.


Winterland (CD Box Set) by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

September 17, 2011

The Jimi Hendrix Family and Trust (Experience Hendrix LLC), in conjunction with Legacy Recordings, has been reissuing the Jimi Hendrix catalogue. They will drop a big one on September 13th, when the four-disc box set The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Winterland will be released. For purists, it is also available as an eight-disc, 180 gram vinyl audiophile LP deluxe box set. If you just want a taste, there will be a single highlight disc as well.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience pulled into San Francisco for six shows at the historic Winterland Ballroom, October 10-12, 1968. This latest box set finds the Experience at the height of their performing powers. Each of the first three discs in the set are devoted to one days music, covering two shows. Yes, there is a repetition of material, but there are some differences as well. Disc one contains a cover of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” which is replaced on the second disc by Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” Disc three contains both songs in the set. “Killing Floor,” “Are You Experienced,” and “Wild Thing” only appear on one disc apiece.

On the other hand, staples such as “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “Lover Man” and “Fire” appear on all three discs, but given the improvisational nature of Jimi Hendrix’s live performances, there are always differences and it’s interesting to compare.

The fourth disc contains performances from all three days that were not previously contained on the first three discs. It is an odd approach, and while the music is always welcome, it is the least satisfying of the four discs. It does not have the flow of a real concert experience, but rather is a series of live tracks bundled together. The highlight of the disc was an interview with Hendrix backstage at the Boston garden a couple of weeks before the Winterland concerts.

The deluxe edition comes with a 36 page book, which contains a number of unpublished photographs by Robert Knight, Allan Tannenbaum, and Jim Marshall. It also contains an essay by journalist David Fricke of Rolling Stone Magazine.

The music has been remastered and the quality is much better than I remember when some of the material was previously released. The guitar sound has a better clarity as each individual note can be heard in detail. While the instrumental focus is still on Hendrix’s guitar, the volume of Mitch Mitchell’s drumming and Noel Redding’s bass work has been enhanced and is not lost in the mix. This is most important for Mitchell as his interplay with Hendrix was always an important component of the overall sound.

Many of the songs can be considered highlights. Hendrix’s take on “Sunshine Of You Love” is interesting to compare with Clapton’s. He twists Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in just about every way possible. “Foxey Lady” is an example of his guitar phrasing. “Wild Thing,” “Manic Depression,” and “Are You Experienced” contain hidden guitar lines that are seeing the light of day for the first time in years.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Winterland contains a lot of music. Hendix has been gone for over 40 years now, and it is a tribute to his genius that his music and guitar playing has withstood the test of time so well. This is an essential release for anyone even remotely interested in Hendrix’s 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.


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.