It’s a sobering thought, but Nov. 27, 2008, marks what would have been the 66th birthday of Jimi Hendrix, just a couple of months after we finished mourning the 38th anniversary of his death.
And it still boggles the mind to consider just how much he accomplished during his time on earth, all the more so when you remember that the vast majority of it was actually banged down in less than two years.
“Hey Joe,” his first (British) hit 45, was recorded in December 1966, and Electric Ladyland, his third final studio album, was released in October 1968. Two years, eight full sides of long-playing vinyl (Electric Ladyland was, of course, a double), sufficient singles and B-sides to stuff a greatest hits disc, and that is before we even think about the hours and hours worth of studio outtakes and live material that have since kept the Hendrix catalog ticking over with more life than many artists with careers 10 times as long.
Certainly the last decade has been a great time to be a Hendrix collector. Ever since they assumed control of the Hendrix estate in the mid-1990s, his family’s own Experience Hendrix foundation has been diligently working to cut through the confusion (not to mention bulk) wrought by the activities of earlier administrations, reissuing and remastering each of his core albums, while supplementing the catalog with a host of live and unreleased recordings.
It is an unsurpassable legacy. Through the 1970s and 1980s, after all, a “new” Hendrix album tended to comprise a couple of handfuls of outtakes, drawn from across the four years he spent with the Reprise label (Polydor/Track in the U.K.), mixed and sometimes remixed by a variety of passing souls, and then shoved into the marketplace with little or no annotation.
War Heroes, Midnight Lightning, Crash Landing… one such set was titled Loose Ends, and the irony button must have been fully depressed when that particular title was conceived.
The material featured on those albums is still available today. But, it appears in a form that at least tries to approach that which Hendrix himself would have chosen and succeeds to such a degree that today, we have even been afforded a serious glimpse into what might have been Jimi’s fourth studio album, had he only lived to release it, The First Rays Of The Rising Sun.
As admirable as all this work has been, however, there is one thing to remember. Experience Hendrix’s efforts have concentrated exclusively upon those same four years, 1966-70, during which Hendrix was at his creative and commercial height. They completely overlook all that occurred at the opposite end of the chronological scale; more than that, they all but disown it, and certainly despise it.
This is not necessarily a terrible omission. The three years (1963-1966) worth of work with which Hendrix preceded his arrival in London represents one of the most convoluted corpuses in rock ’n’ roll history, a nest of snakes so venomous that no single record label has yet attempted to delve definitively into it.
There is some great music in there, and a lot that is worthy of our notice. But, Hendrix’s pre-fame career, what must have seemed the endless vacuum during which he worked as a mere sideman for whomever would employ him, also abounds with some absolute rubbish, and if you have spent any time browsing the Jimi bin in your friendly neighborhood used vinyl emporium, you will know exactly what we are talking about.
Hendrix received his discharge from the U.S. Army on July 2, 1962, walking out of Fort Campbell with nothin