Hendrix’s studio legacy comes full circle with ‘People, Hell and Angels’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jimi Hendrix recorded everything. More than 40 years after his death, though, the tape is finally running out.

“People, Hell & Angels” is the last album of Hendrix’s unreleased studio material, according to Eddie Kramer, the engineer who recorded most of Hendrix’s music during his brief but spectacular career. That ends a four-decade run of posthumous releases by an artist whose legacy remains as vital and vibrant now as it was at the time of his death.

“Jimi utilized the studio as a rehearsal space,” Kramer said. “That’s kind of an expensive way of doing things, but thank God he did.”

JimiHendrix_PeopleHellAngels_WEBThe 12 tracks on “People, Hell & Angels” were recorded in 1968-69, after the Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded. There’s a changeable roster of backing musicians, including Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, who briefly became Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies. Stephen Stills even popped up on bass on one track. It was a difficult period for Hendrix. His business and creative endeavors became entangled, and he retreated to the studio to seek inspiration.

“Jimi used that time in the studio to experiment, to jam, to rehearse, and using this jam-rehearsal style of recording enabled him to try different musicians of different stripes and backgrounds, because they offered a musical challenge to him,” Kramer said. “He wanted to hear music expressed with different guys who could lend a different approach to it. And as part of this whole learning curve, what emerged was this band that played at Woodstock in ’69, that little concert on the hill there.”

Many of the songs have been heard in different versions or forms before, but the music here is funkier than his best-known work — at times sinuous, at times raucous. Horns pop up here and there; he challenges a saxophone to a fist fight on “Let Me Move You.” Then he channels James Brown on “Mojo Man” and ends the album as if shutting down a club on a lonely stretch of highway with “Villanova Junction Blues.”

Hendrix died shortly after making the last of these recordings. He’d already disbanded the players and was working with the Experience again when he died in 1970.

Jimi Hendrix publicity photo

The last of the studio albums was timed for this year, when Hendrix would have turned 70. But the 43 years  that have passed since his death have done nothing to dim his influence. Hendrix has remained a pop-culture fixture in much the same way as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Still a radio staple, his image and music pops up often in commercials.

There’s a biopic on the way with Andre Benjamin tackling the lead role. Even his out-there sense of fashion is relevant. His music, though, is what has inspired young guitarists to attack his work in an endless loop of rediscovery over the decades. Tastes and sounds may change, but Hendrix is never out of style. Maybe it’s because he was so far ahead of his time, we still haven’t caught up.

“He was a psychedelic warrior,” said Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. “He was one of those forces that pushed evolution. He was kicking the doors down. He was forcing the future into our ears.”

For Dickinson and his brother Cody, it was Hendrix’s post-apocalyptic psych-rock epic “1983 .. (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” that blew their minds. But Hendrix means different things to different musicians. He played the chitlin circuit in the South before being discovered as a rocker in Europe, and his music was steeped in the blues, R&B and jazz.

“As a songwriter, he had the thing like Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top) and a few current guys like Dan Auerbach or Jack White,” Dickinson said. “They have the ability to take a near-cliché blues guitar lick and turn it into a pop hook. Hendrix had that. That was one aspect. Also, he wrote some of the most beautiful guitar melodies. His ballads, there’s nothing to compare them to. Obviously he learned a lot from Curtis Mayfield and R&B music, but he took it so much farther.”

It’s that soulful side that first inspired Michael Kiwanuka, a young singer-songwriter who was seized by Hendrix just as forcefully as Dickinson ever was. Then 12 years old and just picking up the guitar, Kiwanuka saw Hendrix in a documentary paired back-to-back with his Woodstock performance. Unlike the Dickinsons, the rip-roaring psychedelia wasn’t the draw; it was the R&B-flavored classics, like “Castles Made of Sand” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” The child of Ugandan immigrants also was amazed by Hendrix’s natural hairstyle, which closely resembled his own.

“I’d never seen an African-American, a guy of African descent, playing rock music,” Kiwanuka said. “I was listening to bands like Nirvana and stuff at the time. That’s what got me into rock music — the electric guitar. Every time I saw a modern black musician it was like R&B, so I’d never seen someone play electric guitar in a rock way that was African. That inspired me as well on top of the music. And you think, ‘Oh, I could do that.’”

Although “People, Hell & Angels” may be the last studio album, it won’t be the last we will hear from Hendrix.

“We have tremendous amount of live recorded concerts in the vault,” Kramer said. “A lot of them were filmed, too, so be prepared in the next few years to see some fabulous live performances, one of which I’ve already mixed. We’re waiting for the release date — God knows when — but at some point in the future there’s a ton of great live material.”

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