Jimi Hendrix – Looking Back on a Banner Year for Collectors

Hendrix - Hear My Train - DVD Super Jewel CoverIt’s been a banner year for Jimi Hendrix collectors.  An expensive one, granted, but a banner year all the same.

It began back in the spring with the release of People, Hell and Angels, the latest twelve track compilation of unreleased masters and out-takes to be garnered from what truly feels like a bottomless vault.  For the most part, we’re looking at the rudiments of Hendrix’s proposed successor to Electric Ladyland, the Record Plant sessions that drew the Band of Gypsies in alongside him; or the post-Woodstock efforts of Gypsy Sun & Rainbows.  But while many of the titles should be familiar to all… “Izabella,” “Crash Landing,” “Bleeding Heart,” “Hear My Train A-Coming”… the performances most certainly aren’t.  There are some dramatic gems here, among them a scintillating “Hey Gypsy Boy,” and “Mojo Man,” recorded with Ghetto Fighters Albert & Arthur Allen.

It has been reported that this will be the last album of unreleased Hendrix studio material, in which case, the series has gone out on a very high note.  But don’t just pick up the CD and leave it at that.  Grab the double vinyl LP version instead, and just marvel at the packaging.  An impressive gatefold sleeve, a booklet that feels like you’re reading something, and not just squinting at a row of tiny squiggles; and a mastering job that actually feels (and sounds) masterful.

People was not Hendrix’s sole new vinyl arrival.  Mono editions of the Experience’s first two American albums, Are You Experienced and Axis, Bold As Love, plus their debut 45, “Hey Joe,” also appeared in March, with the albums arriving as individually numbered limited editions reproducing the original front and back art work, then adding an inner bag that provides liner notes and period photographs.

Unwrapping the debut LP is less of a “all-my-birthdays” experience than People, Hell and Angels delivers, because that’s how it was in the day.  Reprise did not break the bank on packaging these albums, and those of us who demand note-perfect reproductions have long since learned to be careful what we wish for.  Axis is better, that gloriously “hey man, it’s 1967” sleeve opening up to reveal white on black lyrics and images on the gatefold.  But  it’s the music that really matters here… and ah, the music.

More than anything else Hendrix achieved in the studio, Are You Experienced tells you everything you need to know about the seismic ruptures he sent shattering through the rock aristocracy of 1966, 1967.   Particularly the US edition, where “Red House”, “Can You See Me” and “Remember” were sliced off the UK release, to make way for the singles “Purple Haze”, “Hey Joe” and “The Wind Cries Mary.”  Which themselves had such impact that they alone are worth the weight of a full LP.

Add the spectral science-fiction that whips “Third Stone From The Sun”; the epochal “Foxey Lady,” “Manic Depression” and “Fire,” and a title track whose subdued sexuality still seethes almost fifty years on, and – for once! – those “best album” polls that rate it so highly do know what they’re talking about.  In an age that was positively lousy with great songwriters and littered with stellar performers, Hendrix rewrote the parameters of both, fusing the blues not with rock to create psychedelia (which was basically what everyone else was doing), but with psychedelia itself.  And in so doing, he established the template for great swathes of rock’n’roll’s future.

He wasn’t a bad guitarist, either.

Another month (or so), another release.  The so-called “Purple Box,” originally released to all-round glee back in 2000, won a reissue that added four tracks, including one previously unreleased, to the already bristling pageant of rarities and odds.  And while the fan club mourned the cancellation of a proposed release for the 1969 Royal Albert Hall movie and music, Experience Hendrix moved fast to serve up a worthy replacement.

The Experience’s May 18 1968 performance at the Miami Pop Festival has oft been referred to as one of the band’s most incendiary performances, not only for the strength of the playing, but also for the first ever recorded  airings of “Tax Free” and “Hear My Train A-Coming.”

Add “Fire” and “Foxey Lady” recorded earlier in the day; a double vinyl package released alongside the CD; combustible renditions of “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze”; a chunky booklet packed with previously unseen photos; and, just last weekend, a Record Store Day 45 of “Fire”; and Miami Pop Festival pushes ruthlessly to the head of any list of essential Hendrix live albums.

And that’s still not the end, because three performances from the Miami show also lead off the bonus features accompanying the Hear My Train A-Coming DVD, a career-length documentary that matches rare (and phenomenal) footage with a wealth of interviews, to stand alongside what had hitherto been the king of Jimi documentaries, Joe Boyd’s 1973 masterpiece Jimi Hendrix.

There’s not too many surprises in the actual storytelling, but home and archive film footage, photos and memorabilia tell the tale with unsurpassed clarity.  Then, returning to the bonus footage, previously unseen color footage from the 1970 New York Pop Festival and what became Hendrix’s last ever performance, at the Isle of Fehmarn in Germany deliver highlights that are at least on a par with the main feature.

One more treat awaits, in the form of a couple of minutes-long clip from the BBC’s Top of the Pops, on March 30, 1967.  It was not his first appearance on the British box (that honor went to Ready Steady Go the previous December), nor on TOTP itself – again, there was an appearance in December, with “Hey Joe” awaiting release.  Back then, though, Hendrix was still a star-in-the-making, an unknown quantity to all except those who’d had a chance to see him in concert around London.

Now he was everyone’s property, and it mattered not a sausage that the show went out in black-and-white.  To everybody watching, then and today, the world had just exploded into technicolor glory.

 

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