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Experience Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Valley of Neptune’

Valleys of Neptune" reveals an audio view of what Hendrix was up to musically in a critical period of his life

by Harvey Kubernik

Janie Hendrix, the CEO of Experience Hendrix LLC, and Sony Music Entertainment’s Legacy Recordings launched their monumental 2010 Jimi Hendrix Catalog Project on March 9 with the release of "Valleys Of Neptune."

The newly curated album of 12 fully realized studio recordings features more than 60 minutes of music never commercially available on a Hendrix album.

The project focuses around tracks recorded during a pivotal and turbulent four-month period in 1969.

"Valleys of Neptune" unveils the original Jimi Hendrix Experience’s final studio recordings, (Hendrix, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding) as the trio lays down the foundation for its follow-up to Electric Ladyland, alongside first sessions with bassist Billy Cox, an old army buddy he’d recruited into his new ensemble.

"Valleys of Neptune" is previously unreleased Hendrix music, originally recorded and mixed for this historic release by Hendrix’s longtime engineer Eddie Kramer, who first worked with the guitarist on his debut Are You Experienced? album in 1967.

"Valleys of Neptune" reveals an audio view of what Hendrix was up to musically in the critical period between the release of Electric Ladyland in October 1968 and the 1970 opening of his own Electric Lady Studios in Greenwich Village, the state-of-the-art facility where he would begin his final project, the album First Rays of the New Rising Sun.

"Valleys of Neptune" is produced by Janie Hendrix, John McDermott (who contributes detailed liner notes to the album) and Kramer.

“The idea was to look at a really interesting period of Jimi’s career,” presents John McDermott. “It’s about the Jimi Hendrix legacy. We look at it as an important piece of the puzzle. We had spent the last few years sort of enhancing and improving the classic iconic live things like Woodstock and Monterey and so here let’s turn back towards the studio. Let’s again focus on a time period that is really important in terms of the development of Jimi’s career.

“You discover the root is the songs. The songs are wonderful. They connect and continue to inspire. They’re great. The cool thing about Jimi Hendrix that particularly young fans should understand is that he had the foresight to own his own master recordings. He did not record at his record company’s studio like The Beatles did, for example. He did not have an engineer who was a union employee and who would look at a clock, ‘OK Jim, you got to go. Somebody else is coming in at 11.’ He was a guy used the studio as a tool to write and create.”

About his product collaborations with Janie Hendrix and Eddie Kramer, McDermott also adds, “We have the benefit of continuity. And that Janie, Eddie and I have worked together now for 12 years. And we’ve been able to not only plot out releases that we want to focus on but cast the net to find cool things. And so we’re not beholden to anybody to put records out. So in this process we mixed some things, kept going, found like a couple of gems, and said, ‘This fits perfectly here. That’s going to be part of the record.’ ‘Ships Passing Through The Night’ is one such example. That is what informs a lot of the decision making. You get gifts like that,” reflects McDermott.

Housed in the "Valleys of Neptune" album are songs that include the final studio recordings birthed by the original Jimi Hendrix Experience (after Electric Ladyland, in addition to capturing Hendrix’s initial efforts to forge a new sound equation with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox).

The 2010 March release includes unearthed studio covers of Elmore James’ classic “Bleeding Heart” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” as well as original Hendrix compositions like the aforementioned “Ships Passing Through The Night,” “Lullaby For The Summer” and the original un-dubbed Jimi Hendrix Experience rendition of “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

Also included in "Valleys of Neptune" is “Mr. Bad Luck,” a Jimi Hendrix Experience track produced by Chas Chandler during the 1967 Axis: Bold As Love sessions. There’s also a recording of “Stone Free” that Hendrix produced with vocal overdubs courtesy of Family’s Roger Chapman and Andy Fairweather Low.

“Jimi would re-visit songs — like ‘Stone Free,’” McDermott explains. “The cool thing is, which I think people have to understand, is that it’s a signature song to the audience at large. No doubt about it. It was the first song he wrote for The Experience and [it ’s] on the B-side of ‘Hey Joe’ but not included in the debut U.S. Reprise Records U.S. Are You Experienced? album.

“He did it quickly because it was all that they could afford. And by 1969 he had brought it back to his live set and said, ‘You know what? America and the world have not really heard this song.’

“And ‘Stone Free’ also shows the role of Eddie Kramer. I think the wonderful thing about Eddie — and he is such an asset to the work we do; we’re grateful to have him — is that I’ve been through every tape in the library. And when Jimi wanted to be serious about something, you can tell it’s a session Eddie is involved with, because there’s a communication between the two of them. You can hear it on the session tapes. They are working towards something. Like ‘Stone Free,’ for example. When they brought Billy (Cox) in, they did a few sessions with Billy playing with other people, jamming a little bit, but when it was time to get serious, Jimi called Noel in and called Mitch in and they cut ‘Stone Free.’ And you know it’s time to get to business.”

The first wave of products for the Jimi Hendrix Catalog Project, Legacy Recordings released on March 9 new deluxe CD/DVD editions of "Are You Experienced?," "Axis: Bold As Love," "Electric Ladyland" and "First Rays of the New Rising Sun," also available on vinyl.

Each of the subsequent titles in the Hendrix catalog planned for reissue on Legacy will feature a bonus DVD featuring newly created documentaries directed by Grammy-award-winning director Bob Smeaton [“Beatles Anthology,” “Festival Express,” “Beatles: The Studio Recordings”] and featuring interviews with Experience members Redding, Mitchell and Cox, original producer Chandler and engineer Kramer.