Jimi Hendrix was a HUMONGOUS influence on my guitar playing and he was also really fun to listen to. Even though his career was tragically cut short after only a few albums, there was a wealth of great guitar material contained on those albums and on some stuff (emphasis heavily on “some”) that was found “in the vaults” later. As part of a series I did on Jimi a few years ago, I reviewed all of the sonic stuff I have heard over the years, which I have now reproduced here, with a few additions.
Are You Experienced? ***** This isn’t just a disc, it’s a sonic adventure! And it is still amazing after all of these years even as pretty much everything else from 1967 has faded away. I’m of the opinion that this was Jimi’s strongest album and the one that let the world know that a) he was an incredible guitar player and b) there were all kinds of things the guitar and the recording studio could do that no one had really considered, much less recorded yet. The influence of this disc continues to be felt today across many genres of guitar and rock music even today.
Are You Experienced?, Third Stone from the Sun, I Don’t Live Today, the very underrated Love or Confusion, and the well-known Purple Haze and Manic Depression are all guitar workouts with Jimi showing what the instrument can do. There really isn’t a bad song here — even the very mellow May This Be Love has a beautiful outro solo. While many people who say that his later album Electric Ladyland is premier Jimi, I disagree. I don’t think he ever got any better than this and even today this is a completely amazing record, especially from a guitarist’s standpoint. There really haven’t been that many records released in the history of rock music that changed the landscape as totally as Are You Experienced?. No one has come along to make the “noise rock” of Third Stone from the Sun, I Don’t Live Today as cool and as accessible as it is here. While Jimi deserves most of the credit for this album, drummer Mitch Mitchell was almost his equal in every regard as he expanded the vocabulary and approach of modern rock drumming, taking it way beyond the simple rock and roll patterns of most players of the time. Even if you know all of these songs by heart, give the disc a spin in the headphones and relive the magic!
Axis: Bold As Love ****1/2 A very close second to Are You Experienced? Jimi, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding expanded on the brilliant music that made them famous and further redefined rock and guitar badassery. There are a couple of numbers that are a bit derivative (Ain’t No Telling and Little Miss Lover) but the best ones (If 6 Was 9, Little Wing, Spanish Castle Magic, Up From the Skies, Castles Made of Sand and the title cut) are amazing and Jimi’s use of the studio and various pioneering guitar effects (wah wah pedal, univibe, phasing, distortion) makes this almost as much of a groundbreaking record as his debut.
Electric Ladyland **** While many people believe “Ladyland” to be Jimi’s magnum opus, I disagree. Side 4 is brilliant, Side 2 is very good and combined with Side 4 would’ve made a great (single) third disc. Side 3 is kind of boring; the sound painting tale of Mermans is a total bad patchouli trip and the lyrics throughout on this album are really dated. Side 1’s 15-minute blues jam Voodoo Chile is too long and has likewise lyrics that really don’t work post-1970. Is the album ambitious? Yes. Some great tunes? Stellar playing? Absolutely! It’s Jimi Hendrix! All Along the Watchtower, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Crosstown Traffic, Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland), Gypsy Eyes, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, and House Burning Down are all classic, amazing Jimi. However, it is well-documented that at this point in his career Jimi felt he was ready to take on all aspects of what he was doing, including production and this album proves that wasn’t the case. Some really good editing would’ve made this a classic that would not sound dated today.
Band of Gypsies *** This disc is just so-so and the band was likewise. To me, anyone but Mitch Mitchell playing with Jimi was akin to anyone but John Bohnam or Keith Moon playing with Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend, respectively. There were some jazz drummers around at the time who could’ve also filled that seat, but Buddy Miles was certainly not a player of Jimi’s caliber. Also, some of the “songs” are really just jams that are trying to be Sly and the Family Stone or something. This era is often heralded as Jimi searching for a new sound or a change in direction, but I think in many ways he was floundering. Machine Gun and Them Changes are great and if nothing else this disc shows that Jimi’s capabilities as a live guitarist were never in doubt even if everything else was.
Jimi died in September of 1970 and everything that was released after that is very suspect. While there have been some bright spots, most of the material is exploitative and embarrassing. Outtakes assembled by douchebags at fly-by-night records companies and stolen live material that keeps “turning up” years after it had “gone missing”. Even “official” producers like Allan Douglas deserve nothing but contempt for the manner in which half-assed Jimi jams were layered with other players to create a pile of nonsense that was then packaged as another “Jimi Hendrix” album. For better or worse, Jimi was a perfectionist in his writing, playing, and even his live sound. He would be totally bummed at some of the stuff released after 1970 that, of course, he had absolutely no control over.
Cry of Love ***1/2 This a pretty good record and has some really great tunes: Freedom, Angel, Ezy Rider, In From the Storm, Drifting and Straight Ahead. Jimi more effectively merges that soul power sound of the early 70s with his total command of rock guitar. Completed post-1970 by engineer Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell it might not be exactly what Jimi would’ve done had he still been alive to complete it, but it is close. There are also no obvious acts of sabotage that would appear on subsequent releases. An important thing about this disc is that it proves that right up until the end Jimi was playing some absolutely amazing guitar and bringing great riffs into the studio.
Rainbow Bridge **1/2 A mix of studio and live stuff that would’ve been pretty good had it been finished. Dolly Dagger, Room Full of Mirrors, and Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) are good rips and there is some great guitar. The movie of the same name as this album, which was seen by me and every other Hendrix fanatic at a stoned-out midnight movie showing circa 1975-1985, was one of the dumbest things ever put to celluloid.
War Heroes ** A friend had this album but we didn’t play it much. It’s still the Experience players anyhow. I always liked Izabella, but not much else on this one.
Hendrix in the West ** Live album. Weak set list but the performances aren’t bad. It was obviously getting to the point where anything that could be milked was. Does anyone need to hear Jimi playing Blue Suede Shoes given the wealth of live material that was obviously available and would be released later? I think not.
Crash Landing * The first of the Allan Douglas-produced albums. Worthless and criminal considering Douglas brought in session musicians to fill out what was already substandard material and then claimed co-writer credit on 5 songs! Without Jimi’s name and picture on the cover no one would’ve bought this pile of shit. Rock critics who defended this appropriation were the literary equivalents of Monika Dannemann; breezily driving around London, completely oblivious of the time, while Jimi’s artistic integrity dies on the floor.
Midnight Lightning * See above. Douglas hacks his way to another shitty Hendrix album, this time aided by Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin Tony Bongiovi. I never bought either of these albums, but a guy at college had them, so I’ve heard them and know how much they suck.
The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume 2 *** I bought this because it had Jimi and the Experience playing a cover of Them’s Gloria on an inserted 33 1/3 single with the album. It was actually pretty genius packaging but Gloria wasn’t great and the rest of the album had already been released.
High, Live, and Dirty ** Also known as Bleeding Heart, or Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead or…any of the other 14 names it was released under throughout the years. Basically Jimi’s private jam tapes from The Scene in 1968 that were stolen when he died. Or not…These jams included many rumored people but one person definitely there is a very drunk Jim Morrison yelling various obscenities. Supposedly, Janis Joplin was also in the audience that night. Talk about the planets aligning. Johnny Winter was long alleged to be the second guitarist but he swore to his dying day that he never met Jim Morrison. So it might’ve been Rick Derringer. The thing is…for a boot…some of this stuff is pretty good. I had the record while I was in college. The version of Red House and Tomorrow Never Knows have a lot of great guitar goin’ on. Interesting, but ultimately exploitative.
Kiss the Sky *** A fairly good compilation. I bought it on cassette for my car. Has some of my favorite Jimi songs including Third Stone from the Sun, All Along the Watchtower, Are You Experienced?, and Purple Haze. Also contains the b-side Steppin’ Stone from the Izabella single, the live Killing Floor from Monterey and a slammin’ live version of I Don’t Live Today from San Diego 1969.
Jimi Plays Monterey **** Yes! This is what I’m talking about. Jimi and the Experience taking the United States by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Great versions of Killing Floor, Hey Joe, Can You See Me?, Like a Rolling Stone, Wild Thing, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, and Rock Me Baby. Then and now a totally live wake-up call to anyone who plays guitar.
Radio One/BBC Sessions ***** The best Jimi stuff post-1970 was previously unreleased live stuff because 1) he was dead so he wasn’t making any new material and 2) it is really Jimi and the Experience at the height of their creative powers, not a bunch of disco musicians hired by Alan Douglas to fill out Jimi’s studio sketches. Also, all of the stuff released by artists who appeared on the BBC (The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin, Yardbirds) has been great and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is no exception. Fantastic versions of many songs, including never before released stuff like the supremo guitar workout, Driving South. Also interesting to hear songs that weren’t traditionally played live (Love or Confusion, Wait Until Tomorrow) without the overdubs of the studio versions. As a bonus there were some interesting covers including the Beatles’ Day Tripper, an instrumental of Stevie Wonder’s I Was Made to Love Her, and Bob Dylan’s Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? All of the hits are here too, played in their tight and very fresh 1967 glory! Jimi’s guitar-playing inventiveness never ceases to amaze!
Live at Woodstock **** Iconic and pretty good, even though I think the band at this performance was lacking and it’s not terribly well recorded. It was a great Jimi performance, however and obviously this version of The Star Spangled Banner is one of the most defining 5 minutes of the whole 1960s decade. Other bright notes are Izabella, Spanish Castle Magic, Hear My Train A Comin’, and Villanova Junction, which I always liked for its jazzy, minor key overtones. Overall, not of the caliber of Monterey or BBC for sheer guitar awesomeness, but important nonetheless.
The Ultimate Experience **** An interesting, if slightly flawed compilation. The track listing was the result of a poll of his most popular recordings in Europe. My girlfriend has this disc and it has some of Jimi’s classics mixed in with lesser known songs like Wait Until Tomorrow, Angel, Highway Chile, Long Hot Summer Night, and Gypsy Eyes. It also includes Wild Thing from Monterey and The Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock. I think the disc is flawed only because it omits some better material from the studio albums in favor of some of what I just listed (minus Angel and Gypsy Eyes) and also includes Burning of the Midnight Lamp, which is my absolute least favorite song Jimi recorded.
Blues ** I wanted to like this and at the time every media outlet was using every available adjective to let the public know how important the disc was, but unfortunately I didn’t find it that enjoyable. There is more Douglas hackery (splicing various takes together, pulling out stuff Jimi probably never would have released) and considering the disc was released in 1994, these clowns were well into their third decade of ripping off America’s premier dead guitar hero. Pathetic really. Anyone who has spent more than a month listening to Jimi Hendrix knows he could play the fuck out of the blues and that many of his songs were based around very bluesy motifs. There were ample great blues recorded on tape and film throughout Jimi’s career that would fit the bill of “blues” material. That’s what makes all of the popular acclaim for this album stupid. It doesn’t deal with the fact that it was just another cynical ploy to extract money out of people for Hendrix material that was average at best.
Jimi Hendrix **** A Midnight Movie Treat I must have seen at least 10 times before I bought it. It’s a pretty good movie and features a compilation of performances from throughout Jimi’s career and interviews with interesting people: Jimi, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Fayne Pridgon and The Ghetto Fighters and not interesting people, at least with regards to Jimi’s story, like Lou Reed (did he and Jimi even meet ever?). Surprised there wasn’t more interview time with Mitch and Noel, then again it has Little Richard and any movie with Little Richard interviews has got to be entertaining! Except for Isle of Wight which was a well-documented clusterfuck for the band, all of the time Jimi appears onscreen is movie gold though and for many years it was all that was available.
Woodstock and Live at Berkeley *** — I used to have both of these DVDs. From a guitarist standpoint, there is something educational in watching any performance Jimi gave, of course. There is some blistering guitar work to be found, but there is a spark missing from these later-year performances that was definitely there in 1967 and early 1968; Jimi seemed very tired, physically and spiritually. What makes these movies especially instructive is how they illustrate the messy backdrop of the times that Jimi was immersed in and how much this may have affected his mood and the performances. The Live at Berkeley movie especially has a lot of the political stuff that had completely overtaken any and all counterculture gatherings (especially in Berkeley) by early 1970. Worth viewing as an education, but not the best music Jimi ever played.
Finally, I used to have a tape of King Curtis (who Jimi played with in the early 60s) that featured Jimi playing on some tracks, but I have forgotten what it was called. Recently though I stumbled on this little bit of interesting trivia. The R n’B master Don Covay and the Goodtimers song Mercy, Mercy, which the Rolling Stones and Wilson Covered, was originally recorded in late 1964 and features Jimi Hendrix in one of his first (if not his VERY first) formal recording session. I’ve always dug the Stones’ version of this tune, but never knew Jimi had anything to do with it. Kind of interesting and says so much about their different styles what he did with the riff versus how Keith Richards would adapt it a year or two later. Both versions are linked to YouTube where you can enjoy for yourself!
So as you can see, there is a lot of good stuff to be found but the Hendrix legacy/discography can be a bit of a minefield and that has absolutely nothing to do with Jimi, since he was not around to participate for decades worth of releases. The best live and studio albums remain intense and otherworldly listening experiences and rank among the best guitar education tools available. I know there has been a lot of music released over the past 15-20 years that isn’t covered here, but at a certain point I feel I’ve heard what needs to be heard. After all, Jimi hasn’t written a new song in a real long time and I don’t really need to hear another 50 year old tape of “jamming,” “outtakes,” or live at somewhere…