Noel Redding

Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 2)

In the second part of this series on Jimi Hendrix I will profile some of the books and DVDs that I have owned over the years. None of the real scandalous type of material is here; I haven’t read it. In my experience, the best and most accurate books on musicians are done from a “musical” angle. Everyone knows trash biographies are a big part of the media industry and there are plenty of people out there who will take every insinuation or conspiracy theory and run with it, no matter how implausible. But the books I’ve listed here are all on the up and up and I recommend them to anyone looking to widen their knowledge on the subject of Jimi Hendrix.

‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

JHE_18This is the oldest book in my possession. I’ve had it since 1980! That’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering how itinerant I was some of those years. Written by David Henderson, the book was an expansion of the original Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child of the Aquarian Age, first published in the late 1970s. Both of these books are still available or have been reprinted multiple times and you can pick them up if you so desire. This book is a fun read and the author deserves a whole lot of credit for being one of the first people to write about Jimi from a positive point of view. However, there are some accountability/accuracy issues with the book, mostly because of the way it is written. Unlike other books, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky has no footnotes and there are instances when it is unclear who is alleging what happens or the point of view is suspect. This isn’t always the case, but in some instances or at crucial points in the narrative there are no attributions when there should be and it doesn’t appear that this has changed with subsequent releases. I’m not the only person who finds this problematic. For instance:

“…He feels bile coming into his mouth. It takes a superhuman effort for him to sway his body toward the edge of the bed. It is impossible for him to rise. He barely makes it to the edge of the bed. A stream of bile comes through his mouth. His cheek rests against the sheet. The sheet absorbs the bile. His retching ceases. Suddenly he does not care anymore. He falls quickly back into semi-unconsciousness…”

There is no attribute for who is saying this. It’s certainly not Jimi, even though it describes Jimi in his final moments of barbiturate overload. It’s obvious that there is a whole lot of poetic license taken with this passage and it forces the reader to wonder where else this might be occurring in the book. Henderson states in the conclusion that more than five years of research went into the book; hundreds of interviews were conducted and the info was then fused into a “narrative”. This approach and a lot of the 70s language gives the book a very “nature of it’s time” feel, which is great on the one hand. This is the environment Jimi Hendrix lived and created in. However, while a narrative style of writing can paint a nice picture, it can also help sustain unhelpful or even completely inaccurate myths — something that is apparent in other 1960s events like Altamont/Gimme Shelter. ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky does have that funky, New York sass that was pretty awesome at the time and is effective at putting across the druggy, politically paranoid, racially-aware culture of the late 60s-early 70s that was very evident in places like New York City and on the West Coast (Berkeley). But, like the Jimi Hendrix film, I find the NYC-centered version of Jimi’s existence to sometimes be more about New York and the people in New York than about Jimi. This would all be fine, well and good if all of the elements of “the story” had remained accurate and true throughout the 40+ years since his death. That has turned out not to be the case and while I think this is a good book, it’s best read as a companion to other books.

The Hendrix Experience

This is a great book — Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell’s story of his time with Jimi in the Experience and beyond. As a musician, I put a lot of stock in a book like this because it’s written from a musician’s point of view. It doesn’t explore in depth any of the social stresses and ramifications that the previous book deals with (not that those issues aren’t important), but is really all about being in the band. This book is co-written with John Platt who provides the framework for the story while Mitch contributes fun and important anecdotes. Mitch was the longest serving foil to Jimi’s guitar heroics and is, of course, a legendary drummer in his own right. He certainly brought an original approach to everything he ever played on and was a major factor in the success of the Experience. He also knew Jimi and the scene at that time as well or better than anyone. There are some interesting revelations in the book: His opinion of Allen Douglas (which I’ll explore in Part 4), his belief that some shady stuff went down the day/night Jimi died and that Monika Dannemann was not the true love of Jimi’s life. (Only Kathy Etchingham and Devon Wilson could rightfully make those claims, which is pretty much what everyone has known all along). Also Mitch alleges that Buddy Miles was guilty of shooting his mouth off by accusing Mitch of racism around the time of Jimi’s death and he called Buddy on these accusations and got an apology. Unlike some people who speak or write about Jimi and their close relationship with him, Mitch’s legacy has always been undisputed and he remained a legendary performer and valued asset to the Hendrix Legacy right up until his death in 2008. This is a book I definitely recommend — lots of great photos too!

Are You Experienced?…

imageI used to have Experience bass player Noel Redding’s book too but lost it a few years ago. His book, co-written with Carol Appleby, was released in the mid-90s and was an interesting read. Though he wasn’t a member of the Experience for as long as Mitch, was not a bass player by choice or trade, and had more of a contentious relationship with Jimi, Noel did keep a diary of those days and was, from the very beginning, the first and loudest guy demanding a serious accounting of the band’s finances. Because of “bitterness”, that I think was partially just Noel’s droll personality, neither this book or his interviews are light, pleasant reading. But he was a smart guy and was justified in some of the bitterness he carried. Neither he or Mitch or Jimi ever got their just financial due for the great music they created, especially considering how many times it was repackaged and resold over the years. This book is best described as a “cautionary tale” as it provides a window into the cutthroat nature of the music business and explores the personal pitfalls that have done in many a musician. It’s almost like the literary version of House of the Rising Sun. I recommend reading any interview or book written or co-written by Noel and Mitch. There are a lot of great stories and some valuable information to be gleaned from their recollections.

Black Gold…

JHE_27This book is probably the most thoroughly-researched recent book I’ve seen! I enjoyed it and definitely learned a few things reading it. The author, Steven Roby, has written a few books on Jimi, which you can peruse here and has also worked with Experience LLC, which gave him access to important data and documents. He used to have a WordPress type of blog, which is no longer active, unfortunately. But here is a pretty good interview with him. With Black Gold, Roby makes an attempt to document all of Jimi’s lost sessions, gigs, appearances, and recordings. What a HERCULEAN feat that is, lemme tell you! While I think the book succeeds, I would not agree with the promo copy that I see online that says this is the first book to do this. It it not. The final book on this list was the first and is in some ways, even more exhaustive. But Roby’s efforts are great and everything is notated so you know you’re getting the real deal as far as info goes.

Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy

JHE_19This is one of the best biographies and probably the most thorough musical profile I have ever read. Very impressive. I’ve had this book for twenty five years and it is still a reliable source of information (except for that stuff which is outdated of course). Written by Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek, the book was updated in 1995 to reflect the new information on Jimi’s death. So, no matter what version you pick up, it is well worth the price. I believe it is the only Hendrix book to rate 5 stars and it is really an impressive effort. Not only is Jimi’s life well-researched and then factually told, guitarists will find that every guitar, effect, amp, pick and string ever used by the master is documented, along with Jimi’s impossibly large discography. This is the only book I’ve seen that is as thorough as Black Gold for listing gigs, recordings, tv/video appearances and equipment. There is a section that tries to figure out the very complicated and convoluted mess of The Experience’s finances. It also has a whole lot of great photographs of Jimi from the time he was a youngster all the way through his years of fame and fortune. In short it is pretty much the only book you will ever need on Jimi Hendrix! Highly recommend. They seriously don’t come any better than this, whether you’re a musician, guitarist, or just a fan.

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In the next post of this series I will write about the guitar-specific stuff I know to help you get your inner Jimi on! Of course, I can’t cover everything and I encourage anyone and everyone to purchase any of these books. They are all very entertaining and paint a great picture of a mighty man and a mighty band. Also, for younger readers, they are a good look into a period of time that is rapidly fading into history.

Here is Part 1 and Part 3 in this series.

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Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 1)

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Over the years I have amassed plenty of Jimi Hendrix reading and listening material and I have decided to share it. (I also wanted to use this shade of blue in one more post) Jimi is easily one of the most important guitarists to have ever picked up an axe, and, like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Eddie Van Halen — there was pre-Jimi and then there was everything after. His influence lit up the music world, no doubt about that! So I’m gonna use a couple of posts to show some of the cool photography and say a little bit about the paraphernalia I have. (All of the pics that follow come from the following books: ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky by David Henderson, Jimi Hendrix • Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caeser Glebeek, Black Gold by Steven Roby and Mitch Mitchell’s, The Hendrix Experience). While it is true that Prince, the recently departed (and may he rest in peace) Paisley Park hero was a great guitar player, Jimi was the original king of purple style and sound.

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Before the books though, let’s talk music …briefly. Here is how I would rate the Jimi Henrix material that I’ve heard or had or both over the years.

Are You Experienced? ***** Brilliant! My vote for his best. Never gets old even though I have probably played it well over 500 times in my life.

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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 redefined rock and guitar playing. There are a couple of numbers that are derivative (Ain’t No Telling, 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 new pioneering effects makes this as much of a groundbreaking record as the first.

Electric Ladyland **** While many people think this is 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 Mermanism is dated and Side 1’s 15-minute blues jam Voodoo Chile is too long and has likewise very dated lyrics. Is the album ambitious? Yes. Some great tunes? Absolutely! 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 Jimi. But it’s just not the solid double album it could’ve been, unfortunately.

Band of Gypsys *** 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. 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.

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Everything released after Band of Gypsys is suspect because Jimi died in September of 1970. The studio product is especially crappy, except for a few bright spots. It’s important to remember that 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 no control over.

The 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. 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 or douchebaggery 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 and that is a great legacy.

Rainbow Bridge **1/2 A mix of studio and live stuff that sounded maybe ok in 1971. Much better stuff would emerge later. Dolly Dagger, Room Full of Mirrors, and Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) are good rips but I don’t think they were completely finished. Some great guitar nonetheless. Incidentally, the movie of the same name as this album, which was seen by every Hendrix fanatic at a stoned-out midnight movie showing circa 1975-1985, was one of the dumbest things ever put to celluloid.

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War Heroes ** A friend had this album but we didn’t play it much. More for the outtakes pile.

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.

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 roommate had them, so I’ve heard them and then promptly never listened to them again.

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The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two *** I bought this because it had the Experience playing a cover of Them’s Gloria in the studio on an inserted 33 1/3 single with the album. It was actually pretty genius packaging. The song was a bit of a disappointment though and the rest of the album had already been released.

Jimi Hendrix: High, Live and Dirty *1/2 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 ****1/2 Yes! This is what I’m talking about. Jimi and the Experience taking the US by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival. 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.

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Radio One/BBC Sessions ***** Two things: 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 (mostly) 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, pretty much all of the stuff released by artists who appeared on some program associated with 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. I have both of these discs and they are phenomenal.

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 flawed only because it omits some better material from all of 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, but unfortunately I didn’t find it that enjoyable and it contains more Douglas hackery (splicing various takes together, pulling out stuff Jimi probably never would have released, etc, etc). Anyone who has spent more than a month listening to Jimi Hendrix knows he could play the f*ck out of the blues and that many of his songs were based around very bluesy motifs. Guitarists especially know this. 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.

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Jimi Hendrix ***1/2 — Another Midnight Movie Treat for many years and I’ve also had it as a DVD for a long time. 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 like Lou Reed (did he and Jimi even meet ever?). All of the time Jimi appears onscreen playing guitar is movie gold though and for many years it was all that was available.

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Woodstock and Live at Berkeley *** — I 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, early 1968. Jimi seemed very tired, physically and spiritually. Both movies are very instructive for how they illustrate the messy backdrop of the times that Jimi is immersed in and one can only imagine how that 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 conversations (especially in Berkeley) by early 1970. Definitely worth viewing as an education, but not necessarily the best music Jimi ever played.

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So that’s it for Part 1…hope you enjoyed it. There will always be new Jimi Hendrix releases and I’ve heard some here and there, but I’m not fanatic about hearing every version of Hear My Train A-Comin’ that he recorded or played. The early stuff is what I return to again and again, although I did recently get some enjoyment out of listening to Cry of Love for the first time in a long time. Part 2 in this “series” will deal with the books I have and two others I had at one time and Part 3 will be very guitar specific. Stay tuned!

Here is Part 2 and Part 3 in this series.