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Jimi Hendrix

Reviewed on this page:
Are You Experienced? - Axis: Bold As Love - BBC Sessions - Electric Ladyland - Band Of Gypsys - South Saturn Delta - Jimi Plays Monterey - Woodstock - In The West - Stages

Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell died in Portland, Oregon, on November 12th, 2008, apparently of natural causes.
Jimi Hendrix is the most over-released musician in history. But it does stand to reason that 25 years after his death, he's still the focus of massive attention - he really was the greatest instrumental virtuoso in rock history. Only a madman would attempt to even list all of the official releases, much less review them (and several have). Here we will focus on the recordings we consider worth owning by people who already have a life. Don't wade into the lesser, but still listenable stuff (Loose Ends; Crash Landing; assorted bootlegs) until you have these. And if you really care for more details, there are plenty of thousand page books on the man. (JA)

The Hendrix family finally got control of his recordings in the mid-90s, and they started off doing (as GWB would say) a superb job, releasing remastered versions of the original studio releases, plus two albums of studio material never released in his lifetime. They also set up a subsidiary label, Dagger Records, to release mail-order-only product for diehard collectors, at higher quality and lower prices than the bootlegs: four volumes have been released so far. We're less impressed with their latest releases: a two-disc set mixing greatest hits with live cuts, a very brief Christmas EP, and a generous but haphazard 4-disc boxed set. You can find their website here.

WARNING WARNING WARNING: There are lots of records with Jimi Hendrix listed on the cover that aren't Jimi Hendrix records at all. Some are recordings he played on as a sideman for Curtis Knight or Little Richard in 1964-1965, songs like "Sweet Thing," "Gloomy Monday." There are many, many songs included on these records that Hendrix doesn't appear on at all ("Odd Ball," "Whoa Ech," "Hang On Sloopy," "House Of The Rising Sun"). Most of the records advertising "Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Youngblood" don't feature any Hendrix playing. (Youngblood, who doesn't control release of this material, has taken great pains to tell people that Jimi Hendrix isn't really on these records.) Finally, these records often include recordings from a jam session at the Scene Club recorded in March of 1968 with Jim Morrison and others - these songs are variously known as "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Uranus Rock," "Peoples Peoples," or other names. The performances are awful, and the recordings are medium bootleg quality. To be on the safe side, stick with the recordings reviewed here. (DBW)

We've read a number of books on Hendrix, some great and some terrible. Benefit from our experience on our Book Reviews Page. And we've also reviewed a tribute album or two.

Lineup: Jimi Hendrix (guitar, vocals, occasional bass and keyboards); Mitch Mitchell (drums); Noel Redding (bass, backup vocals). After mid-1969, Redding was replaced by Billy Cox. In late 1969 and very early 1970, Mitchell was replaced by Buddy Miles, but Mitchell later returned. Hendrix died, 1970. Redding died, 2003. Mitchell died, 2008.

Studio Albums

Are You Experienced? (1967)
- Perhaps over-rated, but still a groundbreaking piece of work. Hendrix was the only artist at this point who could go toe-to-toe with the Beatles when it came to wild studio experimentation ("Third Stone From The Sun"; title track), and on top of that his pure musicianship already blew away every other rock guitarist of the era. The recent 17 track CD release of RUX, including Hendrix's first three singles in chronological order, is worth the investment - despite the endless liner notes. This CD version is ever so slightly weighed down by some relative throwaways ("Remember"; "Can You See Me?") and dominated by subtly poppy three-minute rockers you may have heard a few million times too many ("Fire"; "Foxy Lady"). But it's so stuffed with classics like the dramatically transformed West Coast hippie folk ballad "Hey Joe" (Hendrix's first single), the breakthrough acid rock anthem "Purple Haze," and the marvelous ballad "Wind Cries Mary" that it belongs in any music collection. (JA)
- Groundbreaking, yes, and packed with radio hits, but his other two albums are better for understanding his lasting musical importance. I like "Remember," it has one of Hendrix's finest vocals and an interesting 11-bar structure; the real throwaway is the teenybopper ballad "May This Be Love." (DBW)

Axis: Bold As Love (1967)
- Hendrix's most carefully crafted work, solid throughout, often breathtaking, and stylistically more expansive than the relentlessly explosive RUX. Amazingly, it was recorded in just a few weeks of sessions with minimal guitar overdubs and a heavy dose of lo-tech acid rock studio trickery - backwards guitars, phasing, etc. The ballad "Little Wing" may be the record's high point, but there are many: heavy rock ("Spanish Castle Magic"; "If 6 Was 9"), straightforward rock 'n' roll ("You Got Me Floatin'"), and additional ballads ("Castles Made Of Sand"; "One Rainy Wish"). The lyrics are excellent throughout, with a strong Bob Dylan influence (title track). Some of the material is slightly weak, especially Noel Redding's trivial Beatles imitation "She's So Fine." But Hendrix's artistry is awesomely multifaceted, and Mitch Mitchell puts on the performance of a lifetime - his lyrical, Elvin Jones-inspired work is some of the best drumming ever to grace a rock record, lifting even secondary material like the ballad "Wait Until Tomorow." (JA)
- Don't miss this one; all his talents (composer, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, lyricist, hippie guru) are fearsomely on display here. (DBW)

BBC Sessions (rec. 1967 - 1969, rel. 1998)
Mostly live-in-the-studio BBC radio material from 1967, plus a few alternate takes and a few TV recordings. This 2-CD set replaces the one-disc Radio One, which to be perfectly honest already contained all the best material here, with the exception of a very loose, never-broadcast jam with Stevie Wonder on drums ("Jammin'"), and an amusing take on Dylan's obscure "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" There's also the famous Hendrix practical joke at Lulu's expense, when he ran over the end of her show with an impromptu Cream tribute ("Sunshine Of Your Love"). But the highlights are still the stripped-down version of "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp," the turbocharged instrumental "Driving South" (a ripoff of Albert Collins' "Thaw Out"), the hilarious "Radio One" jingle, and "Hoochie Coochie Man" with host Alexis Korner on slide guitar. Though there's a hefty assortment of hits, there are more covers ("Hound Dog") and album tracks ("Little Miss Lover"), and the loose atmosphere of the recordings adds to the fun. This time the liner notes correctly quash the rumor that John Lennon appears on the cover of "Day Tripper" - the co-lead vocal is Redding's. Casual fans might as well get the one-disc version if they can find it, but collectors will be happy to have this comprehensive set. (DBW)
I have Radio One, which is most valuable as an alternative for those who are bored with the standard studio versions of Hendrix's hits from this era, most of which already appear on newer CD versions of RUX. There are a few other rarities, but they're mostly throw-aways ("Hound Dog"; "Catfish Blues"). My favorite of these is Hendrix's cover of "Day Tripper." (JA)

Electric Ladyland (1968)
- You might make the mistake of listening to this before the first two records. Don't. You have to get an appreciation for Hendrix's incredible technique and musical vision before you can sit through the longer tracks, which nonetheless are staggeringly brilliant - especially "Voodoo Chile" (the long blues jam featuring Steve Winwood and Jack Casady), and the electronic sound collage/sci fi jam "1983." The usual slew of unforgettable classics is clustered towards the end and equals or exceeds what you'll find on earlier records. There's some heavily produced acid rock, such as his fine A-side "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp," but elsewhere he's suddenly less starry-eyed and harder-hitting, with ferocious rockers such as Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" (rewritten and featuring Dave Mason on guitar); "House Burning Down"; and "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)." Some of the lighter pieces are also among Hendrix's finest work: the soulful title track; the irresistable "Crosstown Traffic," with a great kazoo part; and "Rainy Day/Still Raining," a single track split in two that features an amazing wah-wah'ed lead. Not just Hendrix's masterpiece, but one the most important rock records of all time. (JA)
- Personally, I could've lived without the "Voodoo Chile" jam, but this is a consistently terrific record anyway, and as the only record completely under Hendrix's control it merits careful study. (DBW)

Band Of Gypsys (1970)
- Released to meet contractual obligations, this somewhat disappointing live record was cut on New Year's Eve, 1969/70. We're listing it as a "studio" record because it consists entirely of material not released elsewhere, most of which Hendrix had worked on in the studio; and it features the new Cox/Miles rhythm section, which doesn't appear on any other full-length release. Unfortunately, the record itself is mired in a derivative, monotonous soul/R & B style that is totally uncharacteristic of Hendrix's other work ("Power Of Soul"). This is the fault of Hendrix's drummer, Buddy Miles, who lasted only a few months thanks to having none of Mitch Mitchell's startling technical proficiency, but all of a second-rate R & B entertainer's vapid showmanship (witness Miles' excruciating vocals, as on his well-known tune "Changes"). Some of it is brilliant anyway ("Machine Gun," a gut-wrenching masterpiece that Hendrix never had a chance to perfect in the studio; numerous solos). In 1999, the Hendrix family released two discs worth of selections from the same concerts (apparently leaving off some of the original takes) and retitled the collection Live At Fillmore East; we'll review that version once we get our hands on it. (JA)
- You can't go wrong with this if you're a fan, and it's interesting to see the R&B influence that later appeared on Cry Of Love, but neophytes should start with his studio albums. (DBW)

First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (rec. 1969 - 1970, rel. 1997)
Yes, it's the real item - or about as close to what Hendrix wanted as you're ever going to get. Having finally wrested control of Hendrix's estate from the vile Alan Douglas, Hendrix's family made a genuine effort to reconstruct Hendrix's final project. It ends up including all of Cry Of Love, plus seven tracks that had been the high points of the two cash-in albums that followed (1971's Rainbow Bridge and 1972's War Heroes). Even though all of these tracks had been released on assorted LPs a quarter-century earlier, the disc does bring together classics like the blazingly psychedelic "Room Full Of Mirrors" and the thundering "Dolly Dagger," and it also features only the original performances and mixes. I've had a listen, and the solid track listing and respectful presentation make the collection nearly as essential as Hendrix's three classic studio albums. (JA)
I can't understand why they kept alive the bizarre idea that the Dylan homage "My Friend" was considered for First Rays. Don't get me wrong: I like the tune, with its low-key atmosphere and sweeping chord changes, I just think it should've gone on the following album, with "Drifter's Escape" or "Power Of Soul" going on this one. (DBW)

South Saturn Delta (rec. 1969 - 1970, rel. 1997)
The second Hendrix family release, and again it consists mostly of previously available - though in many cases out of print - material. Generally speaking, this is the best of the material that wasn't seriously considered for release by Hendrix: abandoned tunes (the title track with a jazz horn section, "Bleeding Heart"); tossoff jams ("Midnight," "Pali Gap"); demos ("Sweet Angel," "Little Wing"). That said, it's very well put together, in several cases restoring material edited out or erased by the Douglas regime ("Power Of Soul"), or returning to mixes Hendrix made before his death rather than posthumous mixes ("Drifter's Escape"). The biggest surprise on this set is a slow blues, unaccompanied version of "Midnight Lightning" that blows all the previously released versions away - for devotees, that one track alone makes this a valuable acquisition. Because the cuts featured here don't really reveal any previously unseen facets of Hendrix the composer, performer or producer, it's of interest only to fans, but it's roughly a hundred times better than the previous releases it makes irrelevant (War Heroes, Loose Ends, Crash Landing, Voodoo Slop). Finally somebody's doing the job right. (DBW)

Live Albums

Jimi Plays Monterey (rec. 1967, rel. 1986)
- Perhaps the most essential live Hendrix recording, if only for its historical importance - when Hendrix took the stage at Monterey in June, 1967, he was an unknown in the US; when he left it, the American rock industry had been turned on its head. It's also a good sampling of Hendrix's early repertoire, with minor obscurities like the old blues number "Rock Me Baby," making other live releases somewhat redundant. And it contains two classics that he performed only rarely: a mind-blowing take on Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone"; and the burning-guitar version of "Wild Thing." Unfortunately, the set is somewhat short. (JA)
- This is great fun for fans, and "Rolling Stone" shows a side of him rarely seen. But the unvarying trio format (Redding contributes almost nothing, Mitchell is more subdued than on the studio recordings) and note-for-note renditions of several album tracks ("Foxey Lady") make this less than a huge priority. And as attention-grabbing as the guitar-burning thing was, how often do you want to listen to it? (DBW)

Woodstock (rec. 1969, rel. 1994)
- The other historically important Hendrix performance, featuring Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, and a gaggle of other musicians who either barely knew Hendrix, barely knew the material, or both. Covering for his unrehearsed band forced Hendrix into some wild and completely brilliant improvisation, some of it using the chordal soloing technique that Hendrix developed late in his career and never captured in the studio. No other rock guitarist has managed to imitate it - merely flashy technique a la Jeff Beck can never simulate Hendrix's unique musical insight. Oh yeah, this is the source of that crazy (and breathtaking) rearrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner" that you've heard a million times. (JA)
- Since nearly everyone had already left Woodstock by the time Hendrix came on, the only historical importance of this show was 1) the national anthem thing, which became a legend only after it was featured in the movie; and 2) the only recorded set by Hendrix's all-around weakest band since at least the Blue Flames. I don't see either of those as a compelling reason to get this set; hold off, unless you're studying his guitar technique. (DBW)

In The West (rec. 1968 - 1970, rel. 1972)
A terrific compilation of live performances - nearly every one of which appears on the confusingly-titled boxed set The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Monterey and Woodstock are his most famous performances, but far from his best: the takes of "Little Wing," "Red House" and "Voodoo Chile" here are exquisite, plus there are smoking covers of "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Johnny B. Goode." The one non-classic cut, the Isle of Wight version of "God Save The Queen," is mercifully short. (DBW)
Monterey and Woodstock were Hendrix's most historically important recorded and released live performances, period. Few of his shows have ever been released as complete sets, and the ones that have are of little historical consequence (see Stages). This might be a good compilation of live performances, but it's a compilation, and as such I don't consider it "definitive" at all. (JA)

Stages (1990)
If you're going to buy one live Hendrix package, and you can't find In The West, buy this. A 4-CD set with one disk recorded in each year, 1967 to 1970: the Stockholm '67 show is excellent, though short; the Paris '68 show is flawed but interesting (and features Noel Redding playing guitar on "Red House"), and the '69 and '70 shows are representative shows from those periods. But do you really want four different live versions of "Foxey Lady," "Hey Joe" and "Purple Haze"? If not, just get Concerts, or wait for a better compilation to come along. (DBW)

Inessential Hendrix

Cry of Love (1971)
The first attempt - here, by Hendrix's engineer and drummer - to finish Hendrix's last album, which was to be called First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. The material is mostly excellent, but Hendrix sounds tired - or just bored? - not just on some of the weaker numbers (the cartoonish "Astro Man"), but even on the typically mindblowing, anthemic rockers ("In From the Storm," with a million overdubs and precise backing vocals; "Freedom"). Some of it's priceless anyway (the incredible ballad "Angel"; the bizarre, reincarnation-tinged blues "Belly Button Window"), and it's an important landmark because it shows Hendrix moving to a quieter style and a new palette of guitar effects. Uneven, but better than the best efforts by most of Hendrix's well-known contemporaries. (JA)
Kramer and Mitchell did a credible job here, and tunes like "Night Bird Flying" are valuable additions to the Hendrix canon. The record is very good, it's just not as good as the records Hendrix released during his lifetime. Of course, this is out of print now, and you can find all these tracks on the excellent First Rays compilation. (DBW)

Rainbow Bridge (1971)
Slapped together to fulfill a Mike Jeffreys contract after the tapes to the real Rainbow Bridge concert were stolen, this collects a few excellent tracks ("Dolly Dagger," "Hey Baby") with trivial outtakes (a curiously tame "Star Spangled Banner) and a lengthy live version of "Hear My Train." (DBW)
I like the studio version "Star Spangled Banner," but all the remaining strong material is on New Rising Sun and SSD. (JA)

War Heroes (1972)
Just a couple of new release-quality tracks ("Izabella") plus B-sides ("Highway Chile") and throwaways ("Three Little Bears"). (DBW)
Again, this one would be worth owning if the two new Hendrix estate releases hadn't made it irrelevant. (JA)

Loose Ends (1972)
Scraping the bottom of the barrel, with trivial jams ("Jam 292," "Peter Gunn Theme") and an endless live-in-the-studio take on "Burning Desire." (DBW)
Blech. (JA)

A Film About Jimi Hendrix (1973)
The best of the Isle of Wight material is here ("Red House" and "Machine Gun"), plus the acoustic version of "Hear My Train" (also available on Blues) and a couple of other curiosities (all live or live-in-the-studio) made up this double LP. (DBW)
I've always thought the twelve-string "Hear My Train" was one of Hendrix's most magical performances. It's a moot point, though, because the record is now almost impossible to find. (JA)

Crash Landing (1975)
The first really vile plundering of the vaults, with guitar and sideman tracks scrubbed to make room for session musicians (principally Jeff Mironov, guitar; Alan Schwartzberg, drums; and Bob Babbitt, bass). There was such a preponderance of clueless white people involved with the project that no one could figure what a track labeled "MLK" stood for, so they retitled it "Captain Coconut." Sheesh! (DBW)

Midnight Lightning (1975)
Worse than Crash Landing, with "Hey Baby," "Hear My Train," the title track and other unfinished tunes given the Douglas session cat treatment. (DBW)

Nine To The Universe (1980)
Relatively untampered with, but a listless collection of 1969 instrumental jams put together to "prove" that Hendrix was abandoning rock and roll in favor of jazz. (DBW)
I actually enjoy this one; unlike most of the compilations from this era it at least has a coherent sound. And I'm particularly fond of a brief, charming track called "Easy Blues" that eventually should find a home somewhere. But it's far from essential. (JA)

Isle Of Wight (1980)
What was left over after the documentary soundtrack was compiled - Hendrix's last arena show was not one of his best, and the lengthy, boring version of "Foxey Lady" is typical. A lively version of "Lover Man" is one of the few highlights. (DBW)

Woke Up This Morning And Found Myself Dead (1981?)
Terrible, poorly recorded live jams with a very drunk Jim Morrison spewing obscenities. Worst legit Hendrix release of them all. (DBW)
Recorded late one night at the Scene Club in New York with a hand-held tape recorder, and it shows. Released under an innumerable number of titles by a horde of fly-by-night minor labels, this is the most widely-available should-have-stayed-in-the-vaults release in the Hendrix canon. (JA)

Concerts (1982)
Some fun moments here: the version of "Gettin' My Heart Back Together" is arguably his best, "Stone Free" from the Albert Hall is an interesting extended jam, and there's a weird version of "Are You Experienced?" But it's not a great live compilation: there are far better versions of "Wild Thing," "Foxey Lady," and "Red House" out there. The version of "Little Wing" has an extra solo on the coda; unfortunately the guitar is out of tune. (DBW)
Out of tune or not, that version of "Little Wing" completely blows me away; one of my favorite live Hendrix performances. The main problem here, as with In The West, is that being a scrambled collection of takes from many different shows, there's nothing coherent or historically interesting about it. (JA)

Johnny B. Goode (1986)
Another ripoff, recycling previously released performances (title track) with a couple of better-off-unreleased rarities ("Watchtower" with Jimi forgetting the words). (DBW)
Plus the running time is short. Another "I've got to get another Hendrix record out this year" Alan Douglas release.

Band Of Gypsys 2 (1986)
Half a disc of material compiled from the New Year's Eve Fillmore shows, including a nice take on "Stop," padded out with reruns like the Atlanta Pop version of "Slight Return." (DBW)

Live At Winterland (recorded 1968, released 1987)
The Winterland shows (Oct. 10, 11 and 12) were well-recorded, but they weren't that good: after spending almost a year recording Electric Ladyland, much of which doesn't feature Noel Redding, the Experience was rusty. The rarely-performed "Manic Depression" and a nice version of "Tax Free" are the highlights. (DBW)
Most of the rest consists of Hendrix standards. The other major exceptions are "Killin' Floor," with Jack Casady on bass, and Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love," dedicated to the band by Hendrix because they'd just broken up. Whatever the minuses, this is a reasonable demonstration of the original Experience in good form - and it's relatively easy to find on CD. (JA)

Radio One (recorded 1967, released 1988)
Superceded by the 1998 release BBC Sessions. (DBW)
Yup. (JA)

Lifelines, AKA Live & Unreleased (1993)
An infuriating release of a radio special with the host blabbing over the music, which includes some wonderful nuggets, but no complete previously unreleased songs. Most of the good stuff resurfaced - sans blabbing - on The Jimi Hendrix Experience. (DBW)
A few home demos of unfinished tunes are the most interesting thing going here, but most of them are truncated or talked over. The chronological narrative might be of interest to novices, but you're better off just reading a book on Hendrix (e.g., Electric Gypsy). (JA)

Blues (rec. 1966-1970, rel. 1994)
There's a lot of great blues playing here, with his acoustic version of "Gettin' My Heart Back Together" (previously available on an out-of-print film soundtrack), a great cover of "Catfish Blues" recorded for Swedish radio, an unreleased take on Albert King's "Born Under A Bad Sign," and more. There's some filler ("Jelly 292" is an unremarkable jam), but it's a good package, with extensive liner notes. (DBW)
The bad news is that with the selections coming from all over Hendrix's career, the extensive liner notes can't compensate for the incoherent feel of the track selection. Sure, Hendrix was a great bluesman, but he never intended to release a blues album per se, and this attempt comes off as wholly artificial. (JA)

Voodoo Soup (rec. 1969-1970, rel. 1995)
Alan Douglas' latest (and thankfully last) hurrah, this time a second attempt at channelling Hendrix's incomplete final album New Rising Sun. Ineptly and inexplicably given this bizarre title, it's a crass commercial cash-in that deserves to be boycotted - and not just because Douglas had enough gall to re-record some of the original drum parts. If I had a copy of this I'd give it away and buy the recent New Rising Sun release. (JA)
Fortunately, this was Douglas's last chance to fuck with Hendrix's legacy. Even more fortunately, the two Hendrix family releases make this one superfluous (except for two unremarkable instrumental jams, "Peace In Mississippi" and the misleadingly-titled "New Rising Sun"). Maybe we should organize a Nike-style return campaign, where all of us Hendrix collectors mail this ripoff back to MCA with an explanatory note. (DBW)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience (rec. 1966-1970, rel. 2000)
A 4-CD boxed set of marginally different mixes, live tracks and a few great obscurities. I can't recommend this unless you're a total Hendrix maniac, but it's terrific if you are. (DBW)

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