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Jimi Hendrix Radio One (1992)

51klLDEYnfLFrom amazon.com

Review If you don’t have at least one Jimi Hendrix album in your CD collection, you really need to rethink your musical priorities. I don’t think I need to explain the revolutionary legacy of Hendrix to anyone, so I’ll just get right to the content on this particular CD. The year was 1967, and Hendrix’s career had just blasted off in the UK, when The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Hendrix, Noel Redding, and Mitch Mitchell) came together for several recording sessions for BBC Radio. You will find a number of Hendrix’s most memorable songs in this collection, but they differ from the versions most fans are familiar with. Alongside these more familiar tracks are a number of very interesting covers and blues-oriented recordings, a few of which could and should be considered true rarities.

Appropriately enough, this collection starts out with an anthem song, Stone Free. With the funk established, it’s time to jam. Hendrix standards emerging from these early recordings are Fire, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, and Hey Joe. Hendrix pulls out all of the heavy guitar stops on the short but enervating Killing Floor. This killer track is then followed by what is still, as far as I am aware, the only live version of the classic Love or Confusion. Hendrix’s mastery of the guitar is made most evident in a scintillating performance of Drivin’ South.

I find the background vocals on Wait Until Tomorrow somewhat questionable, but this track is a real treat indeed, as this was a song Hendrix never performed on stage. You get a somewhat light version of Hear My Train a Comin’, infused with a lot of interaction with the small studio audience. Spanish Castle Magic is pretty faithful to the later studio version, but this is probably the earliest recording made of this standout song. Yet another significant recording is Burning of the Midnight Lamp, a much different version from that which appeared on the Electric Ladyland album of the following year.

Radio One Theme is a playful bit of filler, really, a half-joking new theme song for Britain’s insurgent Radio One rock station. Hendrix’s cover of the Beatles’ Day Tripper takes the song to heights never imagined by the team of Lennon and McCartney. The novelty of this cover still pales in comparison to that of Hound Dog, which comes complete with all sorts of barks and howls from band members.

For me, the best this album has to offer are the blues-oriented recordings, in which Hendrix pays tribute to some of the strongest influences of his youth – the legendary Muddy Waters, in particular. Catfish Blues is great, but Hoochie Koochie Man is easily my favourite song on this album.

All told, these 17 early recordings showcase the variety of musical styles that Jimi Hendrix made his own, and the entire album has a fresh and jubilant feel that differs from the heavier sound of Hendrix’s later career. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Radio One as someone’s first introduction to Jimi Hendrix, but Hendrix fans will definitely love every one of the 59 – plus minutes of this album.

Review Radio One is a collection of material recorded by the Jimi Hendrix Experience live in the studio for various BBC Radio shows during 1967.

BUT.

There is one BIG difference between what you would have heard with those original radio broadcasts, and what you hear with this CD today. The original recordings were created (and broadcast) in mono. This modern CD uses digital trickery to turn that mono into fake stereo, and the result is certainly NOT for the better.

The manner in which producer Alan Douglas seems to have achieved the fake stereo effect was by splitting the frequencies, the higher frequencies to one speaker and the lower to the other. This has resulted in the album being almost unlistenable through headphones because it gives the impression of the bulk of the tracks being “lopsided”, with the sound coming out of one speaker or being noticeably off-centre. Out of the 17 tracks on this compilation only about 5 sound normal, properly centred. The effect is so bad that the first time I heard this CD through headphones I thought the headphones themselves were faulty.

Heard through regular speakers this strange “wonkiness” isn’t really noticeable – but because of the fake stereo effect the sound is somewhat flat and at times lacking in definition.

Only a couple of years after this CD was released an American radio station named Westwood One broadcast the original mono mixes of these same recordings (which have since also appeared on at least a couple of CD bootlegs). In mono all of this material has more punch, energy and definition than can be found on these fake stereo alternatives. Quite simply, in mono these tracks sound more “alive”, more powerful. The difference really is extreme, one of night-and-day.

Why on earth Alan Douglas decided to reprocess the mono tapes in a manner which degraded the sound quality and sonic impact is a question only he can answer. I can think of no justification for converting this material into fake stereo other than simply converting it for the sake of converting it. The mind boggles.

The music itself can’t be faulted. Recorded live in the studio, these sessions catch The Jimi Hendrix Experience during their initial rise to stardom. So what you largely get are raw and raucous 3 minute (or less) versions of Are You Experienced material, interspersed with some impressive extended bluesy numbers (the latter clearly showing the direction in which Hendrix and the band would develop onstage over the following couple of years).

There are also a couple of covers where Jimi is clearly having fun, Hound Dog and Day Tripper (the latter NOT featuring John Lennon on backing vocals, as the myth claims. It’s Noel Redding), and Drivin’ South (of interest because it’s an instrumental which Hendrix originally played in his pre-fame days with Curtis Knight’s band. This Experience version ups the tempo and turns into a tour de force of Hendrixian guitarisms).

It’s not an understatement to say these BBC recordings are essential for any fan of the Are You Experienced period. There’s none of the brain-twisting or mellow psychedelia of his latter years. This is almost garage-band Hendrix, knocking it out rough and ready, pure Rock and Roll, Proto-Rock, Rhythm and Blues or however you choose to label it. It’s the nearest you’ll today get to actually attending a live Experience concert in one of London’s small nightclubs in 1967.

So how would I grade this album?

Well, the music on this CD (and the manner in which its performed) I’d grade a solid 5 stars. But simply down to the recordings having been fudged into fake stereo, I have to give it an overall single star rating.

The tragic thing is that when Experience Hendrix re-released these sessions (with extra material) a few years ago, they also used the fake stereo masterings. A few of the tracks on that double-CD set were the original mono, but some also had added modern reverb. And of course that release has compression missing from this edition.

So if you wish to hear the best official release of Hendrix’s BBC material, it’s a toss-up between two evils because there is currently no official version of this album available which matches the original untampered mono tapes for impact. If you want to hear this stuff sounding at its most powerful and in its best quality, the record company have left you no choice but to seek out unofficial and illegal product.

That’s a shameful state of affairs. This set DESERVES better. It captures Hendrix at a crucial time in his development, playing some unique material. It’s screaming out to be released in full, in the original MONO mix. Only when that day comes will the true majesty of these BBC recordings be unleashed.

Maybe when those handed the care of the Hendrix legacy divert their attention from branding his image upon tin boxes, plastic mugs and air fresheners, to refocus completely upon presenting his music in the best possible manner, we will get to see that day. Maybe.

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May 3, 2013 - Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Radio One |

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