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Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight by John McDermott & Eddie Kramer (1992)

Jimi-Hendrix-Setting-The-Recor-337311From amazon.com

Review Disclaimer: Huge Hendrix worshipper! When this book appeared in 1992 it was (and still is) the most even-handed biography on Jimi. Previous bios were from either muckrakers who were trying to damage his legacy, or by people who never met him and were trying to make grand statements about his talent. In this book McDermott has taken the time to get first-hand accounts from those who knew Hendrix best, including band mates and business associates.

The most valuable asset here is engineer Eddie Kramer, who was Hendrix’s close friend and trusted creative confidant. (However, it seems that Noel Redding was consulted less than other band mates, possibly because he had a more unflattering story to tell).

Getting these valuable first-hand accounts gives us a very balanced view of Jimi’s personality, and both sides of the coin are shown. You get the expected admiration for his talent, and the good sides of his personality. You also get the not-so-good parts, such as Jimi’s paranoia, insecurities, and appallingly poor business sense. This book is not afraid to give bad reviews of Hendrix’s poor live performances with the Experience when they were on the verge of splintering, or with the undeveloped Band of Gypsys. Also, his pathetic death (choking on his own vomit) is not dwelled upon and is treated as the senseless mistake it really was, rather than the noble, romanticized exit from this world (or even suicide) that you’ll hear about in other accounts.

The excessive details about Hendrix’s sloppy business arrangements provide valuable information, even though these passages get very long-winded and detract from the focus of the book – which is the man and his music. Also, be suspicious of character descriptions of people who are not around to give their side of the story. This doesn’t apply to Hendrix himself, as described above, but to late manager Michael Jeffery. This man surely left plenty of evidence that he was paranoid and power-hungry, but the descriptions of his personality by the people in the book, most of whom didn’t like him, should be treated with suspicion, as he’s not around to have his say. To a lesser extent, the same applies to Jimi’s sexy but dangerous girlfriend Devon Wilson.

The coverage of the posthumous Hendrix musical catalog is getting outdated (fortunately). Certainly after his death, the managers and record companies flooded the market with inferior material, most of which was either impromptu jam sessions or sub-par live performances which were never meant for release. Until the mid-90’s this avalanche of so-called “lost” material blurred the brilliance of the smaller amount of official records that Jimi really tailored for the public. This situation has been mostly resolved since 1994 when the Hendrix family finally gained control of the musical copyrights. They’ve given us great reissues of the official albums, as well as the incredible “First Rays of the New Rising Sun” which consolidates the album Hendrix was creating at the time of his death. But with things like “South Saturn Delta” and “Live at the Fillmore East” the Hendrix family is almost as guilty of barrel-scraping as the bad guys were in the 70s.

Review I’ve read three different Hendrix biographies and each came at the subject of Jimi Hendrix from a different direction. Setting the Record Straight is good because there is a lot of input from people who were close to Hendrix, especially people who were part of his organization, but who were not particularly well known. Like all of the Hendrix biographies, this book does have its faults, I mean, how many times should an author state that Jimi was growing wary of Michael Jeffries, Jimi was trying to keep his distance from Michael Jeffries, Jimi was avoiding Michael Jeffries. I found one spot where there were at least 4 references in a 2 page span about how Jimi as getting tired of Michael Jeffries. Ok. We get it. Yawn.

The book is very good in explaining how the Hendrix “image” was deliberately created to be controversial (most of us grown-ups had already figured that one out). It tells us how the “real” Jimi started to emerge after the release of Electric Ladyland. It tells us the story of the Electric Lady studio and how it came about from the initial idea of creating a club much like Steve Paul’s Scene club. It also tells us about when and why Chas Chandler excused himself from the organization. Actually Chas turns out to be one of the few really classy people in the Hendrix organization.

You also learn about a host of disastrous gigs and shows where Jimi just didn’t want to play. In some ways you feel sorry for him and in other ways you begin to understand that the guy’s work ethic really sucked. If you lived through the era I guarantee you will end up feeling pretty embarrassed about your generation’s behaviour.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t tell some of the stories that I am interested in. I wanted to read about the jam session in the studio that produced Voodoo Chile for example. There really isn’t much emphasis about how the music was made. In my opinion, when it comes to Hendrix, that’s a no-brainer; that’s what people want to read about.

From a musical perspective, I would have to say that Crosstown Traffic is a much better biography as it does much to show Jimi’s importance within the context of American art and culture. Really, I don’t care about Jimi’s business and I don’t care about his depraved social life either. I just love his music. Setting the Record Straight is really more about the business side of Jimi Hendrix and the Hendrix “product”. Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky is probably the least interesting of the three I’ve read, it’s more about Jimi’s social life than anything. That particular book tries to be sensational by asserting that Jimi was murdered and then downplaying that idea in the same paragraph. That was rather like when a lawyer coaches a client witness to blurt something out on the stand that they know the judge is going to strike down, but the jury is going to hear it anyway. Shabby.

I would pick up both Setting the Record Straight and Crosstown Traffic if you really want to get to know Jimi and his significance with respect to American art and culture.

Oh yeah, one little factual nugget I finally learned after years and years and years (decades really) of wondering… It was Jimi who played the freaked out recorder solo at the end of If Six Was Nine. Hooray! Mystery solved! That was driving me nuts!

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May 5, 2013 Posted by | Book Hendrix Setting The Record Straight by John McDermott and Eddie Kramer | , | 1 Comment