Classic Rock Review

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Jimi Hendrix BBC Sessions (1998)


Well, this is just another phenomenal archive release from the BBC vaults which shares the usual advantages and flaws of all BBC releases. The advantage is that the sound is crystal clear: the band plays live but there are no impeding crowd noises, apart from a few ‘sit-in’ sessions. The flaw is that several of the songs are played several times, and this ain’t good no matter how fantastic the song might be. I, for one, don’t really need three different versions of ‘Hey Joe’! Do you? Or three different versions of ‘Driving South’, for that matter. It’s a great instrumental, for sure, but… oh, wait, do you really want to tell me that the BBC have completely drained their Hendrix vaults with this release? In that case, I withdraw my complaint. I actually hoped for ‘Ain’t No Telling’ or ‘Highway Chile’; if one day I find out they never released that stuff I’ll kill somebody.

Nevertheless, despite the potential complaints, this beautiful 2-CD package offers quite a lot of goodies that you might not get otherwise. Minor surprises include Jimi’s hilarious ‘radio jingle’ made specially for Radio One: ‘Radio One, you stole my gal but I love you all the same’. Ha! And played as hard as possible, too. Why don’t they make radio jingles like that any more? Mind you, ‘Radio One Jingle’ is quite probably the first heavy metal song ever written (!!!)

Another definite highlight comes at the end, with the famous ‘Lulu incident’ when Jimi came to a show hosted by the then-famous ex-performatrice (what’s the feminine for performer, dammit?) Lulu, on her request started playing a totally crazy version of ‘Hey Joe’, incidentally including a half-baked riff that would later on become the central point in Jimmy Page’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, then stopped it and, saying that they weren’t going to play this rubbish any more, suddenly crashed into an unexpected instrumental take on ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, dedicating it to the freshly disbanded Cream. He didn’t have more than one minute to go before the band was ‘rudely interrupted’, but whatever, the confusion WAS already made. The Cream boys must have been blushing from head to toe. And it’s all on here – ain’t it fun?

Out of the songs that didn’t make it onto the regular studio releases at the time, you do get quite a few. There’s an energetic take on Dylan’s little-known B-side ‘Can You Crawl Out Your Window?’ – another minor gem to add to your ‘Hendrix does Dylan’ collection; a wild, pull-all-the-stops instrumental called ‘Driving South’, with Jimi giving out such ferocious lines as have never been found on studio releases; an amusing cover of ‘Hound Dog’, with Mitch and Noel pulling off completely authentic whines and howls; two more versions of ‘Hear My Train A-Comin”, slightly marred with more annoying backing vocals from Mitch and Noel, but otherwise almost smoking; and, guess what, they even do ‘Day Tripper’! No, there is no John Lennon on backing vocals, as some of the rumours go, but still, this is a touching tribute (note also how Jimi plays a few lines from ‘I Want To Tell You’) in the beginning.

Of course, there’s also a lot of ‘blues wanking’, but you know Jimi. Some of the blues numbers on here are captivating, in fact: ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ is probably the ‘hardcorest’ version you’ll ever find in existence, only equalled by the Allman Brothers’ take on Idlewild South, and ‘Catfish Blues’ gives out the origins of the ‘Voodoo Chile’ jam – except it’s shorter, and never threatens to become as boring. Plus, there’s ‘Killing Floor’! Fast crazy boogie! What else do you need?

This is all heavily diluted by radio standards – ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’, ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Hey Joe’, and… ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Foxy Lady’, another ‘Foxy Lady’, and, of course, the unforgettable ‘Fire’ – plus some less famous tracks like ‘Love Or Confusion’ or ‘Spanish Castle Magic’. But I won’t tell you a lot about these because they’re… well, they’re standard Hendrix. And they don’t change the arrangements much; apparently, most of the songs were performed fresh from the studio (they even reproduce the ‘OOOH – AAAH’ parts in ‘Purple Haze’, something I’ve never heard on later live shows), apart from ‘Hey Joe’ which I suppose Jimi must have hated to death. Especially stupid… since in the track ‘A Brand New Sound’ Jimi discusses ‘Hey Joe’ with Alexis Korner and they come to the conclusion that ‘Hey Joe’ is not really representative of what the Experience are really trying to do and then Korner says ‘So now can we hear ‘Hey Joe’?’ You can actually hear Jimi going ‘what the fuck…’ in his mind, but of course he wouldn’t say it cuz he was such a nice guy and all. It’s really no surprise that he cut the song off at Lulu’s and desperately ripped into ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ – it’s very symbolic. And it’s symbolic that they didn’t let him play that thing to the end, too. Very symbolic and very sad.

Still, Alexis is generally a good master of ceremonies – everything is lightly peppered with bits of studio chatter and dialogue, and both the questions and the answers, and the hilarious remarks on Jimi and his ‘ridiculous crew’ work as good as anything.

In fact, I’d probably go as far as to state that this is the one and the only Hendrix live album you should ever get. He’s unusually concentrated on most of the songs – wild and totally self-controlled all the time. You know what I’m speaking of: sometimes he just goes over the top and the thin borderline separating his genius from cacophony vanishes. Here, all the guitar parts are clever, sharp, clear and tasteful. There’s not a lot of experimentation going on – for that approach, you’d better try Woodstock or even Band Of Gypsies – but in the end, it’s just a guarantee that nothing on here will offend the casual Hendrix lover. And ‘Driving South’ – it’s bound to knock you from your chair, because you won’t find these incredible chops on any studio record, I tell you. Of course, quite a few of the numbers aren’t at all superior to their studio counterparts, but none are inferior, and that’s a compliment – any of these versions could have easily substituted the studio originals.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix BBC Sessions | | Leave a comment