There’s been no shortage of posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases since the groundbreaking electric guitarist, singer and songwriter died at age 27 in 1970: Only three Hendrix albums charted during his lifetime, while more than three dozen released after his death have made it to the Billboard 200 Albums chart.
Still, the appearance this week of three Hendrix albums constitutes something noteworthy.
First up is “People, Hell and Angels,” a collection of a dozen previously unreleased studio tracks recorded in 1968 and 1969, sessions culled under the direction of the guitarist’s sister, Janie Hendrix, who administers his estate, and producer-engineer Eddie Kramer, who worked closely with Hendrix in those final years of his life.
The idea behind the album was to show new directions Hendrix was exploring, even as the Jimi Hendrix Experience was hitting its commercial peak with its first No. 1 album, “Electric Ladyland,” which spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart in October 1968.
The tracks on “People, Hell and Angels” display a tighter, more intimate sound than the characteristic explosiveness of his signature work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience or the band he formed after that group broke up, Band of Gypsys.
In fact, one of the unreleased tracks included on the new collection, “Hear My Train A-Comin’,” was his first studio session with bassist Billy Cox and Buddy Miles on the road to recording the “Band of Gypsys” album with them. His version of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart” was recorded with Cox and Miles on the same day, May 21, 1969.
The album’s lead-off cut, “Somewhere,” features another ’60s rock guitar hero — Stephen Stills, who Hendrix invited in not for a lead guitar battle but to add bass to tracks that he and dummer Miles had already put down early in 1968. When “Somewhere” was released recently as the first single from the new album, it went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Singles Sales Chart, demonstrating the public’s continuing appetite for significant new Hendrix material from the archives.
Among the other tracks Janie Hendrix and Kramer chose to release are “Crash Landing,” a number that prefigures his song “Freedom”; “Inside Out,” a rock instrumental with a groove similar to “Purple Haze” featuring JHE drummer Mitch Mitchell and Hendrix on both guitar and bass after he’d fallen out with Experience bassist Noel Redding; the funk-rooted “Let Me Move You,” spotlighting saxophonist and singer Lonnie Youngblood; and the jazz-swing instrumental “Easy Blues” with Cox, Mitchell, rhythm guitarist Larry Lee and percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan.
“People, Hell and Angels” is the second release of new studio material under a contract Experience Hendrix LLC entered three years ago with Sony Legacy, the first being 2010’s “Valleys of Neptune,” consisting of his final recordings with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The folks who cobbled together “People, Hell & Angels,” for the estate of the late Jimi Hendrix, have been making a lot of broad claims about their product.
It’s supposed to give us 12 “previously unreleased” studio recordings “completed” by Hendrix. It’s also meant to provide a “compelling window into his growth as a songwriter, musician and producer,” offering “tantalizing new clues” to the direction Hendrix was testing for a fourth studio album. This was to be a proposed double-set sequel to 1968’s “Electric Ladyland.”
Of course, Hendrix never recorded — let alone released — that album, so it’s hard to say just how “complete” the man himself may have considered these songs. While it’s true none of these recordings have come out before, nearly all have been issued in different versions in the 43 years since the guitar god left this earthly plane.
In that time, it seems like more “lost” Hendrix recordings have been found than we now have reality shows — some of them every bit as dubious. As a consequence, only the most extreme Hendrix-ologist could divine the precise rarity of these recordings. But even a cursory listen makes this clear: The newfangled, and boldly explorative, Hendrix alleged here, captured between 1968 and ’69, doesn’t sound all that different from the one we’ve long loved. At root, it’s still killer psychedelic rock-soul, very much of its time.
The disc does find the icon working with some different musicians, including Steven Stills (on bass!), along with a second guitarist on some tracks (h is old friend Larry Lee).
Hendrix also brings in horns and other singers for some cameos. Even if these “clues” somehow “tantalize” you, they hardly provide solid evidence of any revolutionary direction fans might have imagined for the icon.
Of course, the mold Hendrix already set had more than enough juice and innovation to thrill, and if you’re a nerd about this stuff, the incremental changes teased here will excite.
It’s fun to hear the guitar immortal working with horns. In “Let Me Move You,” he features saxist Lonnie Youngblood for a blisteringly fast rock-soul workout, much in the manic mode of Ike and Tina Turner. “Mojo Man” sees Hendrix helping out old Harlem friends, the Ghetto Fighters, who sing lead, while horns pump and a rolling piano brings in a touch of New Orleans.
The funky take on “Crash Landing” rescues it from a 1975 version that caused a scandal by employing posthumously tacked-on studio musicians. But the most worthy cut is “Easy Blues,” an instrumental that’s twice as long as a take that appeared on a now-out-of-print album from 1981. As guitarist Lee plays foil, Hendrix peels out leads that fly so high, they’ll leave every guitarist who came in his wake reeling in wonder.
When Jimi Hendrix died, he became a god. This is an undisputed fact. It’s all been said before, regurgitated by rock writers for decades: Hendrix revolutionized the art of guitar playing. He viewed the instrument as a sonic anomaly, his playing an ongoing experiment conducted during every jam session and live show. Scales, chords, progressions — all that stuff had already been discovered. Hendrix was fascinated by what hadn’t been done with a guitar– like playing it through wah-wah pedals and massive gain, or picking its strings with his teeth, or dousing it with lighter fluid and igniting it. His godliness is directly correlated to his larger-than-life fretwork.
So when he died, he ascended to the rock ‘n’ roll heavens, where his divine amplifier feedback can be heard for all of eternity. Us mortals were left with loose ends: demos, outtakes, unfinished recordings, archived live audio, and stray handwritten lyrics. They were scraps to some, $$$ to all the music industry execs who knew how to exploit the death of an icon.
The first three posthumous LPs — The Cry of Love, Rainbow Bridge, and War Heroes — were produced and compiled by Mitch Mitchell, Eddie Kramer, and John Jansen with the earnest intent of finishing what Hendrix couldn’t (most of these songs would be collected on 1997’s First Rays of the New Rising Sun in an attempt to recreate the album Hendrix was working on before he died). Admirable enough. But with the vaults open and labels placing bids on Hendrix’s unreleased material, the money grubbing ensued. The villain: record producer Alan Douglas. Starting with 1975’s Crash Landing, Douglas produced numerous albums by taking Hendrix’s leftovers and replacing the original rhythm tracks with overdubs by session musicians. After mastering, the recordings sounded more polished and professional, but less authentic. This pissed off a lot of Hendrix fans. Douglas compiled every posthumous studio album until the Hendrix estate (which operates under the name ‘Experience Hendrix L.L.C.’) gained ownership of the recordings in 1995.
Not that that’s seen a decrease in releases. Legacy Recordings and Experience Hendrix have already collaborated for some box sets and LPs, People, Hell and Angels being the latest. However, the presentation of the music differs. This partnership has taken an archivist approach to preserving and releasing posthumous material — the opposite of what Douglas did. No overdubs. You’re hearing Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums (the Band of Gypsys!). Stephen Stills shows up. The recordings sound raw– and real.
Opener “Earth Blues” is a tight rock-and-soul fusion and easily the catchiest tune on People, Hell and Angels. Hendrix sings his conversational jive-talk as Miles and Cox follow with a harmonized chorus reminiscent of vintage Motown. Originally featured on 1971’s Rainbow Bridge, the song is presented here in a looser form. The same goes for “Somewhere”, which sees Stills on bass. The takes are obviously candid, as if somebody just hit the record button while Hendrix and his band jammed in the studio (which is probably what happened). And the guitar solos… they’re on every song, multiple minutes in length. It’s to be expected, but it gets tiresome with repeated plays. Better are the solos that sound written rather than improvised. “Sometimes” touts one of the former, a silky romance of a solo that segues into Hendrix all down n’ out: “Back at the saloon, tears mix with mildew in my dreams.” No surprise that the two aforementioned tracks were selected as the singles for People, Hell and Angels (and they’re bound to chart, courtesy of classic rock stations everywhere).
The rest of the album is a mixed bag of brilliance and indifference. Some songs we simply don’t need another version of in our music libraries. “Hear My Train A Comin’” and “Bleeding Heart” were presented in superior form on 1994’s Blues; “Izabella” sounds good here, but better on First Rays and Woodstock. Other songs are so rough that they were probably better off unreleased (the cloying solo in the middle of “Easy Blues” is arguably Hendrix’s worst; “Mojo Man” is a Ghetto Fighters track with guitar awkwardly overdubbed into it).
Then there’s “Crash Landing”, which is so good that it’s hard to believe it went unreleased for so long (Douglas’ version doesn’t count). Hendrix sings to then-girlfriend Devon Wilson, pleading that she kick her drug addiction: “And look at you, all lovey-dovey when you mess around with that needle / Well, I wonder, how would your loving be otherwise?” His lyrics are rarely this personal and transparent. This is the kind of stuff that makes a posthumous release worthwhile.
People, Hell and Angel isn’t perfect — or godly — but it does contain some canon tracks that every Hendrix fan should hear. And for a posthumous anthology, it’s surprisingly cohesive as a singular unit. These tracks share a consistent groove that’s never urgent or lazy, but just right. Perhaps it’s the organic, jam-session sound quality. Or the Miles-Cox rhythm section. Whatever the dynamic, the Douglas-produced albums didn’t have it. People, Hell and Angels does, and no matter how flawed it might be, you can’t dispute its authenticity.
Do we, at this point, require further evidence that Jimi Hendrix was the most prodigiously gifted guitarist to ever play the instrument?
We do not. Then again, we don’t need additional proof that stars glow at night, but it’s still nice to see them light up the sky.
Not so long ago, Hendrix’s compact but concentrated recording career was measured by the official albums released before his death. Aside from bootlegs that ranged from inauthentic to unconvincing—and occasionally exultant—Hendrix’s posthumous legacy was marred by mystery. How much unrealized material languished in the vaults? Who oversaw it?
In recent years, members of Jimi’s family, operating as Experience Hendrix L.L.C., have controlled the keys to the kingdom. Since 2010 there has been a steady—and quite welcome—succession of revelatory recordings, including West Coast Seattle Boy and Winterland (both box sets) and the single-disc Valleys of Neptune. Much of this material has never seen the light of day so, taken together, they significantly broaden our understanding of how productive, and incomparable Hendrix really was.
The gifts continue to arrive, this time with the release of People, Hell & Angels. For Hendrix fanatics, each new installment signifies an event and is to be celebrated accordingly. Of course the aficionados will know in advance how much of this material has appeared, in various forms, on previous releases – both sanctioned and not. For the merely curious, or anyone who has not yet properly experienced Hendrix (are you experienced?), this is not the place to start. For anyone else, this disc, like the aforementioned Valleys of Neptune affords the chance to get caught up on a dozen tracks all in one spot as opposed to the aforementioned bootlegs. Put another way, this is hardly essential unless anything Hendrix did is essential and you want to hear everything he did.
What these recent releases all have in common is the case they continue to make that Hendrix was, as his debut album amply illustrates, a fully-formed player (and performer). Even as he grew and explored, he was seldom in one spot, aesthetically speaking, for long. The dates of the various sessions comprising this collection underscore what many people have long understood: Hendrix could shift seamlessly from the psychedelic adventures of Electric Ladyland to the straight-up, occasionally hard-edged blues, and seemingly every rock style in between.
It is, in fact, the blues idiom that gets a more than casual treatment on several tracks. Unlike many of his more polished performances, the songs included on this set, including a spirited take on the Elmore James classic “Bleeding Heart” and Hendrix staple “Hear My Train a Comin’” are no-frills affairs. Being works-in-progress they have not been multi-tracked or embellished with studio effects; as such they prove (yet again) that Hendrix was extremely comfortable using the classic blues formula as a point of reference—and departure.
Even more enchanting are two tracks that have appeared, in different or edited form, on earlier releases. “Villanova Junction Blues”, which Hendrix would later play at Woodstock, is a snapshot of what the guitarist was trying to capture in the studio: still unfinished, it’s a crucial addition to the Hendrix canon. “Easy Blues”, which initially appeared on the impossible-to-procure 1981 release Nine to the Universe is yet another testament to his genius. It serves as (yet another) showcase of Hendrix’s dexterity and boundless technical proficiency; this should serve as the “I can’t believe I’ve never been able to hear this before” moment from People, Hell & Angels.
There are a handful of new versions of very familiar tracks, such as “Somewhere”, “Izabella” and “Hey Gypsy Boy” (which would eventually become “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)”. Perhaps most intriguingly, there are the genuine out-of-left-field oddities, such as “Let Me Move You”, which features saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood. “Mojo Man” includes uncredited horn players and lead vocals from Albert Allen, while “Inside Out” features Hendrix on guitar as well as bass (recorded in 1968, this is a result of the increasingly strained relationship with Experience bassist Noel Redding).
Not quite filler, much of this material is anything but indispensable. On the other hand, considering how fleeting Hendrix’s recording career turned out to be, it’s remarkable that so much material was recorded. In this regard, Hendrix was way ahead of his time, ceaselessly working in his own studio and putting jams and improvisations on tape. What remains are fragments that got worked into more refined compositions, and enticing snapshots of ideas and visions that never had a chance to reach fruition.
For Hendrix enthusiasts, and the historical record, this latest (and hopefully not last) installment is priceless in its way. Any time we have an opportunity to hear Hendrix, particularly the incomplete works that clarify how his restless creativity operated, we are amassing additional (if unnecessary) validation that Jimi Hendrix, as an artist and explorer, has few peers in modern music.
And the hits just keep on coming! As I write this, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix’s People, Hell and Angels CD is number one in sales on Amazon.com and the digital version sits comfortably at number two on iTunes…decades after the artist’s too-brief commercial heyday.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, People, Hell and Angels is a twelve-song collection of previously-unreleased Hendrix studio tracks, most of them from the pivotal year of 1969 when the Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up and the guitarist was wanting to explore new musical directions with fresh collaborators. Although most of these songs have been released in different forms, on both live and studio LPs, you’ve never heard ’em quite like this, this high-flying dozen revealing new dimensions to Jimi’s talents as a musician, songwriter, and producer.
Jimi Hendrix’s People, Hell and Angels
The album-opening “Earth Blues” differs from the previous version released posthumously in 1971; the guitarist leading the power trio of bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles (i.e. the “Band of Gypsies”) through their paces on a muscular, sparse hard rock construct. Built on Hendrix’s soulful vocals and laser-precise guitar licks, the rhythm section lays down the slightest of funk grooves to propel the song forwards. It’s not a great song, but it ain’t half-bad either, Hendrix’s fretwork displaying a fluid and natural feel, the lyric-heavy broth indicative of where the guitarist’s creative head was at this distinctive period in time.
Of much greater interest, personally, is the previously-undiscovered “Somewhere,” originally recorded in 1968 for Electric Ladyland. The take here was nearly lost to the ages, and features Stephen Stills laying down an awkward but intriguing bass line against Miles’ syncopated drumwork as Hendrix’s guitar soars unpredictably above the fray. “Somewhere” was previously heard on the widely-criticized Alan Douglas production Crash Landing, and Mitch Mitchell had overdubbed his percussion atop Miles’, but this version captures the song as originally envisioned, and while not a smash, it’s a healthy rocker nonetheless.
Hear My Train A Comin’
People, Hell and Angels mixes more than a little blues into the rockin’ funk that Jimi was delving into in 1969, beginning with a scorching take on “Hear My Train A Comin’,” derived from the first recording session with Cox and Miles. Influenced by innovative fretburners like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Albert King, this one is a real barn-burner. Jimi takes the blues into territory that only Stevie Ray Vaughan would later explore, his high-flying axe screaming tortured sounds and distorted blues licks above a beefy rhythm track. This unreleased take slows down the tempo, revs up the amperage, and blows out the speakers like nobody else before or since.
Ditto for “Bleeding Heart,” an inspired Elmore James cover culled from that same first session with Cox and Miles. Hendrix had evidently been messing with the arrangement for this personal favorite of his for some time, unhappy with previous attempts at capturing on tape what he felt in his heart, and this take, while maybe not nirvana to Jimi, certainly hits the modern listener’s sweet spot. Mid-paced with a solid groove, Hendrix rides Cox’s hearty bass line with reckless aplomb, embroidering James’ original sound with quickly-evolving guitar solos that seemingly change every few bars and provide enough fresh ideas to fuel an entire generation of future guitarists.
Hendrix brought in his old friend, saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood, for the rockin’ R&B rave-up “Let Me Move You,” the pair backed by an unfamiliar band that included keyboardist John Winfield on this 1969 session outtake. It doesn’t really matter who’s backing Youngblood and Hendrix, however, the pair jetting into the stratosphere on a wildfire performance fueled by Winfield’s rapid keyboard riffs, Hendrix’s scattershot notes, and Youngblood’s raucous vocals and screaming sax. In the aftermath of the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, Hendrix took his then-current band, the informally-titled Gypsy Sun & Rainbows, into the studio to try and capture a keeper on his new tune “Izabella.”
The version of “Izabella” on the posthumous War Heroes sounds little like this one, which evinces a deeper rhythmic groove courtesy of bassist Cox and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and percussion courtesy Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan. Hendrix brings in a second guitarist, too, his old friend Larry Lee to add rhythm while Hendrix delivers his usual unbelievable solos above a dense, richer sound. Recorded the same night and, says the extensive liner notes provided People, Hell and Angels by Hendrix aficionado John McDermott, in-between takes of “Izabella,” the instrumental “Easy Blues” is a find. Longer and more fully-realized than the version found on 1981’s chop-shop creation Nine To The Universe, this take is allowed to flow more naturally, developing the interplay between Hendrix and Lee and the rhythm section, resulting in an electric and energetic performance.
When producer Alan Douglas somehow grabbed the rights to the Hendrix tape library in 1974, he released a number of posthumous albums – Crash Landing, Midnight Lighting, and Nine To The Universe – that are now widely reviled by the hardcore faithful. Part of this had to do with Douglas’ misguided efforts to spotlight Jimi’s talent by stripping everything from the master tapes except for his guitar and vocals, and filling in with anonymous session musicians. This move proved to be stupid plus ten, because part of Jimi’s genius was the inspiration and energy he took from his musical collaborators, which is nowhere more apparent than on “Crash Landing.” Recorded in early 1969 with Cox and drummer Rocky Isaac of the Cherry People, Hendrix was trying to create something funkier, jazzier, and yet bluesier than previous with complex rhythmic patterns and imaginative guitar solos.
Although the band struggles to keep up, as shown by this previously-unreleased take, the musical ideas and experiments undertaken by the guitarist are simply breathtaking. Another example of this artistic vision can be found on “Mojo Man,” a song from brothers Albert and Arthur Allen, old friends of Jimi’s. Originally recorded by the brothers at the Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1969, Hendrix asked them about the song in 1970 (when he had them singing back-up on “Dolly Dagger” and “Freedom” from Cry of Love). Working with a tape provided by Albert Allen, Hendrix pumps up the song with his finest funk licks ever, riding high in the mix alongside Allen’s soul-drenched vocals, an unnamed horn section blasting away, and New Orleans pianist James Booker’s nuanced accompaniment. The result is a lively, engaging slab o’ early 1970s R&B.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
There’s much more, of course, to explore on People, Hell and Angels, and even the album-closing, unfinished jam “Villanova Junction Blues,” from that productive first session with Cox and Miles, provides hints and signs of the musical directions that Hendrix wanted to explore: bluesier, funkier, jazzier, but with the power and potential of hard rock. It’s hard to tell where Hendrix’s restless muse may have taken him during the decade of the 1970s when rock ‘n’ roll exploded into a myriad of styles (glam, metal, punk, progressive), but it’s a safe to say that the guitarist would have been at the forefront of whatever was fresh and exciting in popular music.
People, Hell and Angels is a superb collection, not merely another retread of the live performances we’ve heard from Jimi time and time again. This is the sort of stuff upon which Hendrix built his immense legacy, proving – better than 40 years after his death – that the praise is well-deserved. (Experience Hendrix/Legacy Recordings, released March 5, 2013)
Like its 2010 predecessor, Valleys of Neptune, the latest collection of previously unreleased studio tracks by Jimi Hendrix changes nothing, one way or the other, about the highly influential guitarist’s place in the pantheon. There’s not much here you haven’t heard — more than once — in different versions.
People, Hell and Angels does, however, bring more joy to the musical landscape. It can brighten up your week and put a spring in your step.
If that power seems less earth-shattering than one might have expected, it’s not inconsiderable. To hear an unadorned take of the wonderful Earth Blues — with Buddy Miles’s original drum track and without the Ronettes’ overdubs — is to be happy it’s out there.
Like Valleys, this feels less like an album than 12 random snapshots of a restless innovator in search of the perfect band and the best way to present his latest material. During these sessions, recorded between March 1968 and August 1970, he is mostly working out and discarding ideas for a follow-up to the epochal Electric Ladyland, the third and last studio album released during his lifetime.
First Rays of the New Rising Sun, released in 1997, is the closest we can come to knowing what a fourth album would have sounded like (although its contents had already been released in other guises over the decades, scattered over albums of varying quality.) But that doesn’t make it any less fascinating to hear the title of that album pop up here in the lyrics of Hey Gypsy Boy, with its highly experimental guitar solo, and again in the torrid blues rocker Izabella, where Mitch Mitchell’s muscular drumming swings and rocks — no mean feat.
Similarly, to hear one of Freedom’s defining riffs foreshadowed in a bass line from Crash Landing — released for the first time without the posthumous overdubs that drew criticism in 1975 — is exhilarating. The same goes for Inside Out, with its superb, groove-tightening bass work by Hendrix, showing traces of what became Ezy Rider.
On Let Me Move You, Hendrix provides funky, percussive chords and piercing lead lines for Lonnie Youngblood, who sings and plays sax. (Less than three years earlier, Hendrix had been one of Youngblood’s anonymous sidemen.) The song’s companion piece is the smouldering Mojo Man, a track originally recorded by Albert and Arthur Allen, to which Hendrix added guitar during the month preceding his death.
But the temptation to conclude that soul was to be Hendrix’s future is tempered by his constant slipping into the comfort zone of blues, which dominates the disc in both style and spirit. Yet another version of Hear My Train A Comin’, featuring a powerhouse performance by what later became Band of Gypsys, a cover of Elmore James’s Bleeding Heart and the engaging slow jam Easy Blues — with Mitchell once again shining — are standouts.
You wouldn’t choose People, Hell and Angels to introduce a visitor from another planet to the Hendrix oeuvre. And yes, a merely casual fan might have drawn the line on the endless rough drafts long ago. But if you are among the many who think each variation of every song, solo or riff is as important as an outtake by Miles Davis, you’ll want this fly-on-the-wall vantage point to witness the creative process of one of rock music’s most important artists.
If you greet word of a new Jimi Hendrix album with skepticism, you’re not alone. Some of the discs that followed his death in September 1970 have been so disappointing that many Hendrix fanatics would rather skip all posthumous releases than hear studio assemblages masquerading as “new Hendrix music.” (An egregious example of this is 1975’s Crash Landing, in which producer Alan Douglas brought in session musicians to replace original rhythm tracks with overdubs. Released in 1995, Voodoo Soup is another such Douglas pastiche.)
But here’s the good news, at least for guitarists: While People, Hell and Angels isn’t a great album—meaning it lacks the coherent sound, vision, and vibe of, say, Axis: Bold as Love—it’s packed with magnificent guitar. Jimi is on fire and his Strat sounds crisp and present. His band varies, but mostly Mitch Mitchell or Buddy Miles are on drums with Billy Cox handling the bass.
Overall, Jimi’s guitar tones are remarkably clean. We hear him playing through cranked low-gain Marshalls, and the mix reveals the details of his masterful technique: We hear the creak and groan of trem springs when he does a trademark dive, we hear his fingers slap the fretboard as he trills and hammers notes, we hear the click of a footswitch as he engages his fuzz or wah. His playing is raw and intense, yet soulful and supple. Kudos to Eddie Kramer, who mixed all 12 songs, for keeping it real.
As someone who has gone forward and backward through much of Jimi’s recorded work—including a number of excellent concert albums, such as Live at Berkeley and Live at Winterland—I was amazed to hear Hendrix explore new tones and phrasing in People, Hell and Angels. All the moves we know and love are here in spades, but if you listen carefully, you’ll also get a fresh perspective on his fretwork.
Take “Somewhere,” for example, recorded in 1968 with Miles on drums and Stephen Stills playing bass. After spewing edgy wah licks across several verses, Hendrix takes an abrupt turn to deliver a clean, melodic solo that’s dramatically different from anything I’ve heard him play.
Another of the many highlights is “Bleeding Heart,” which Hendrix tracked in 1969 during his first-ever session with Miles and Cox. In addition to documenting the mind-meld that gave us Band of Gypsys, it reminds us how Hendrix drew on the late-’50s West Side sound of Chicago masters Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, and Otis Rush for his own tripped-out blues.
According to the liner notes, all the tracks on People, Hell and Angels are previously unreleased—they’re either new songs or different takes of what we’ve heard before. (We’ll let the Hendrix scholars and completists sort out the veracity of this claim.) A few cuts succeed more as curiosities than stellar music—notably “Let Me Move You,” featuring Lonnie Youngblood, Jimi’s old bandleader, on lead vocals and sax—but People, Hell and Angels offers Hendrix freaks many hours of inspired listening. If you’re passionate about Jimi’s guitar work, this will be a welcome addition to your library.
If there were any doubts about the lingering force of fabled rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix more than four decades after his death, his latest release should put them to rest.
The single “Somewhere” went to Number One on America’s Billboard Hot Singles sales in February. That bodes well for the latest posthumous album plucked from the Hendrix musical vaults, which producers say has stood up well to the test of time.
People, Hell and Angels, released on CD tomorrow, is billed as a collection of twelve previously unreleased studio performances by Hendrix, although some of the songs have emerged in other versions since his death at age 27 in 1970 from an accidental drug overdose.
The album arrives with the simultaneous release of newly struck mono vinyl editions of early Hendrix classic albums Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love.
The tracks on People, Hell and Angels, were planned as a follow-up to the influential guitarist’s chart-topping 1968 album Electric Ladyland.
“After the huge success of the (Jimi Hendrix) Experience and those first albums, he wanted to branch out more, and the blues sound on this is just different from the others,” said Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s step-sister and president and CEO of Experience Hendrix, the company founded by the musician’s father to oversee the star’s estate.
“This new album is very important for all his fans as it really showcases his creativity and a different side to him,” she said.
Feeling constrained by the limitations of the Jimi Hendrix Experience trio (which included drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding), the guitarist had already started working with an eclectic group of musicians.
They included the Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills, drummer Buddy Miles, saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood and bassist Billy Cox, with whom Hendrix had served in the U.S. military.
The resulting sessions, culled from 1968 and 1969, form the basis of People, Hell and Angels, co-produced by Janie Hendrix, original engineer and mixer Eddie Kramer and long-time Hendrix historian John McDermott.
“What we wanted to do with this new album is provide what we all felt are really compelling examples of Jimi’s artistry and also his often overlooked role as a producer,” said McDermott, a long-time collaborator with Experience Hendrix on various Hendrix projects.
“He saw right away that guys like Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, with whom he later formed Band of Gypsys, brought a new approach and sound to his songs and music. And Jimi was always very free creatively. He wasn’t afraid to serve the song,” McDermott said.
McDermott cites “Electric Ladyland,” which featured such diverse players as Stevie Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood.
“Working in the studio was a totally different palette for him, compared with playing live,” he said. “He could experiment with extra percussion, an additional guitar, organ – whatever he felt the track needed.”
And while those tracks, which include such titles as “Earth Blues,” “Baby Let Me Move You” and “Izabella,” are now 45 years old, the audio quality is superb, because nothing beats analogue tape for enduring sound quality.
“Jimi’s masters were recorded before the era of mass-production that caused the archival nightmares of the Seventies, for example, where tapes lose their glue backing, (so) we’ve never faced that problem with the Jimi Hendrix library. His whole tape archive is in very good shape,” McDermott said.
The new album is the latest in a slew of albums, films, tribute tours and books following Hendrix’s death in London, which far outnumber the three studio albums he released in his four-year career at the top.
“He’s a timeless artist and the technology’s finally caught up to what he was trying to do musically,” Janie Hendrix said.
“People are still hungry for real music and good songs, and Jimi was a great songwriter and one of the greatest guitarists of all time,” she said.
Every new generation regards Hendrix as a touchstone, said McDermott. “If you want to understand the role of rock guitar and listen to real virtuosity, then Jimi’s the man.
“People react to the originals, and that’s what he was, a true visionary whose music doesn’t sound dated at all nearly half a century later.”