This twelve song collection titled “The Baggy’s Rehearsal Sessions” released via the official bootleg label Dagger Records is a gem for fans of this excellent short lived trio and a must buy! What you get here is the band (Jimi Hendrix on guitar/vocals, Billy Cox on bass/vocals, and Buddy Miles on drums/vocals) performing a rehearsal in preparation to the four legendary Fillmore East concerts that they gave on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. The songs were recorded during two different sessions on December 18 and 19, 1969 at Baggy’s Studios in New York City.
The first version of “Burning Desire” which opens the album is in fact the very same take that was released in 1973 on the long deleted posthumous compilation “Loose Ends”. Even though it is a rehearsal, it sounds fantastic with the rhythm section of Cox/Miles playing tightly and Jimi plays a lot of memorable lead guitar. Cox and Miles even add some nice back up vocals during the slow section towards the latter half. This tune is without a doubt a songwriting highlight from this period and with all its tempo/key/chord changes, I would describe it as progressive R&B! What follows is a rare version of the blues classic “Hoochie Koochie Man” which differs from the Experience version recorded for the BBC in the sense that Miles’ drumming is more on the beat and less on the fills for a start and Hendrix’s soloing is more aggressive. This is some serious blues guitar playing! This recording was also previously released on the “Loose Ends” compilation and is good to have it available one more time. Hendrix’s sense of humor is on display here as he tries to imitate the singing style of Muddy Waters for a few bars!
Track number three is “Message Of Love” and it does not sound too different from the classic live take on the album but of course Hendrix always manages to deliver an interesting solo that radically differs from the familiar one heard on the live LP. The middle eight with the lyrics ‘I am what I am’ is my favorite part. This recording also demonstrates that the band was definitely in high spirits during this recording session as you can hear them joking around at the end. According to the liner notes, they are imitating two comedians that they enjoyed: Moms Mabley and Pigmeat Markham! It is Miles who suggests running through “Ezy Ryder” and off they go. In this case, this tune really benefits from the direct one-guitar/bass/drums format. It has an extra punch that the take on the “First Rays” album lacks and the back up vocals are more prominent. Also of note is the fact that they play the song’s middle eight (with the lyrics ‘see all the lovers say do what you please’) twice albeit with different lyrics in this case. After they finish playing, the sense of humor is again heard when Miles makes a reference to the “Third Stone From The Sun” lyric ‘…and you’ll never hear surf music again’!
Next they settle into “Power Of Soul” and this version is noticeably longer than the BOG live take clocking at over seven minutes. Vocally speaking, Hendrix is in better form here than on the live album in my opinion and the soloing is as good if not better. Miles even added a short ‘ooh’ of back up vocals for one second during the first verse. They should have expanded on that idea and add the back up vocals throughout the song! Very nice version but I still prefer the studio take from “South Saturn Delta” with the killer wah wah soloing! Still any version of this tune always does the trick for me…such great riffs throughout.
Song number six equals the first version of “Earth Blues” on this album and in this particular take the emphasis is put on the vocal sections as opposed to the jamming improvisation. Hendrix keeps the wah wah solo short and they quickly go into a third verse. This is one of my favorite compositions from the Gypsies period because it seems to bring together a gospel influence with funk and the intro/chorus rhythm guitar motif is unusual! Also of note is the cool ending where Hendrix seemingly deconstructs the main riff to finish off with an ascending dissonant riff! A superb coda idea that Hendrix used on other songs such as “Freedom” and “In From The Storm”. After its conclusion the Miles written “Changes” starts with its ear catching melodic intro and this version is very close to the BOG live take with Miles’ vocals taking main role and Hendrix guitar prowess taking a noticeable back seat. That issue aside, I’ve always enjoyed this R&B song and the chorus riff is killer! However, track number eight is a real treat: this is so far the only chance to hear the Band Of Gypsies tearing through the rocker “Lover Man” in a studio setting. The lead guitar playing is simply fantastic and matches his lead work from the Experience take featured on the “South Saturn Delta” album. This song would have made a nice single A side in my opinion.
The second Miles composition “We Gotta Live Together” is interesting but at the same time brought down by the fact that the recording only last for about forty five seconds. What the tape captured was essentially the very last seconds of the performance. You’ll hear the three guys singing in harmony the ‘home sweet home’ vocal line with Miles getting busy on the hi-hat and Cox providing a funk style bass line before they quickly wrap up. The next recording titled “Baggy’s Jam” makes up for the previous one though. The title is self explanatory and you’ll hear Jimi leading his rhythm section through a series of key changes while delivering some nice funky rhythm and some sporadic bursts of lead guitar. Cox does great on the bass with all the key changes adjusting his riff accordingly as the jam marches along. This is cool but clocking only at five minutes, I wish it was longer!
The two closing numbers on the album are alternate takes of “Earth Blues” and “Burning Desire” which provide further insight into Hendrix’s exceptional improvisational skills with plenty of killer playing to keep them interesting and noticeably different from the previous takes! In the former, the arrangement mirrors the live versions more closely with the usual extended solo and no third verse. The latter features the instrumental intro also heard in the Fillmore East live version as opposed to the previous take that opened this album that begun directly with the verse. The only negative aspect is the fact that it fades out before its conclusion.
In brief, this official bootleg release is essential listening for die hard fans of Jimi Hendrix, especially if you are big into his Band Of Gypsies phase and appreciate Hendrix’s effort to bring his R&B/soul/funk heritage to the fore with the ultimate end of producing a combination of said styles and rock!
Two more things though…on the official Hendrix website you can listen to two additional recordings from these rehearsal sessions. Head over to the page and click on ‘media’ and then select ‘concert broadcasts’ and scroll down until you see the ‘baggy’s sessions’ link. Hear the trio tear through a medley of “Izabella/Machine Gun” and “Who Knows”. Nice bonus!
Last but not least, if you purchase the “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” EP, you’ll hear another recording from these same sessions, in this case being an interesting instrumental medley of “Silent Night”, “Little Drummer Boy” and “Auld Lang Syne” as only Hendrix would have played them back then!
Jimi Hendrix: The Baggy’s Rehearsal Sessions represents the fifth release by Dagger Records, the official bootleg label created by Experience Hendrix. This edition offers the fruits of the guitarist’s spirited rehearsals fronting the Band Of Gypsys as they prepared for their four unforgettable Fillmore East concerts.
These unpolished, direct to two-track recordings were made over the course of two long December 1969 evenings. Hendrix had just returned from Toronto, Canada where he had been acquitted in a jury trial for narcotic possession. The verdict had lifted an enormous burden from the guitarist’s shoulders. With the court case and all of its possible ramifications now behind him, Hendrix redirected his energy toward preparations for the recording of a live album at the Fillmore East with bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. “We rehearsed at a place called Baggy’s in New York,” explains Cox. “It was located down by Chinatown. We were there prior to Christmas and then a little after, practicing and rehearsing. We were working up a set with the songs we were going to perform for the [Fillmore East] concert. Then we realized that we had to do four shows and we used quite a few of those numbers in each of the shows.”
Baggy’s Studios was a nondescript Manhattan rehearsal facility opened by former Soft Machine road manager Tom Edmonston. Baggy’s was by no means a recording studio designed to compete with the likes of the Record Plant. Baggy’s had no control room; its purpose was to provide a space for artists to rehearse without restriction and at full volume for as much time as they required. This was a simple, yet effective rehearsal facility geared to those such as Hendrix who had no other convenient space to prepare for a live event or concert tour. “Baggy’s had two floors,” remembers Cox. “It was essentially warehouse space. We worked in the large room downstairs. It was a pretty simple set up. There were rugs on the floor and the walls were padded and soundproofed. ” While commonplace now, the concept of a dedicated rehearsal room for rock acts [as opposed to vacant halls or theaters] had only begun to take hold in 1969. Cox explains. “The recording studio was exclusively used for creating and coming up with something new and different. This was something else. Previous to that time, whenever Jimi wanted to rehearse something he would call me up and I would come over to his apartment and we would play through some small amps. Rehearsal space did not exist as we know it today.” Perhaps most importantly, Baggy’s rental rates were a fraction of the cost of similar time at the Record Plant. With Hendrix’s finances hamstrung by the construction cost overruns of his own Electric Lady Studios and the continuing PPX litigation, this was an important consideration.
The twelve recordings that make up this collection were originally made at 7 « i.p.s. on a two-track reel to reel tape machine. “It seemed like Jimi and I always had a recorder running there,” recalls Cox. “It was like every move we were making there was being taped by somebody!” For Hendrix, these recordings served as a convenient tool to measure the group’s progress throughout the rehearsals. Gene McFadden, a member of Hendrix’s road crew, organized the group’s equipment and installed a sound system from which a feed was patched into the tape recorder. Hendrix loaded a full spool of tape and essentially left the machine to run. Each song was recorded live with no overdubs or other such attempts to finish or even polish them.
By all accounts, Baggy’s served its purpose well. Over the course of several marathon sessions at the facility, the Band Of Gypsys made marked progress rounding such budding prospects as “Earth Blues”, “Power Of Soul”, and “Message To Love” into form. “Jimi enjoyed his time there,” remembers Edmonston. “He called me the midnight social worker. He and Billy Cox were great guys all around.”
Throughout The Baggy’s Rehearsals Sessions, Hendrix can be heard tinkering with both arrangements and lyrics, enthusiastically refining these bright examples of his new musical direction. What these raw, unmixed tapes make clear is the enthusiasm the trio shared for this new music and the opportunity before them to bring it to life onstage. Even at their peak of unity, the original Jimi Hendrix Experience never rehearsed in such a fashion. This is by no means a knock on either Mitch Mitchell or Noel Redding, whose extraordinary interaction with Hendrix took form in a different fashion; instead it speaks to the shared cultural and musical heritage Hendrix, Cox, and Miles shared. “Our music was spread [across] a wide spectrum,” recalls Buddy Miles. “You had rockers, you had R&B, soul, and most definitely blues. For instance, when we played ‘Stop’ by Howard Tate, the original version and the way that it was produced was most definitely uptown rhythm and blues, with a New York sound, but we kind of dissected it, which was cool. That’s one of the things about the Band of Gypsys that I loved, because we could kind of like make our own baby–blues baby, rock baby, pop baby, and put them all together man, and come up with this formula. It was like a soulful fragment.”
As groundbreaking as Electric Ladyland had seemed, Jimi’s new material represented another bold step forward by the guitarist. Jimi had evolved as a guitarist, capable of more sophisticated lead and rhythm patterns. These new songs were more serious in tone, in keeping with Hendrix’s desire to pare down his songs to deliver maximum impact. In addition, complex songs such as “Power Of Soul” and “Burning Desire” incorporated intricate time and tempo changes that showcased the lively synergy between Cox and Hendrix. “Truthfully, Billy Cox was a bear of a thinker, because to play Jimi’s music–and no discredit to Noel Redding or anything like that–but I could understand the fact that he needed somebody to think like he did,” explains Buddy Miles. “If you really listen to Jimi’s music, there are a lot of time changes and different time signatures in the man’s music. That was part of what made it so great. I remember when we were into about the third or fourth days of rehearsals, we had already gone through half of the Band of Gypsys songs we were going to play. From there, it was really about improvisation. What Jimi really wanted from Billy and I was not just to back him up but be a security blanket. We also could fuse our ideas, that’s the reason why on little or nothing, Billy and myself came up with certain riffs that were really easy riffs, like for instance “Message To Love”, dah dah dah, du du du du dadda, yeah oooh yeah oooh. It kind of sounded like the Beatles in a way, but the little curly cues and intricate things were very important. They were an asset to what we were doing. Jimi was like that too, he gave us music that we could take and pick apart and say ‘Listen to that riff or listen to this riff. That’s really cool.”
Prior to this release, a few excerpts from Jimi’s rehearsals at Baggy’s have been commercially issued. “Burning Desire” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” first appeared overseas in 1973 as part of the long since deleted Loose Ends compilation. In recent years, the Baggy’s recording of Jimi’s yuletide medley of “Little Drummer Boy”, “Silent Night”, and “Auld Lang Syne” has been issued as the popular CD single Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year. The Baggy’s Studio Rehearsals also features early versions of many of the songs later to be included as part of Band Of Gypsys or Live At The Fillmore East.
Throughout this collection, Hendrix, Cox, and Miles seem completely at ease and in fine spirits. Their laughing and joking punctuate a number of the songs, ranging from good- natured imitations of Muddy Waters in “Hoochie Coochie Man” to the humor of popular comedians they enjoyed like Moms Mabley and Pigmeat Markham at the close of “Message To Love”. Even Hendrix himself is not spared the needle, as Miles and Cox chide their famous bandleader with his own celebrated line from “Third Stone From The Sun”, ‘.and you’ll never hear surf music again,’ at the close of a raucous workout of ‘Ezy Ryder’.
Beyond the good humor, there is much to be relished from a musical standpoint. Hendrix soars over a superb “Power Of Soul”, weaving his spellbinding rhythm and lead parts around Cox’s rock solid underpinning. Two versions of “Earth Blues” bear witness to this song’s promise-perhaps even more convincingly than its unfinished studio counterpart now featured at part of First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. The Baggy’s Studio Rehearsals also reveal that “Changes” and “We Gotta Live Together”, two original compositions by Buddy Miles, were early candidates for the Fillmore East set list. Miles powers through the upbeat “Changes” in his trademark style, honing the arrangement made famous by Band Of Gypsys. A fragment of the infectious “We Gotta Live Together” was preserved when an unknown tape operator snapped on the recording device near the song’s close. “Baggy’s Jam”, like so many other impromptu explorations by the trio, is an unexpected treat, building in intensity as Hendrix incorporates of host of fertile riffs and rhythm patterns. A second, vigorous rendition of “Burning Desire brings the disc to a close.
Taken together with Band Of Gypsys and Live At The Fillmore East, The Baggy’s Studio Rehearsals offers Hendrix fans a more detailed view of the evolution of one of Hendrix most lasting achievements. Enjoy!