Hendrix blazed through our lives like a fireball-supernova
that most likely originated in a black hole in the
middle of some uncharted universe. This was not
just some Elvis or Beatle—everything about Hendrix
was otherworldly. He had an understanding of sonics
and how they related to music, which no human had
ever conceived before. He was able to express these
non-verbal expressions as blasts of feedback and warfare
emulations; personal, unique grace notes that were
apropos for the times in which he performed. Before
his genius reached maturity (he died at age 27), all
that was left were some blinking sparks in the tail
of a once-in-a-lifetime comet. A true alien in his
lifetime—now as an immortal—too much wasted
effort is spent by others in trying to compartmentalize
is now a great deal of focus on Jimi Hendrix, the
icon. With the opening of The Experience Foundation
Museum in Seattle (or whatever it's called), anniversary
observations of his birth and death (September 18,
2000 marked the 30th anniversary of his
passing), remastered versions of his catalogue and
those ridiculous VH-1 TV marathons listing the alleged
best 50 or 100 guitarists, it's prime time for an
enterprising record company to put out a deluxe set
like this one. The Jimi Hendrix Experience,
a 4-CD set, presents 56 tracks, 40 of them previously
unreleased (if you don't count those previously issued
on bootlegs, plus the titles duplicated within the
set itself), alternate tracks ("Foxy Lady,"
take 18, on which Jimi plays shirtless with one sock
on), items we've not heard before (posthumously-named
jams or basic tracks, sans vocals), and alternate
mixes (give me a break!), all spread out over four
CDs. And there is the de rigeur high
design companion book—this one runs 80 pages.
The entire package is housed in a purple paisley box,
guaranteed not to fit on your existing CD shelves.
aside from the fact that Universal Records will never
hire me to write advertising copy for them, one can
surely surmise that this bloated set hasn't sated
this fan. We can't expect our prematurely-deceased
icons to leave us with a chapter-and-verse legacy,
all neatly laid out so that short-changed record companies
might get their money back (see "Buckley, Jeff").
Reprise Records originally released the Hendrix catalogue
in America during his lifetime and, for a number of
years after his death. But in the early 1970s, independent
producer Alan Douglas, who claimed to own the rights
to a cache of unreleased Jimi jams, butted in
and the lawyers and relatives went to war. When the
dust cleared many years and lawsuits later, Reprise
came up empty-handed.
here is Universal (formerly MCA), with an absolutely
clean profit and loss slate. They neither subsidized
these tracks nor supported them with advertising campaigns,
as did Reprise three-plus decades ago, yet they're
the ones manufacturing velvet boxes and lengthy booklets,
tacking on a suggested list price of $69.99. This
year, Reprise Records probably spent four times as
much promoting the Eric Clapton-B.B. King hit collaboration—a
single disc—as Universal did their allegedly
monumental Hendrix extravaganza.
what exactly do ya get for your hard-earned lucre?
Let us investigate. Right off the bat, over one-third
of the material herein was recorded live, and some
of it has been culled from such weathered heard-before
performances as Monterey Pop, Rainbow Bridge, and
The Isle of Wight. Many of the set's selections
are duplicated in various versions: there are two
versions each of "Purple Haze," "Hey
Joe," "Burning of the Midnight Lamp,"
"Little Wing," "In From the Storm"
and "Room Full of Mirrors." Many of these
cuts have been in circulation for years, albeit on
bootlegs—but widely distributed, well known
bootlegs. Others have appeared on various concert
videos. As such, this is not the sort of gift
one would give a die-hard Hendrix fan, who'd have
to wade through a lotta actually previously-available-to-fanatics
tunes to get to the relatively few treasures he/she
did not already own.
well. So what about the booklet? Unfortunately,
annotators Dave Marsh and John McDermott serve us
rehash. For example, we read that "If 6
Was 9" represented another bold creative leap
forward for Jimi and that "Foxy Lady" was
one of his most provocative songs. And my personal
favorite: "Above all, these Hendrix recordings,
particularly with what (Eddie) Kramer (engineer) has
been able to do with them using today's technology,
are as high quality as anything anybody put out on
tape in the 1960s." Well ...yeah. Thanks, guys.
(Look what Sam Phillips did with Elvis in the '50s
without using today's technology!) A big "D-oh!"
for this kind of boilerplate from two of rock's most
informed—and usually informative—critics,
both inveterate Hendrix-philes. There are, however,
some lovely, rare photos sprinkled throughout said
booklet, many of which were unfamiliar to me.
you don't own all the various bootlegs, if you like
hearing two versions of assorted songs under one roof
and if you're not a completist but wanna keep up with
the Joneses, then plunk down your $69.99 list price.
(At least there are no Curtis Knight tracks sullying
this set, for which we can all be grateful.) After
all, who really doesn't appreciate Jimi Hendrix?
was none other like him, no other guitarist has since
approached his innovations and mental and sonic toolboxes. But
the amount of absolutely top-quality material he left
behind in his official discography barely exceeds
the first three fully-realized Reprise albums, plus
in-concert LP "Band of Gypsies" (originally
on Capitol). If you're politically minded, perhaps
you'll want to pass up The Jimi Hendrix Experience
box set and refuse to support the latest crypt keepers
who are responsible for it. They have exhumed the
skeletal remains of a body of work that were appropriate
in their previously issued, bootlegged state. Here,
they scream of hucksterism in their phat containers.
Believe me, the perpetrators of this box set are "experienced"—not
in the way Jimi was—but they are bound and determined
to wave their purple-paisley-high-design freak
flags high in this particular corporate fiscal period.