The Jimi Hendrix Experience 
By Al Kooper

From Gadfly Jan./Feb. 2001


Jimi 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 him.

There 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.

Well, 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.

So 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.

So 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.

Oh, 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.

If 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?

There 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.