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edge staff writer


Hendrix continues to amaze on ‘Both Sides Of the Sky’

March 6, 2018
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A compilation of mostly unreleased Jimi Hendrix studio material will be issued on March 9 (Experience Hendrix-Sony/Legacy). For Hendrix enthusiasts who can’t get enough of the master’s studio experiments and session jams, “Both Sides Of the Sky” is the bomb.

The tantalizing compilation gathers 10 unreleased Hendrix cuts (and adds three that previously appeared in alternate versions) recorded during an incredibly fertile period between January 1968 and February 1970.

“Both Sides Of the Sky” is the third in a series of albums highlighting the most significant unreleased studio recordings remaining in the Hendrix tape archive, following 2010’s “Valleys of Neptune” and 2013’s “People, Hell & Angels.”

For Jimi aficionados already in possession of his core catalog, these albums offer a fascinating glimpse of Hendrix at work in the environment in which he felt most comfortable. The album combines fully produced takes, studio jams, alternate mixes and guest appearances from Stephen Stills and Johnny Winter.

“These albums have been an opportunity to present the more finished material so people could have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the process Hendrix was going through,” according to Hendrix catalog and archive manager, John McDermott.

Since 1995, when Jimi Hendrix’s father (the late Al Hendrix) was victorious in a legal settlement which returned all rights to Jimi’s music and image to his family, Hendrix fans have been treated to a series of lovingly compiled and annotated collections of largely unreleased material.

Joining McDermott on the Experience Hendrix team in charge of preserving Jimi’s musical legacy is Hendrix’s original engineer, Eddie Kramer. Kramer was behind the board for the lion’s share of Jimi’s recording sessions between 1966 and 1970.

“Working with Eddie Kramer on these releases has been an incredible experience,” McDermott told me. The duo first collaborated in 1992 on what is widely regarded as the most authoritative Hendrix biography, “Setting the Record Straight,” now in its 16th printing.

“Both Sides Of the Sky” opens with an updated arrangement of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” from the first-ever recording session by the trio we would later know as Band of Gypsys, recorded on April 22, 1969.

A tight take on “Lover Man” is another Band of Gypsys recording, captured at the Record Plant in New York City on December 15, 1969, just over two weeks before the trio’s now-legendary four-show stand at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East.

“Hear My Train a Comin’” is a title familiar to most Hendrix fans. It’s another song (like “Lover Man”) that Jimi attempted to successfully capture in studio form over successive years with various musical outfits, but apparently not to his satisfaction. This blazing take comes from the next-to-last recording session featuring the original lineup of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

“Stepping Stone” is a Band of Gypsys recording which Jimi may have considered for further tweaking if his multiple guitar overdubs are an indication. Then again, as John McDermott explained, the Hendrix archive is full of tapes containing multiple guitar and vocal overdubs that he later rejected or never reconsidered. As an artist and perfectionist, Hendrix was after an exacting final version that only he could hear.

Several guests appear on “Both Side Of the Sky” – for instance, there are a pair of tracks featuring Stephen Stills on organ and vocals from a Hendrix session dated September 30, 1969.

Recorded six weeks after Hendrix and Stills each played the ‘60s’ most significant rock festival with their respective bands (it was CSNY’s second-ever gig), this may be the first studio attempt at recording the Joni Mitchell-penned “Woodstock.” The arrangement is not far removed from the version Stills would later record with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young for the quartet’s 1970 album “Déjà vu.”

Incredibly generous with his friends, Hendrix offered Stills the opportunity to record the song on his dime, in addition to playing bass on this live in the studio take. Interestingly, Hendrix later adapted his bass part heard here for another unreleased song included in this collection, “Send My Love to Linda.”

Following a May 1969 NYC club jam, Jimi invited Johnny Winter to join him in the studio for further late-night jamming. “Things I Used To Do” is an impromptu take on the song by Guitar Slim, featuring Jimi on guitar and vocal and Winter on slide guitar.

“Jungle”is an instrumental featuring only Jimi and drummer Buddy Miles in a studio session from November 14, 1969. A focused Hendrix returns to a guitar theme that he included as part of his Woodstock set (also incorporated in the classic 1970 movie).

“Sweet Angel” is a song that Hendrix tried in multiple forms with different musicians over a span of years – again, apparently not to his satisfaction. For the first time, we hear a version from January 1968, featuring Jimi (on guitar, bass and vibrophone) and drummer Mitch Mitchell. That he chose not to develop this song for his classic 1968 double album, “Electric Ladyland” is bewildering, as McDermott testified during our interview.

“Send My Love to Linda” is a promising late-period Hendrix track which appears here in composite three-part form. Sadly, a fully-realized version of this potential classic does not exist. Eddie Kramer did a wonderful job in presenting the best of what Jimi left us in a form that is simultaneously exhilarating and heart-rending.

“Cherokee Mist” is a haunting instrumental outtake from May 1968, featuring Jimi on guitar and electric sitar with Mitch Mitchell on drums. Jimi gives a master-class on controlled feedback while doubling the melody with electric sitar. It’s stirring, powerful, scary, and stunning that Hendrix shelved it.

No posthumously-released Jimi Hendrix album will ever be as significant as the official records he approved for release during his life. But “Both Sides Of the Sky” (like its Experience Hendrix predecessors) contains unique material that demonstrates how Hendrix continually looked upon the recording studio as a sanctuary to experiment and realize his ultimate vision.


A conversation with Experience Hendrix archivist John McDermott

Dow: Considering that this material was recorded in different studios over a 25-month period of time, it’s kind of amazing that the album sounds so cohesive.

McDermott: Jimi was able to blend the talents of those who played with him to serve his songs. Whether it was Billy (Cox) and Buddy (Miles) as a rhythm section as opposed to Mitch (Mitchell) and Noel (Redding), it’s still about Jimi’s vision of serving the song and both did it equally well.

On some of the post-“Electric Ladyland” material from 1969, you hear him searching and experimenting. It isn’t far afield from what we heard on “Electric Ladyland” and it starts to open up your thinking of what was to come with what would have been “First Rays of the New Rising Sun.”

Dow: What is the process of deciding what makes the cut when you’re putting a collection like this together?

McDermott: This is part of the process of what we’ve been doing since 1995, really. It isn’t as if Experience Hendrix immediately assumed control of his estate with all of Jimi’s music in one place and all immediately available. There were all kinds of things that didn’t come back to the Hendrix family that we had to go find and discover. There were a lot of problems to solve.

As we were able to pull in more of this material we realized we could showcase more things in development. That was certainly the case with the Dagger Records series (Experience Hendrix’s ‘official bootleg’ label, Dagger concentrates on material geared towards the Hendrix ‘super-fan’ who wants to hear everything. 13 albums consisting of studio and live material have been issued since 1998.)

With the three albums beginning with “Valleys of Neptune” in 2010, then “People Hell & Angels” in 2013, and now “Both Sides of The Sky,” it’s an opportunity to present the more finished material so people could have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the process Hendrix was going through.

If you take “Hear My Train a Comin’” on the new record and then listen to the version on “People, Hell & Angels,” you see the amazing creativity and spontaneity of Hendrix. They are two brilliant, entirely different performances still in the 12-bar blues form.

It shows you just how special Jimi was. When the red light went on, and he kicked off a take, hang onto your hat because it could be amazing.

Dow: “Sweet Angel” is one of the great surprises on this album. It’s so beautiful. It’s stunning that he didn’t decide to develop this song for “Electric Ladyland.”

McDermott: I drove Eddie Kramer crazy saying the same thing (laughs). He said ‘You have to understand that every day was a new day.’ In other words, it was a great moment, but so was the next thing they started working on (laughing). It was an embarrassment of riches with Jimi. I couldn’t agree more. What a wonderful addition that song would have made to “Electric Ladyland.”

When we first heard “Sweet Angel,” the very first thing we recovered was a tape that was damaged, and then we were fortunate to then find another and then this version. It shows you that this guy had such a deep command, whether he was using vibes (as heard on this newly released take) or even a rudimentary drum machine (as heard on the version included on “South Saturn Delta”), Jimi would do whatever it took to get there.

We have versions of “Sweet Angel” where Jimi is playing drums. He had the idea and just wanted to get it down. Today, I think that’s commonplace but in Jimi’s era, it was difficult for an artist to say ‘Let me get behind the kit or go to a piano and show you the way I hear it.’ As Jimi’s desire to record and pursue his vision strengthened, I think those thoughts were kind of like ‘You know what? If Noel doesn’t want to be here, I’ll play the bass’ and I think that continued through the rest of his life.

He had these sounds in his head. He wasn’t the sort of artist who notated his songs and broke them down and wrote out charts for the musicians. It wasn’t transcribed in those ways. He was all about feeling and understanding (the music). When we first put the tape up for “Sweet Angel,” we were like “God, this is really wonderful.”

Dow: “Send My Love to Linda” is another really promising track and it’s wonderful to hear even though it is far from fully realized.

McDermott: We put a composite together for this song. We want to be clear about what this is. We’re giving you a window into. It’s a tragedy that Jimi didn’t live to finish this track but it’s interesting to hear where he’s going. You hear how he started it, what the middle is and then that great part at the end.

Dow: Have enough Hendrix recordings returned to the archive over the last decade to warrant an updated version of your book “Ultimate Hendrix?”

McDermott: Yes, and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to step back and do it again. “Ultimate Hendrix” itself was an updated version of “Sessions” (McDermott’s 1995 book outlining details of all known Hendrix recording sessions as of that time. “Ultimate Hendrix,” published in 2008, expanded on that book with information about recently discovered tapes in addition to outlining all known Jimi Hendrix live performances from 1963-1970, and including details about individual shows where available).

Even the acquisition of all of the Ed Chalpin tapes (88 pre-fame studio and live recordings featuring Hendrix as sideman on guitar) is a study in itself.

I think it’s important for fans to see just how much music this man created over a very short but intense period of time. My hope with the book, and certainly with the booklets that we provide with the CDs, is to give people a sense of where Jimi was at that point in his life, what was going on and why it is significant.

Dow: The 1970 live material recorded in Hawaii has been rumored for upcoming release. Is that the next big project?

McDermott: It’s a project we’re going to do, but I can’t tell you if it’s next. That involves all kinds of other folks making decisions. It is an important project and it’s a cool story. There are some wonderful things that are still to come. I think they’ll be different from this album, obviously.

Dow: I’m looking forward to audiophile reissues of the first two Jimi Hendrix Experience albums (“Are You Experienced?” and “Axis: Bold as Love”) on SACD-hybrid. Those are due this summer, is that right?

McDermott: We’re working with a company in Salina, Kansas headed by Chad Kassem. It’s Quality Record Manufacturing and he has a retail arm called Acoustic Sounds. We’ve switched all of our vinyl manufacturing over to Chad starting with “Hendrix in the West” and they have done a wonderful job. Fans have really enjoyed the quality.

We’ve worked with Sony to keep the pricing down at a very reasonable rate. One of the dangers of vinyl is in overcharging for it and we don’t want to do that. That could stifle what is a growing market. It’s wonderful for people to hear the music in an analog form in a really good way.

On SACD, the market is more niche but there is certainly no objection on our side to doing it. It’ll be interesting to see the reaction to the upcoming SACDs for “Are You Experience” and “Axis: Bold as Love.” Hopefully if it’s positive, we can continue through the entire catalog.

We’ve done the work for them. Eddie was involved in that and Bernie Grundman is a wonderful mastering engineer that we’ve been working with since George Marino passed away. It’s in the good hands of the people of Kansas.

Dow: What is the most rewarding part of your job as catalog and archive manager for Experience Hendrix?

McDermott: I’m still a tremendous fan. This man’s music continues to inspire me and I feel very lucky to have the greatest job in the world.

The inspiration comes in so many different ways, whether its finding some footage or finding music. I liken it to the people who are searching for the lost wire recording of Robert Johnson or rediscovering a great author like Raymond Chandler. You can’t wait to tell your friends and neighbors ‘Hey, listen to this.’ Hendrix still does it. The music excites you, it excites me and I find great joy in the sharing process.

To me, that’s the exciting part. As I always say, Jimi does the heavy lifting, all we have to do is tell you how, where, why it's cool, this is where it fits into this life and career. From there it becomes part of this unique personal experience that people have with Jimi. The music caught you at a certain time in your life and it made a really deep connection.

The joy for me is that we’re able to share the music and do it in a way that has kept Jimi’s profile high. We haven’t had to do it artificially – his music did that. We just had to consistently do our best to restore his work and share it in a way that is understandable. The talent and intrinsic value of the art is what makes the continual connection. Successive generations find it. You don’t have to work any voodoo on it, people just know. He’s the guy.

Just hearing about an album like “Both Sides of the Sky” will make some people say ‘You know, I never got around to getting “Electric Ladyland.” I should get that before I get this one.’ Once you dip your toe in the water, Jimi’s got you. You’re going to like it all.

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