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Maui Madness: Jimi Hendrix’s most unusual concert finally released

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“If we could find one more wire recording of Robert Johnson, it would be fantastic. If you find something that reveals just a little more of these incredible unique artists, that’s the thing you get excited about.” - John McDermott, producer and catalog manager for Experience Hendrix

The full story behind what might be the strangest chapter of Jimi Hendrix’s all-too-brief career is about to come to light when Sony Legacy/Experience Hendrix releases the documentary film “Music, Money, Madness…Jimi Hendrix in Maui” on November 20, accompanied by the album “Live in Maui,” released on two CDs and three LPs. The doc traces the origins of Hendrix’s involvement in a counterculture movie shot on the Hawaiian island, and the surprise concert he was coaxed into performing there on the side of a volcano as an attempt to rescue the ill-fated film.

In just 48 months, from his September 1966 arrival in London to his untimely September 1970 death in the same city, Jimi Hendrix managed to turn popular music on its head with the game-changing albums “Are You Experienced” (1967), “Axis: Bold as Love” (1967) and the double LP “Electric Ladyland” (1968). Each release marked a step forward in songwriting, musicianship and production, while a 1970 live album of new material, “Band of Gypsys” showcased a move toward searing funk and rhythm and blues and has been cited as a seminal influence by a range of artists including Prince, Slash, George Clinton, Nile Rodgers and Trey Anastasio.

Hendrix’s guitar mastery inspired both envy and fear in his contemporaries, while his reputation as an outrageous and dynamic live performer made him one of the top concert draws of his time. Offstage, the trailblazing musician was said to be a sweet and self-effacing figure with an eternally curious mind, wicked sense of humor and a deep obsession with music.

Hendrix is remembered by his recording engineer and producer Eddie Kramer as a disciplined perfectionist, often insisting on multiple takes but frequently dissatisfied with his performance.

Kramer has been involved with every Experience Hendrix release since the Hendrix family company won the legal right to control the musician’s musical legacy and likeness in a 1995 lawsuit. The Experience Hendrix catalog begins with the core albums released during Hendrix’s lifetime and adds a series of acclaimed volumes consisting of studio recordings, live albums, box sets and official bootleg releases aimed at hardcore fans, along with live concert films and documentaries on DVD and Blu-ray.

Hendrix spent much of 1969 and 1970 stockpiling an array of material for a fourth studio LP. Dozens of tantalizing candidates were committed to tape in various stages of development.

Under pressure to deliver an album to Warner Bros., he recorded relentlessly while also maintaining an intense touring schedule that saw him top the bill at a number of high-profile festivals, including Woodstock, the Atlanta Pop Festival, and the Isle of Wight in the UK.

Jimi surrounded himself with trusted players, including bassist Billy Cox, a friend dating back to 1961 when Hendrix served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Cox had been part of Hendrix’s band at Woodstock in 1969, as well as his Band of Gypsys trio with drummer Buddy Miles later that year.

Pending lawsuits from long-forgotten contracts contributed to pressure and uncertainty hanging over Hendrix during this period as he sought refuge from the storm; he found that refuge in the recording studio. His dream of owning his own recording studio, where he could create without restrictions of time or finance, became a reality in the summer of 1970 with his Electric Lady Studios, housed in a former nightclub that had been a favored jamming spot for the guitarist.

Hendrix’s studio was way over budget and well past its anticipated completion date when he began recording there with Cox on bass, longtime Experience member Mitch Mitchell on drums, and engineer Kramer behind the recording console. Construction continued around the musicians as tapes rolled in the summer of 1970, when Hendrix’s manager, Michael Jeffery, seduced by the success of recent youth counterculture movies like “Easy Rider,” committed his artist’s involvement to a mysterious project set to be filmed on the island of Maui, according to John McDermott, producer and catalog manger for Experience Hendrix.

Michael Jeffery had been approached earlier in the year by promoter and director Chuck Wein, an associate of pop art legend Andy Warhol and a collaborator on numerous films from Warhol’s studio, The Factory.

“I think Michael Jeffery wanted to get into the film business and I think he was seduced by Wein’s history of working with Warhol,” McDermott says. “Wein didn’t have a script but he presented this loosey goosey idea to Michael of making some kind of cosmic surfing movie on Maui and throwing together all of these various youth culture elements for which Jimi would be expected to record the score, hoping it would all be bigger than ‘Easy Rider,’ and incredibly, Michael bought it.”

According to McDermott, Michael Jeffery knew he could convince Warner Bros. to fund the movie by promising a soundtrack from one of the label’s biggest sellers.

“I think this was the first time that a movie had ever been funded purely on the back of a soundtrack record,” he said. “We interviewed some folks from Warner Bros. and their understanding was that Jimi Hendrix had never done a score for a film. Paul McCartney, and certain artists of that caliber, were being approached to do similar things outside of their current public understanding. On that level, I think it had an appeal, so Michael got a half a million dollars out of Warner Bros. to go and make this movie called ‘Rainbow Bridge.’”

The documentary film “Music, Money, Madness” chronicles the bizarre story of the filming of “Rainbow Bridge” that summer on Maui and includes new interviews with many of the film’s participants, in addition to Hendrix’s core associates, including bassist Billy Cox and engineer Eddie Kramer.

Hendrix and his bandmates had been promised an extended vacation on Maui coinciding with the band’s sold-out concert scheduled for August 1 at H.I.C. Arena in Honolulu. McDermott echoes Billy Cox’s statement in the film that the band had not been briefed about playing a concert in a field on Maui to be filmed for “Rainbow Bridge.”

“Jimi’s crew arrived in advance and were told that Chuck wanted to put on this show on the side of a volcano to be filmed for the movie,” McDermott says. “Meanwhile Jimi was still in Seattle where he’d decided to stay an extra day to be with his family. The crew had to scramble to find equipment to record the show. Jimi Hendrix did not know that he was going to do a concert that would be filmed; that was totally something thrown at them when they landed.”

A multi-track tape machine was located in Honolulu and hauled up the lower slope of Haleakala volcano, 2,000 feet above sea level, on the day of the show, along with an electric generator, shared by the film crew, used to power it.

“The recording of this show was not set up like other Jimi Hendrix live recordings were done,” according to McDermott. “He’d always had the best engineers to oversee the recording perspective, like Eddie Kramer at Miami Pop and Woodstock, Abe Jacob at Berkeley in May 1970, Wally Heider’s crew on the west coast and Bill Halverson in 1968 and 1969. Jimi always took this stuff really seriously.”

Because Hendrix looked at “Rainbow Bridge” as his manager’s project, McDermott says he basically took a hands-off approach when it came to worrying about the details.

“They were like ‘OK, whatever,’ so when they did it, they were having fun, and I think that’s why this is so unique as a performance to enjoy once you separate it from ‘Rainbow Bridge.’ It’s a couple of hundred people at a free concert where they’re seated in astrological order (laughs) which is not anywhere near what the Jimi Hendrix Experience were ordinarily doing, so for them, as Mitch Mitchell said, ‘We just had fun’ – they played.”

On the afternoon of July 30, 1970, Hendrix and his band stepped onto a makeshift stage located in a pasture located a few hundred yards from Seabury Hall, where the cast and crew of “Rainbow Bridge” stayed during filming. The band performed two unique spirited sets of music, each about 50 minutes in duration, as crews held their breath that it would all be captured successfully.

“The first set was tilted for the most part toward his signature songs,” McDermott says, “then he came back out and did some wonderful playing on things the audience had not heard yet like ‘Freedom,’ ‘Ezy Rider’ and ‘Dolly Dagger.’ I think the band was enjoying themselves, there was no pressure there. The normal circumstance where Jimi Hendrix was the headliner of a major festival with a half million people out there all keyed to this moment – they didn’t have to deal with any of that in Maui.”

But they did have to contend with glitches in both the filming and recording of Hendrix’s sets. Foam was cut out of the instrument cases and wrapped around microphones in an attempt to stifle the sound of 30 to 40 mph wind gusts. Stage microphones were knocked over, contributing to an issue in properly capturing the full sound of Mitch Mitchell’s drums on tape.

McDermott’s technical notes and an essay by Jeff Slate, both accompanying “Music, Money, Madness” and “Live in Maui,” outline the many technical challenges that compromised the filming and recording of Hendrix’s performance, including the unfortunate reality that parts of songs were not filmed, and there are a few sections of missing audio where the crew had to stop recording to fix a problem on the fly.

“There’s a break in ‘Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)’ (an important new song for Jimi in 1970), there’s one in ‘Lover Man,’ there’s one in ‘Jam Back at the House/Beginnings,’ McDermott says. “Those breaks are unfortunate but they’re real. With proper preparation and preproduction, they would have two machines going to record everything.”

When “Rainbow Bridge” premiered to mostly baffled audiences a year after Hendrix’s death, in the fall of 1971, it contained only 17 minutes of haphazardly edited performance footage.

McDermott says drummer Mitch Mitchell agreed to overdub new drum parts to sync with the film footage in an attempt to cover the fact that his drum parts hadn’t been properly recorded.

“They knew right away there were technical problems with the sound. After Jimi died, to rescue it, Mitch Mitchell – God bless him – had to overdub his drum parts for those songs seen in the movie while watching a Moviola (film editing machine).”

As those were the only songs featured in the movie, Mitchell did not record new drum parts to cover the rest of the performance.

Throughout the two sets of music as released on “Live in Maui,” (on two CDs or three LPs) we hear Mitchell’s 1971 overdubs (clearly detectable in stereo) in addition to what engineer and producer Eddie Kramer could pull out of the tapes from Mitchell’s original drum parts, captured in mono.

The “Music, Money, Madness” documentary includes numerous performance clips from both sets of music, while the Blu-ray special features section gives the viewer the option of seeing every existing piece of concert footage filmed that day, with audio mixed in both stereo and 5.1 surround.

“We took every bit of concert footage filmed that day and presented it somewhat similarly to the way we did it on the ‘Monterey’ DVD (featuring Hendrix’s landmark June 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival) and the ‘Isle of Wight’ DVD (‘Blue Wild Angel,’ featuring Hendrix’s last professionally recorded concert performed in front of 650,000 just 18 days before his death).

As McDermott’s technical notes outline for the Maui sets: “You can watch all of what was filmed and sadly, what was missed.”

Six months after Hendrix’s death, Warner Bros. issued the first posthumous Jimi Hendrix record, “The Cry of Love,” containing new songs that Jimi had been considering for his next album. It was a critical and commercial success, but it wasn’t the sprawling double or triple album epic Hendrix considered.

“‘The Cry of Love’ was a great record but it had ‘Dolly Dagger’ and ‘Room Full of Mirrors’ pulled from it to kind of shore up this ‘Rainbow Bridge’ project from Michael,” John McDermott says.

When an album called “Rainbow Bridge” by Jimi Hendrix appeared a year after his death, it too was well-received, but it didn’t contain any music from the film of the same name. Fans weren’t sure if it was a movie soundtrack or a Jimi Hendrix album, according to McDermott.

“That’s unfortunate because there is some great music there that, if presented by Jimi, would have been shaped and molded by his vision, and that’s what we lost. Through albums like ‘First Rays of the New Rising Sun’ (released in 1997) and the ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’ box set (AKA: ‘The Purple Box,’ released in 2000) we’ve tried to show you examples (of where his music was headed next) but in the end…nothing articulates Jimi Hendrix better than Jimi himself and his death robbed all of us of knowing what that next big step forward would have been.”

The meticulously detailed documentary “Music, Money, Madness” untangles perhaps the weirdest chapter of Jimi’s incredible story by separating fact from legend and honestly presenting the music in its best possible light in both the performance footage and on the accompanying “Live in Maui” audio soundtrack, mixed by Eddie Kramer and mastered by Bernie Grundman.

We see and hear a loose and confident Jimi Hendrix, less than seven weeks before his death, having fun with his band, and letting it fly on classic songs and a batch of exciting new material that had yet to be fully realized in the studio. Had Hendrix lived, his Maui episode would probably be remembered today as a kind of chaotic footnote, but it represents the last known pro-shot footage of the man in action from the crucial year of 1970, and for that reason alone, it’s precious material for fans.

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Jimi Hendrix: ‘Live in Maui’ & ‘Music, Money, Madness’ documentary reviewed

This show is a trip, but it’s not intended for the uninitiated. After spending about a month with the 100 minutes of Jimi Hendrix music contained on “Live in Maui” and its companion documentary “Music, Money, Madness,” I’m struck by how this release has altered my perception of perhaps the most mysterious of Hendrix gigs, his July 30, 1970 concert performed on the lower slope of Haleakala volcano on the island of Maui.

Bootleg recordings of this show, in varying quality, have been circulating for decades, and I recall my first mid-1980s hissy, wobbly-sounding, cassette containing some of this music, several dubs removed from the source. It was tough to appreciate, to say the least.

In those days, Hendrix fans took what we could get, and that included essential official collections like his complete 1967 set at Monterey, the double album “Jimi Hendrix: Concerts,” featuring cherry-picked tracks from various concerts, “Radio One,” containing some of his BBC recordings, a compilation of unreleased blues recordings and the “Live at Winterland” CD.

The administration in charge of releasing those gems also pumped more than a few duds into the marketplace, including albums like “Crash Landing” and “Midnight Lightning,” both of which somehow sold well but featured music and vocals overdubbed onto incomplete Hendrix masters, wiping out the original tracks in the process. Oh, the humanity – it was a challenge at times to be a Hendrix freak in those days.

Things began to change in the mid-1990s after Jimi’s father Al Hendrix regained the legal right to control his son’s musical legacy. Experience Hendrix, the company Al formed to oversee all aspects of his son’s posthumous output began by restoring Hendrix’s core catalog and then followed it with a series of carefully compiled and annotated albums, videos and box sets that not only made sense but served to elevate Hendrix’s legacy. Eddie Kramer, Jimi’s legendary original engineer, was brought in to oversee the fidelity and that move alone moved mountains toward restoring faith among Jimi’s audience that future releases would be up to snuff.

Author, producer and musicologist John McDermott, with Kramer, wrote the definitive Hendrix biography, 1992’s “Setting the Record Straight,” and they’ve been the team in charge of overseeing all Hendrix catalog releases for Experience Hendrix. The goal has been to present Hendrix material honestly, by detailing the origins of a particular song, session, or concert, and presenting it in its proper context without needless hyperbole.

“Live in Maui” is not the place to begin if you’re looking to get into Jimi’s music, but it’s an important addition to the Hendrix catalog for a number of reasons.

As outlined in the above story, Hendrix went to Maui for an extended vacation built around his August 1 show in Honolulu. Only after landing did he learn that he was expected to perform a concert there to be filmed as a backdrop for a bizarre script-less counterculture movie that had been financed with the promise of a soundtrack containing his score.

It’s difficult to imagine an artist of Hendrix’s caliber being treated so cavalierly today but this was the wild west of the big bucks rock music industry, and as Eddie Kramer recalls in “Music, Money, Madness,” following Hendrix’s death, his record label insisted on a steady stream of product and demanded a soundtrack regardless of the source material’s quality. He repeats their words, “the show must go on,” and follows it by putting his hand up with visual disgust.

Fifty years later, it’s a different story. This film footage represents the last known professionally shot Jimi Hendrix concert footage from 1970 – a pivotal year - to see release. Kramer’s mix seems to squeeze as much fidelity as possible from the original multi-track tapes. Mitch Mitchell’s drums were not properly recorded on the day which necessitated his overdubbing for the “Rainbow Bridge” film but Kramer pulled as much as possible from Mitchell’s original drum track, and in places, we get a mix of both. The music, released on two CDs or three LPs, has been carefully mastered by Bernie Grundman.

Seventeen minutes of haphazardly edited footage from this show was included in the movie “Rainbow Bridge” and it’s the only part of that movie worth seeing. The industry did Hendrix a great disservice by trying to pass that film off as his project, which the average viewer might surmise via shady posthumous marketing. Hendrix probably saw it for what it was: a vanity project for his manager, for which he would be expected to contribute something, sometime, further on down the road. His mission at that moment was to get back to his brand-new studio to finish a wealth of incredible new songs for his fourth studio LP. Tragically, at the time of this Maui episode, he had only seven weeks left to live.

As we hear in the two sets of music performed in Maui, Hendrix is relaxed, loose and having fun with his band. The elements were working against them and certainly played a role in mucking up the filming and recording of the show, but Hendrix doesn’t seem to care, as he and the band let it rip on a set of mostly classic songs followed by a break, then a set of mostly new material he’d been trying to nail down with Billy Cox, Mitch Mitchell and Eddie Kramer back at Electric Lady.

Jimi seems to be in a great mood, and we see him laughing and joking with the band and with the audience. Contrast this footage to the film shot on the Isle of Wight in the UK a month later when a visually exhausted and frustrated Hendrix performed in the middle of the night while battling equipment issues in front of more than 600,000 people, many of whom stormed the gates for entry. At Maui, the pressure is off – and it shows.

Guitar nerds will want to know that Jimi plays a Fender Stratocaster, per usual, in the first set but busts out a Gibson Flying V guitar for the newer songs in set two, which gave his tonal palate a sharper, edgier, gnarlier tone on the fresh material.

It’s astonishing to see this footage look so spectacular on the Blu-ray disc, both in the 90-minute documentary “Music, Money, Madness” and in the special features, where we see every piece of 16mm film shot during Hendrix’s performance. That isn’t to say the whole show is here, because it isn’t. For a number of reasons, the crew didn’t shoot everything, but what is here is unlike any other Hendrix concert footage available.

Cameramen are onstage with the band, and even in Jimi’s face, when he goes down on his knees, head back, guitar outstretched, in an iconic shot. He accepted that this hastily arranged show was out of his hands so he decided to good-naturedly play along and give the people what they want, and it is a joy to see and hear.

Both sets were shot in daylight which afforded awesome visuals of the stage action as well as the trippy weirdness taking place out in the crowd of about 200-300 mostly awed locals.

The documentary untangles and presents the bizarre story of how Jimi was roped into participating in “Rainbow Bridge,” with a mix of new interviews from many of Jimi’s core people, including bassist Billy Cox who returns to the pastoral setting where the stage once sat. We see participants from the original film shoot, including actress Pat Hartley. Reps from Warner Bros. are interviewed as are some Maui locals who recall with great detail what it was like to stumble on a surprise Jimi Hendrix concert performed on the side of a volcano in the summer of 1970.

“Music, Money, Madness” answers a lot of questions about Jimi’s oddest show ever while giving us all of the footage that exists from it in addition to 100 minutes of music created at a time when he was moving in a new direction, and for that reason, it’s essential for fans.

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2020 17:18

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