Over four decades after his death Jimi Hendrix trended on twitter last November 27th. The reason? That day marked the 70th anniversary of his birth. ABC News posted a memorial, San Francisco Weekly Blog collected his quotes, and Huffington Post ran a slide show of items from Seattle’s new Experience Music Project Museum exhibit on Jimi, among many other tributes. His official YouTube channel uploaded The Experience’s entire May 3, 1969 concert at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, a rare live recording never officially released. Hendrix 70: Live At Woodstock opened in select theaters the night prior (directed by Grammy Award winner Bob Smeaton – Beatles Anthology, Band Of Gypsys, Festival Express – and featuring original 16mm footage digitally restored with a new 5.1 audio surround mix by Jimi’s renown engineer, Eddie Kramer). The week before, Rolling Stone announced a “new” Hendrix album for March 5, 2013 release, People, Hell and Angels. Most of all, countless fans, peers and media outlets tweeted tributes that day.
Lost in all the birthday tributes was the biggest news of all: a press release for People, Hell and Angels that not only revealed the tracklist, but gave brief descriptions of who played on each and when. It portrayed the album as twelve rare or unreleased highlights from 1968-69 showcasing Jimi’s experiments to broaden his music in:
1) personnel (Stephen Stills and saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood guest, several tracks with his short-lived Band of Gypsy)
2) style (bringing his R&B background to the fore with funkier riffs and rhythms)
3) instrumentation (horns, keyboards, percussion).
Above all these details suggested the new release would be the closest we’ll likely ever get to an official Band of Gypsys studio album. That alone was cause to be excited. Yet there was also reasons to be skeptical. How can a musician who pursued his own music for less-than four years possibly have produced over forty-years worth of “new” releases?! Anybody familiar with the Hendrix catalog reading through the tracklist was bound to recognize some, if not most of the titles. Yet every media outlet was reporting these were “previously unreleased recordings.” What gives?
To regard People, Hell and Angels as an album of unreleased songs is not only inaccurate, but misses the point of the release: “to fill in the portrait as best we could” as co-producer John McDermott put it to musicradar.com. It’s not a lost masterpiece or holy grail, it can’t be. All the music Hendrix ever recorded that isn’t the bottom of the heap is easily accessible for sale (or stream – there’s a plethora of unreleased/ out-of-print material on YouTube and various streaming audio sites). Rather releases like these tidy together the best of what Jimi left-behind in highly presentable packages for mass consumption and this album in particular addresses a significant gap in the official Hendrix discography.
From 1975 to 1995 Alan Douglas dug through the Hendrix vaults and produced a series of posthumous albums that have almost all since gone out-of-print. It’s because of Douglas that Jimi developed a reputation as rock’s most prolific dead man, much to the chagrin of Hendrix fans. Douglas’ first releases – Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning – remain his most controversial. He replaced parts from the original sessions with new overdubs played by musicians Jimi had never met. He created new tracks by editing together unrelated material, then titled them randomly. Overall critics agreed his heavy-handed LPs had a sabotaging effect on the Hendrix legacy. In the mid-90s Jimi’s family took control and has since run an ambitious Experience Hendrix series to re-issue this material with higher quality control and a mentality archivists can appreciate.
Though not regarded as poorly as Douglas’ productions, the Experience Hendrix releases are also controversial. It seems nobody can agree how the tapes Hendrix left unfinished should be sold to the public. Experience Hendrix’s most recent releases (Valleys of Neptune, West Coast Seattle Boy: Anthology) haven’t helped the series’ rep among critics: both were weighed down by convoluted tracklist decisions. It’s thus easy to assume releases like the new People, Hell and Angels are a money grab. This is an unfair assessment though. In addition to setting up Dagger Records to publish and sell official, high-quality bootlegs, the Hendrix family publishes rare recordings for free. These are not marketed like the high-profile releases such as People, Hell and Angels but rather exist purely for the enthusiasts that want an alternative to the poor boots that flooded the market for years. With both these and the major releases, the Hendrix family is considerate of Jimi’s legacy and diligent with what they have to work. Their CD booklets feature Jimi’s handwritten notes, rare pictures and top Hendrix experts writing the most detailed linear essays of recent years. More importantly is the attention given the music in the new masters by Eddie Kramer – the legendary producer/ engineer who Hendrix personally depended on to create some of his most iconic records.
Which brings us back to People, Hell and Angels – the latest “new” Jimi LP by Experience Hendrix. No, these songs won’t surprise buffs, but the details we have so far are promising no matter where you fall in the spectrum of Jimi fandom. Keep in mind almost all his posthumous studio releases – both Douglas’ and the Experience Hendrix line – come from sessions after 1968’s Electric Ladyland. Whereas Jimi’s earlier songs were often written and arranged before a recording was attempted, in his last years Hendrix’s songwriting, arranging and recording all blurred together in the same process. This resulted in drastically different versions of songs – not just alternate solos, but completely distinct arrangements (see “Bleeding Heart” below for example). Just because you recognize the song title doesn’t mean you are familiar with the sound of a specific take. The tempo, riffs, and musicians playing with Hendrix might all change from one recording of a song to the next. These were works-in-progress after all, with Jimi constantly trying new ideas and morphing old ones. This also explains the numerous abandoned songs that were recycled into others composed later, “Ezy Rider” for example (see “Inside Out” below).
It’s the specific versions of the songs on People, Hell and Angels – presented together in high quality – that make this an anticipated release, not just the songs themselves. After the Experience broke up in 1969 Hendrix tried to expand his sound with percussionists and a second guitarist, calling this group Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. They played just one gig: Woodstock. The experiment failed so Hendrix cut down to his new trio, Band of Gypsys with bassist Billy Cox and drumming-singer Buddy Miles. In their short time together they made some of the most electrifying, fluid and funky music of Hendrix’s career. Miles was key in distinguishing this line-up from Jimi’s other bands. A fat-back drumming master, Buddy’s style gave a different flavor to Hendrix’s playing than his main drummer, Mitch Mitchell. Having a résumé with singers like Wilson Pickett, Miles had a high reputation with peers by the time Jimi formed the Band of Gypsys – and he had co-founded The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield (highly regarded as a super-group supreme by the infant rock press of the period). The Band of Gypsys never released a studio album though, just a contractually obligated live record that deliberately left-off some of their best work. People, Hell and Angels fills some of that gap as Miles appears on “Mojo Man,” “Hey Gypsy Boy,” “Somewhere,” “Let Me Move You,” plus the Band of Gypsys tracks: “Earth Blues,” Hear My Train a Comin,” “Bleeding Heart” and “Villanova Junction Blues.”
And make no mistake about it, People, Hell and Angels is highly anticipated. Despite being two months away from release, it’s currently the top “classic rock” album on Amazon’s sales charts – #7 among all “rock” releases (higher than recent hit albums by Bruno Mars, fun. and others). It’s not just a bump from the recent Hawaii Five-O promotion (or the $2 discount Amazon customers get through March 4 with code “HENDRIXJ”), it’s been on Amazon’s best selling charts since the pre-sale started almost two months ago. Based on these sales stats it’s completely plausible People, Hell and Angels could end up one of the best selling rock albums of 2013.
Sales numbers aside, this really is an album worth looking forward to. Unlike Valleys of Neptune, this is a strong set of songs that weren’t released in any version in Jimi’s lifetime – none of them. Although various versions of these songs were posthumously released on bootlegs, patchwork out-of-print albums etc, they deserve to get a proper release with optimal sound, quality packaging and state of the art mastering by Hendrix’s right-hand-sound-man, Eddie Kramer. That’s exactly what this is. Nothing more (certainly not any of the hype of being “new”) but also nothing less.
Amazon recently listed the track lengths and provided audio snippets of every track. On January 6th musicradar.com published an in-depth interview with co-producer John McDermott detailing the album and on January 9th “Somewhere” was officially uploaded to YouTube as the first promo single from People, Hell and Angels. Putting all these pieces together we can confirm the exact sessions that sourced each of these “new” tracks and compare them with other circulating versions from these dates.
People, Hell and Angels – Track-by-Track Preview:
|1. Earth Blues – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||3:33|
Expect: “It shows off the stripped-down funk, without the Ronettes and a lot of the extra guitar things that were overdubbed by Jimi later,” according to McDermott. The mix of “Earth Blues” on People, Hell and Angels will likely be a similar arrangement as the official Fillmore version (as heard in the video above), but with the precision of being recorded in the studio. In other words, like the “Purple Box” mix minus its later overdubs – a professional upgrade of bootlegs like Eyes and Imagination. The most significant difference is possibly previously unheard “working” lyrics.
Worth buying? “Unlike the version first issued as part of Rainbow Bridge,” the press release boasted, “this December 19, 1969 master take features just Hendrix, Billy Cox and Buddy Miles.” This is no big deal for those familiar with the basic tracks from bootlegs, though an official Band of Gypsys studio recording with just their original parts could be a welcome addition to the Hendrix catalog, and an interesting alternative to the previously released studio and live versions.
Expect: McDermott calls the new version “a phenomenal take on a song that he had really tried to get right with the Experience, but hadn’t been able to do it to his liking. Billy and Buddy understood how to set the tempo. If you listen to this recording, they play it the same way as they did on the Live At The Fillmore East album. They knew intuitively that the song should have a great, menacing groove; it shouldn’t be old-school, old-tempo, four-bar stuff. They wanted it to have a totally different feel, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
It appears this is a longer mix of the version known on bootlegs such as “Raw Blues.”
Worth buying? Though there are many official versions of “Hear My Train” presently on the market, the sole Band of Gypsys version available is the Live at the Fillmore East recording (above). People, Hell and Angels’ studio take from when the band was just teaming together six and half months earlier should offer an electrifying alternative. The press release teases, “This superb recording was drawn from Jimi’s first ever recording session with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles…Jimi’s menacing lead guitar is the centerpiece of this dramatic addition to his remarkable legacy.”
|4. Bleeding Heart – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||3:58|
Backstory: One of Jimi’s experiments with horns was to invite his former boss and old pal Lonnie Youngblood to record with him. “This March 1969 session features Hendrix and Youngblood trading licks throughout this never before heard, high velocity rock and soul classic,” the press release reads. The following day Jimi and the saxophonist cut “Georgia Blues,” a rare recording that wasn’t released until 2003 on Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Jimi Hendrix.
|6. Izabella – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||3:43|
Recorded: August 28, 1969 at the Hit Factory
Backstory: “Izabella” is best known today for its CD issue on 1997’s First Rays of the New Rising Sun (supposedly from January/ June 1970 sessions). Jimi was never satisfied with his recordings of the song, which he attempted with different groups. Debuted at Woodstock, the Gypsy Sun & Rainbows only concert, a paired down line-up of the group played the song a few weeks later on The Dick Cavett Show. In between those two performances the Gypsy Sun & Rainbows had their only official recording sessions including numerous takes of “Izabella.” “In the aftermath of the Woodstock festival,” notes People, Hell and Angels’ press release, “Jimi was eager to perfect a studio version.”
Jimi was apparently unpleased with this version and re-recorded it with the Band of Gypsys later that year. Although the re-recording was issued as the B-side of the Band of Gypsys’ “Stepping Stone” 7″, that single was pulled shortly after release (the Band of Gypsys also performed the song on New Year’s Eve 1969-70 at the Fillmore East, a well-known live recording, and their studio sessions produced an instrumental take of “Izabella” on 2006’s Burning Desire). After the Band of Gypsys 7″ disappeared the song re-appeared on the 1972 LP, War Heroes (supposedly the Gypsy Sun & Rainbows version). As it stands now both the single and album are hard to find, though the 2001 compilation Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection supposedly re-instated the Band of Gypsys version. It’s a mystery why all the versions from varied origins sound similar – per haps a case of mislabeled recording dates….
Expect: “This new version is markedly different from the Band Of Gypsys 45 rpm single master issued by Reprise Records in 1970,” according to the press release. Very well, except it’s unclear which version that is, and the vinyl itself is a long out-of-print collectors item few have heard. Presumably the overdone vocal overdubs will be cleaned up.
Worth buying? McDermott thinks so: “The solo is just fantastic – absolutely scorching. Eddie Kramer and I heard it in ’95 when we were going through the tape library, and we said, ‘You know what? When the time comes, there will be a place for that.’ It’s amazing.”
The Gypsy Sun & Rainbow recording sessions are a popular bootleg. Chances are this version will be familiar to those who have heard them.
|7. Easy Blues – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||5:57|
Recorded: August 28, 1969 at the Hit Factory
Backstory: A jazzy jam from the Gypsy Sun and Rainbows sole recording sessions mentioned above (the “Isaballa” date), ‘Easy Blues’ was released in a severely edited cut on Nine to the Universe in 1980.
Expect: “It’s right in Mitch’s pocket,” McDermott notes of the swinging feel. “He plays very, very well on this. The additional percussion, the ability for everybody to add to what Jimi was doing instead of him having to carry the weight all the time – there’s a lot here, and you can hear why Jimi felt that this band had a lot of potential. It’s a shame that it wasn’t able to grow into something, but cuts like this sound great.”
Worth buying? The press release claims, “now nearly twice as long, the track offers fans the opportunity to enjoy the dramatic interplay between Jimi, second guitarist Larry Lee, Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell.” In other words, like the bootleg in the video above but cleaned up…
…and shorter. Why is the duration listed at only 5:57? Is this a mistake? If not it”s nearly four minutes less than the complete take and surely not “twice as long” as the Nine to the Universe edit.
|8. Crash Landing – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||4:14|
Recorded: April 24, 1969 at Record Plant Studios
Backstory: On April 4, 1969 Hendrix began recording the song that became “Crash Landing” – itself an embryo of the songs that became “Freedom” and “Dolly Dagger.” It wasn’t until April 24th that Hendrix recorded the track itself though – labeled as “Crash Landing Jam” – backed by Billy Cox and drummer Rocky Isaac of the Cherry People. Unhappy with Rocky’s drumming, the trio sidetracked to tackle “Drone Blues.” They returned to “Crash Landing” with renewed focus and recorded three solid takes, of which overdubs were addded on April 29th.
Jimi was still unsatisfied though so the track was abandoned until 1975 when it became the title-track of the first Alan Douglas produced posthumous Hendrix release – with new overdubs by Jimmy Maeulen (percussion), Jeff Mironov (guitar), Allan Schwartzberg (drums), Bob Babbitt (bass), plus Linda November, Vivian Cherry and Barbara Massey (backing vocals).
Expect: People, Hell and Angels’ “Crash Landing” mix is most likely the same basic track from April 24th as on the bootlegs Talent & Feeling Vol. 2 and “Paper Airplanes” as well as 2000’s (better sounding) official boot Cherokee Blues (listen) – minus the backing vocals and other overdubs.
The press release claims, “this April 1969 original recording has never been heard before.” That’s unlikely, but for people only familiar with the completely overhauled 1975 version this will be a refreshing return to the actual sessions Jimi recorded, however flawed they may be. “We just felt that anything that had been tinkered with should be heard in its original form,” McDermott states. “This is what Jimi was actually doing with the players, and it’s really good. There was never any need for any of that overdubbing that had gone on in ’75.”
Worth buying? There’s little suggesting this will be dramatically different than the bootlegs, but it will sound infinitely better.
|9. Inside Out – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||5:04|
Recorded: June 11, 1968 at Record Plant Studios
Backstory: “Jimi was fascinated by the rhythm pattern which would ultimately take form as ‘Ezy Ryder,’ reads the press release.
Indeed. 2010’s Valley’s of Neptune gave us “Lullaby For The Summer” (recorded April 7, 1969) and the 2011 Record Store Day “Fire” single dug even deeper for its B-side, the previously unreleased “Touch You” (recorded December 20, 1967) – both variations of what became “Ezy Rider,” both different. Then there’s a jam coupled with the “Star Spangled Banned” from February 14, 1969 on Hear My Music, “Slow” from February 16, 1969, and the January 23, 1970 recording on Burning Desire that Alan Douglas edited into and retitled “MLK” and “Captain Coconut.” All of these except the last pre-date the first attempt to record a basic track for “Ezy Rider” itself (on December 18, 1969 with the Band of Gypsys). The eventual “Ezy Rider” studio track was created over the following year and released on 1971’s The Cry Of Love (and on CD on First Rays of the New Rising Sun). Hendrix brought Traffic’s Steve Winwood and Chris Wood into the process in June 1970 (the “Purple Box” offers an alternate take). He also worked it into several of his final live sets (most famously at Isle of Wight).
So what is the embryonic variation of “Ezy Rider” on People, Hell and Angels, “Inside Out”?
“Joined here by Mitch Mitchell,” the press release notes, “Jimi recorded all of the bass and guitar parts for this fascinating song–including a dramatic lead guitar part amplified through a Leslie organ speaker.” The track that will appear on the new album is usually bootlegged under the title “Ezy Rider Instrumental” (i.e. on 1968 AD, Electric Ladyland Outtakes, Every Way To Paradise, Freak Out Jam, Studio’69). It appears on Electric Hendrix 2 as “Instrumental Jam (Unreleased Studio Track)” and on Groove (Collectors’ Disc) as “Inside Out.” Parts of it are similar to posthumous Hendrix classic “Peace In Mississippi.”
Expect: All of the above is just a long-winded way of saying this is a rare track partly based around a riff later used in “Ezy Rider” – but the similarly ends there. The rest will be new to anybody who hasn’t heard the bootlegs.
Worth buying? Factoring in Jimi plays bass and Leslie guitar effects, this could be interesting. It’s also the closest to truly be new on the “new” album (behind the aforementioned “Let Me Move You”).
|10. Hey Gypsy Boy – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||3:39|
Recorded: March 18, 1969 at Record Plant Studios
Backstory: Ideas and imagery from “Hey Gypsy Boy” later found their way into the better known “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun),” though they are two different songs. The earlier, gorgeous song was recorded in March 1969 with Buddy Miles and then abandoned. In 1975 Alan Douglas added psychedelic effects to this recording and replaced Mitchell’s drumming with new overdubs by Allan Schwartzberg for the version on Midnight Lightning. The original tracks have since been bootlegged (on Cherokee Blues for example).
Expect: A better sounder mix than the bootleg versions, and a more accurate portrayal of what Jimi recorded than the Midnight Lightning track.
Worth buying? It will make a welcome return to the official discography. One of Jimi’s most beautiful songs, it should not have been so hard to find for so long. The press release notes, “Unlike the posthumously overdubbed version briefly issued as part of Midnight Lightning in 1975, this is original recording that features Jimi joined by Buddy Miles.”
|11. Mojo Man – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||4:07|
Recorded: Summer 1970 (probably July 1st or August 14th)
Backstory: Albert and Arthur Allen were a singing brother group known as the Ghetto Fighters that Jimi invited to some of his summer 1970 sessions. An article at top Hendrix fan-site univibes.com explains how while the Allens were recording “with Jimi on ‘Dolly Dagger,’ Jimi suggested that they turn their attention to the ‘Mojo Man’ track and The Twins couldn’t have been happier. It had been over a year since they had played it for him in Los Angeles and since time had passed without Jimi mentioning it again, his idea, apparently from out of the blue, might have seemed an unusual one.”
Expect: The same track – or a very similar one at least – as issued in 2011.
Worth buying? It’s already on the market, and not even a Hendrix song. This one seems like filler.
|12. Villanova Junction Blues – click to hear a sample from People, Hell and Angels||1:45|
Recorded: May 21, 1969 at Record Plant Studios
Backstory: Famously performed at Woodstock, Jimi recorded this studio version with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles at the same May ’69 Band of Gypsys session as People, Hell and Angels’ “Hear My Train A Comin'” and “Bleeding Heart.” The band recorded a more famous version of the song on January 23, 1970 (as appeared on 2006 bootleg Burning Desire).
Expect: A different take than in circulation, at only 1:45 this will probably be nothing more than the intro of the track, functioning as a coda to this album. We can hear Jimi delicately phrasing his guitar lines in the snippet currently streaming, suggesting this will be a peaceful ending to People, Hell and Angels – but not the full jam fans associate with the track.
Worth buying? “We thought it was a sweet way to bring the record to a close,” McDermott adds. “Like a lot of great songs in the library, it’s one that held a lot of promise, but of course, he wasn’t able to finish it.”
The bottom line is the hype around People, Hell and Angles is a bit misleading, and some of these tracks are looking like filler unfit for a high profile official Hendrix release (“Let Me Move In,” “Mojo Men,” and perhaps the 1:45 edit of “Villanova Junction Blues”), but none of that detracts from the many gems it promises. With four studio tracks by the Band of Gypsys (five if “Hey Gypsy Boy” is counted), plus another three with Buddy Miles, and the remaining with Cox or other players key to Hendrix’s post-Experience explorations, this is important part of the Hendrix legacy which will likely be presented better here than ever before. True, it would be best if they released a Band of Gypsys box set (culling the cream stray ends from various comps and bootlegs into one cohesive, logical set of studio discs, plus 1970’s Band of Gypses remastered and expanded for the 21st century with the finest remaining Fillmore recordings). The Hendrix estate shows no interest in such a project though – that’s what self-made mixes and CD burners are for….