Just when I thought I was done buying Jimi Hendrix albums…..he pulls me back in.
A few weekends ago, sitting around the house with the wife on a late summer evening, just chillin as the kids say, I flip on Showtime and they’re showing a Hendrix documentary entitled “Electric Church”. It was centered around the 1970 Atlanta Pop Music Festival and Jimi’s performance there. Naturally the movie had to cover the naked, druggy aspects of the crowd, the shock of the locals (I wish Lester Maddox had run for President, how much fun would that have been?) and the horrified reaction to the hippies and their music. It reminded me a lot of what the 1974 Ozark Music Festival must have been like (see my earlier blog entry on that one). After setting up the stunned Georgia residents as a backdrop, the documentary finally got to the performance. It was a reconfigured version of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitch Mitchell was still on drums, but Jimi’s pal Billy Cox was on bass and what a difference he makes. The Experience came on around midnight on July 4th, 1970 and I must say I was blown away. My wife, a Hendrix novice, but a good rock ‘n’ roll woman, turned to me and asked, “How does he make those sounds with the guitar, he’s amazing.” How does he indeed?
As usual with me, when I see a documentary like Electric Church, I run immediately to the computer to check it out on the internet. It was then I discovered there was, if you will, a soundtrack to the documentary, or more simply put, a concert album, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival that was just released. I love Hendrix, but I must admit, his live stuff is a bit of a blind spot for me. My Denver pal Don (*name changed to protect the guilty) saw Jimi at the Fillmore East and when they invent time travel, that’s my first stop. Naturally, I own all of Jimi’s studio albums released while he was alive – Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland which are possibly the greatest first three albums of any artist short of the Beatles. I even own the box set anthology West Coast Seattle Boy, which has outtakes and pretty much everything I hadn’t heard before. It burrows so deeply into the archive it contains Hendrix recording covers of the Band in a hotel room with a tape recorder.
But Hendrix’s live stuff, for me, was a bit more narrow. I bought the only live album he released while he was alive, Band of Gypsies, which is fabulous, but it’s a bit of anomaly of a live album. Most live albums are bands playing established, familiar songs. Band of Gypsies on the other hand was a live album of all new material that Jimi did to fulfill a contract he’d signed on the hood of a car. It wasn’t recorded with The Experience, but his new group, the Band of Gypsies. I followed up that purchase with Live at the Fillmore East, which were the outtakes from the recordings that resulted in Band of Gypsies so once again, it was live stuff, but none of the Hendrix canon.
I finally delved into The Jimi Hendrix Experience live with the sprawling box set Winterland. It was culled from three nights of concerts in San Francisco and captures the Experience a few weeks prior to the release of Electric Ladyland. It’s awesome, but it’s like Springsteen’s Live 1975-1985 or Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ The Live Anthology, it’s so sprawling it doesn’t really give you the feel of an actual concert the way that some of Dylan’s bootleg series does, like Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which is just one show recorded and released, as is.
Enter Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival. Much like the documentary that it sprang from, I was truly blown away by this show. Instead of the all new songs like Band of Gypsies, this is Hendrix playing the songs I was familiar with. It was just one epic performance. The opening salvo of Fire, Lover Man, and Spanish Castle Magic is just amazing. Hendrix is coaxing sounds out of his guitar that neither my wife nor I had ever heard before. For me, Hendrix was one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, ranking up there with Muddy and B.B. Disc 1 of Freedom has two of his most amazing blues performances I’ve ever heard committed to tape, Red House and Hear My Train a Comin’. The solo’ing on those songs may be the greatest accomplishment ever on the guitar as an instrument. Its simply mesmerizing.
I didn’t have a live version of All Along the Watchtower in my collection but he does a nice version here, although he screws up the lyrics a bit on the front end. But thats one of the things I love about a live album that’s just a single show. It’s warts and all and it makes it distinctive. Great versions of Purple Haze and Foxey Lady are here but it’s Hey Joe, Stone Free and especially the amazing, epic version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) that will have you reaching for the volume knob and asking, “Holy shit, is that a guitar?”
The show ends with the obligatory Star Spangled Banner, this time with actual fireworks going off in the background (see Electric Church, it’s pretty amazing imagery) which leads into a new song, Straight Ahead. After it’s over you’re left simply in awe of what The Experience – and let’s not forget Billy Cox and his aggressive bass playing and the intrepid drumming of Mitch Mitchell – could do on a steamy 4th of July in Georgia.
Do yourself a favor and pick this gem up quickly. Turn it up loud and, as always, enjoy!