Only a few days ago I posted about the new Guns N Roses box set celebrating the Use Your Illusions albums. I’m still waking up with the words “With your bitch slap rapping and your cocaine tongue you get noooooothing done…” lodged in my head every morning and yet here I am already posting again. Knowing I’m headed to points out West for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday I holed up all weekend in the B&V labs listening to the new archival live album put out by the folks down at Experience Hendrix – who really do a nice job with Jimi’s legacy – entitled Los Angeles Forum – April 26, 1969 so I could post before I leave. I think I’m like most folks when I think about Hendrix, I just think about Jimi the Guitar God. I tend to overlook the fact that it wasn’t just Hendrix, it was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And the Experience were quite a band. Listening to this live album one might say that seeing them live was quite, well, an experience. Joining Jimi in the band were Noel Redding (a frustrated guitarist) on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. One of our very first posts was about a Hendrix live album/documentary, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live). Although by that show in Hot’lanta on the Fourth of July 1970, Noel Redding had split and had been replaced by Billy Cox on bass. We do so love our live LPs here at B&V.
Ah, April 1969, what a time to be alive! Well, technically I was alive in 1969 but I was just an infant so not really cognizant. I’d have probably been frightened by the sound of an electric guitar turned up to 11. It was a stressful time for Jimi and the Experience. They’d released Electric Ladyland in 1968 and it was an absolute masterpiece. But the follow-up proved to be elusive. Jimi was searching for something. He had built his Electric Ladyland studio in New York, a state of the art facility which he felt he needed to get the sounds he wanted. However the recording process was terribly erratic. They’d go out on the road for a few days, fly back to New York and record for a day or two and then back out on the road. Touring was still a bit of a hodgepodge in those days, not the organized machine it is today. They couldn’t really just focus on making a record. Hendrix would often go out to clubs to party and end up at the studio in the wee small hours with a bunch of hangers on and try and record. It was tough to get anything done and Noel Redding for one was very frustrated with the chaos. By April of ’69 when this concert was recorded Redding was a mere two months away from leaving the Experience.
I know that many of you are thinking, What another live album from Hendrix? At this point it seems like Jimi could have dropped a guitar in 1970 and if it made a sound through the amplifier that was recorded in anyway, it’s been remixed, remastered and released on a record. Every note the guy played that was committed to tape is out there somewhere – some on bootleg, some officially released. This show from the L.A. Forum has been around on bootleg for a long time but it’s new to me and I can only assume the sound quality is much improved over any boot. I love any live stuff we can get from Hendrix because every show and every solo was different. Listening to the Experience live – or later incarnations of Hendrix’s bands – is like listening to jazz masters jamming and improvising. Every nuance is wrung out of every song but different every time. Hendrix was a rock star with a jazz guy’s approach to live performing. So for me the short answer is, Yes! Another live album from Hendrix! If you’re a fan of Hendrix or a fan of guitar, this album is for you.
I get the feeling from listening to Los Angeles Forum – April 26, 1969 that the crowd was pretty unruly that night. The cops come over the PA a few times and Hendrix himself addresses the crowd to mellow out so the band could keep playing. It was spring and I imagine that’s a pretty wild time in California. Especially in ’69. With Redding frustrated and probably contemplating leaving it’s not a stretch to suggest this is the sound of a band who weren’t getting along. Although even that doesn’t stop Hendrix from laying down some tasty riffs. Listening to this album what jumped out at me was how great a drummer Mitch Mitchell was. I don’t ever hear his name mentioned in the same whispered tones of reverence that Keith Moon or Charlie Watts are, but the guy is feral on the drums. He and Hendrix soar on this record while the aforementioned Noel Redding plays the bass almost like a time keeper. Redding’s bass acts as the foundation here while the Hendrix and Mitchell play off each other like Jimmy Page and John Bonham.
I don’t know if it was the chaotic energy of the crowd pressing up against the stage but this album is a loose, jammy affair. There are several long (over ten or fifteen minute) jams. The band is introduced and much like another live LP by the Experience that I have, Winterland, Hendrix comes out and has to apologize while he gets his guitar sorted out. I don’t know if Jimi was too cheap to hire a proper guitar tech or they couldn’t find one but did he ever get on stage ready to play? Once he sorts out his instrument they launch into what must have been a live staple for them, a long, jammy instrumental “Tax Free.” It’s also the opener on the aforementioned Winterland. The song even come with a drum solo. It’s interesting to listen to the guys play off each other but it’s not going on the greatest hits album. I wonder if that tune is just how the band warmed up?
After the jam, they launch into a compact, snarling yet slinky version of “Foxey Lady.” I love Hendrix’s solo at the end of the track. Hendrix was quite chatty that evening. He seems to be having a lot of fun despite the crowd issues. The version of “Red House” is worth the price of admission in my mind. It’s a long, extended blues tune and I am here for it. It gets almost jazz like in the middle. I could listen to that track all day on a repeating loop. Hendrix then dedicates “Spanish Castle Magic” to the police at the show. It’s an impressive version of the Axis: Bold As Love track. Hendrix then launches into his soon to be iconic “Star Spangled Banner” which segues into the righteous riffage of “Purple Haze.” Once again with the cops on his mind he sings, “Excuse me while I kiss this policeman.” The extended fiery solo could possibly melt your face off. After that searing song Hendrix has to ask the crowd to mellow out again. They must have been rushing the stage again. He asks everybody to sit down which I think would be impossible at a Hendrix show.
Mitch Mitchell unleashes some tribal drumming on “I Don’t Live Today.” This is a wildly chaotic version of the track which probably fit right in on this particular night in front of these unruly hippies. The show wraps up with my all time favorite riff from Hendrix on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” which segues into “Sunshine Of Your Love,” a Cream cover and then back into “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” While the second half of “Voodoo Child” is only three minutes it’s some of Hendrix’s most ferocious solo’ing of the show.
While the setlist is shorter than other live sets I’ve seen from Hendrix – I’m guessing they had to cut it short because of the lack of crowd control – there is still a lot to love here. I’m always up for a good Hendrix live concert recording. Like I said, if you’re a fan of the guitar – and especially hearing what the absolute farthest someone can take the instrument – or of Hendrix this will be essential listening when you’re trying to drowned out your fractious Thanksgiving dinner conversation. “What Uncle Tim, you think serving the meal family style is socialist? Frankly, I think Mitch Mitchell is a criminally underrated drummer…” Or something like that.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there who are celebrating this week in the States. Even if you’re not celebrating Thanksgiving we have a lot of to be grateful for in this life not least of which is rock n roll music. Be kind to each other. Eat a whole lot this Thursday, drink something brown and murky and play this one loud!!