For anyone who has ever played or aspired to play the guitar in the last half century, Jimi Hendrix must surely place on the short list of influences and inspirations. Regardless of what you think about his lifestyle, drug use, or even the music of that era, there is really little debate about the raw talent and visionary approach Hendrix had as a guitarist.
But guitar talent alone is not enough to carry a career – and self-destructive behavior certainly never helps! So Hendrix had a great run between 1967-1968 … and meandered thereafter. Even his storied run at Woodstock is best served up as a highlight reel, as most of it is an unfocused, drug-ridden mess. Since his death more and more recordings have been released showing a combination of the glorious highs and embarrassing lows of Hendrix’ career.
But when he was good … he was brilliant. So when Amazon put out a mega-pack release for one of his most famous live performances – a 3-day, 6-show run at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom … I snapped it up! I’ve had the chance to run through the whole thing and wanted to offer up some quick thoughts.
Summary: In October of 1968, Jimi Hendrix was celebrating the release of his third and final studio album ‘Electric Ladyland’. He had seen amazing commercial success with ‘Are You Experienced’, shown solid musical growth (and signs of unfocused meandering) on Axis: Bold as Love, and had now produced a double album that contains some of his greatest recorded moments (as well as some of his worst).
It is with this backdrop he entered Winterland. This was still ‘The Jimi Hendrix Experience’ with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, and they were playing all of the popular songs from the first album as well as newer music and opening up on blues jams, cover tracks and other stuff.
The first thing of note is that this is a ‘soundboard’ recording. What this means is that the sound quality is quite good. Way too many Hendrix (and other rock group live show) recordings sound like they were recorded with the cheapest possible equipment and frantically cleaned up.
Another important note is that this is NOT a complete collection of the concert recordings. Every night is represented with a number of tracks, so you do get more than a single look at some songs, but this isn’t like Miles Davis ‘Cellar Door Sessions’ where you really hear everything that happened over the course of a run. For completists this is likely an issue, but given that this collection is $35 rather than $100 … that is the way things work.
The collection also includes a ‘audience tape’ recording made on a reel-to-reel tape and sold as an Amazon exclusive. This recording is what survives of Jimi’s February 4, 1968 Winterland performance, and while the audio quality means it won’t likely be an iPod mainstay, it is really cool getting a further insight into the band of the era.
The music of the late 60’s has aged … well, horribly for the most part. Psychedelia falls into the realm of historical amusement to kids today, and the music of the era ranges from quaint to embarrassing to naive to pretentious. Yet there are some gems in there that any fan of music can enjoy, and Jimi Hendrix produced some music that has stood the test of time well. At the same time, much of his stuff feels like throw-away ‘head music’ now … but in that regard he has fared better than many others of the era.
Some of the early Hendrix songs are classics, and the recording techniques of Electric Ladyland make ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and ‘Voodoo Chile … Slight Return’ exciting to listen to now in the era of computer generated playlists and auto-tuned everything. For the novice fan, I recommend starting off with some of the studio work of Hendrix instead of live material. Start with ‘Are You Experienced’ and ‘Electric Ladyland’, and once you are ready to stretch out a bit the Winterland recordings are a great place to start.
I have been thrilled listening to the Winterland recordings these past few days. I have some very good and very bad posthumous releases in my collection, but in my opinion this is about the best of all the non-studio releases I have heard. Definitely worth a listen – and if you have MOG/Rdio/Spotify you can enjoy the main four-CD set as well!
Choice Track (and why): “Like a Rolling Stone” – I mark ‘All Along the Watchtower’ as perhaps my favorite Hendrix song, so it is fitting that another Dylan song is my favorite from this collection. This version shows how Hendrix had matured over the last couple of years, and how well the band played together, as well as his penchant for making better versions of Dylan songs – songs that are inherently folk songs yet play extremely well when interpreted by a heavy rock guitar group. Crazy.
You Might Love This If: If you are a serious Hendrix fan, you should already own or have ordered this. If you don’t already have at least a half dozen Hendrix recordings in your collection, perhaps you should check out the ‘Highlight’ disk listed below – it is a great collection at a budget price. Regardless, if you are a fan of rock music, you should strongly consider putting some of this music in your collection.
Where to Buy: Amazon.com Exclusive – $35.17
(Single CD highlight is available here for $10.99 if you aren’t ready to take the plunge!)
Here is an interview (audio only) of Hendrix backstage:
Here is a clip of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ from the third day: