On February 11th, 1969, Jimi Hendrix was producing the Buddy Miles Express at the Record Plant in New York when he decided it was time to jam. With Miles on drums and jazzman Larry Young at the organ, Hendrix played a blues, "It's Too Bad," inspired by his troubled relationship with his younger brother, Leon. Over a slow John Lee Hooker-like stomp and Young's crisp organ rifling, Hendrix fired off hot, clean guitar licks and sang with agonized honesty: "It's too bad/My brother can't be here today . . . I sent him a-cryin' away."
Amazingly, Hendrix never considered this intensely personal performance, done in one take, for release. But on September 12th, the song will finally be issued by Experience Hendrix/MCA, along with fifty-five other rare treasures, in a four-CD box set titled The Jimi Hendrix Experience. A handful of tracks in the package first appeared on long-out-of-print compilations such as Loose Ends and Hendrix: In the West, but the bulk of the box – covering Hendrix's career live and in the studio, from the fall of 1966 to just a month before his death in September 1970 – is previously unreleased.
"This is like a window into Jimi's mind," says Eddie Kramer, who engineered many of the original sessions documented in the box and co-produced the set with Janie Hendrix and John McDermott of Experience Hendrix. "You get this glimpse of how that fantastic brain created those wonderful sounds. He had complete control over the guitar. It was never a question of, 'I can't do this.' It was, 'How can I do this?'"
Among the remarkable discoveries on The Jimi Hendrix Experience are formative, explosive instrumental takes of "Little Wing" and "Bold as Love"; a startling 1969 remake of "Stone Free" with elaborate guitar orchestration; an early funky-bones arrangement of "Freedom"; and Hendrix's only known studio version of "Hear My Train a Comin'," with the Experience, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, done at a ferocious rehearsal for the guitarist's February '69 appearance at London's Royal Albert Hall. "This box in no way replaces or diminishes the records that Jimi made," says McDermott, an acclaimed Hendrix biographer who wrote extensive liner notes for the set. "It shows you that music was pouring out of this guy all the time."
Many of the tracks on the first two discs come from outtake reels for the Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love LPs, tapes that had been held from release for many years by Hendrix's producermanager, the late Chas Chandler. The earliest recordings in the set come from the Experience's fourth-ever show, in October '66, at the Olympia Theater in Paris, where they opened for French rocker Johnny Hallyday.
The dramatic finale of the box is a delicious jam that stops short at just under two minutes. Recorded on August 20th, 1970, "Slow Blues" proved to be Hendrix's last multitrack studio recording. "Jimi's career was so abruptly interrupted,'' says Kramer. "This little gem signifies what happened to him. He's in the middle of something cool, and then it just stopped."
The Jimi Hendrix Experience has by no means emptied the Hendrix vaults of great unissued music. "We have enough good material, live or otherwise, to put out a new record every year for the next ten, fifteen years," Kramer claims.
As for the title of the box, McDermott says The Jimi Hendrix Experience is a twofold homage to the classic trio and to something Chandler once told him: "He felt the name perfectly suited Jimi, because he was more than just music. He was an experience."
This story is from the August 17th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.