Scrape, Scrape. That sound you hear is Eddie Kramer, the proprietor of the late Jimi Hendrix‘s New York recording studio, Electric Ladyland, scraping the bottom of the Hendrix barrel for the second and possibly second-to-last posthumous album of the deceased genius’ music, Hendrix In The West. But to talk about bottoms of barrels is meant in no way to deprecate this album or Kramer’s work. Jimi Hendrix was to rock what Charlie Parker was to jazz – an energiser, a vitalizer, a musician who brought to the music an instinctual sophistication combined with that elemental dash of despair and irony. (And the irony that touched both Parker and Hendrix, as Raymond Mungo might say, were the ironies that kill.)
Hendrix in the West is a patchwork quilt with different degrees of texture and shade. All seven cuts were recorded live, the three best at a 1968 San Diego concert with the original Experience, Mitch Mitchell on drums and bassist Noel Redding, three more from a concert in Berkeley, where Redding was replaced by Billy Cox, and one track consisting of the first few moments of Hendrix’s show at the 1970 Festival of the Isle of Wight, again backed by the rhythm section of Mitchell and Cox. All the cuts vibrate with Jimi’s peculiar, exciting brand of spiritual mania, and only two lack the requisite power that labels them as filler material. If there has been significant remastering and over-dubbing, it’s a job that has been pretty well done; everything sounds just the way it must have when it came blasting off the stage.
That’s Jeff Dexter, the spindly compere of London’s Roundhouse, introducing the band before an audience of half a million British and continental freaks and hoodlums on the lsle. Hendrix comes on and goes into one of his characteristically convoluted and undecipherable raps, which trails off . . . “it’d be a lot better if you all stand up for your country and beliefs and start singing along . . . And if you don’t, fuck ya, hahaha.” Just enough feedback noise to make you slightly nervous heralds the opening to the first number, titled “The Queen” on this album, but which is actually a distorto warpo version of “God Save The Queen,” the quaint and occasionally poignant (depending on the circumstances) British National Anthem. Hendrix makes “Queen” sound as ridiculous and scary as he did that other more familiar rouser, “The Star Spangled Banner,” on the boards at Woodstock and in the studio version of the same that was stuck on the Rainbow Bridge album. This bit of japery segues into, incredibly, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the tape of which Kramer allows to flow only for a merciful few yards before the song fades into oblivion.
Next a couple of gorgeous tunes from that San Diego concert, which sounds like it must have been a night: the gently soaring “Little Wing” gets a superb, careful performance from Hendrix that far surpasses the version of the song on the Axis album; and then, as Hendrix says to his audience, “what we call a little of the blues,” a thirteen minute “Red House” that cuts dead the version heretofore available only on Smash Hits. As far as I’m concerned, this number is the reason for this album’s existence. Hendrix’s whorehouse blues is mellifluous and powerful; it doesn’t try to drown the listener in an avalanche of chromium tears, but lifts you up as it builds into its final crescendo, taking you in and out of its many and changing moods. A masterpiece of a performance.
The second side is somewhat less intriguing. The first three numbers are from a concert given in Berkeley in 1970, a concert that was little more than a playful jam with Mitchell and Cox. “Johnny B. Goode” is just there – as John Lennon said recently, “if there was another name for rock and roll, it would be Chuck Berry.” “Lover Man” is basically new lyrics put to the chords and changes of “Can You See Me,” a number that Hendrix played at Monterey in ’67. “Blue Suede Shoes” picks things up somewhat, owing as it does (in this version) a lot more to Hendrix’s improvisatory ramblings than it does to good old Carl Perkins. Jimi stylizes the tune into something quite unrecognizable, and what comes out is only fair.
This record’s recessional is a very rushed but otherwise perfect rendition of “Voodoo Chile” from the San Diego concert, which is played so fast that it sounds like Hendrix must have had some urgent business in the dressing room. All the same, he plays brilliantly, racing those fast, chopping licks as though he was trying to best himself at his own game.
Anyway, “Little Wing” and “Red House” are the ones to hear on this album. I’m glad it’s out; Jimi Hendrix was quite a musician and this unreleased material shouldn’t leave a dry eye in the house. He is one man that we all miss.