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Radio One

The changes Jimi Hendrix wrought on rock & roll and its primary instrument, the electric guitar, were so cataclysmic that it is hard to imagine what it was like to be there as they happened. When Hendrix torched his Strat at Monterey in June 1967, his futuristic vision of the blues was already at a highly advanced stage. But the six months on either side of Monterey were periods of accelerated evolution for Hendrix, too profound to be digested fully amid the chaos of instant fame and too rapid to be captured in full on either Are You Experienced? or its immediate successor, Axis: Bold As Love.

Thus Radio One is a godsend. It is a compilation of seventeen “live” studio workouts by the original Experience (with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums). These previously unissued blasts of prime Hendrixiana were originally taped between February and December of 1967 for broadcast by BBC Radio in England. You can ride shotgun with Hendrix as he rockets into inner space with “Stone Free,” roughs up the Beatles‘ “Day Tripper” with acid-gangster guitar and wades into the primordial blues ooze of “Hoochie Koochie Man.” Experienced and Axis were definitive statements of intention and accomplishment, Monterey the formal announcement of his arrival. But Radio One is essential Hendrix because it reveals the development of his art at its earliest and, in some ways, most crucial junctures.

“Love or Confusion,” “Fire” and “Foxy Lady” are worth the price of admission alone. These versions document with graphic force and zero studio garnish the turmoil and passion that fueled Hendrix’s technique.

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By the fall of ’67, Hendrix was already tempering his freak-beat impulses with a more soulful warmth and lyric openness; that change is heard to wonderful effect in the Radio One takes of Axis’s “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Wait Until Tomorrow,” a great R&B thumper that never got the stage workout it deserved. “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” one of Hendrix’s most haunting ballads, seems naked in comparison with the cathedrallike grandeur of its Electric Ladyland reading — and is just as potent for it.

Of course, it was all rooted in the blues. Hendrix bows to his elders with a supersonic rip through Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Koochie Man.” In the end, though, it was rooted in his blues. You can hear that all too clearly in Hendrix’s own eerily prophetic lament “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

Indeed, Radio One is probably the closest the tape machines came to recording the private, searching Hendrix during that roller-coaster year. From the euphoric frenzy of “Purple Haze” and the comic excitement of “Hound Dog” to the dark shiver of “Hear My Train A Comin’,” this is the sound of Hendrix reinventing rock & roll, almost day by day, in his own image. It is also the sound of Hendrix coping with the pressure and pain that were part of his reward. There’s no other experience on record like it.

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