Necrophiliacs of the rock world unite! It’s not one, but two records of posthumously issued Jimi Hendrix material, culled from the forthcoming documentary film Jimi Hendrix, featuring five hitherto unreleased cuts. Three are from Hendrix’ final performance, held at the Isle of Wight, and reveal the dishearteningly desultory level to which his playing had by then descended. These two records document in words and music (each side concludes with brief interviews with Jimi’s family, associates and the artist himself) Hendrix’s personal degeneration which, needless to say, makes for a rather depressing listening experience – despite the presence of several already available tracks that display Jimi’s genius at its white hot zenith.
The album begins in June, 1967, at the Monterey Pop Festival when Hendrix, then an unknown expatriate, created his own myth by out-auto-destructing the Who with his celebrated sacrifice of the white Fender on the delightfully excessive, erotically campy “Wild Thing.” But showmanship, outlandish garb and the decidedly cock-a-hoop stance of a psychedelicized Bo Diddley notwithstanding, Monterey firmly established Hendrix’s musical credentials as well. Not only did he play with vastly more metallic dexterity than the competition, he also served notice that he was rock’s premier guitar virtuoso by dazzling the crowd with endless left-handed eagle half-gainers, thunder peals and bird screams. Of the four Monterey selections, there is one that did not appear on Live At Monterey, a strong version of “Hey Joe” which here replaces less successful “Can You See Me.”
In stark contract to the exuberance of the Monterey cuts, the remainder of the selections have either an unsettling cast of foreboding or are marred by some grievously indifferent, sloppy work that reinforces the knowledge of the anguish and disgust that tormented Hendrix as he neared the end.
On the positive side, two previously issued tracks, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Machine Gun II,” stand with anything that Hendrix ever recorded. The considerably edited “Banner,” a product of the otherwise disastrous Woodstock set in 1969, is a brilliant exercise in feedback technique and Biercian wit whose power is heightened by the absurdity of today’s current events.
Following “Banner” is the LP’s highlight, “Machine Gun II,” recorded live New Year’s Eve, 1969, at the Fillmore East with the short-lived Band Of Gypsies that included Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. “Gun,” which uses Muddy Waters‘ “Rolling Stone Blues” as its basis (a common Hendrix device, as in “Voodoo Chile” among others), is superb program music that eloquently conveys the desolation, annihilation and terror of war through some of Jimi’s most accomplished, yet subdued work and the taut interplay between Miles and Cox.
Things slide into despair and disdain after “Machine Gun II.” Two tracks, “Johnny B. Goode” (initially issued on Hendrix in the West) and the never-before-released version of “Purple Haze,” were cut live in May, 1970, in Berkeley with Mitch Mitchell and Cox, two excellent but completely incompatible rhythm section mates. And Hendrix’s previously unavailable 12-string acoustic guitar solo on “Hear My Train A-Comin’,” from 1967, is mere filler.
By the time of the Isle of Wight concert, three weeks prior to his death, Jimi Hendrix was a broken man, barely going through the motions. With Cox and Mitchell through disjointed, Hendrix perfunctorily performed a tedious selection of tunes. A most ignominious and pathetic way for rock’s most fertile instrumental imagination to bow out.
Hendrix was trapped in showman libidinal buffoon roles of his own making. As his music became more experimental and as Hendrix became more aware of the contradictions of being a black man with an almost entirely white following, his legions were often unwilling to accept his search for new directions. It was a contradictory position he proved unable to resolve.
Jimi Hendrix’ enormous contribution to the electric guitar’s vocabulary make it all the more pitiful that his Isle of Wight film soundtrack swan song should be released. Nevertheless, even these deplorable stabs are pertinent to those of us who revere the man’s genius. However, in the end, this LP can only be recommended to the staunchest of the Hendrix faithful.