‘Black Gold,’ New Hendrix In Old Tapes
NEW YORK – The archaeological probing of the Hendrix tapes continues. Up in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, at the Shaggy Dog Studios, Alan Douglas – producer, record label owner (Douglas Records) and chief archaeologist – sifts through 100 tapes of the music put down in studios, live concerts and festivals by Jimi Hendrix: the jams, polished performances, false starts, backing tracks.
“It’s really an aural history of Jimi over the last couple years of his life. You can hear him changing, reflecting what was going on around him,” Douglas says.
And Douglas is making progress. He would like to release in October the first of a series of Jimi Hendrix albums, this one featuring the sum of sessions made with guitarist John McLaughlin in pre-Mahavishnu days. “I also want to release a single around this time, projecting the music heard on another album, the second in the series,” Douglas says. Most likely, this will be a vocal album: “There are seven or eight of Jimi’s vocals that really make it.”
A third album will include some sessions Hendrix did with organ player Larry Young, formerly of Tony Williams Lifetime. According to Douglas, these show a jazz-oriented Hendrix “who for the first time isn’t listening back for his rhythm section, having to drop back and help out. Here he is relaxed, out front.”
Douglas also has unearthed from the crates of tapes a series of blues jams, sufficient for an album, that has Hendrix working with Johnny Winter, Stephen Stills, Lee Michaels and others. “Jimi sings really well here – they are very happy records,” Douglas says.
He reckons that he is about halfway through the Hendrix tapes. At times it involves listening to maybe two hours of bass and drum rhythm tracks before running into Hendrix’s guitar lines, but he feels that to have four albums of “sure material” already is very rewarding. He is aiming for a total of five albums and wants to repackage some of the Hendrix material already released by Warner Bros. Records.
“There is good Hendrix material on release but it is spread throughout too many albums,” he says. “Had Jimi still been alive, a lot of the product on the market would not have been released. The big problem was, just before he died, management was trying to push him back into the Experience bag and Jimi was going the other way. When it came to releasing Hendrix material after his death, their ears were still listening to the Experience thing, listening for the hits. The idea of McLaughlin and Jimi together went right by them. And yet when he does get away – into the jazz bag with McLaughlin and Larry Young – you can hear McLaughlin bringing out the warmth and beauty of Hendrix and Jimi selecting some beautiful chords to bring out McLaughlin.”
Douglas sees no difficulty in getting releases from these other artists, signed to other labels, to enable him to issue his Hendrix series: “The strength of the music is so good. We are working with the Hendrix estate and there is no problem there. We’ve been putting out fires and making peace all over,” he says.
Other Hendrix goodies discovered by Douglas include a “Black Gold” suite – eight tunes, running for about 30 minutes. Douglas describes it as an autobiographical fantasy, Hendrix playing a Buck Rogers figure called Black Gold. “This is on cassette and the quality might be OK for us to put it out in audio form, but it is such an incredible story that I’m thinking along the lines of an animated film,” he says.
Buoyed by what he has found, Douglas is already thinking past the series of albums. If he has his way he will develop a Hendrix industry. He says that he is considering at the moment a television special built around the late guitarist and singer that will take Hendrix from the Monterey Festival right up to the Isle of Wight, England, festival – the last gig before his death. “We have film available, the music is there. I’d like to put Jimi and his music at the center and show the politics, lifestyles and environment changing around him. We’d show other performers as well – a musical hit, a culture hit and so on.”
Douglas is asking around the world for Hendrix memorabilia – tapes, pictures, anything to do with Hendrix.
“We already have a strong collection of Jimi Hendrix concert posters from all around the world that [designer] Craig Braun is putting together for us. A poet, David Henderson, is writing a biography of Jimi that we hope will be estate-authorized.”
Tape quality is generally high. However, in some cases, according to Douglas, “I will bring in other musicians where Jimi has, perhaps, just laid down the rhythm and vocal track because even though it is only a rhythm track, Jimi practically gives you the whole arrangement. You can hear the horn figures in what he puts down.”
Behind the Making of ‘A Film About Jimi Hendrix’
Douglas gives a lot of credit for the start of the Hendrix tape operation to Warner Bros. executive Don Schmitzerle. “He had the faith,” Douglas says. “After Warner Bros. rejected the last album the estate gave them, it was Don who called me . . .”
Schmitzerle himself confesses to having been “weary of seeing the bottom of the barrel come up” and out of “decency to the legacy” thought that the tapes, gathered from all over the world, should be looked at.
As a result Alan Douglas sits up in Stockbridge sorting through his 675 reels of tape – “A lot of it is marked wrong,” he adds – that make up Jimi Hendrix’s musical life.
This is a story from the September 26th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.