An historic documentary film chronicling the two 1970 concerts Jimi Hendrix performed at the Berkeley Community Theatre capture some of his finest moments
By Harvey Kubernik
Experience Hendrix LLC and Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment released a restored and newly expanded edition of Jimi Plays Berkeley, on Blu-ray and DVD, this past July.
An historic documentary film chronicling the two concerts Jimi Hendrix and band mates performed at the Berkeley Community Theatre on Saturday, May 30, 1970, Jimi Plays Berkeley, captures one of the finest Hendrix moments with bassist Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell on drums.
The most complete record ever-released of that landmark Saturday in late May 1970, Jimi Plays Berkeley, publishes an essay on the film by noted Jimi Hendrix historian John McDermott.
Legacy Recordings in July also issued the Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child film for the first time on Blu-ray. A 90-minute documentary directed by Bob Smeaton.
Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child was originally included as a DVD in the West Coast Seattle Boy Jimi Hendrix boxed set. An autobiographical journey told in the legendary musician’s own words as read by Parliament-Funkadelic’s Bootsy Collins, the film incorporates interviews with Hendrix, coupled with the artist’s letters, writings and recordings to provide new insight into one of the most enduring icons of popular culture.
The documentary features Jimi’s trio on stage as well as rare and never before seen footage and photos including — for the first time ever — examples from the Hendrix family archive of the late guitarist’s personal drawings, postcards home to his father, song drafts, sketches, and lyrics.
Generated from a new, digitally-restored transfer from the original 16mm negative, “Jimi Plays Berkeley” premieres more than 15 minutes of previously unseen documentary and performance footage of Hendrix classics including “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Machine Gun” and “Hear My Train A Comin” not featured in the original film release.
Jimi Plays Berkeley features a 5.1 surround stereo soundtrack mixed by original Jimi Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer and commentary from Abe Jacob, the audio engineer who recorded the Hendrix Berkeley concerts in May 1970.
The newly expanded Jimi Plays Berkeley, incorporates a bonus audio-only presentation of Jimi’s complete Berkeley 05/30/1970 second show mixed in 5.1 surround sound. Housing 67 minutes of music, the second set concert recordings include “Pass It On (Straight Ahead),” “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun),” “Lover Man,” “Stone Free,” “Hey Joe,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Machine Gun,” “Foxey Lady,” “Star Spangled Banner,” “Purple Haze,” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
The second set from May 30, 1970, is out on CD and on 12” vinyl as Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At Berkeley (The Second Set). The audiophile 12” double album release is an all-analog recording cut by Bernie Grundman from the master tapes and struck by Quality Record Pressings (QRP) on 200-gram vinyl.
Acclaimed engineer and record producer, Eddie Kramer, mixed Jimi Plays Berkeley. 2012 marks his 50th anniversary in the music business and 70th birthday.
Kramer’s site: eddiekramerarchives.com exhibits 50 of his different photographs, shot between 1967-1972, the period Eddie calls “The Golden Era of Rock n’ Roll.”
“Jimi recorded so many great live shows,” suggested Kramer. Berkeley 1970 is definitely up there as one of the finest. Abe Jacob actually did the basic recording. Of course, Abe and I go back many years, and we would always talk about stuff like how to record Jimi. I was very lucky to have him do some of those shows. I never had the opportunity to record Jimi live but I always did all the mixing with him. Starting with Band of Gypsies, which we did together and was very interesting. There is a history there of working together. I know what is needed to make it sound right. Certainly in today’s market you want it to not only have the vintage feel but it’s gotta punch, you know.
“The Berkeley 1970 tapes were in remarkably good shape. Thank God. And I’ve mixed it a few times. I’ve mixed it in stereo first that came out, and then we had to do a 5.1. When there were space limitations for vinyl, we had material that was labeled outtakes,” Kramer underscored. “But in the 5.1 and CD and DVD formats they are now bonus material. And I think that is better to call it a bonus track. You get that extra ‘wow!’ I think the Blu-Ray thing is interesting. What they’ve done is take my 5.1 mixes, taken the footage and converted into Blu-ray. So essentially it’s my 5.1 mix that’s been converted into the format working with team Hendrix, producers John McDermott and Janie Hendrix.
“Obviously in the past we would mix it mostly with analog gear before the digital revolution. Over the last ten years with the tremendous progress that has been made in the digital world, and I have embraced it. Quite frankly, it’s become this amalgam of the way I look at a mix is getting the best of the visual world and the best of the analog world and making the two worlds talk to each other. And I think we’ve refined this method of this amalgam, or combination, or whatever you want to call it, but it is very interesting to me because I can now do things, which I was never able to do. There are devices I can use.
“For example,” explained Eddie, “Jimi’s guitar in the past, let’s just say he hits a note, and it goes into heavy, heavy feedback that is so overpowering that in order to get rid of it I would have to destroy a bunch of the sounds that were there. Now I can go in and surgically, not only lower it significantly, and almost get rid of it, without affecting any of the other instruments. Now for me, in this particular situation, that is incredibly valuable. ‘Cause I am now protecting the essence, the purity if you will, of what Jimi is playing but without destroying anything. And only making it sound better and more listenable. So if I can achieve that then I’ve really done something. And it’s not only the surgery, in terms of removing some certain artifacts, you have to be very, very careful that the artifacts are part of what he did. So you constantly question yourself
“And, I always feel like Jimi is sitting on my shoulder saying, ‘No, Kramer. Don’t do that.’ So that’s what goes on in my mind when I’m mixing the stuff. I want it to sound like Jimi was sitting right next to me in the room saying, ‘You know, this is cool.’ He would be the first one to embrace Pro Tools. So I feel really blessed that I was able to work with him towards the end, mixing and doing stuff, and kind of knew where his head was at. And I’ve think we’ve incorporated all of those ideas with modern technology. Jimi is a purist and the guy everybody wants to sound like,” Kramer concluded, who is working on a book and a documentary, From the Other Side of the Glass.
In 1966, Abe Jacob was working as an audio engineer for a Bay area audio company, McCune Sound. He handled sound for the 1966 and ’67 Mamas and the Papas live concert dates, road shows for Peter, Paul & Mary, and the Monterey International Pop Festival.
“I was doing some work with Chet Helms at the Family Dog,” remembered Jacob. “McCune Sound had always done sound for the Monterey Jazz Festival. So it was a natural fit.
“Monterey was a brilliant time. Nothing like that had ever been attempted and we never figured we were gonna carry it off. I was mostly taking care of all the stage set up at Monterey and went out and mixed front of house for the Mamas and the Papas. I was on stage for almost all of it. And when I first saw the Experience… Wow! This guy plays guitar and puts on a show. I was always interested in the show biz aspect of concerts.
“Then Jimi went out on the road with (promoter) Dick Clark and the Monkees. And he was asked to leave after some dates. Gerry Stickells, who was Jimi’s tour manager, called and said, “We want to take our own sound with us. Would you like to come?’ ‘Certainly.’”
Jacob then went on the road for all the Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967-1970 tours. He recorded the Jimi Hendrix May, 1970 shows at the Berkeley Community Theatre.
“For Berkeley 1970 we got the Wally Heider recording truck. It was in the San Francisco area where I was from. It naturally worked out that I would be in the truck and Mike Neal would be doing the mix inside the theater,” Jacob reflected.
“We kept it simple. When we toured the sound system for the Experience it was eight microphones. I mean, that was it. Miking was a little different for recording because we obviously had to mike the guitar to put it on tape, which you didn’t in the live venue. Pretty much the drums, two vocal mikes, some audience mikes for ambience and that was it. We had eight tracks available and everything went on a separate track so it made it easy for Eddie (Kramer) to mix it later on. I just put a mike in front of what they played.
“The basic philosophy was that the sound that came off the stage was what you wanted to present to the live audience and that also what you wanted to present when you recorded it. We had done some things before in the Berkeley Community Theatre. I had stage managed summer stock five years previously which played in that venue,” Jacob reminisced.
”The one memory I have and it has been reported, was that it was such a small room, people trying to get in and we opened the back doors of the recording truck. And people gathered outside the theater to listen to our monitors in the truck. And it probably prevented a riot.
‘To Jimi, at least in the times that I had with him, on and off the stage, was the music and what it sounded like. Whether the performance was up to his standards. I never got much involved in any of the other craziness. I was primarily the guy that wanted to do the live event and make the audience that night very special very unique. And go onto the next night. Not try to archive it or recreate it. In the live sound world, when you saw the guitar player come in for his solo you wanted to bring that out maybe more than it was necessary to do on the recording. Because you wanted the ear to follow what the eye was looking at as far as the performer was going. That was one of the first things I thought about in doing live sound. Not just recreating a record. But to try and capture the performance that’s going on the stage.
“We were there to make the event happen. The philosophy and all of all the other craziness that went on we tried to put off for the time being. I guess most of the acts that were travelling and playing 1967-1970 just stood there and played. Jimi gave it some kind of theatrical flair which I guess really worked,” volunteered Abe.
Following the death of Hendrix in 1970, as a sound designer Jacob then pioneered and introduced new concepts in the Broadway theatre. Jacob’s original designs include Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Beatlemania and Chicago.
“We take great pride in doing our part to preserve the music of my brother, Jimi, especially during his 70th birthday year,” stated Janie Hendrix, President and CEO of Experience Hendrix and co-producer (with John McDermott) of the Jimi Plays Berkeley DVD. (Jimi Hendrix, born November 27, 1942, would be 70 this year.)
“Sony Legacy is doing a wonderful job. I guess what we kind of do is that we give you a studio, we give you a live we give you a studio, we give you a live. Speaking with Sony they were very interested in adding to this title. You don’t just want to re-buy or not re-buy what you already have. So there is added material. It’s all about Jimi and the fans who hear Jimi for who he is. From sound check to the show.
“And Jimi had a relationship with Berkeley,” Janie disclosed. “When my father was in the service, Lucille (Jimi’s mother) sort of lost track of Jimi and he ended up in Berkeley, with a wonderful family that wanted to adopt him. My dad wasn’t having any of that. ‘No, I want my son back. Thanks for taking care of him.’ So Jimi did have a little bit of roots there. First of all, in everything we do for Jimi it is really an honor for us to be able to re-visit to watch it. Not only while we’re doing it but when it comes out. We always find a new gem. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve heard it, we discover something new.
“My technical guys, Eddie (Kramer) and Abe (Jacob) can tell you down to who did what. But for me, it’s really heart-warming to be able to put Jimi’s music out in performance as he would have seen them because this generation never got a chance to see him perform,” summarized Janie.“
Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Lyric Book (Backbeat Books, November 2012, $40) contains all the words to the Hendrix classics fans have heard and collected for years, Compiled by Janie Hendrix, “Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Lyric Book” is extraordinarily personal, and integrates numerous examples of Jimi’s handwritten lyrics, often scribbled on hotel stationery, as well as never-before-seen photos of him that accompany every song.
“We have a real good rela-tionship with Hal Leonard,” reinforced Janie. “We put out a lyric book with Hal Leonard before, but since then, we unearthed some more lyrics, found some handwritten lyrics, and there have been more songs we’ve unearthed,” she revealed.
“And last year at NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), we had a meeting about the different folios that we’re going to put out this year. Of course, we always make sure there are folios for every release that we do that reflect the release. And then the lyric book came up. It’s been out of print and off the shelves and we just acquired all of these new lyrics. Which would make a beautiful coffee table book. And they were listening. And they’ve been there for us the whole time. And actually before Experience Hendrix existed, Hal Leonard did our folios.
“And we were able to obtain the hand written lyrics from Bob Levine. He actually supplied us with them. Bob worked with Jimi back in the day. He and his wife were in charge of making sure that his songs were published. Over the decades we were in contact, and actually, he reached out to us and said, ‘I have all of these handwritten lyrics. Would you be interested?’ He sent some samples of things that he had. And so then we just negotiated and he was able to deliver
“When I saw them for the first time it was hard to describe,” marveled Janie. “I’ve always found Jimi’s lyrics and his drawings to not only be a part of him and his soul, but it really reflects another artistic side to him that people don’t really know or see or experience.
“When I was a child, I was always fascinated by my brother Jimi’s handwriting. It was an art form in and of itself. I remember the feeling of being captivated the first time I saw his handwritten lyrics. Thinking how beautiful, how complicated both the writing and the words were on paper. Even now they offer such an insight into who my brother was and is. To know Jimi’s hand was on that pen that wrote those words and out of his spirit comes these words in forms of songs or poetry. And it’s almost like touching a holy grail,” Janie exclaimed.
“Putting out Jimi’s music is splendid all in itself. But the lyrics I think give a whole other facet who Jimi is. You hear Jimi’s recordings on the radio, or the Pandora Hendrix channel, or an Mp3 player, and you hear it. But to actually read and ponder and mediate and concentrate and take yourself into a whole different realm by reading the lyrics because sometimes the lyrics get lost in the music. The beat. We get caught up in the rhythm and we may not be listening to the words that are being said.
“We had a couple of different versions of the lyric book,” added Janie, “including songs that he covered. But then it would be a little more complicated. But we do have a whole section of un-published works that have no music to it but there lyrics and poetry the way he wrote it and they were songs that he was working on.
“You can totally see him evolving. And the different interests he had. And, yes, in the very beginning he was very much into science fiction which I don’t think ever left him. He was also into colors and he was into prisms, and how colors affect you as people. He also wanted people to wake up. Be active and pro-active and be a part of what is going on. You can hear and see and read all of that in his lyrics where he was constantly evolving into. Really, I think of Jimi as a prophet in many ways. Because what he was saying to people is something that really, if they listen, people of today still need to hear the same message.”
Due in the near future is a live Jimi Hendrix recording from the 1969 Miami Pop Festival. Janie Hendrix, John McDermott and Eddie Kramer, are also concentrating on a studio album that is scheduled for retail distribution, People, Hell and Angels. It’s part of the trilogy of the First Rays of the New Rising Sun and Valleys of Neptune albums.
Jimi Hendrix’s 70th birthday will be celebrated in a major exhibition Hear My Train a Comin’: Hendrix Hits London which opens November 17, 2012 in Seattle, Washington at the EMP Museum. Endorsed by Experience Hendrix LLC, Hear My Train a Comin’: Hendrix Hits London focuses on Jimi Hendrix’s arrival in London in September 1966, his rise to prominence on the British pop charts, and his subsequent return to America in June 1967 when his incendiary performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival created a worldwide sensation.
Hear My Train a Comin is certain to be an informative and fascinating exhibition,” stressed Janie. “It is wonderful to be able to share so much of Jimi with fans. There is no question that it will solidify my brother’s place at the very top of music’s pantheon. While we celebrate his birth and legacy every day, the exhibition at EMP and the companion exhibit at London’s Hospital Club Gallery offer tangible proof of his trans-generational impact and
(Los Angeles native Harvey Kubernik has been an active music journalist for 40 years and the author of 5 books. This century Kubernik penned the liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s “Tapestry,” Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish,” and the “Elvis Presley ’68 Comeback Special).”
“Jimi Plays Berkeley” on Blu-ray + DVD and “Voodoo Child” Blu-ray DVD ; “Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Lyric Book” Due in November; For information: www.jimihendrix.com