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February 6, 2013

People, Hell & Angels

Jimi Hendrix

PEOPLE, HELL & ANGELS

By Harvey Kubernik 

Experience Hendrix LLC and Legacy Recordings a division of Sony Music Entertainment, have just announced the release of People, Hell & Angels, an essential new album premiering twelve previously unreleased studio recordings completed by guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

People, Hell & Angels showcases the legendary guitarist working outside of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience trio.

These twelve recordings encompass a variety of unique sounds and styles incorporating many of the elements-horns, keyboards, percussion and second guitar — Jimi wanted to incorporate within his new music. People, Hell & Angels presents some of the finest Jimi Hendrix guitar work ever issued and provides a compelling window into his growth as a songwriter, musician and producer.

Jimi Hendrix LadylandWith an album title coined by Jimi Hendrix, People, Hell & Angels reveals some of Hendrix’s post-Experience ambitions and directions as he worked with new musicians–including the Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills, drummer Buddy Miles, Billy Cox (with whom Hendrix had served in the 101st US Army Airborne and later played on the famed R&B ‘chitlin circuit’ together) and others — creating sounds for the next chapter in his extraordinary career journey.

People, Hell & Angels is co-produced by Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer and John McDermott.

Analog vinyl releases of two seminal Jimi Hendrix titles, Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love in mono, are scheduled for March, alongside People, Hell & Angels.

The dozen previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix performances premiering on People, Hell & Angels include “Earth Blues,” “Somewhere,” “Hear My Train A Comin’,” “Bleeding Heart,” “Baby Let Me Move You,” “Izabella,” “Easy Blues,” “Crash Landing,” “Inside Out,” “Hey Gypsy Boy,” “Mojo Man” and “Villanova Junction Blues.”

A musical companion piece and successor to 2010’s Valleys Of Neptune, the album collection featuring final recordings with the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, People, Hell & Angels offers new clues as to the direction Hendrix was considering for First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, his planned double album sequel to 1968’s groundbreaking Electric Ladyland.

Janie L. Hendrix, President and CEO of Experience Hendrix LLC, commented, “We’re thrilled to be able to release People, Hell & Angels during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of my brother’s birth. The brilliance of the album serves to underscore what we’ve known all along: that there has never been and never will be a musical force equal to his and that we cherish and take inspiration of what he left us both now and for many generations to come…simply eternity.”

KUBERNIK INTERVIEWS CO-PRODUCER JOHN MCDERMOTT.

HK: The unreleased material on Jimi Hendrix People, Hell & Angels does exhibit a new experimental direction he was taking in the 1968-1970 time period. 

JM: It provides an additional window into the next chapter of Jimi’s studio pursuits. It moves the timeline beyond Valleys Of Neptune, which essentially detailed the end of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience as a studio entity and Jimi’s first steps beyond. PHA showcases Jimi working outside the JHE, experimenting with larger ensembles, additional percussion, and second guitar.

Was it being planned as the follow up to Electric Ladyland? 

No. Absent a detailed outline from Jimi, no one can truly predict what he would have selected as the tracks that would comprise his sequel to Electric Ladyland. The blueprint for that album is essentially defined by First Rays Of The New Rising Sun but there definitely would have been material that we later issued as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience box set, South Saturn Delta and Valleys Of Neptune which would have been among the final contenders. We know from Jimi’s past history that he made decisions right up to the final hour [such as recording “Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)” to fill out Electric Ladyland] and it is entirely possible that he could have recorded one or more songs we don’t even know about to be on the album.

We do have a situation where Jimi was introducing horns and a bit more keyboards and percussion. Plus a second guitar. 

Jimi had begun to do this on Electric Ladyland via songs such as “Rainy Day Dream Away” but also “South Saturn Delta” which was cut during this period but not included on the album. The sessions he did with the Gypsy Sun & Rainbows band at the Hit Factory in August/September 1969 showcase his efforts to try and blend a second guitar into his sound. “Izabella” on PHA is a compelling example of this. Percussion was a growing element — obviously evident in “All Along The Watchtower” [which Jimi produced] but certainly a focus for him from that point on.

This new collection perhaps continues some of the studio game plan Jimi was doing with First Rays of the New Rising Son. 

As I outlined above, it is important to view these recordings as part of a larger body of work. Jimi was pushing forward in multiple directions — the BOG and songs he felt best suited for Cox and Miles [“Earth Blues,” “Bleeding Heart” and “Hear My Train A Comin’” from PHA are great examples] but the real breakthrough comes later in 1970 with the opening of Electric Lady Studios. There he created new music from the ground up [songs such as “Freedom” and “Dolly Dagger” which appear now on FROTNRS] but he also was able to gather with Eddie Kramer and upgrade many of the recordings he had made in 1969 at the Record Plant. We don’t know what Jimi would have selected to fill out his final version of FROTNRS but it is clear that he was going to include songs that featured the BOG lineup, the Cox/Mitchell lineup and possibly even a song or two featuring the original Experience lineup.

Is there any sort of concrete relationship to Valley of Neptune? 

No. PHA moves the timeline forward but it is not connected to VON in any specific way.

What are some of the things you, Eddie Kramer and Janie Hendrix realized when you were first compiling and reviewing tapes? Perhaps a different direction for his guitar playing? 

One of our goals was to share this great music with Jimi’s fans in a manner that would allow a deeper appreciation and understanding of what he was trying to achieve. There is no ‘lost album’. There are instead many wonderful recordings that offer fascinating clues as to next chapters of his music. We do feel that it is important to properly annotate these releases as best as we can so that Jimi’s fans understand the historical significance and, in the case of different versions of songs [such as the “Bleeding Heart” by the BOG on VON] why they are unique.

Where does the product title come from? 

The title is actually something that Jimi had come up with as a possible album title in 1970. He was considering different titles and this was one of them. We thought it would be good to adopt here as the title of this album.

What happens with Jimi on tape when he is not working with the original Experience members and with other lineups as evidenced in this new compilation? As you review, playback and do production.

Jimi is the driving creative force no matter who the musicians in the studio are. Obviously the Experience — and later the Band Of Gypsys — picked up on Jimi’s unspoken cues when playing with him on stage and in the recording studios. These could be a simple as a lift of his guitar neck, a quick look or some other body language meant to instruct his musicians on the fly.

On PHA, for example, when Jimi was recording “Crash Landing,” he was working with an unfamiliar drummer and keyboardist. This took multiple takes and specific instructions from Jimi as to the arrangement, parts and even tempo he desired. The guys were trying to learn it as quickly as they could but Jimi labored to try and articulate his vision for the song. Billy Cox was very intuitive. He was a good listener. He recognized what Jimi needed without challenging him or getting frustrated by multiple attempts to realize a basic track. This had been a contributing factor to the deterioration of the relationship between Noel and Jimi in the recording studio. Noel wanted to work quickly as the group had first done under the direction of Chas Chandler in 1966 and 1967. Jimi, however, chafed at such restrictions. He wanted the freedom to work on a track until it met his exact specifications. The sessions presented on PHA showcase this freedom. Jimi put together musicians to suit the songs he wanted to record on that particular evening as opposed to dedicating time and energy to rehearsals or other pre-production before entering the recording studio.

What most impresses you about this album and was sequencing a super consideration? 

I continue to be amazed at the quality of Jimi’s recorded music. When you look back at the pressure he was under during his career to deliver an album to both Capitol [as part of the PPX legal settlement] and Reprise it is amazing that he was never allowed to simply stop everything and take stock of what he already recorded. The velocity of his professional career never allowed him—certainly not before Electric Lady Studios opened in 1970—to take stock of what he had.

When you listen to “Hear My Train A Comin’” and “Bleeding Heart” you immediately recognize — more than 40 years later — how vital these recordings are. There was no one — then or now — approaching blues in the manner in which Jimi did. Blues wasn’t old hat to Jimi — it informed his sound and recordings such as these pushed the genre forward.

How do you usually construct these reissues and new releases? Are there enough notes on tapes or indicator signals? 

Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer and I regularly discuss the projects we are planning. We have been aided by the Hendrix family’s willingness to seek out lost tapes and films so that we can include them in releases such as PHA. We have restored the great music he authorized for release during his lifetime and have tried to augment his legacy via specific releases such as PHA or West Coast Seattle Boy.

There’s a track with former Buffalo Springfield member, Stephen Stills. 

Stephen was a friend and he plays bass on “Somewhere.” Jimi would return the favor down the road with Stephen and play on his 1970 solo album.

Jimi is also recording with Buddy Miles. They seem to have had a good musical and audio bond. 

They did. Jimi enjoyed Buddy’s infectious personality and his unique musical skills. They had met when the two were both on the chitlin’ circuit and reunited at Monterey in 1967. Buddy was a special character — great sense of playful humor and a willingness to jam or record at the drop of a hat. These qualities endeared him to Jimi and Billy. I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Buddy myself on some projects and he was indeed a true original.

As someone who has produced a plethora of reissues covering Jimi’s career, what happens when you hear Jimi recording with Billy Cox as opposed to earlier with Noel Redding? 

They were both incredibly musicians. Noel may have been a guitarist who took up the bass to earn a spot in the Experience but he served Jimi extremely well. Noel’s growth as a musician from 1966 to 1969 is remarkable. Listen to the bass playing on JHE live performances from 1969. Noel is almost combative — insistently pushing Jimi throughout. Billy’s approach was different altogether. He described his approach as playing ‘patterns’ atop which Jimi would build new material. There are many examples of this. The “Earth Blues” from PHA is a good one.

Over the last couple of decades being very actively involved in the Hendrix catalog, what continues to strike you about his audio legacy? 

The quality of his songs has stood the test of time. The foundation of his legacy is firmly built on this. Those great songs continue to connect with and inspire new generations of fans throughout the world.

Does the studio chatter reveal any real insights into his working process? 

To a degree they do. It is clear that of all of the engineers that worked with Jimi, Eddie had the strongest relationship. Eddie would try to help Jimi steer his way forward but Jimi was certainly still the guiding force on any session that he did.

Any reflections you can offer about preparing and then hearing Jimi’s work and catalogue in the vinyl format? Do we gain anything?

Sadly we lost the legendary mastering engineer George Marino. George had mas-tered virtually everything we have released since Experience Hendrix LLC started releasing music in 1997. We had worked with Bernie Grundman, who also is an acclaimed mastering engineer, on a vinyl release we had done with Classic Records. He did a brilliant job mastering and cutting that project so we have begun to steer projects to him. This includes all analog vinyl reissues of Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love in mono. They will come out with PHA in March.

I must also say that we have been thrilled by the pressing quality of Chad Kassem’s Quality Record Manufacturing in Kansas. They have done wonderful work. Hendrix In The West is one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix albums of all time and they did an amazing job pressing the 200 gram vinyl version. EH is committed to vinyl for every release. We have also begun issuing a series of singles via Bob Irwin’s Sundazed label. We support the format and have every intention of keeping affordable vinyl releases available to Jimi’s fans.

Also, as you hear Jimi and these master tapes in the ideal arena, the recording studio, what are your feelings about Jimi’s work into the digital domain? 

You have to bear in mind that Jimi’s audience is global and they want access to his music in different formats. I may prefer analog and vinyl but CDs and digital downloads are larger parts of the spectrum. They each have their place in the market. The key is to continue to make Jimi’s music accessible to fans. The format may be a choice but the most important thing is still the content. New releases such as VON and PHA hopefully inspire Jimi’s fans to dig deeper and recognize just how special an artist he truly was.

 

Los Angeles native Harvey Kubernik has been an active music journalist for 40 years and the author of 5 books, including “This Is Rebel Music” (2002) and “Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music In Film and On Your Screen” (2004) published by the University of New Mexico Press. 






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