By Devon Wendell
Unlike the countless amount of posthumous Hendrix anthologies released over the past several decades, West Coast Seattle Boy traces Hendrix’s career as a session guitarist. The material reaches from gigs in the early to mid ‘60s — with some of the greatest legends of soul, including The Isley Brothers, Don Covay, Rosa Lee Brooks, and Little Richard (to name a few) — all the way through his final recordings, including previously unreleased out takes and rare musical explorations.
The four-CD box set kicks off with an entire disc of his earliest recordings.
The Isley Brother’s “Testify,” a rollicking up-tempo r&b classic, showcases Jimi playing his already unique blues leads with the masterfully funk rhythm chops that would go on to change the electric guitar forever.
Unlike most of the guitarists of the early/mid ‘60s, Jimi put just as much imagination and emphasis into rhythm guitar as he did with his lead playing, which is very clear on these r&b sides.
The soulful rhythmic impact of Curtis Mayfield and Steve Cropper is evident in Jimi’s playing on Don Covey’s Motown influenced “Mercy, Mercy,” as well as two great dance sides with Rosa Lee Brooks — “My Diary” and “Utee.” The latter features a blazing solo with fast bends and stinging trills. These tracks show how quickly Hendrix was growing creatively and developing his own sound. He was already using a tremolo guitar effect in a unique way on Little Richard’s tender ballad “I Don’t Know What You Got But It’s Got Me” and The Isley Brothers’s “Have You Ever Been Disappointed?”
It’s also fascinating to witness what a bold yet supportive role Hendrix played as a sideman for Ray Sharpe, Jimmy Norman, Billy Lamont, The Icemen, and King Curtis. Curtis’s “Instant Groove” sounds like a precursor to Parliament/Funkadelic’s early psychedelic Doo-Wop soul.
The early recordings are not only wonderful examples of how Hendrix’s soul ballad style had already begun to blossom. They also provide glimpses of what would later be labeled “Funk rock.” The Isley Brothers’s “Testify” is a good example. Hendrix plays rhythm, lead, and harmony parts all at once, without missing a beat. His Stratocaster tone and string bends slightly resemble Buddy Guy’s early work on Chess, but with more fluidity and the subtle use of delay, reverb, and even distortion.
Twenty years after “Testify” was recorded, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan took Hendrix’s driving guitar lines and turned it into an instrumental, proving that there has been both an interest in and an influence from Hendrix’s pre-Experience days. And it’s understandable. These tracks make it clear that Hendrix was already ahead of his time.
The rest of this lengthy compilation is dedicated to Jimi’s legendary legacy as a front man from 1967-1970. Discs #2 to #4 consist mostly of alternate takes and live recordings of The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Noel Redding, bass, Mitch Mitchell, drums), the short-lived Gypsy Suns And Rainbows (Billy Cox, bass, Larry Lee, guitar, Mitch Mitchell, drums, Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez, percussion) and Band Of Gypsys (Billy Cox, bass, Buddy Miles, drums and vocals). The last tracks wind up with the final incarnation of The Experience featuring Cox on bass and Mitchell on drums.
Outtakes of familiar classics such as “Fire,” “Love Or Confusion” and “Castles Made Of Sand,” though not drastically different from the original record versions, give hardcore Hendrix fans a chance to dissect every different musical nuance.
Among the many rare items in the set are six tracks recorded in a New York hotel room in 1968 with Hendrix friend/collaborator Paul Caruso on harmonica and backing vocals. Hendrix and Caruso play bare musical drafts of tunes — “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” and “Long Hot Summer Night” — that would later appear on the classic Electric Ladyland album. Jimi strums his fender Stratocaster like an acoustic guitar with a clean tone into a small tape recorder. The sound quality is surprisingly very good. Caruso adds simple but effective blues harp playing to “Hear My Train A Comin’” and “My Friend.”
Other highlights among the recordings include a delightfully sensitive and intimate rendition of Bob Dylan and The Band’s “Tears Of Rage” that shows Hendrix’s love for Dylan’s music, filtered through Jimi’s own original arrangement. And his vocal performance here is as stellar as his playing.
The live recordings of “Star Spangled Banner” (Los Angeles Forum, April 26, 1969, four months before it was performed at Woodstock) and “Stone Free” (Band Of Gypsys, Jan. 1st 1970) are perfect examples of Jimi’s endless creativity, energy, and improvisational genius. At his best he was on a par with such jazz pioneers as John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and Charlie Parker.
West Coast Seattle Boy also gives further evidence of how Hendrix revolutionized the blues and sold it to a pop audience. A live recording of Jimi’s blues anthem “Red House,” recorded at The Berkeley Community Center, May 30th, 1970, is a brilliant departure from any other documented version of the tune. Hendrix’s blues leads here feel as if he tossed the entire history of blues guitar into a blender and extracted a completely original sound with a complete array of tones and a rich sense of dynamics. Mitch Mitchell’s Elvin Jones inspired drumming on the live tracks shows how his creative energy was the perfect match for Hendrix.
Hendrix had a passion for and incorporated modern jazz techniques in his musical approach and compositions. There are two free form jams with the great jazz organist Larry Young and drummer Buddy Miles entitled “Young/Hendrix” that prove his playing could fit in any genre of music and challenge his collaborators. No wonder there was a mutual admiration for Jimi in the jazz world.
Hendrix’s contribution to Arthur Lee’s band Love is also included via “Everlasting First,” which has Hendrix playing a country style guitar style fused with r&b, a combination only Hendrix could have pulled off so successfully.
West Coast Seattle Boy includes a DVD documentary titled Voodoo Child. Bootsy Collins narrates as the voice of Hendrix reading from his personal journals, as well as from his letters home to his father in Seattle. There is powerful footage from Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and The Fillmore East. And there is a clip of his appearance on the Dick Cavett show in 1969, just days after his performance at Woodstock. In these segments, the viewer gets to hear Hendrix’s own points of view on his approach to playing, his early blues influences, the Vietnam war, and the impact that his sky rocketing fame had on his life. He comes across as humble, sensitive, and focused on his musical ambitions, giving the film that much more historical significance.
Because of the inclusion of these Hendrix interview segments, Voodoo Child is a refreshing departure from past Hendrix documentaries in which fellow musicians, “friends” and musicologists offered their opinions about his creativity and their conflicting speculations about Hendrix’s lifestyle and death.
West Coast Seattle Boy is the most detailed and informative compilation of material about one of the music world’s greatest innovators. The comprehensive scope of Hendrix’s earliest recordings on the soul scene before becoming famous in the “rock” world is alone worth the price of this deluxe set. In total, it offers clear testimony, to people of all ages, of how much Hendrix continues to influence musicians in all genres of music.
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