The Wind Cries Jimi
The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Purple Box Set) (Legacy Records)
By Brian Arsenault
The four disc Jimi Hendrix Experience “purple box set” is being released today for the first time in over a decade, with some previously unreleased tunes as well. If you’ve any room on your credit card or have some cash stuck in a drawer, make sure to get it. Not cheap no doubt but a value beyond rubies.
“Be a magic boy, be a voodoo child.”
The thing about Jimi is that he could hear everybody — Dylan, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, the old blues guys. I don’t think anybody can really play unless they can really hear. And, oh, could Jimi hear.
How else can you explain “Like a Rolling Stone” on Disc One. After several listenings I still can’t quite grasp how he so thoroughly makes it his at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 while maintaining the integrity of Dylan‘s composition.
This brilliant Dylan cover is but one of a number of concert recordings which, in and of themselves, would make one bitchin‘ live album.
There’s the marvelous Royal Albert Hall performance recording of “Little Wing” with “a thousand smiles she gives to me free.” Was there ever a finer rock lyric, a finer song?
From the same show there’s a dazzling “Voodoo Child.” Is there anyone since Beethoven who could do openings like Jimi?
There are fine studio recordings too. The intro chords on “Foxy Lady” on Disc One could hurt you. And a fine “Purple Haze” of course leads us in.
But those concert recordings:
The show at the Olympia Theater in Paris in 1966 must surely echo through eternity. Just the cuts here — including “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Catfish Blues” and “Killing Floor” as well as the maybe best ever “Hey Joe” recording – are as close to perfection as you’ll see this side of a sunset.
The “Hey Joe” is ominous, brooding, building like a storm. “The Wind Cries Mary” delicate and poetic. “Catfish Blues” is true to John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters just done “our own way,” as you hear Jimi say. He can do such different stuff and still be him.
Great musicians not only hear everything, they like everything. Or at least everything good.
There was a time before people retreated into their own little corners of pop and rap and country and so on, a time when the same guy would like psychedelic and soul, folk and jazz, rock ‘n roll and the blues from which it sprang. Certainly there are “purists” in every era who think there’s only one kind of music, but there once was a time of wider ranging tastes.
There was also a different spirit on the part of the artists. Instead of some silly kid telling you to respect him as an artist, Jimi would apologize as he does several times here for having to stop to tune up or warn you that he’s about to play a long tune. He wanted the music to be perfect, not his tweets (anachronism, I know).
Journey with Jimi to an astonishing version of “Johnny B. Goode,” wherein the true founder of rock, Chuck Berry, is played through the Hendrix prism. Hear the Carl Perkins/Presley “Blue Suede Shows” picked up from a sound check. And smile through the Jimi Hendrix Experience delighting in the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
I could go on and on but the purple box is yours to hear and treasure and it’s not to be missed. I have noted in the past the weakness of a Hendrix reissue which might include two or three gems and a bunch of inferior outtakes. But not here. There’s hardly a clunker.
I also found Mitch Mitchell’s drumming on the concert cuts everywhere — keeping up with Jimi’s ripping guitar on “Johnny B. Goode” for example — much better than I ever considered his studio work.
Near the end of the fourth and final disc there’s a recording of “All Along the Watchtower” played at the Isle of Wight before more than a half million people in 1970. Among the many reasons I wish Jimi could have lived a lot longer is so he could have covered even more of the Dylan songbook, two artists who most of us would have considered so different before Jimi’s versions.
But it was late summer of 1970 and the hour was getting late. Jimi was the most brilliant in an array of shooting stars in that era soon to be gone. You know their names if you know the era.
Even in a wider sense: like Shelly and Keats writing poetry of which we would never again see its like; like Charlie Parker playing alto sax as if he came from a more perfect world of music.
Gone too soon but not too soon to leave us their music — sound poetry to last the ages.
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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.