Both Sides Of The Sky
Nearly fifty years after the guitar adventurer’s passing, a new Jimi Hendrix record release is still – potentially – an exciting event for fans. The last one put out was the terrific Machine Gun live set with the Band Of Gypsys crew, sounding rich and powerful with a sparky set of tunes. This record rounds up some ‘lost’ or rare recordings in the best quality tracked down. Most of us Jimi heads have all the tracks already on various boots or semi-official releases. But some are of particular interest to followers. It’s a mixed bag, for sure – but we fans are all used to that….the last two Jimi studio-cut-centred releases Valleys Of Neptune and People Hell & Angels were akin to a pile of sonic postcards!
So..it’s April 1969 and Mannish Boy marks the first Band Of Gypsys session. Buddy Miles and Billy Cox knew all about The Blues and on this Bo/Muddy outing they stew the tune as Jimi slinks into the choppy rhythm at a brisk pace, joy in his voice and abandon in his guitar work. At 1:20 Jimi starts to scat briefly. Female listeners go weak at the knees. The little girls sure understood and the sensual BPM is a giveaway to what is inspiring this. Four minutes in and that axe is starting to soar. Mini bass and drum breaks and the song is over.
Lover Man keeps up the pace and a well-recorded vocal sounds assured as this energetic 12-bar with variations chugs away, with a fluid guitar run over pattering drums, This is a later version, by the way. Although also a mixed selection, my favourite Hendrix record remains the Hawaii-period Rainbow Bridge album, which had a take of the propulsive number Hear My Train A’Comin. Always to my mind Jimi’s nod to John Lee Hooker and maybe Lightning Hopkins. On this edition, the original Experience keep up the tension. It’s from April 1969, their penultimate session. The guitar is stunning, sustained in its energy and squealing vibe, with some curling wah wah hammer-ons coming up to the five-minute mark, voodoo chat thereafter.
Stepping Stone is a tune that always gets to me. The Monkees did a good version. Hendrix gallops in with damped chordal slashing. But hey this turns out to be an entirely different song with the same name. An ultra-busy performance this is ! Maybe one of the most frantic Jimi recordings ever. A descending riff brings in an organ-soaked vocal from Steve Stills, Hendrix chugging away in the undertow on $20 Fine. It’s enjoyable fast-paced which blends Jimi with Stills to make a listenable romp. Stills told me some of his best recordings were with Hendrix, in London and elsewhere. Power Of Soul has delayed guitar motifs on this moody and novel tune, Jimi clearly having an orchestral arrangement in his head but equally a shadowy touch of Isaac Hayes. The central riff is irresistible..as Marcus Miller found on his own version (worth tracking down, readers). The song verses are lightish, with a twist of Dylan here and there. The whole thing originated from bassist Cox fooling around with a Ray Charles motif.
This one happened Jan/Feb 1970. On to Jungle with a definite stamp of Chicago alumnus Curtis Mayfield, the Univibe guitar effect singing on the gentle picking. This is night time / bedroom music. Suddenly the tempo hardens, it is a curio and clearly an unfinished song. Guitar Slim’s Things I Used To Do was a favourite song of Frank Zappa’s. This one is an after hours duet/jam with Hendrix on bass and Johnny Winter here playing slide in the style of his early Columbia albums. The cleanest version I have heard of this recording and very listenable.
Georgia Blues finds Lonnie Youngblood at the keyboard and singing and nicking the progression from Stormy Monday Blues, with Jimi on confident guitar. It’s OK but not remarkable. Next up Sweet Angel is an early take on Angel which eventually appeared on posthumous album Cry Of Love in 1971. This version is a wistful instrumental and very beautiful, too. Woodstock is the Joni Mitchell, sung here by Stills, also at the organ. Jimi on bass and Buddy on drums. Still a pleasant number and this predates CSN getting their hands on it. Send My LoveTo Linda was a work in progress with the Gypsys, this track being an edit from three takes. Univibe set to fast and a Hispanic atmosphere. Not really worth inclusion in an official release though the chord progression is oddly hypnotic. This collection winds up with a version of Cherokee Mist dating from May 1968 with Hendrix on a Coral electric sitar.
A growly wah sound introduces the tune, bluesy sitar starting up, all over what we might have once called a Red Indian rhythm. Doubtless that’s an offensive phrase now, to the ever-growing group of The Professionally-Offended..but they are probably out on a march somewhere taking selfies. The weird feedback points to this being an experimental studio session, not yet gelling into anything satisfying.
So…I enjoyed much more of this than I thought I might and am grateful to have this album. BUT please Experience Hendrix can we call it a day now??
Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Both Sides Of The Sky’ is out now on Sony Music.