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People, Hell and Angels
Experience Hendrix L.L.C.
Released March 5, 2013
It’s best to approach collections from the estate as a sketch books. This may change when the estate finally releases Black Gold – a track from the legendary lost cassette tape which closed out the West Coast Seattle Boy box set – but most tracks are familiar even if they are different takes or takes with contributions of the original backing musicians restored. If you listen to this as a series of sketches of songs you mostly know from other posthumous releases you won’t be disappointed. The three wholly new tracks are not even graced with vocals form Jimi.
I hear why Jimi’s estate chose to lead off People, Hell and Angels with “Earth Blues”. A forceful, unaccompanied Hendrix intro gives way to one of the few tracks on this 12-song collection that feels finished even though it is only a basic track recorded by the Band of Gypsys when they actually were the Band of Gypsys, Jimi’s fourth group. It was recorded around the same time as the rehearsal sessions at Baggy’s when Jimi’s all black trio was prepping for the Fillmore East performances on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970, ushering in the year Jimi would not see the end of. It’s a basic track, which means lots of rhythm, no lead over dubs. Buddy Miles handles the background vocals we’re so used to hearing The Ronettes provide on previously released versions. A strong opener … almost the obvious opener when you look over the 12 titles that selected for People, Hell and Angels. The vocals are tad rushed, though.
“Somewhere” is where the lead guitar comes in. “Somewhere” often sounds like one of Jimi’s best compositions from his “realistic” period (that would be post-Electric Ladyland), but actually dates from March 13, 1968 when The Jimi Hendrix Experience was touring America and prevented from continuing the Electric Ladyland sessions. One of the best tracks on this collection, “Somewhere” features Stephen Stills on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. (I wonder if this was part of a quid pro quo: Stills let the estate release this track so he could include “No Name Jam” on his upcoming box set Carry On, which is being released on March 26, 2013. (There’s little information available about “No Name Jam” so far. The Rhino press release says it is “a 1970 recording of Stills trading guitar licks with his friend Jimi Hendrix.” Some Hendrix aficionados at the Hendrix-centric Crosstown Torrents website have speculated that the track’s true name is “White Nigger”, which means that the “No Name Jam” may be another instance of political correctness being over applied and history tampered with.)
“Hear My Train A Comin’” also appeared on the estate’s previous collection but that was a truncated version recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This track features Band of Gypsys before they were Band of Gypsys. By that I mean, Jimi, Billy Cox and Buddy Miles often recorded together before there was any thought of the trio being an actual band; this recording in fact dates from the trio’s very first session together: May 21, 1969 at the Record Plant in New York City. This feels like a truncated version too but there is a proper finish. The liner notes later admit that it is studio wizardry by Jimi’s most trusted engineer, Eddie Kramer: he’s tacked on the ending from another take.
Kramer deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s mixed this collection. The earliest recording (“Somewhere”) dates to March 13, 1968 and the latest (“Mojo Man”) from August 1970 – a span of 29 months – and yet he’s taken these numerous sessions with a multitude of musicians – I count 24 – (everyone it seems except Experience bassist Noel Redding, which means that what is on ample display on People, Hell and Angels is gritty New York City but no hits of Swinging London psychedelia) and masterfully crafted a collection that sounds like one recording session.
Next up is Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart”. It’s the first piece on People, Hell and Angels that makes this collection a “must have” for the Hendrix die-hard fan. “Bleeding Heart” is not a new song to the Hendrix oeuvre but this arrangement is. Featuring the Band of Gypsys line-up, what makes this version so different is the tumbling basswork of Billy Cox. A fun work-out for Jimi; his vocal exclamations interspersed in his opening solo show he’s having a good time.
Lonnie Youngblood was a vocalist and saxophonist that Jimi knew from before the Greenwich Village days that were his gateway to his “overnight” success in London and the session for “Let Me Move You” from March 18, 1969 comes from the period when Jimi was reconnecting with old friends and expanding his sound by adding organ and horns. It’s a soul revue piece with negligible lyrics but a cooking arrangement concocted by Jimi. Both Jimi and Lonnie contribute spirited solos on their respective instruments.
“Izabella” is one of my least favorite Hendrix compositions. This punchy version recorded 10 days after Jimi’s Monday morning appearance at Woodstock is the first of two songs on People, Hell and Angels by Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, the line-up that accompanied Jimi at that infamous Music and Art Fair. We hear once again from the Vietnam War soldier writing to Izabella as the arrangement jabs and tries to grab attention. Not the worse version I’ve heard.
Another Gypsy Sun and Rainbows tracks follows but unlike “Izabella”, “Easy Blues” is an ear opener. Gypsy Sun and Rainbows only appeared publicly on three occasions. One was a gig at the Salvation Club, a discotheque in Greenwich Village. A review from that performance in Rock magazine stated that “alternating with Jimi, the second lead guitarist took half the leads and he was wonderful, providing a good foil for Jimi who did his spectacular thing,” which I quote because “Easy Blues” is the first tangible exhibit of what it exactly was Jimi was hoping to for when he added his old friend Larry Lee on guitar in Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. He really provides the cushion Jimi was looking for. (Larry Lee and Jimi had played together in R&B bands in Jimi’s pre-fame days and Lee went on to play with Al Green.)
“Easy Blues” appeared in a shortened version on 1980’s Nine to the Universe album, and benefits from getting a full airing. This is the closest thing to jazz on this collection. The liner notes say this version is twice the length of the Nine to the Universe version but that’s incorrect. It’s really only 1:22 longer. The contributions of percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan are also heard for the first time.
A different take of the title track from 1974’s Crash Landing – a Top 5 album (and Jimi’s last Top 5 album for over 25 years (2010’s Valleys of Neptune reached number 4 on the charts) – is up next. This version restores the work of the original backing musicians, including Cherry People drummer Ricky Issac whose inability to maintain a poised rhythm frustrated Jimi during the recording session. The most notable difference from the previous version is the presence of an unidentified organist.
“Inside Out” is the closest thing on People, Hell and Angels to an Experience track. Captured on tape on June 11, 1968 during a period when Jimi and drummer Mitch Mitchell often laid down Experience tracks without Noel Redding, this is a five minute instrumental inspired by the “Ezy Rider” riff (that Redding claimed Jimi stole) and “Tax Free”. It’s a vocal-less track with Jimi and Mitch roaring through the chords and the guitar notes climbing until they are teetering and Jimi’s guitar sounds so much like an organthat I was surprised when the liner notes didn’t list an organist on the track.
It’s hard to believe that “Hey Gypsy Boy” was recorded on the same date as “Let Me Move You”. The tracks are so dissimilar and except for Jimi do not share any personnel. This is the pre-Band of Gypsys again. Taken from the same session that provided the Alan Douglas produced version on 1975’s Midnight Lightning, the similarity is striking. Which is a good thing as this earlier incarnation of “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” is one of the most moving tracks from the Alan Douglas releases. And since those are mostly discontinued, it deserves to available.
The penultimate track is “Mojo Man” and one of the “lost” Ghetto Fighters recordings that Jimi was producing at Electric Lady Studios at the time of his death. The Ghetto Fighters were twins from Harlem that had befriended Jimi when he first came to New York City. In 1970 they contributed background vocals on several of the tracks Jimi was readying for release, including “Freedom” and “Dolly Dagger”.
The previous year the twins – Albert and Arthur Allen – had travelled down to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and laid down two tracks with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Jimi heard the tracks and a year later told them he had an idea for a guitar track for “Mojo Man”, my favorite new track on People, Hell and Angels. It’s sort of a medium tempo soul track but not quite. Jimi’s guitar work is what makes it sound unconventional. This is one of Jimi’s better sideman efforts after he became famous.
Tacked onto the end of People, Hell and Angels is “Villanova Junction Blues”, better known to most as the “Instrumental Solo” that closes out the Woodstock album and movie. Recorded almost three months before that appearance in upstate New York, this is truly one of Jimi’s prettiest pieces – up there with “Little Wing” in my opinion – but at 1:47 it still is too short to make much of an impression.
I see where this collection debuted at Number Two so it’s the highest Jimi’s ever charted in the U.S. since Electric Ladyland was released in September 1968. Sony Legacy and Experience Hendrix LLC are doing something right. My only gripe is with the track sequencing. I suggest you burn the following playlist to disc and explain why below:
Hey Gypsy Boy
Villanova Junction Blues
Hear My Train A Comin’
Let Me Move You
I’ll admit it’s a totally different listening experience even if three sections copy the sequencing on the official release. “Hey Gypsy Boy” and “Villanova Junction Blues” make for a gentler opener than the riff driven “Earth Blues” but the collection begins now with Jimi seeing the gypsy boy and asking if he can go with him. He’s about to begin a journey. It also has probably the most tuneful lead guitar playing to be found on People, Hell and Angels. Jimi’s lead guitar is heavily phased and unworldly and embodies the sensation of meeting up with a spirit figure.
As mentioned above “Villanova Junction Blues” is essentially a fragment but it shares the mood of “Hey Gypsy Boy” and makes for a good link to “Hear My Train A Comin’”, which – lyrically at least – needs to be towards the beginning of the collection as Jimi is leaving the town – probably Seattle – that he’s going to come back and buy someday. Jimi’s most personal blues piece, he gets strong support from bassist Billy Cox. This is another song that Cox enriched. And “Hear My Train A Comin’” links up well with “Bleeding Heart”, the other blues number on People, Hell and Angels that is easily identifiable as being the blues.
The opening drums of “Mojo Man” chases way any disappointment felt when “Bleeding Heart” abruptly fades out. A mid-tempo R&B number it gives way well to the more raucous R&B number “Let Me Move You”. The two work well side by side. (My guess is that they were separated on the collection because neither feature Jimi on vocals.) And then “Let Me Move You”’s jive works well with the punchy “Izabella.”
Admittedly, “Easy Blues” doesn’t exactly follow “Izabella” well but it does feature the same musical line-up so it’s the best spot for the bar room instrumental.
I always associate “Crash Landing”, “Earth Blues” and “Somewhere” with Jimi’s realistic phase as a lyricist, something I delve into in my book. This is the phase Jimi was moving out of with the autobiographical Black Gold Suite he was working on at the time of his death. The lyrics here are bleak as they describe an unhappy couple and desperate people. Actually the opening verse in “Earth Blues” and “Somewhere” is virtually the same. This is the “hell” Jimi was hoping to give voice to when he used People, Hell and Angels as the title for his forthcoming triple album.
“Inside Out” leads us out of this latest collection. Since it’s just Jimi and Mitch let’s hope it leads us to another collection that features the Experience.