Friday, September 20, 2013

Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune/People, Hell & Angels

When Jimi Hendrix died in September 1970, he had three studio albums and one live album to his credit.  At the time of his death he had been working on what was reported to be a double-album follow-up to Electric Ladyland.  This album was to be called First Rays of the New Rising Sun.  But as fate would have it, Hendrix wouldn’t live to see its completion.  The completed songs he had in the can were later put out on three albums – The Cry of Love (1971), Rainbow Bridge (1971), and War Heroes (1972).  After War Heroes, producer Alan Douglas gained control of Hendrix’s recorded legacy.  He plumbed the depths of the Hendrix tape archive and found finished alternate takes of songs already released, and song fragments.  He took these pieces of music, wiped the original bass and drum tracks, and replaced them with those recorded by session musicians whom Hendrix never met [heresy!!!].  The results of the “creations” from Douglas resulted in more Hendrix “product” – Midnight Lightning, Crash Landing, and Nine to the Universe.  Given the circumstances of their creation, I didn’t buy them so I can’t speak to whether they are good, bad, or complete shit.
In the mid-1990s, the Hendrix family regained control of Jimi Hendrix’s music.  Jimi’s step-sister Janie, original Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, and John McDermott deleted everything released after the original Band of Gypsys album and compiled their version of First Rays of the New Rising Sun.  They also compiled another album of stray tracks called South Saturn Bound.  Both of these compilations came out in 1997.  I think they’re both pretty good.  Between then and 2010, the Hendrix estate released a slew of live Hendrix recordings.  Then in 2010, they released Valleys of Neptune.  It wasn’t just a collection of songs, nor was it a concept.  This album includes song fragments that evolved into something else.  Some songs showed Hendrix’s affinity for the blues.  Some were excursions into jazz territory.  These songs and song fragments are insights into how Jimi Hendrix created songs.  The studio was an instrument for him, and he recorded practically all of his ideas when he wasn’t touring.  In 2013, the Hendrix estate released People, Hell & Angels, which is similar in composition to Valleys of Neptune.  Given the similarity of the two albums, I find that I can’t talk or write about one without referencing the other.  So without further ado…

The songs:
Valleys of Neptune [Valleys of Neptune - Sept 23, 1969, May 15, 1970] – the only thing missing from this song is a guitar solo, but who cares?  It’s a good song without a solo.  Jimi was always a big fan of science fiction.  He touched on similar themes on Voodoo Chile from Electric Ladyland [“the outskirts of infinity”…”Jupiter’s sulfur mines”…].  There was a demo version of this song on the Timelines box, but how this full band version escaped discovery for forty years I’ll never know.  This is a gem.

Stone Free – [Valleys of Neptune - recorded in April-May 1969] Hendrix must have thought he had a better take than what appeared in 1967.  It wasn’t – the original still rules.

Red House and Fire – [Valleys of Neptune - recorded in Feb 1969 prior to the Jimi Hendrix Experience shows at the Royal Albert Hall].  The re-recorded version of Fire didn’t improve on the 1967 original.  It’s recorded at the same tempo and arrangement as the original.  This version is ok, but why did he bother?  At least the re-recording of Red House was different from the original.  The newer version of Red House was taken at a slower pace, was twice as long as the original, and reflected how Hendrix played the song live.  There’s nothing wrong with the slower version, I just like the 1967 original better.

Sunshine of Your Love – [Valleys of Neptune - recorded in the same Feb 1969 session as Red House and Fire].  These guys loved Cream, who played their farewell shows in London just two and a half months prior.  Not only does Hendrix go batshit-crazy on this hyperkinetic instrumental take, Noel Redding channels his inner Jack Bruce and plays a distorted bass solo.

Inside Out [People, Hell & Angels – recorded June 11, 1968] & Lullaby for the Summer [Valleys of Neptune – recorded April 7, 1969] Two very different sound song snippets recorded by the Experience that have something in common – parts of each make up what later became Ezy Ryder [The Cry of Love, and later First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1997)].

Hear My Train A Comin’ [Valleys of Neptune – recorded April 7, 1969] – The Experience had this one since 1967 [as can be heard on BBC Sessions].  This version was just slightly slower than the May 1969 take. The bass and drums were later deleted by Alan Douglas and recorded by musicians Jimi never met.  That version appeared on the posthumous Midnight Lightning.  Eddie Kramer restored the original bass and drum parts for this version.  It sounds fine to me, which makes me think “what was Alan Douglas smoking?” [People, Hell & Angels – May 21, 1969] – Recorded by the Band of Gypsys instead of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  I like this one just a little better than the Valleys of Neptune version, though both are very good.

Hey Gypsy Boy [March 18, 1969] – This later evolved into Hey Baby [New Rising Sun] [from Rainbow Bridge, and later First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1997)].

Ships Passing Through the Night [recorded April 14, 1969] - This later evolved into Night Bird Flying [The Cry of Love, and later First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1997)].

Bleeding Heart [Valleys of Neptune – April 24, 1969] – This was recorded live-in-the-studio, first with Billy Cox and drummer Rocky Isaacs (from a Maryland based group called The Cherry People), then again with the Band of Gypsys. This first version is much like the version that later appeared on War Heroes, then later on South Bound Saturn (1997). [People, Hell & Angels – May 21, 1969] – This Band of Gypsys take is slower than Valleys of Neptune version, again this was live-in-the-studio.  They’re both good. 

Crash Landing [People, Hell & Angels – recorded April 24, 1969] Recorded by Hendrix, Billy Cox and Rocky Isaac, Crash Landing evolved into Dolly Dagger [from Rainbow Bridge, and later First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1997)].

Mr. Bad Luck [Valleys of Neptune - recorded May 5, 1967] Recorded by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, this song evolved into Look Over Yonder [from Rainbow Bridge, and later South Bound Saturn (1997)].  Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell later re-recorded their parts in 1987.

Mojo Man [People, Hell & Angels – guitar recorded August 1970] – Albert and Arthur Allen [aka The Ghetto Fighters] were friends of Jimi Hendrix in Harlem before Jimi skyrocketed to fame with the Experience.  They later added their background vocals to Freedom and Dolly Dagger.  Before that, they recorded this song at Muscle Shoals in 1969.  While they were working on the aforementioned songs, Hendrix offered to put guitar parts on Mojo Man.  Here is the result.  I like it!

Let Me Move You [People, Hell & Angels – recorded March 18, 1969] – this is a song by Lonnie Youngblood, a singer and sax player with whom Hendrix recorded as a sideman before gaining fame in 1967.  But unlike Mojo Man, where Hendrix merely overdubbed onto an existing recording, this track was built from scratch by Youngblood and Hendrix.  It’s an ok track, but not essential.

Somewhere [People, Hell & Angels – recorded March 13, 1968] – Recorded with Buddy Miles (drums) and Stephen Stills (bass!).  This was the same session that yielded My Friend [The Cry of Love, and later First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1997)].  What is interesting here is the first verse on this song is almost identical to that in Earth Blues, but the similarities end there.

Earth Blues [People, Hell & Angels – Dec 19, 1969] – The same version as what appeared on First Rays of the New Rising Sun, but missing guitar and background vocal overdubs.

Easy Blues [People, Hell & Angels – recorded August 28, 1969] & Crying Blue Rain [Valleys of Neptune – recorded Feb 1969] – Easy Blues was a jazzy instrumental recorded with the same band Hendrix played with at Woodstock [Gypsys, Suns & Rainbows].  Crying Blue Rain was an instrumental recorded with the Experience.  Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell later re-recorded their parts in 1987.

Izabella [People, Hell & Angels – recorded August 28, 1969] - This was also recorded with Gypsys, Suns & Rainbows, the same session as Easy Blues.  The Band of Gypsys recorded their version five months later and released it as a single.  I was never too crazy about this song in any form.

Villanova Junction Blues [People, Hell & Angels – recorded May 21, 1969] – This was also recorded with Gypsys, Suns & Rainbows.  An expanded live version would appear on Live at Woodstock (1999).

Ok, so there are some repeats of songs between the two albums.  And it may seem to some to be a money grab by Jamie Hendrix.  My take – so what?  You can’t have too much Jimi Hendrix.  Eddie Kramer said after the release of People, Hell & Angels that this would be the last of the studio albums from Jimi Hendrix.  So they’ve finally come to the end of the studio archive.  I’ll take Kramer at his word, but I won’t be surprised if there is more.  Kramer did say there is plenty of live stuff to last for years.  Of that I have no doubt.  I wish they’d get around to releasing the February 1969 Royal Albert Hall shows.  For Hendrix completists only.