Friday, May 17, 2013

Jimi Hendrix 11: Blues

The CD era gave the Hendrix catalog another life, helped by the increased commercial interest in archival material. First, Rykodisc got into the game with two very well received compilations, one of performances from San Francisco’s Winterland in 1968 and the other of BBC radio appearances. Each of his concerts were unique, providing different and evolving interpretations of his songs, giving both the casual collector and diehard chronicler a lot to explore. In fact, there are so many officially available CDs of individual concerts that we hesitate to dive in here, though we may eventually.
Of course, any time he wasn’t on stage he was usually in the studio, as the vault peeks of the ‘70s proved. Reprise still owned the rights to much of this material, so in keeping with the box set boom, their first major new release was Lifelines, a reproduction of a radio show called Live And Unreleased, which presented three CDs’ worth of familiar and alternate material, often with narration obscuring the music, plus a fourth disc of a 1969 Experience concert. A year later, Stages presented four more concerts, one each from 1967 through 1970, on four CDs. These became immediate collectors’ items, deleted when the catalog switched to MCA, who immediately raised eyebrows by repackaging the three Experience albums with new artwork.
But MCA’s next move was surprisingly good, even with Alan Douglas’s name in the credits. Blues collected 11 mostly obscure recordings to firmly present Jimi Hendrix as a key link in the blues guitar tradition, rather than just a flashy guy who played with his teeth.
The set is neatly bookended by “Hear My Train A-Comin’”, first in an acoustic 12-string solo performance from 1967, then in the lengthy electric performance as heard on Rainbow Bridge. “Red House” appears in its original UK LP rendition, then again with the expanded “Electric Church”. In between are such warhorses as “Born Under A Bad Sign”, “Mannish Boy”, “Catfish Blues” and “Bleeding Heart”, plus the originals “Once I Had A Woman” and “Jelly 292”, alternate versions of previously altered album tracks. The most interesting yet controversial piece is a re-edited “Voodoo Chile Blues”, from several takes of the slow version heard on side one of Electric Ladyland.
The timing for Blues was excellent, given the genre’s then-resurgence thanks to young white guys like Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd (who considered Jimi an influence), and veterans such as Buddy Guy and B.B. King (who considered him an heir). Its stature in the canon is confirmed by its continual in-print status when the estate took over the catalog five years later, and again in this century when it moved to Sony.

Jimi Hendrix Blues (1994)—4

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