Friday, October 25, 2013

Jimi Hendrix 15: BBC Sessions

Like most hungry London-based performers, The Jimi Hendrix Experience made multiple appearances on the BBC’s handful of radio shows that focused on current pop music. And like most people who went on to be world-famous, many of those performances were spread around via bootlegs until legitimate releases happened.
The first such release occurred during Rykodisc’s brief affiliation with the Estate. Radio One presented 17 tracks, split between hits and more unique performances. Ten years later, once the “family” gained control, an expanded double-disc set more directly titled BBC Sessions presented virtually everything he recorded for the station, presented in a not-quite-chronological order to cut down on repetition.
As with most BBC collections, the fanatics will have lots to pick apart, while the more casual fan will gravitate towards markedly alternate versions of songs they know, along with those that are, well, new. Of those rarities, how about his one-time-only cover of Dylan’s “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” That comes from a show hosted by British blues legend Alexis Korner, who also plays slide with the band on “Hoochie Coochie Man”. “Driving South” was an excuse to jam, and three versions appear here. The blues chestnut “Catfish Blues” appears in its first known performance, complete with a nod to “Rollin’ And Tumblin’”, as does “Hear My Train A-Comin’”, in two takes (one with “party” noises, the other with “support” vocals). He even composed a “Radio One Theme”. Of course, one must take the good with the bad, so while his funky arrangement of “Hound Dog” has merit, the overdubbed barking makes it one to skip. Better backing vocals are on their cover of “Day Tripper”, which does not include John Lennon, no matter what anybody tells you. However, that is Stevie Wonder playing drums on the extended jam that leads into his own “I Was Made To Love Her”.
Most tracks come from a very busy 1967, when the band played a lot of shows and had the tightness to prove their worth. Jimi was able to create his own pyrotechnics without the multitracking that would soon dominate his regular studio work. Thus “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” is a simpler trio version, without all the decorations the single/album track got. Of historical importance, the set ends with the band’s notorious performance on the Lulu TV show, when they cut short “Hey Joe” (which had been requested by the hostess herself) to go into “Sunshine Of Your Love” in “tribute” to the recently disbanded Cream, who’d written the song with Jimi in mind in the first place. And it’s just as well, since there are two other, similar takes on “Hey Joe” elsewhere in the set.
Because the BBC never saved anything, the sound quality is a little muddy, and the tweaking modern-day producers took to make the set less mono doesn’t help. But as a companion to the three true Experience albums, and in balance with the post-Experience recordings we’ll get to soon enough, BBC Sessions is a worthy addition to the Hendrix pile.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience BBC Sessions (1998)—4
2010 reissue: same as 1998, plus 1 extra track

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