Experiencing Jimi Part II : John McDermott
John McDermott’s work on Hendrix includes the above book as well as Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight
BR: What is the percentage of live vs. studio material in the vault?
JM: It’s really hard to put numbers on it. There were a number of concerts that were professionally recorded, many of which we’ll be releasing in the years to come. There’s a lot of studio material, as well. This year alone we’ve put out the Valleys of Neptune album along with the new West Coast Seattle Boy anthology.
Our plan for the future is to release thematic albums that will showcase this archive material in a way that fans will say, “Oh, okay – I get it. This is what this is.”
BR: When you’re doing your “detective work” for the archives, do you look at the history of where Jimi was playing on a particular week – target specific times and places?
JM: Sometimes we look at places where we know that professional multi-track recordings were made; in other cases, we might have records of where filming was done, so we try to connect on that level. It’s really a mixture of things; you cast the net as wide as you can, because this stuff is so precious.
I’ll tell you a funny story: Woodstock is obviously an iconic gig – it was very well covered at the time by [“Woodstock” movie director] Michael Wadleigh and his film crew. But we got a call from a guy who ran The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, TX – the presidential assassination museum – who said, “My cousin filmed Jimi.” I was like, “Really?” “Yeah,” he said, “at Woodstock.”
I figured, “Well, we have a lot of footage from Woodstock …” But what the guy had – incredibly – was a black and white open-reel video tape of Jimi performing that even included songs Wadleigh’s team had missed. When stuff like this pops up, it’s a gift. Simply fantastic. The perspective the guy had was amazing and we ended up putting it on the Woodstock DVD we released. That’s why I say, you can never discount any call that comes because invariably, it’s something amazing.
It really is satisfying to know that a lot of the releases that we’ve put out in the last 15 years have been compiled from things we were able to find. The West Coast Seattle Boy box set is a prime example of that. There’s so much music here that didn’t exist when the Hendrix family won the case. A lot of this is stuff that we had to go out and find and pull back together.
But we love that journey; we love the searching; and inevitably when you do that digging, more stuff is revealed.
BR: That first disc of West Coast Seattle Boy featuring Jimi as a sideman with all those various bands is such a treat. You can hear little bits and pieces of him becoming Jimi Hendrix, you know? He wasn’t over-playing; what he’s doing is totally within the context of the music; but you can’t help but laugh, because it’s Jimi.
JM: And you’re right – that’s why we picked these songs as examples, because people will hear them and say, “Wow – even with the Isleys; even with Don Covay; even in all these different settings, that identity is still there. You may not have known it was Jimi Hendrix’ guitar riff underneath it before, but now it all makes sense.
It was important to us to get this out, as that’s long been a misunderstood part of Jimi’s life and career – and we hope to bring some clarity to it. There have been so many dodgy records that made it seem that he played on a gazillion singles from sessions with Little Richard, for instance – but he didn’t; he only played on a couple. Those couple are really cool, and here they are. There were records that came out in the years soon after Jimi’s death when people were trying to cash in on his name. They would make all these inaccurate claims, but in actuality, he wasn’t on them … he was on these.
BR: You had to have gone to a lot of different sources to put that first disc together …
JM: Well, we did, plus we had help from Sony in terms of clearing licensing and those sorts of things. But part of it for me was being a fan, hearing those bands, and searching for the “new” Jimi, if you will. Hearing things like the Rosalee Brooks single and being knocked out by it.
I remember interviewing Rosalie years ago and she was very proud that she’d worked with Jimi during that period – and lo and behold, Arthur Lee of Love was involved with that session, as well. When you start to do the interviews with these folks, you realize, “Wow – _really?_”
BR: Moving forward to Jimi’s period in the studio himself; Eddie Kramer was the key man behind the board, wasn’t he?
JM: Absolutely. Eddie had a rapport with Jimi that was based on respect – mutual respect. Jimi, as a young Afro-American artist, didn’t have a lot of opportunities back then like people do today.
Plus, from their first session together to the last, Eddie was a guy who pushed Jimi; challenged him; sought improvements in his sound and mixing and techniques. And I think Jimi absolutely responded to that; he wanted to push the boundaries, stretch the parameters as far and wide as he could – that’s what he was about. He wanted to see what he could create – “How far can I take this music?” And having someone like Eddie Kramer, who obviously had the technical capacity to be able to do that meant a great deal.
BR: Just like the Strat was something Jimi could push and yank and coax new sounds out of, it seems like the studio was another instrument for him. And he approached it much the same way.
JM: I think that’s true. I think he was very creatively free. He didn’t feel that he had to mirror the “sound of the moment.” Rather, he had an idea that he wanted to express – a sound; a style; a vision that he wanted to pursue – and I have to say that was a pretty brave stance. A lot of acts in that era didn’t have that creative freedom; they were under pressure to make records that sounded like the ones they had and to stay within the successful path that they had already established.
Jimi wasn’t anywhere near that mentality; the same guy who was playing at Monterey was the same guy who was doing “Machine Gun” with the Band of Gypsys two years later … it’s almost unfathomable.
BR: Absolutely; it wasn’t breaking the mold – there wasn’t a mold.
JM: That was the great thing. And I think that guys like Kramer understood that and helped facilitate anything that Jimi wanted. Or Chas Chandler, who gave Jimi the gift of opportunity. The talent was there, but Chas gave Jimi the chance – and Jimi never looked back. Chas brought with him a resume that included, what – ten Top 40 singles with The Animals? He knew how to arrange; he knew how to be concise … and those were lessons that Jimi learned.
Jimi once said that “Purple Haze” began as ten pages of lyrics. Chas was able to cut right to the meat and help craft a signature song. Those lessons stayed with Jimi – and at the same time, he would push the boundaries even further. Like, “Okay, I did that – but now I’m going to do this.”
I think that’s the great success with Jimi’s ability to learn and grow as opposed to being stagnant and just making the same-but-slightly-different record over and over again.