Hendrix Archivist John McDermott Talks Miami Pop And More
Buddy Miles, who drummed with Jimi in the Band Of Gypsys, was great – and I’d have to be a fool to say otherwise. But to me, Mitch Mitchell was one of the best wingmen Jimi ever had.
There’s no doubt there was a really unique rapport between Mitch and Jimi – and it was an integral part of the musical connectivity of the band. Mitch’s role was not as a traditional timekeeper. When you listen to “Tax Free” and how easily he shifts time, for example – they’d never played that song that way before. All those things are unspoken; they were communicating with just head nods and cues to each other.
When you think about how great Jimi was, you also have to acknowledge Mitch and Noel, as well. Jimi raised their game to that level – which is what a true artist can do: make the people around him better. In this instance, I think Jimi did just that with Mitch and Noel.
Mitch flowed from the deftest touch on the cymbals to big, powerful fills. Listen to some of his speed and dexterity: he’s off the chart.
I think sometimes the band’s dynamics as a whole are overlooked.
Everything wasn’t always ready to burst into flame – although at the end of “Hear My Train A Comin’” Jimi says, “These amplifiers are blowing out and it’s really very bad, trying to play on the ashes, you know? That’s all that’s left – nothing but ashes.” (laughter) But there really was a powerful ebb and flow among all three of them.
And they deserve the credit. Let’s face it: it wasn’t like they’d met in high school and had been friends for years – Mitch and Noel were two guys that [Experience manager] Chas Chandler and Jimi hired to be in the band … and they chose wisely. The pair of them turned out to be incredible guys who were given the opportunity – much like Jimi was given by Chas – and they nailed it. They rose to the occasion and were fantastic. They were up for the challenge.
This album uniquely captures how tight that band was in ’68 – and the enthusiasm of the three guys going after it on stage. Even a casual fan can hear just how powerful they were as a band.
You mentioned “Tax Free”: folks should hunt up the original – which was a great study in psychedelic organ work – and then listen to how these guys interpret it. They take it somewhere else totally, while still remaining true to the vibe.
That’s Jimi – whether it was “Sgt. Pepper” or “All Along The Watchtower”, he redrafted songs into his own … and there’s a skill to that. I think the thing they liked the most about “Tax Free” was its openness; they could play with it and build it out. It’s a unique song in terms of time signature and what they’re trying to do in the song, but it’s perfect for the Experience, because they love that ebb and flow. I don’t know that every band could do it as easily as the Experience did, but certainly they had no problem taking a song like that and turning it around.
Any particular song – or moment – that’s special for you on this album?
I guess the “Hey Joe” we talked about. I mean, to start a show like that … most bands of that era replicated their records so that the audience could say, “Oh yeah – that’s that song.”
But here you have this kind of (laughs) hypnotic feedback introduction that explodes into “Hey Joe” … it had to be unbelievable to be out there and all of a sudden hear somebody so confidently toying with their own music. It’s pretty amazing.
It’s probably one of the wildest opening salvos I’ve ever heard Jimi fire off.
It’s great. And that’s what we try to do with releases like this: inform the listener. We want to deepen your appreciation and understanding of just how unique this guy was.
I meant to ask you this the last time we talked – and hearing the passion in your voice just now reminded me: I know it’s a job – it’s a job you love, but a job just the same … at the same time, I know you’re moved by this music. Are you ever hit with sadness when listening to Jimi’s music?
Well … as a historian, you have look at it for what it is. I never got to see Jimi play – but I also never got to see Howlin’ Wolf play or Elmore James play. And there are others who, like Jimi, died too young.
You have to consider the lasting value of Jimi’s music; just as you would Guitar Slim’s or Robert Johnson’s – it’s all important music … I think the thing we’ve learned over these years is that great music stands the test of time. We’re now 45 years away from the Miami Pop Festival and when you listen to it, it still blows you away. And I don’t think all music from 1968 can still do that.
Yes, I feel sad; I certainly have respect for people who knew and cared for Jimi as a person – he was a friend to many people and to them he’s a unique individual who’s been lost. To me, I think of it in a broader sense because he’s been lost to the creative community. The impact Jimi would’ve had if he’d lived would’ve been unfathomable. That’s what you mourn if you didn’t know him.
For me it’s like … like John Lennon, for example: what could have happened post-1980? Its just outside of our understanding and comprehension, you know? These great musicians who were lost too soon – you wish things were different.
I hear you – and you’re absolutely right, John. I guess to sum things up, I’d say this isn’t just another show; it’s part of Jimi’s story.
You’ve described it correctly: it’s part of the story. And at the end of the day, that’s our job: if you’re satisfied with Jimi’s greatest hits album … or his core studio albums … or if one live album is enough for you, that’s all great – it’s all good. Nothing that we’re doing is taking away from anyone’s appreciation for those records. But if you love the Jimi Hendrix of that era and want to hear what him taking a weekend off to go down to Florida in the middle of recording Electric Ladyland sounded like, this is it. This is it.
Well, it’s a great album. Thank you, John.
Thank Jimi – he does all the heavy lifting for us. At the end of the day, all we need to do is share it with the fans. This music was great 45 years ago – and it’s still great today.
Jimi deserves all the credit, as do Mitch and Noel – they created this amazing stuff … and as you get further and further away from the original creation of it, you realize how amazing it is.
Brian Robbins keeps the ashes of his amplifiers over at www.brian-robbins.com