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Published: 2011/10/18
by Ron Hart

Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix In The West

Hendrix In The West Legacy
Winterland Legacy

Ask any educated fan of Jimi Hendrix what, after Band of Gypsys, are his two best live albums and if the person had their druthers about them they would almost immediately cite Hendrix In The West and Live at Winterland. And after both have spent many years in OOP purgatory, two of the most essential officially released concert recordings out there are finally available once again on the marketplace thanks to the Hendrix family’s ongoing reissue campaign in correlation with Sony Legacy.

Originally rendered street legal in 1972, Hendrix In The West was the crown jewel of the small cluster of titles released by Reprise in the wake of Jimi’s premature death on September 18, 1970, including Cry of Love, War Heroes and Rainbow Bridge, that unfortunately went out of print after they weren’t released on compact disc in the 1980s. West was compiled by longtime Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer as a showcase for Jimi’s incredible prowess on stage captured on acetate, something that was completely unavailable at the time (which, in and of itself, is a wild concept, given the flood of Hendrix live recordings that have come out in the last 20 years). Since its original release, some of the shows that were cherry picked for Hendrix In The West have since been issued in their entirety, such as the guitarist’s famed appearance at the Isle of Wight, the Berkeley Community Theater shows and, of course, Winterland.

But the highlights of this collection, culled from a May 24, 1969 gig at the San Diego Sports Arena remains exclusive to the album (at least today, as the entirety of the concert was released as part of the 1991 box set Stages which has since gone off the market save for some pricey remainder items on Amazon). And therein lies the true highlights of this record, including barn burning spins of such key Jimi classics as “Fire” and “Lover Man”, covers of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper”, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and a simmering spin of “Red House” that is considered to be the definitive rendition of the song as deemed by veteran rock critic Robert Christgau.

This new edition of Hendrix In The West makes its long-awaited debut in the digital format with five new performances added to the track list, most notably scorching takes on “Spanish Castle Magic” and “I Don’t Live Today” from the San Diego concert as well as a face melting tear through “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” from that same show, which was mistakenly credited as being from London’s Royal Albert Hall in the original pressing (in addition to being misspelled in the gatefold sleeve as “Voodoo Chile”, which has also been corrected).

Winterland, meanwhile, completely transforms the original single-disc overview that came out on Rykodisc in 1987, expanding it into a lavish four-disc box set that chronicles the best of the Experience’s three-date, six-show residency at Bill Graham’s famed San Francisco ballroom on October 10, 11 and 12 of 1968, one week prior to the release of the trio’s acid trip masterpiece Electric Ladyland. It was their second stand at Winterland, one year removed from their debut playing its hallowed halls nine months earlier in February. After suffering through a spring and summer trek across America playing poorly amplified college gymnasiums and echo-afflicted sports arenas, coming back to the Winterland was a welcomed reprieve the trio wholly took advantage of, giving these shows the reputation of being some of the best he ever played with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell.

These performances were among the rare occasions where the Experience invited guests on stage to jam with them, as Jefferson Airplane bassist Papa Jack Casady sat in with the group on the 10th and flautist Virgil Gonsalves and organ player/saxophonist Herbie Rich from opening act the Buddy Miles Express on the 11th. And its the assist from these great talents that help set these Winterland shows apart from most others in Hendrix’s too-short career, bringing in a sense of improvisation to performances like “Are You Experienced” from the early show on the 11th and “Tax Free” later that day, which echoed Jimi’s unparalleled influence on jazz music in the late 1960s. As for the other 16 songs rotated across these six shows, including “Hey Joe”, “Fire”, “Foxey Lady,” “Lover Man,” “Spanish Castle Magic” and incendiary covers of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” and The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” as well as blues standards “Killing Floor” and “Hear My Train A Comin’” among others, all are played with a searing sense of syncopation that premeditatedly scouted the psychedelic bomb the trio would drop two weeks later with Ladyland.

“Sometimes I just feel like a messenger,” Hendrix stated to Gus Gossert, a DJ for San Francisco’s KMPX-FM who interviewed the guitarist backstage, the audio of which closes out this box set. “And I’m playing more of a pure type tying, exactly what I feel at the particular time. Whatever it turns out to be, I don’t know.” In the context of the long-awaited return of this pair of essential live documents in the Jimi Hendrix globosphere displays is a man looking to take rock music to a new level of spiritual achievement under the roof of his “electric church”. And it’s great to hear two of his finest sermons back in circulation for a new generation to enjoy.

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