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Published: 2005/11/13
by Randy Ray

Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock

_We came togetherDanced with
The pearls of Rainy weather
Riding the waves of music and
SpaceMusic is Magic
Magic is life_ – 500,000 Halos, Jimi Hendrix, August 1969

By the time Hendrix and Gypsy Sun & Rainbows hit the stage early Monday morning on August 18, 1969, half of the 500,000 Woodstock Nation had started the trip back home, leaving the 1960s and heading into the Great Unknown of the Me Decade of the 1970s. The thousands who stayed behind witnessed a part of history that sealed the fate of what was arguably the Greatest Rock Festival of All Time. Jimi Hendrix on 26th Century guitar and vocals, Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, ex-chitlin circuit bandmate and Vietnam vet Larry Lee on rhythm guitar, Billy Cox on bass, and Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez on percussion roared through a long and dense set of rhythm, funk, and heavy rock that had never been heard before, since or likely ever againat least not on this planet. Hendrix detonated numerous carpet bombing runs on his white Fender and raged like a dragon while humorously quipping in between songsevery inch the rock guitar god but oh so human, as well, with a mixture of candid humility and weary wit.

The new Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock – Definitive 2-DVD Collection presents the entire Hendrix performance in chronological order with the exception of the second song, “Hear My Train A Comin’.” Evidently, cameramen were re-loading their cameras and re-positioning during this number. The sound quality is 5.1 and 2.0 stereo, pristine, and, appropriately LOUDre-mixed by Eddie Kramer, Hendrix’s engineer since his double-LP Electric Ladyland, and the on-site Woodstock engineer throughout the three-day gathering. The film footage is almost exclusively focused on Hendrix most of the time but there are occasional cutaways to the rest of the band and the crowda sizable gathering, exiting hippie multitudes notwithstanding. And can you blame the cameramen for being so Hendrix-centric with their visuals? The Man was considered to be the equivalent of Elvis, the Beatles, and the Stones all rolled into one Strat at that juncture in music history and he was considered the act at Woodstockhence, his status as the closing act; a decision he would later regret when the festival ran numerous hours over schedule and forced the band into the early Monday morning slot.

The real news’ found in this two-disc collection appears with the complete footage of Hendrix’s entire set, including the previously excluded “Hear My Train A Comin’” shot by an industrious college student, Albert Goodman, who snuck on stage with his camera, loaded with black and white film. The footage is mainly from the side of the stage and arguably for completists only but it does offer a unique perspective that, until recently, had not been recorded. Some of the footage gaps are filled by color film from the original but these shots are certainly not obtrusive. If anything, they add contextual tone.

The collection includes new interviews with ex-Experience member Noel Redding, ex-Experience/Woodstock drummer Mitch Mitchell, and his Woodstock bandmates Billy Cox, Larry Lee, and Juma Sultan. The men provide several interesting anecdotes about their late friend and bandleader that somehow time will never erase. A separate interview with Cox and Lee is both humorous and fascinating as they detail their R&B beginnings with a young Hendrix and Lee explains how he had only been home for two weeks since serving in Vietnam when he got the call to join his old buddy in upstate New York in a rented house in Woodstock to prepare for a performance which would re-define modern festival music. There are new interviews with one of the Woodstock producers, the legendary Michael Lang, and site and Hendrix engineer, Eddie Kramer. Both men also have sharp memories and wise insights into an event which is now nearly 40 years back in the pages of yesterday. A press conference from Harlem promoting a benefit gig two weeks after Woodstock offers historical context and features the ethereal Hendrix dealing with the straight press. These were the definition of Heady Times’ which involved a great leap of faith with everyone involvedincluding the viewer as one is hard-pressed to imagine an era when such a spur of the moment event with manmade and Mother Nature disasters aplenty still standing as a monumentally positive experience.

As far as the musicit’s all thereI’ve listened to the 1994 release of Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock probably more than any other live performance with the possible exception of Zeppelin’s 6/21/77 L.A. blitzkrieg, the Grateful Dead’s sublime 5/8/77 Set II and Phish’s colossal 12/31/99 “Sunrise Set.” Hendrix’s Woodstock set is profoundly definitive music that transcends simple logic. As Hendrix explains at the beginning, the band had only a few rehearsals and, yet, their sound is bear trap tightwild, wicked, and with a hell of lot of funk. “Spanish Castle Magic” is pure guitar crunch and echoes the sound of the new kings on the block (the 1969 debut of Led Zeppelin). “Red House” is demonic blues as Hendrix re-interprets Chicago Blues with a touch of modern psychedelica. “Izabella” and “Fire” are played at extremely fast tempos and the whiplash risk is high. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” began a nearly 30-minute sequence which closed the set and the festival. The stage announcer, the supremely cool John Morris, lowered the gauntlet. Essentially: “Goodbye. Good luck. Clean up before you go and, by the way, have a great lifeyou’ll never be the same again.” Academy Award-winning Director Michael Wadleigh and his squadron of cameramen did an excellent job of recording the event and even if the black and white footage by Albert Goodman isn’t always of the highest professional quality, the man deserves huge kudos for his enormous chutzpah.

Listing highlights for a performance like this is absolutely ridiculous. It’s like trying to quantify Buddha under the tree, Moses and the burning bush, Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount, the novel Don Quixote, the 1927 New York Yankees, World War II, the last half hour of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Phish at Big Cypress. How does one define the majestic volcanic notes rolling off the stage and onto the crowd and history on that day? The rock critic is left with personal impressions and even those may seem to trivialize the man and his music on that ultimate EPIC day. Slip the discs into the player, turn up the sound, light the incense, shut the lights off and experience a little bit of timeless heaven.

Now, we come to a wee bit of those rock critic personal impressions. My background as a writer goes back to a role as a high school Sports Editor and a college journalist before veering off into novels about seven years ago. My second unpublished novel is called A Bizarre Carousel and, like most authors, I write while listening to music. I usually only listen to a certain stack of CDs, which seem to light the electric muse fantastic. Any Dylan, Allman Brothers, Dead or Phish are perfect; Sabbath, Maiden, UFO and Nirvana are notthey seem to dull the senses instead of pushing the fingers along the keys. During my second novel, I listened to Hendrix’s Woodstock set more than any other CDspecifically, “Jam Back at the House (Beginnings).” This rhythm induces a trance-like spell that always hypnotizes and provokes my mind to unwind while allowing my subconscious to race through the necessary pages providing fire and spark. There is something about these eight minutes of primal jungle heat that never wane for me; I feel its toxic pull on my soul and I run with it as far as I can go or, literally, as far as my fingers can type before my mind returns to an appropriate conscious state and, then, like most authors, I probably need to step away from the desk. Getting out of the way of oneself is equally as important for a writer as it is to a musician. Read any Kimock interview and you will see its importance within the audio realm.

“We were in a bar where gypsy dixieland bluegrass jazz was stomping from the stage towards our cocktail and beer-laced tables. My eyes were glued to this aging white cat who was playing percussion like Mitch Mitchell at Woodstock. He was laying down some mean grooves. Funny thing: he appeared ecstatic, near nirvana, a satisfied old spirit gearing the whole band towards a protean rhythm; back-and-forth, the N’awlins trance encircled the music and shot monkey sounds: piano, trumpet, bass and drumsdiggin’ the Acoustic Church while sippin’ on a few brews. This white percussion cat was both in his element and angry. Reason: across the sway, the way, the sway was being rudely disrupted (as opposed to politely disruptedanyhoo), this white cat was pissed because some awful tone-deaf chuggin’ and blooze, pseudo-sock-and-pull was thrashing nearbyanother bar altered air waves with ugly, undisciplined noise, third-rate garage band trying to sound like Buddy Guy, worshiping the thud of rock; denying the careful anchor of a sonic thunderclap. Old white cat was hooked into evilwonderfully purple and orange and red and deep black colors like Hendrix. Old white cat for a brief moment was AFRICA. Beat Gem on Bourbon Street. The Thud Blooze offered watered-down Chicago poisonman, Chicago blues, when played properly, is also AFRICA: voodoo-drenched, unpredictable, magical; poetic rituals interchangable and terrifying yet strangely accurate. Planet Pulse moves within the wrists of an expert witch doctor skin-pounder. Fire: black saxophone player, Mexican string bender, Australian aborigine blowing air through a wood hole, old white cat hammering a brisk pace down the tunnel through improvisationally-perfect Jazz. Mean Street.” – excerpt from A Bizarre Carousel, R. Ray, copyright 2000

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