Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Masters: Jimi Hendrix - Best Live Albums

RtBE loves listening to new music and prides itself on keeping tabs on up and coming artists but in 2019 we are also going to have a monthly spotlight on legendary artists who we really love. We are calling this series The Masters. It will focus on the best albums, live records, transcendent shows and other odd ways we appreciate the artists and their contribution to music, culture and our formation.

For June The Masters focuses on the great Jimi Hendrix.

Live music is the best thing out there. Being caught in the moment is religion. Palpable vibes of healing and energy are transmitted and shit...gets...real. For this month's focus, Jimi Hendrix lived for the live moment. Everyone knows of his historic rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner", but Hendrix was so much more then that. Things could get messy, noisy, bluesy, beautiful and mind blowing. While Hendrix seemed to be opening up and exploring studio work before his death, the stage was always his home; the sound is what matters.

Just like our January focus in the is series Miles Davis, Hendrix was always shifting where he was heading and he unfortunately died at such a young age, it would have been amazing to see what he and Davis could have cooked up, or even to see him as a 70 year old Blues man playing small clubs. As it stands all of his three official studio work should be owned (and a few others) but the glory of live Jimi is something to behold.

Because he died so young, and the legal rambling over the musics rights, a lot of these concerts may never have been released, but as it stands, this is what we have to go with so here are our picks for his five best live records...

5. Live At Berkeley 1970 (Released 2003)
After Woodstock, after Band of Gypsy's (both of which we will get to) Hendrix seemed to be reuniting with his original Experience lineup but then refused to work with Noel Redding, so Billy Cox from BoG was brought on to form the NEW Experience. Honestly, this was a fantastic trio and this album recorded in May 30th before his September death is the best collection of their live playing. Tons of posthumous albums and collections have been released but no one knows where Hendrix's muse would have taken him next however, the meaty locked in low down of Cox and Mitch Mitchell is delightful on this night, oh yeah, not to mention the OK guitar playing...especially "I Don't Live Today" and "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)".

4. Woodstock 1969 (Released 1994)
Historic, iconic, legend maker, but not his best performance or for that matter the best recording. This was a slapped together band, a transitional moment for Hendrix and an experiment on a grand stage. There are moments of magic, (the already mentioned National Anthem, and the amazing "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)/Stepping Stone") but the fluid nature of the band, and the bizarre recording, or not recording of some instrumentation leaves the chem-trails of the mind, ears and soul to history. Not his best concert, but certainly his most important.

3. Live At Monterrey 1967 (Released 2007)
Where as Woodstock made Hendrix an icon, Monterrey broke him onto the world stage. While those in the know had seen his glory, it took the insistence of Paul McCartney to book Hendrix (and The Who) who lit the show on fire. Literally. The famous picture of Hendrix conjuring the spirits while fanning the flames from his ablaze Stratocaster were from this show. He has said he needed to top The Who smashing their instruments...and he did. Like Woodstock however, the event overshadows the playing.

The band is a bit nervous (Jimi included) and plays almost too fast as they speed through blues covers "Killing Floor" and "Rock Me Baby" as well as their soon to be immortalized originals "Purple Haze" and "Foxy Lady". Jimi's love for Bob Dylan is already on display as they tackle "Like A Rolling Stone" and Hendrix's made-his-own cover of "Hey Joe". Rankings are made to be argued about, so if people think this should be lower then Woodstock I wouldn't fight it, but I always reach for this one over Woodstock and the next two even more often...

2. Live At Winterland 1968 (Released 1987 + 1992)

Numbers two and one on our list are two phases of my personal musical journey. While still very young teenager I wandered into a record shop and made a bold decision to spend some of my hard saved money on an actual box set, my first. I had heard Hendrix, a friend had one of the greatest hits packages, but I loved live tunes even as a kid so I wanted to hear a show of Jimi's. This Rykodisk box set was a collection of highlights from three shows from the famed venue in San Francisco in 1968. I bought the 1992 re-release which came with a t-shirt and two CD's. I still own all of them and still wear the t-shirt, the music and literal style has stayed with me for years.

This is a collection of Hendrix's biggest hits, with his original band, in the live setting with impeccable sound and playing. "Red House" is electric blues perfection, "Hey Joe" is a beast of passion, "Spanish Castle Magic" is glorious and their take on Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" is playful. While I was originally (and still am) underwhelmed with the original Experience trio's plodding cover of "Wild Thing" everything else on this record falls into the sweet spot of a band in their prime and not yet burnt out or sick of their songs. That burn out and wandering happened fast for Hendrix, but this release is a hell of an offering which was formidable in my musical education and is still to this day a great collection of prime live Hendrix/Redding/Mitchell which I return to often.     

1. Band of Gypsys 1970

While Live at Winterland might have been the introduction, Band of Gypsys is the master class. Filling the Fillmore East on New Years Day 1970 with his newest band, army friend Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on Drums and vocals Hendrix brought his new outing to soaring heights. Cox was a foundation which Redding never was and from this solid bass Hendrix riffed into the stratosphere. While it to is a transitional moment in Hendrix's career there is a larger sense of musical wonder then at Woodstock. There is also more fatback grooves and an r&b influence which makes it more of a personal favorite.

The six songs on the original, two by drummer Miles are not all scorchers, but the highs are some of the best moments of Hendrix (and by default any electric guitarists) career. "Machine Gun" tops the list as the most must here live offering from Jimi while "Message To Love" is a beauty, and the jamming "Who Knows?". While Miles singing has never been a personal favorite (here or elsewhere) "Changes" is a fun brief jaunt. A huge titan of rock and roll and a live album for the ages.

More then anyone else in rock history it is a shame Hendrix died when he did, because his music still sounds as fresh today (not matter what year you read this) as it did while he was alive. He was a magician, the best electric guitarist ever, a sonic poet, a soulful singer, an emotional songwriter who was only finding his voice and one of the true Masters.

How'd we do? Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment and as always thanks for reading. 


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