Hear a Great 4‑Hour Radio Documentary on the Life & Music of Jimi Hendrix: Features Rare Recordings & Interviews

The lega­cy of Jimi Hendrix’s estate has been in con­flict in recent years. Since his father’s death in 2002, his sib­lings have squab­bled over his mon­ey and bat­tled unli­censed and boot­leg venders. But Hendrix’s musi­cal lega­cy con­tin­ues to amaze and inspire, as Janie Hen­drix—his step­sis­ter and CEO of the com­pa­ny that man­ages his music—has released album after album of rar­i­ties over the last cou­ple decades. Not all of these releas­es have pleased Hen­drix fans, who have called some of them mer­ce­nary and thought­less. But it is always a joy to dis­cov­er an unheard record­ing, whether a live per­for­mance, wob­bly stu­dio out­take, or semi-pol­ished demo, so many of which reveal the ter­ri­to­ry Hen­drix intend­ed to chart before he died.

In 1982, some of that unre­leased mate­r­i­al made it into a four-hour Paci­fi­ca Radio doc­u­men­tary, which you can hear in four parts here. Pro­duced by what the sta­tion calls “some of Pacifica’s finest” at its Berke­ley “flag­ship sta­tion 94.1 FM,” the doc­u­men­tary does an excel­lent job of plac­ing these record­ings in con­text.

With help from Hen­drix biog­ra­ph­er David Hen­der­son, the pro­duc­ers com­piled “pre­vi­ous­ly unheard and rare record­ings” and inter­views from Hen­drix, his fam­i­ly, Noel Red­ding, Ornette Cole­man, Ste­vie Won­der, John Lee Hook­er, John McLaugh­lin, Chas Chan­dler, and more. After a new­ly-record­ed intro­duc­tion and a col­lage of Hen­drix inter­view sound­bites, Part 1 gets right down to it with a live ver­sion of “Are You Expe­ri­enced?” that puls­es from the speak­ers in hyp­not­ic waves (lis­ten to it on a sol­id pair of head­phones if you can).

“I want to have stereo where the sound goes up,” says Hen­drix in a sound­bite, “and behind and under­neath, you know? But all you can get now is across and across.” Some­how, even in ordi­nary stereo, Hen­drix had a way of mak­ing sound sur­round his lis­ten­ers, envelop­ing them in warm fuzzy waves of feed­back and reverb. But he also had an equal­ly cap­ti­vat­ing way with lan­guage, and not only in his song lyrics. Though the received por­trait of Hen­drix is of a shy, retir­ing per­son who expressed him­self bet­ter with music, in many of these inter­views he weaves togeth­er detailed mem­o­ries and whim­si­cal dreams and fan­tasies, com­pos­ing imag­i­na­tive nar­ra­tives on the spot. Sev­er­al extem­po­ra­ne­ous lines could have eas­i­ly flow­ered into new songs.

Hen­drix briefly tells the sto­ry of his rise through the R&B and soul cir­cuit as an almost effort­less glide from the ranks of strug­gling side­men, to play­ing behind Sam Cooke, Lit­tle Richard, and Ike and Tina Turn­er to start­ing his solo career. We move through the most famous stages of Hen­drix’s life, with its icon­ic moments and cau­tion­ary tales, and by the time we get to Part 4, we start hear­ing a Hen­drix most peo­ple nev­er do, a pre­view of where his music might have gone into the seventies—with jazzy pro­gres­sions and long, wind­ing instru­men­tal pas­sages pow­ered by the shuf­fling beats of Bud­dy Miles.

As has become abun­dant­ly clear in the almost four decades since Hen­drix’s death, he had a tremen­dous amount of new music left in him, stretch­ing in direc­tions he nev­er got to pur­sue. But the bit of it he left behind offers proof of just how influ­en­tial he was not only on rock gui­tarists but also on blues and jazz fusion play­ers of the fol­low­ing decade. His pio­neer­ing record­ing style (best heard on Elec­tric Lady­land) also drove for­ward, and in some cas­es invent­ed, many of the stu­dio tech­niques in use today. Process­es that can now be auto­mat­ed in min­utes might took hours to orches­trate in the late six­ties. Watch­ing Hen­drix mix in the stu­dio “was like watch­ing a bal­let,” says pro­duc­er Elliot Maz­er.

This doc­u­men­tary keeps its focus square­ly on Hen­drix’s work, phe­nom­e­nal tal­ent, and unique­ly inno­v­a­tive cre­ative thought, and as such it pro­vides the per­fect set­ting for the rare and then-unre­leased record­ings you may not have heard before. Paci­fi­ca re-released the doc­u­men­tary last year as part of its annu­al fundrais­ing cam­paign. The sta­tion is again solic­it­ing funds to help main­tain its impres­sive archives and dig­i­tize many more hours of tape like the Hen­drix pro­gram, so stop by and make a dona­tion if you can.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jimi Hen­drix Plays “Sgt. Pepper’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band” for The Bea­t­les, Just Three Days After the Album’s Release (1967)

Jimi Hen­drix Plays the Delta Blues on a 12-String Acoustic Gui­tar in 1968, and Jams with His Blues Idols, Bud­dy Guy & B.B. King

Jimi Hendrix’s Final Inter­view on Sep­tem­ber 11, 1970: Lis­ten to the Com­plete Audio

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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