In June of 1969, the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, the band that introduced the sixties to its reigning guitar god, disbanded for good with the departure of Noel Redding following a messy Denver Pop Festival appearance. The story of that gig sounds so apocalyptic—involving heroin, riots, and tear gas—that it reads like cosmic foreshadowing of the tragedy to come: the decades’ greatest psych-rockers go out in a haze of smoke. A little over one year later, Jimi is dead.
But if he seemed burned out in Denver, according to his bandmates, it was no indication at all of where his music was headed. Much of the tension in the band came from Hendrix’s readiness to embark on the next phase of his evolution. After Redding left, he was immediately replaced by Billy Cox, who played with Hendrix at Woodstock in the first incarnation of the Band of Gypsys, with whom Hendrix recorded “Machine Gun,” described by musicologist Andy Aledort as “the premiere example of his unparalleled genius as a rock guitarist.”
In wildly improvisatory performances, Hendrix strove to incorporate the radical moves of Coltrane. He had “transcended the medium of rock music,” writes Aledort, “and set an entirely new standard for the potential of electric guitar.” The drugs intervened, again, and after a disastrous gig at Madison Square Garden in January 1970, the Band of Gypsys broke up. Then, the Experience reformed, with Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, and began recording and touring the U.S.
When Jimi wasn’t too high to play, he delivered some of the most blistering performances of his career, including two legendary sets in Hawaii in July, at the foot of Haleakala volcano, that would end up being his final concert appearances in the U.S. These sets were not, in fact, scheduled tour stops but over 50 minutes of performance for a semi-fictional psychedelic film called Rainbow Bridge, notorious for making little sense and for cutting almost all of the promised live footage of Hendrix’s performance, angering everyone who saw it.
The film’s promised soundtrack never materialized, and fans have long coveted these recordings, especially the second set, “a testing ground,” one fan writes, “for his new direction.” Now, they’re finally getting an official release, on CD, Blu-Ray, and LP on November 20th. (See a full tracklist of the two sets here.) This is no outtakes & rarities cash grab, but an essential document of Hendrix at the height of his powers, one year after the Experience seemed to crash and burn. See for yourself in the clip of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” at the top.
It’s too bad that this high point of Hendrix’s final year has been overshadowed by the dismal failure of the film that made it happen. But a new documentary, Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix in Maui aims to restore this episode of Hendrix history. Coming out on the same day as the live recordings, November 20th, the film (see trailer above) includes more live Hendrix footage than appeared in Rainbow Bridge, and tells the story of how a terrible movie got made around the greatest rock musician of the day. The performances that didn’t make the cut tell another story—about how Hendrix was, again, doing things with the guitar that no one had ever done before.
via Boing Boing