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Jimi Hendrix - Live at the Fillmore East CD (album) cover


Jimi Hendrix



4.13 | 29 ratings

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4 stars Jimi Hendrix just wanted to play. And through all the accomplishment, extraordinary success among both peers and fans, and a singular artistry that is sometimes mistaken for novelty, it is clear that what he was really interested in was a choice riff and a good time. Hendrix was one of the only guitarists of his era that progressed internally as an instrumentalist, not just via the gifts of a talented ensemble. And yet as a sensitive kid he endured the pain of troubled parents, a society wherein you could be shot for playing music while black, and the unenviable choice between prison or military service. But he always had an ax. Even when his father refused to buy him one, Jimi rummaged a single-stringed uke until it fell apart, eventually bought a five-buck acoustic and when he couldn't be heard over bandmates, finally tucked-in to a Supro Ozark 1560 S.

But, as is often the case with brilliance, greatness was not evident right away. Jimi Hendrix had to uncover the now all too obvious: The electric guitar and amplifier were tools of sonic art that hadn't even been scratched at with any high amount of gravity, and he began to see and hear what others couldn't seem to. Brits will sometimes facetiously suggest Hendrix was theirs, that somehow because his popular rise was backed by Englishmen the Hendrix legacy belongs to London. Yeah, no; not when his finest moments were with the dazzling if misspelled A Band of Gypsys-- old cohorts Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. Further, the notion that Jimi had been pressured to have an all-black group is specious. It ain't true. The chemistry with Cox & Miles was just better, it always had been, and that counts.

A stickler for being in tune and yet as loose-handed as anyone, a fearless adventurer who, unlike Jim Morrison, could stop leaping into the fire when it burned too hot, Jimi, we hardly knew ye. So I was thrilled to have cornered the long deceased grand legend late one night in a bustling backstage at a Los Angeles nightclub, his first interview with the Living since his death in September, 1970. People of all sorts traipsed back & forth through the narrow backstage anteroom just outside the small greenroom we sat in; frantic roadies, groupies consoling other groupies, nervous managers, the lightshow people panicking over a broken liquid-slide projector, deadbeat vendors getting kicked out, a lone photographer struggling for a good shot, all generating a familiar din that said rock 'n roll. As we began speaking, James Marshall Hendrix took on a warm expression and his eyes widened, bringing me in.

A - Is this all for you?; I mean do they know you're here tonight?

Jimi - I dunno, man, it's just some good energy. It's just happening, y'know --

A - I recently caught some video of you at the Fillmore East shows in '69/'70, video I didn't know existed, taken from the balcony. It was illuminating to see footage of you perform without the florid camerawork that prevailed in concert films then. I noticed how being a left-hander may've influenced your sound, do you know what I mean?

Jimi - Yeah yeah, totally, they say it shouldn't make a difference, left or right, but it does, yeah.

A - Your left hand, the picking hand, was reverse-positioned, almost contorted, much like left-handed people write and draw, and it seemed to allow you a fluidity perhaps inaccessible by other players.

Jimi - Y'know I always kinda noticed that but never put it into words. Right-on, man, now spark that doob in the ashtray.

A - On it. When you add your upside down guitars that were standard strung for a lefty, your hand size with that thumb coming over top to mute an unwanted low E & A, your reach, plus having started on a ukulele, it all must've impacted your style.

Jimi - Yeah it all must have, but, you know, it could've been other things too. We're all so tugged and tapped and moved in life, it all makes a difference. Angles, man, it's in the angles (takes a huge drag on the fattest joint I've ever seen, holds it in, and exhales in a loud tumble of hacking and coughing).

A - The Band of Gypsys project was more than just a heavy blues/funk-rock trio out to fulfill a contract, was it not?

Jimi - It turned into something much more special than the three of us had expected. Our interpersonal connection, the depth of understanding and musical brotherhood we had was unique. You can hear that in our shows. That was a great band.

A - Far tighter and more serious than the act appeared. It was only later when I began to listen carefully to all the shows from New Years Eve 1969, or Berkeley, etc., that I began to hear what you guys were doing and how tight it actually was.

Jimi - I know, some people thought we were sloppy I guess. But no, not for what we were doing. We were all in, baby, a blues revelation, you know? You couldn't stop us, we could play anyone under the table that year.

A - Let's talk about the New Years Eve 1969 material not included on the Band of Gypsys LP, released later as Jimi Hendrix Live at the Fillmore East. I'm sure it's a thrill to see live but If you'll forgive me I'm gonna skip past twelve minutes of 'Stone Free' and jump to 'Power of Soul', a nice sample of the killer riffage that was spewing out of you guys at the time.

Jimi - This should'a opened the record, or I should say we should've opened with this one, 'Power of Soul'. It's a good warmup for us and them, the audience.

A - That modulation up a step, I love that.

Jimi - Yeah see that's the thing; it's just a two fret change-up but because the context is hard blues, it works. It's unexpected. And then this kinda lazy 'Train 'a Comin'. Tone, it's all about tone, brother. Can't do nothin' without tone. It's everything. It feeds, provides, it pulls out. It pulls me out, you know what I'm sayin'?

A - I think so. You were meticulous about being and staying in tune, a near impossibility considering the intense palpitations you put your guitars through. If you'll forgive me, how were you able to do that?

Jimi - 'Cause I had to. And a lot of time performing with electric guitars. You do what you have to; I was reaching here, there, I was tweakin' the bar any way I could, warping the neck, palpating. See-- 'Isabella' better, it sounds better, so we played it better, so it is better.

A - And a beautiful, more concisely powerful version of your classic 'Machine Gun' than appears on Band of Gypsys. Were you happy with this performance?

Jimi - This is the first time I've heard it, this set from those shows.

A - Really? I'm amazed. How does the tone strike you?

Jimi - I like it, it's quieter than the Gypsys album version, more room to work. It's a great tune to reshape, rework, like a living sculpture that's never completely finished.

A - Those divebombs are kick-ass - -

Jimi - (smiling widely) You're a real fanboy aren't you?

A - (blushing) Yeah, sorry. The anti-war message is clear, not so much anti-Vietnam War as almost an embracing of war--

Jimi - Well yeah, I didn't want to run away from it, the combat, the violence, I wanted to show it. To give an abstract impression of war, you know; the sounds, ugliness, it was a heavy time. You had to face it and that's how we did it.

A - And 'Voodoo Chile' -- you correct yourself there at the start, wrong key?

Jimi - (laughs uproariously) I forgot about that, hilarious. I don't know what I was thinking.

A - But you actually do remember that flub?

Jimi - Oh yeah, I wasn't so high that I couldn't hear a mistake. By now the acid was kicking in, though, so you know it was all in fun.

A - So you were tripping that night?

Jimi - F*ck yeah.

A - Syd Barrett told me playing while on LSD is almost impossible. Did you find that as well?

Jimi - That's why I put it under my headband, slow easy release, but yeah he's right. It's a bitch if it hits you all at once.

A - 'Who Knows' from the second set, December 31, 1969, different from the familiar version.

Jimi - Less energy, but it's alright I guess. Not my favorite version.

A - A stylish 'Them Changes', a Buddy Miles tune, a good bopper.

Jimi - Yeah it's a fun track. Why not, y'know?

A - And a massive, nearly 14-minute 'Machine Gun'. Awesome, man, I mean your studio records get all the praise but c'mon, this is magical, dark and wonderful, otherworldly stuff.

Jimi - That's what it was supposed to be, to evoke. Yeah, right on, I hear you. It's a heavy trip with this song. Not even a song.

[ * with this he took another several deep tokes on the now smoldering joint and slowly exhaled through his wide-set nostrils]

A - I swear I hear you say "Obama" several times in this; A premonition?

Jimi - (after several moments of uncontrollable laughter) Maybe, man, maybe, I wouldn't be surprised. A lot of magic that night, that band. Then 'Stop', that's a Jerry Ragovoy tune, good little track. Fun to play, and kind of a nice break after a long set.

A - Which it was: what, four sets over two nights? Pretty intense.

Jimi - Yeah, but we loved it. And we wanted to give the people their money's worth. "Earth Blues" good too. Some nice stuff here. Good to hear after all this time. "Burning Desire" kinda shows how improvisational we could be, but we'd gotten so tight, tight-but-lose, it was hard to tell sometimes what was spontaneous and what we'd planned. But that's cool.

It certainly is.

Atavachron | 4/5 |


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