What would Jimi Hendrix have done next?
Jimi Hendrix never made a fourth studio album. Kris Needs, who saw Hendrix in 1969 and has been exploring the guitarist's work ever since, has pieced it together.
While the newspapers reported the "mystery death of Jimi Hendrix, the fuzzy-haired Wild Man of Pop" and gleefully called him a "victim of the pop-and-drugs culture he helped perpetuate", the music world mourned the loss of the greatest guitarist and biggest rock star the world had ever seen and, as the next 45 years would show, would ever see. While the Hendrix industry mushroomed into the thriving business which can still produce artefacts such as the new Atlanta Pop Festival film, one question has kept scholars and fans enthralled for decades; what would Jimi have done next?
Hendrix’s creative supernova raged for barely four years. Thankfully, much was recorded, from apartment demos and tape-gorging studio sessions to seemingly every gig he ever did. The last phase of his short life was a roller coaster of exploration, frustration and exhaustion as he sought to expand beyond the power trio format and create a follow-up to 1968's Electric Ladyland.
He started many songs for his fourth studio album but had finished only a few when he died, due to a combination of extreme perfectionism and growing desire for jazz-style exploration which was repeatedly interrupted by merciless tour itineraries. He frequently told interviewers how tired he was of the touring treadmill, playing guitar with his teeth and the limitations of the rock trio format, but got excited when talking about his next album, initially called First Rays Of the New Rising Sun. Later, Hendrix listed 24 songs for a double album called Straight Ahead. This expanded to a triple set called People, Hell and Angels before reverting back to a double.
While Eddie Kramer has been behind several albums attempting to imagine Hendrix's fourth album, Jimi's torrential muse may easily have produced a fresh crop of more expansive tracks once he had settled into Electric Lady. But here are some of the outstanding faves of Jimi's which kept cropping up in session logs while he strove to perfect them, which combine into a fantasy version of the fourth Hendrix album.
Jimi's Next Album
1. Straight Ahead
2. Night Bird Flying
3. Valleys Of Neptune
5. Cherokee Mist
2. Dolly Dagger
3. Hear My Train A-Coming
4. Earth Blues
5. Message To Love
1. Room Full Of Mirrors
4. Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)
5. Belly Button Window
2. Ezy Rider
3. Lover Man
4. Stepping Stone
5. In From The Storm
Originally called Pass It On, Straight Ahead was another late period declaration of positive change and one of the first songs to be recorded, mixed and nearly finished at Electric Lady, starting on June 17 through to August, having been road-tested on the Cry Of Love tour (it was last song of the set at July's Atlanta Pop Festival). Nobody guessed Jimi wanted to re-record what he considered his guide vocal when it appeared on The Cry Of Love.
Night Bird Flying
Optimism and energy seem to course through Hendrix at Electric Lady, as manifested in this complex guitar tapestry, which was the first track recorded from scratch there. Although tentatively started at the last Experience recording session in April, 1969, the track only started taking shape during Hendrix, Cox and Mitchell’s first three days at the new studio. By the home stretch the multi-tracked guitars have become a spiraling firebird swarm whose creation is stunning to witness here.
Valleys Of Neptune
Originally called Gypsy Blood, the song was first recorded as an instrumental by the original Experience in February 1969, at New York’s Record Plant. It was retitled and worked on with Cox after Hendrix wrote new lyrics at Beverley Hills’ Beverley Rodeo Hotel that May, continuing its evolution with Gypsy Sun And Rainbows. The first band recording took place in September with Jimi, Cox, Mitchell and Juma. It was also recorded by the Band Of Gypsys, before Jimi, Cox and Mitchell attempted to nail it again in May and June 1970 [doing 15 takes in one day alone and a slow jam version with Steve Winwood on the first day at Electric Lady]. It was still never finished to Jimi’s satisfaction, but this deceptively complex sci-fi tear-up remains one of his strongest late period songs. It became the name of another compilation of tracks intended for the fourth album in 2010.
After his spring 1969 tour, Jimi holed up with Billy Cox in the Beverley Rodeo Hotel, writing and rehearsing new songs, including his beloved Izabella. It's another of his Vietnam songs, about a soldier missing his girl, with lines like 'I’d rather be holding you than this machine gun' (which he played in a medley with Machine Gun on The Dick Cavett Show that September). Jimi spent even longer than usual trying to perfect the track after working out a rough version at T.T.G. studios in October 1968, developing it enough with Gypsy, Sun and Rainbows to unveil at Woodstock, before honing it into prototype shape with the Band Of Gypsys at the Hit Factory studio for the B-side of their Stepping Stone single the following April. After final tweaking at Electric Lady, Hendrix proudly declared the song finished in August 1970. Its tough, funky groove and mercurial guitar flashes first appeared on the posthumous War Heroes then Eddie Kramer's First Days… reimagining of the fourth album.
Even when he was alive this was one of Hendrix’s most talked about unreleased recordings, cited as the evocative direction in which he wanted to take his music. The track reflected Jimi’s deep interest in the Native American side of his family tree - his grandmother Nora was half Cherokee. Jimi uses a haunting theme and feedback wails over tom toms to convey the dreadful plight of his ancestors. He started playing with the track in 1967, recording a version in his New York hotel room in April, 1968 before tackling it at the Record Plant during the Electric Ladyland sessions. Hendrix frequently returned to the track, including with the Band Of Gypsys and with Mitch at his apartment in February 1970. Despite appearing in Jimi’s lists for the fourth album, Cherokee Mist was deemed too raw for the first posthumous albums, although it appeared on 1990’s Lifelines: The Jimi Hendrix Story.
Freedom was Jimi's positive declaration of liberation from drugs, oppression and Devon Wilson. It was conceived during Band Of Gypsys jam sessions, worked up for the Cry Of Love tour and recorded at the Record Plant on May 15, but Hendrix abandoned previous efforts after it became one of the first Electric Lady triumphs. Overdubs, including five guitars, took place in July and mixes completed on August 20. Backing vocals came from Jimi's old friends from the Isley Brothers days, Albert and Arthur Allen, who now called themselves the Ghetto Fighters and were paying back Jimi for overdubbing guitar on a "street opera" they had recorded at Fame studios in Muscle Shoals (which never saw release).
Billy Cox remembers the morning at the Woodstock house when he started playing the Big Ben chimes under Jimi's bedroom window. "We had amps set out on the patio…He stuck his head out; 'Keep playing that, don't stop!' He came down in his drawers, picked up his guitar and played this answering riff." Hendrix took the tune into the studio and built a dense wall of wailing guitars into Dolly Dagger, his tribute to Devon Wilson. November 27 was Jimi’s 27th birthday, which he celebrated by catching the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Gardens, then attending a party at producer Monty Kay’s Upper East Side apartment.
After Devon flirted with Mick Jagger in front of an unamused Hendrix, he was inspired to write the song after his nickname for her. The line, "She drinks the blood from the jagged edge" comes from him watching Jagger prick his finger then Devon licking the blood. Jimi toyed with the song during Band Of Gypsys rehearsals, but started the new version in Electric Lady on July 1, recording bass, drums and rhythm guitar live [and the Ghetto Fighters‘ backing vocals], before spending days overdubbing pyramids of guitars. The complex arrangement was ready for mixing at Jimi‘s last session at the studio between August 20-24. Meanwhile, Dolly Dagger herself couldn’t kick smack and fell to her death from a Chelsea Hotel room window in February, 1971.
Hear My Train A-Coming
Next to Red House this immensely powerful Delta roar was Jimi's favourite slow blues, based around the eternal train metaphor and, from its introduction into live sets around 1967 as Getting My Heart Back Together Again, was a launch-pad for some of his most spectacular flights. Jimi is shown singing it over his acoustic guitar in the Jimi Hendrix film, which followed the incendiary version on the posthumous Rainbow Bridge album. Although Hendrix never managed to record an electric studio version to his satisfaction, the searing renditions captured at Berkeley Community Theatre and the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970 are hailed among his greatest solos. While Alan Douglas handled this one terribly on its Midnight Lightning makeover, a Band of Gypsys demo version appeared on 2013's People, Hell and Angels.
Sometimes called Earth Blues Today, Hendrix came down from chasing planets to show awareness of his own world‘s plight. He had been playing the main melody at jams since early 1969 [including a May Record Plant session with Johnny Winter, Stephen Stills and Dallas Taylor and at the Woodstock house], hammered it into shape with the Band Of Gypsys then recorded the version which appeared on the Rainbow Bridge album on January 20, 1970, boasting the Ronettes on backing vocals. Ronnie Spector said Hendrix was even more obsessive about getting what he wanted in the studio than her ex-husband.
Message To Love
An uptempo urban blues-rocker which started creeping into shows around spring 1969, came of age in the Band Of Gypsys and which Jimi felt about strongly enough to include in his sets on The Cry Of Love tour. The song was usually on the list for his album projections but, in Jimi's mind, still had some marinating and work ahead.
Room full of Mirrors
Probably the song which Hendrix spent most time and money trying to perfect (Warner Brothers once queried a $36,000 studio bill, thinking it was for the fourth album, but it was all for this track, which was still unfinished!). Hendrix first demo’d the song in April, 1968 in his New York hotel room, taking its title from a line in Voodoo Child to convey the pressure and "mental disarrangement" of fame while fearing he was losing touch with himself. He also joked that the track was about "when you get so high that all you can see is your reflection here and there." The song went through various incarnations: a loose jam encore at the Royal Albert Hall in February 1969, also recorded at Olympic around then. He tried it out with Billy Cox in late April and played a defiant blues version the night he got busted in Toronto on May 3. After the Band Of Gypsys rehearsed it that November, Hendrix relentlessly kept working the song into sets in spring, 1970, finally clinching it at Electric Lady in summer 1970 but it never saw release while he was alive.
Hendrix started writing Angel in December, 1967, after dreaming about his mother Lucille, demoing it at Olympic using a primitive rhythm box (this appeared as Sweet Angel on the South Saturn Delta *compilation). The Cry Of Love band recorded it at Electric Lady on July 23, 1970, mixing on August 20. Billy Cox recalls Jimi wanting something like a classic 50s R&B ballad, so heisted the bassline from *Cherry Pie by Skip and Flip. When Kramer and Mitchell were compiling The Cry Of Love, the drummer overdubbed tom toms, recalling another of Jimi’s wishes for one of his gorgeously celestial tracks.
Hendrix’s beautiful way with ballads is sometimes overlooked in favour of his louder exploits (here heard in embryonic reverie). Having set a gorgeous bench-mark with 1967’s The Wind Cries Mary, every album contained spaced slowies displaying a flair for other-worldly melody and traditional song writing. With its title inspired by Dylan’s Drifter’s Escape, Drifting was another Black Gold track brought to fruition at Electric Lady in June 1970. Already boasting its distinctive backwards guitars, the track still needed something extra when Kramer and Mitchell were preparing The Cry Of Love. Remembering Jimi talking about adding vibes, Buzzy Linhart added shimmering the dream topping.
Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)
Although Hendrix created a track called New Rising Sun Overture at October, 1968’s T.T.G. sessions, Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) (a.k.a. Gypsy Boy) didn’t start developing until 1970’s Cry Of Love tour, when it became an evocatively gentle ballad of hope. Displaying his sensitive feel for jazz chordings, it became one of Jimi’s personal favourites at shows, completed at Electric Lady in July, 1970.
Belly Button Window
Belly Button Window was the last song Jimi recorded at Electric Lady before taking his final flight to London. The song started life as one of the many poems he kept in a large sheaf, waiting for the right music. The lyrics, inspired by a friend's pregnant wife, reflected on his broken home background as a baby in the womb ("I’m wondering if they don’t want me around"). They were tried with Midnight Lightning’s melody and a bluesy shuffle in July 1970, before Jimi sat down on August 22 and recorded the intimate version with overdubbed wah-wah which was picked as the last track on The Cry Of Love. Poignantly, it would now stand as Jimi's last statement to the often hostile world.
Hendrix often asked Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell if they had any songs but the drummer didn’t see one of his compositions appear on an album until the early 70s. Beginnings started life as a Woodstock house jam, debuted live as Jam Back At The House at the Tinker Street Cinema then at Woodstock. A fiery blues instrumental with strident riffs and complex drum patterns, which was finished at Electric Lady in August, it must have been gutting for Mitch when Alan Douglas replaced his drum parts on Midnight Lightning.
At the last Experience studio session in April, 1969, Hendrix hijacked the melody from an early 1968 Noel Redding demo called Dance for a song he titled Lullaby For The Summer. He returned to it with the Band Of Gypsys, inspired to write freewheelingly defiant new lyrics by that year’s Easy Rider movie. Aware of the song‘s potential, Jimi waited until Electric Lady was ready to bring home its incendiary barrage, although he recorded a version with Arthur Lee’s Love in London in March, 1970, which was briefly scheduled as a Love single (In his biography, Lee talked of a band the duo talked of forming which Jimi wanted to call Band Aid). After June 25’s final backing track mix, the track boasted eight carefully placed guitar overdubs, while Traffic’s Winwood and Wood contributed backing vocals.
Jimi’s full-pelt cover of B.B. King’s Rock Me Baby had rocked Monterey in 1967. He then made it his own, retitling it Here He Comes, before arriving at Lover Man when he recorded it at Olympic in February 1969. Lover Man had the distinction of being played by the Experience, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, Band Of Gypsies and Cry Of Love band (as heard on the new Atlanta Pop Festival soundtrack). It was one of the songs on the set-list when this writer had the rare pleasure of seeing Jimi in action at the Royal Albert Hall on February 18 1969. Although cited as an off-night, witnessing a stock still Hendrix soaring and swooping at relatively close quarters remains the best gig I’ve seen. Dressed in black hat and turquoise shirt, he was impossibly charismatic to this 14-year-old, who never dreamed this would be one of the last times Hendrix played the UK. By July, Noel Redding was gone and Jimi had recruited old army buddy bassist Billy Cox, who was now a session musician in Nashville.
After Hendrix moved back to New York, leasing an apartment at 59 West 12th Street, his musical direction took an unexpected detour when he and Cox hooked up with former Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles to form pioneering black trio Band Of Gypsys, forging new songs including Power Of Soul, Message To Love and Stepping Stone. Hendrix was trying to revisit his black roots, whether with the earthier, funkier R&B grooves and conscious soul which imbued his later rockers or the ecstatic jazz which was gripping him by the late 60s. He had also met record producer Alan Douglas through the social circle around his long-time on-off girlfriend, drug buddy or assistant Devon Wilson. After Hendrix and Douglas clicked, the producer, who had a major impact on his career before and after he died, was invited to the Record Plant, where he stayed for several weeks as Hendrix worked on tracks including Izabella, Room Full Of Mirrors and Stepping Stone. Douglas also oversaw Hendrix recording with Timothy Leary and the Last Poets.
In From the Storm
Another late period stormer created front to back at Electric Lady between July and August, 1970, and debuted at the Maui shows. It was an Isle Of Wight festival highlight, although footage shows a knackered Hendrix summoning his last energy reserves, hanging on for dear life. Other songs which Hendrix favoured live or worked on at Electric Lady include Midnight Lightning (originally started in April 1969 with the Band of Gypsys), Can I Whisper In Your Ear, Burning Desire, his favourite blues Hear My Train A-Comin' and, of course, Machine Gun.