Reprise Records MS 2049
Hendrix in the West
Experience Hendrix Records/Sony Legacy
In my post on "War Heroes" I complained about the shoddy treatment of Hendrix's legacy by greedy record companies since his death. The Reprise issue of this record exemplifies that. It was among the earliest of Hendrix posthumous releases. It was already out of print when I got into Hendrix and I ended up with a used copy. I debated with myself whether I needed the 2011 reissue but when I saw a cheap one, I decided to pick it up. The music on both albums is outstanding, but neither version is entirely satisfactory. The concept of the album was to create a Hendrix live album and it was largely drawn from a pair of shows in California which presumably gave the album its title. One show featured the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the San Diego Sports Arena on May 24, 1969 and the other was two shows at the Berkeley Community Theater with Hendrix backed by Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox on May 30, 1970 which was documented in the film "Jimi Plays Berkeley." The album also contains a short musical excerpt from Hendrix's performance at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 30, 1970. The San Diego show is a terrific show, one of the best I've ever heard. It was released in its entirety on the CD box set "Stages" which is my favorite posthumous Hendrix release. The second of the two shows at Berkeley has also been released on its own. I prefer having complete shows rather than compilations of performances. That's hardly the only problem with the Reprise release. The performances of "Little Wing" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" on the record listed as being from the San Diego show were actually from the Experience's performance at the Royal Albert Hall on February 24, 1969. Hendrix didn't even perform "Little Wing" at the San Diego show. Furthermore "Voodoo Child" is misspelled on the gatefold and outer sleeve where it is listed as "Voodo Chile" and the song running order is incorrect in both places. Such sloppiness is more worthy of a bootleg than a release from a major record label. The reissue attempts to rectify this. There is a handsome booklet that features a short essay by John McDermott (author of the excellent book "Jimi Hendrix Sessions") which discusses the background of the original album and the concerts it documents. The revised album replaces the Royal Albert Hall performance of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" with the San Diego performance but since Hendrix didn't perform "Little Wing" in San Diego, that song is replaced by a 1968 performance of the song from the Experience's series of concerts at Winterland (which have been released in their entirety in a box set.) The album is expanded into a double album by the inclusion of three additional songs from the San Diego show. For a double album it is a bit skimpy with two sides that are less than 15 minutes long. There would be room to include all the San Diego concert if they wanted. I presume they rejected "Hey Joe" because it is a little sloppy (although I still like it) but I can't imagine why they omitted the fiery performance of "Purple Haze." The most obvious flaw in the new album is that they list the incorrect date of the San Diego show in the liner notes for the album, all the more galling since McDermott provided the correct date in his essay. So both albums are flawed, but what about the music? It is essential. If you dig Hendrix you are going to want to have the San Diego show in some form. I would opt for the "Stages" version even if it is on CD since it has the entire show in its original order and preserves Hendrix's stage patter which is typically wonderful. The reissued "Hendrix in the West" is a decent alternative, especially since the remastered vinyl sounds great. The highlight of the show is a 13 minute workout on "Red House" which many people (myself included) consider the best version on record. Hendrix's epic solo is full of drama and passion, the blues doesn't get any hotter than this. The other highlight is the smoking 10 minute performance of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return.)" It is one of the most exciting versions of the song that I've ever heard. It is superior to the Royal Albert Hall version on the original album although that one is worth having too. The three other new additions from San Diego aren't quite as strong but all are worthwhile. My favorite is the cacophonous take on "I Don't Live Today" which blows away the studio version on "Are You Experienced." The 10 minute long version of "Spanish Castle Magic" is marred by an overly long Mitch Mitchell drum solo but Hendrix's part is outstanding. The song also includes an instrumental version of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" that is uncredited on the album, probably to avoid paying royalties. "Fire" has a lot of energy but doesn't stray far from the studio version. The Berkeley show is nearly as great as the San Diego one. My favorite cut is the incendiary cover of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" from the first show. It is the most exciting performance of that venerable classic that I've ever heard by anybody. Either version of this album is worth buying for that track alone. "Lover Man" comes from the second show and it is also an exciting performance with a dynamic solo from Hendrix that incorporates "The Flight of the Bumblebee." The final Berkeley track is a rocking cover of Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" which comes from the soundcheck for the show. Hendrix might have just been messing around but his solo is brilliant. It is a testament to the man's incredible genius that his soundchecks were better than other people's actual shows. As for the other cuts the graceful Winterland version of "Little Wing" is my favorite version of that song because of its deeply soulful vocal from Hendrix but I like the forceful solo on the Royal Albert Hall performance. Both versions are worth having. The medley of "God Save the Queen" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" from the Isle of Wight is minor but fun and it makes a nice introduction for the album. I enjoy this record but I still don't get it. Why not just leave the exploitative Reprise "Hendrix in the West" alone and simply issue remastered vinyl albums of the complete San Diego concert and both shows of the Berkeley performance? That would show Hendrix the proper respect for the integrity of his performances. I hate this cherry picking approach. Hendrix played his music like a jazz musician. He never performed anything the same way twice. All his shows are worth hearing, even the weaker tracks. That is not to say that I don't recommend this new version of "Hendrix in the West." It sounds great and has nice packaging, it was certainly made with more care and respect than the Reprise original. My initial impulse was to get rid of my original copy, but I worship Hendrix too much to part with any of his records. Unless you are a devoted collector you can skip the Reprise version, the reissue is the only one you need. Recommended to people who can't get enough Hendrix.