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Soul resurrected: Jimi Hendrix’s “People, Hell & Angels”

by A.J. Weiner

Jimi Hendrix passed away almost forty three years ago. Near the beginning of last month, the Hendrix estate along with the estate’s catalog director/author John McDermott, and legendary producer/engineer Eddie Kramer, released a new collection of twelve never before released tracks that I believe to be for certain the richest sounding and perhaps most important record of his career. There is a convergence of elements happening on this disc that cannot be denied and they all add up to a truly mind blowing experience for the Hendrix aficionados as well as the newbie. For this Hendrix junkie, my blues filled bleeding heart pleads to consider this spin as the pinnacle of Hendrix’s career and not just another way for the estate to keep the funds flowing.

Check out this press release from Janie Hendrix: “We’re thrilled to be able to release People, Hell & Angels during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of my brother’s birth. The brilliance of the album serves to underscore what we’ve known all along: that there has never been and never will be a musical force equal to his and that we cherish and take inspiration of what he left us both now and for many generations to come . . . simply eternity.”

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It is all so true, and now more than ever with this fresh addition to an already legendary in-studio catalog. What were merely the beginning stages of experimentation and an escape outlet for him from a turbulent time, now fantastically becomes Hendrix’s next studio recording release and more importantly reveals the re-invention of his career. This material builds on his legacy with a batch of hand-made music that separates itself from the sound of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, not only sounding more timeless than any of the previous studio records, but it blows away today’s pop music contraptions.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking kiddies, another dinosaur parental unit touting his generation over the next. But you know what? Sometimes your parents are right. Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, to name just a few my grandparents’ generation were touting, and their enthusiasm made it hard for them to gracefully usher in Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones. The entirety of the aforementioned are still soaring above most of the lot of modern commercial noise. There is plenty of newly released music that will stand the test of time over the coming decades and I’ll continue to rap about many of them in stories to be (i.e. see previous post regarding Jim James).

Getting back to People, Hell & Angels, with the hope to shed some light on what the album title is referring to, I feel obliged because it seems not many have attempted it so far. Coined by Hendrix himself during the turbulent time these recordings all took place, between the crumbling end of the power trio The Jimi Hendrix Experience and his own tragic and untimely demise.

Hendrix is navigating his creative course through the People. There is the Hell of desperately trying to avoid any negative energy and stale creative influences and the pressure of repeating the success of what the People (record company and artist management, band-mates, fans and media alike) all have grown to crave from him. Alongside is the Hell of a legal settlement, where prior to the creation of The Experience, a previously signed under false pretense lifelong record contract is also ripping him apart. He has come to the understanding that the creative force of The Experience has past its peak. The saving grace is this new group of musicians, or his Angels and the new music ends up resurrecting his soul in 2013.

The beautiful CD or vinyl package includes a wonderful book filled with heartfelt Hendrix images, that explains in detail the how, why, where and when each track was recorded. These recordings feature the first-ever studio sessions by the Band of Gypsys, along with the group that Hendrix assembled for Woodstock, showcasing collaborations with old and new friends.

Hendrix was in a transformation stage of his career, being humble to a fault, he has realized that not only is the songwriting of his previous work nowhere of the caliber of many of his peers but as co-producer John McDermott states: “He was widening the net. Once the Experience was no longer going to be an effective recording unit, he got Billy Cox (on bass) and Buddy Miles (on drums), as well as additional percussion and Larry Lee on additional guitar . . . there’s a track where his friend Stephen Stills plays bass as well. There’s experimentation, but it’s not in a loose, unformed way. Jimi was working with really compelling song structures, and he was playing great too.”

I will add that he’s playing at his best ever, producing himself into rhythm sections inspired by a caliber of musician that unlike the often criticized over-playing of The Experience chasing the psychedelic muse, the new set of friends are much more aligned to his natural American rooted rhythm and blues, funk, and soulful instincts. Throw in jazz, pop and even more soul for inspiration.

After all, Buddy Miles grew up in a household where his dad played stand-up bass guitar with the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon. Billy Cox let Hendrix go on by himself to London to create the Experience, while he chose to stay in Nashville continuing to play as a member of the house or touring band or studio musician for the likes of Sam Cooke, Charlie Daniels, Lou Rawls, Etta James, Jackie Wilson and Little Richard. Both Miles and Cox who make up most of the trio on People, Hell & Angels, are undoubtedly aware that not only have they been urged by Hendrix himself to help inspire the music, but they’ve been relied on as trusted friends and are finally getting the chance to play with the greatest electric guitarist alive at the peak of his career.

Now, some forty years later we get to hear the results through the best possible audiophile filter available. The up-to-date audio engineering and production on this disc cannot be taken for granted. Technology is used to precision as half takes are sewn together seamlessly, and the entire dynamic range of the source material is enhanced and most of the tracks speak with warm, rich tones like no other record I’ve heard in 2013. The vinyl is bliss, but even the digital files sound like analog tape!

I feel I have to apologize for this . . . There is no better sounding Hendrix record than this. And, this sounds better than more than half of the most successful records of the day. Isn’t bringing somebody back from the dead the ultimate magic act? Eddie Kramer should hands down win for Recording Engineer of 2013.

It is unquestionable that Hendrix is one of, if not the most influential and creative electric guitarists since the invention of the instrument. His soulful vocals, songwriting and God-like guitar playing have been able to keep his music and soul alive for the entirety of my life and it’s sure not to die while I’m still kicking. I’m betting on Jimi to last hundreds of years. You know Moses lived to nine hundred and forty seven!

People, Hell & Angels allows us to be enlightened to the next stage of Hendrix’s career. Before this official release, we could only postulate, but now we have timeless evidence of where he was about to take us musically. I wish Jimi Hendrix was still alive so we could all enjoy a brand new record release. Genie in a bottle says, “A.J., your wish is my command . . . !”

A.J. Weiner

About A.J. Weiner

A Los Angeles native, A.J. Weiner has been in the graphic arts and print industries for over three decades, producing everything from blockbuster feature film campaigns to album and book art for the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. He is also a music producer, engineer, manager and a published songwriter for Warner Chapel Music and BMI. He has been known to tout that he has sung backup on a Ringo Starr record. You can follow A.J. Weiner on twitter and Instagram.

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