TRACK-LIST:1. DRIVING SOUTH (Jimi Hendrix); 2. CALIFORNIA NIGHTS (Memphis Slim); 3. I'M A MAN (Elias McDaniels); 4. I'VE GOT A SWEET LITTLE ANGEL (B.B.King); 5. KILLING FLOOR (Howling Wolf); 6. BLEEDING HEART (Elmore James); 7. BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY (Jimmy Reed); 8. GET OUT MY LIFE WOMAN (Allen Toussaint); 9. BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO (Jimmy Reed); 10. LAST NIGHT (Markeys); 11. WHAT I'D SAY (Ray Charles).
An essential document of this music icon, showing him as a fully-fledged Blues performer at the start of his brief career, the base from which he progressed to psychedelic works. Most rock guitarists today owe much of their style to Hendrix's innovations - rock music was never the same again. Jimi Hendrix's name continues to thrive throughout the world, in this the 30th anniversary year of his death.
|Jimi Hendrix playing and singing the blues live, on Boxing Day 1965.
In May 1966, Jimi Hendrix was discovered playing the blues in New York clubs by the then girlfriend of Keith Richard, Linda Keith. Excitedly she brought down music-business friends Andrew Loog Oldham and Seymour Stein, who passed on signing the act. Then she brought along Chas Chandler, who was about to leave The Animals. The rest is history.
By 1965, Jimi had completed stints as guitar-for-hire with the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and others. His next was with Curtis Knight, and when Curtis played live, he gave over part of the set to his prodigious new guitarist. In between Curtis numbers and 60's pop covers, showman Jimi would come forward and perform his blues. Jimi and Curtis signed a recording contract with Ed Chalpin, who made these live recordings.
Recently re-mastered from the original ¼" tapes, recorded live on a snowy Boxing Day '65 in Georges Club 20, Hackensack, New Jersey, all the songs showcasing Jimi's guitar and vocals have now been put together on one album, Drivin' South. What can be heard is Jimi's unique fluid style applied to the blues he loved and built his music on - by now a fully accomplished blues musician, he had to be persuaded by Chandler to branch out into the rock and pop arena.
Pretty much the real, raw Hendrix, this is the nearest document to what so impressed Chandler and Linda Keith a few months later, including songs he continued to perform throughout his short career like Killing Floor, Bleeding Heart and I'm A Man, and his own composition Drivin' South. Together with many tracks not heard performed by Jimi elsewhere, this album gives an essential and intriguing insight into the early years of one of the most significant artists of the last century.
With sleeve-notes by author, guitar tutor and ex-Only Ones guitarist John Perry in a 12-page booklet, this mid-price package is attractive to both those just picking up a guitar for the first time and devoted connoisseurs of Jimi Hendrix's music.
This album is now DELETED, because the Jimi Hendrix Estate's solicitors provided us with evidence of a 1973 High Court Judgement, which deemed that these recordings made by PPX Enterprises should be destroyed! Here are John Perry's informative notes, just in case you've missed out on this great album.
"Right now I'm scared. Like, soon I'll be going into another bag, a new sound, a new record, a new experience. I dunno which way that'll be, nothing will be intentional - it'll just happen."
That's Jimi, speaking during the first flush of stardom, following his arrival in England and subsequent conquest of America at Monterey - but he might just as well have been talking at the time this live album was recorded. What you hear on the DRIVING SOUTH CD is the sound of the 23-year-old Jimmy James champing at the bit, just seven months before he signed with Chas Chandler, came to England and became JIMI HENDRIX.
Hendrix was the star turn with Curtis Knight's band The Squires, a solid R&B outfit who worked the New York/New Jersey club circuit. On Boxing Day 1965 they played one of their regular venues, Georges Club 20 in Hackensack, New Jersey, with producer Ed Chalpin's tape machine rolling. This is no chance audience-recording: it's clear from Knight's patter between songs that the band know they're being recorded and Jimi plays - and sings - with all the intensity he can muster. And he's having lotsa fun…
"Hey - I'm gonna tell how ya how big and bad I am" he announces over the intro to 'I'm A Man'. With that dry, hip, understated sense of humour (too often overlooked when people recall Hendrix) he gets right inside the song's fairly leaden lyric and subverts it, with great relish. Without ever dissing the Muddy Waters/Howlin Wolf tradition (which he loved) he makes it plain that he's part of new generation of bluesmen, using self-mockery to distance himself from the standard macho blues-boasting of the lyric. Jimi was a great mimic: his imitations of Harlem drag queens and Little Richard's tantrums, cracked up his friends. There's just a hint of this audible in his articulation of the word 'suspicious', where his voice jumps up to near-falsetto.
The whole vocal approach is playful - especially noticeable next to the predictable, plodding vocals of Curtis Knight. This sort of playfulness only comes with being good. Very good. It's that extra sense of time you notice in the best players, the best sportsmen - anyone who excels. They've got time to do the job and run a commentary alongside it. Rare gift.
If Hendrix retained any lingering doubts about his voice, he always had his guitar. The second he shuts his mouth and starts playing, double-time phrases flash across the stage like lightning. It's easy to see why Chas Chandler refused to believe Hendrix wasn't already signed to a major. "What's the catch?" asked Chandler, "how could anyone this good not be under contract?"
* * *
For the main part, Jimi's blues stylings owe most to Buddy Guy, though the surprise for anyone coming new to these recordings, is just how good he is by this stage. It's easy to think that everything came together once Jimi got to England, and overlook what survives of his earlier work, but it just didn't happen that way.
As the Arthur Lee/Rosa Lee Brooks single 'My Diary' shows, Hendrix already had the subtler voicings of the Curtis Mayfield/Bobby Womack guitar style down in 1964, and by late '65 he was playing top class blues guitar like a motherfucker. There's no other word. He'd spent time touring with the Isley Brothers and Little Richard's band The Upsetters where his role was limited mostly to keeping time with the formation dance steps and sticking tight to the bass and drums as part of the rhythm section, so given a chance to cut loose on lead guitar, he goes for it - as on BB King's 'Sweet Little Angel'.
The extremely basic equipment Jimi's using (a Fender Duo-Sonic guitar plugged straight into a Fender amp of some sort, possibly a Twin) provides plenty of volume, but it's a sharp, clean volume, ideal for the blues, but entirely different from the warmth and sustain of the Marshall amps he discovered in England. His Fender amp won't feedback. There's a single note repeated several times, during Albert King's 'Travellin' To California' [0:55 and again at 1:25] that's tantalisingly close to feeding - it's right on the edge but it just won't catch. If Jimi had grounded the guitar neck on the speaker-cab it would have certainly have gone, but full-blown feedback was yet to enter his vocabulary.
He's playing without any effects (except possibly a dab of spring-reverb on the amp) and while the phrasing, and note selection are unmistakably Hendrix, his tone is just that bit closer to conventional American blues tone of the period. The inevitable influence of the Three Kings (BB, Albert and Freddy) is clear, alongside that of Buddy Guy, but there's also a touch more Chuck Berry in evidence than you'd find among any of the purist, over-30's bluesmen.
Jimi's love of Elmore James is plain from his impassioned reading of 'Bleeding Heart' while the feel and timing of the Jimmy Reed standard 'Baby What You Want Me to Do' a/k/a 'You Got Me Running' could easily be the foundation of 'Red House'. There are also preliminary whispers of what would become Hendrix's 'Talking Guitar' trick - atonal licks mimicking the rhythms and natural cadences of speech - which he brought to perfection with the Experience (check the first ten seconds of 'Still Raining, Still Dreaming' from Electric Ladyland).
Even without feedback, fuzz-boxes, wah-wah or Roger Mayer's Octavia, most of Jimi's familiar technical devices are already in place. 'Driving South' features the one-handed trills he brought with him to England - a sound that Pete Townshend borrowed to great effect on The Who's 'I Can See For Miles'. You can tell Pete got the lick from Track Records label-mate Jimi, cos while the songs distinctive unison bends are all present on Pete's 1966 demo, there's no sign at all of the trill.
'Killing Floor' is interesting. It's pitched halfway between an Albert King groove and the double-time arrangement Hendrix used to demolish Eric Clapton at the Central London Poly on the night of October 1st 1966.
The London rock scene Hendrix walked into in September 1966 was a bit like an Edwardian gentleman's club. A small world with a rigid musical and social hierarchy, where everyone knew their place - and God was an Englishman, named Clapton. At the top table sat Cream, and no one ever sat in with them. Nobody was considered good enough.
Hendrix's opening move was a straight, pre-war Kansas City cut. Jimi's supporters - the loyal ladies club of Kathy Etchingham and Linda Keith plus friends, spread the word till the grapevine buzzed with rumours about the newcomer. Then Cream invited him to jam. So, on his eight day in the country, a complete unknown, Jimi sauntered out onto Cream's stage and plugged into Clapton's amp. Clapton stood to one side not even bothering to play. He folded his arms, lit a cigarette and looked on with detached amusement. About 30 seconds into 'Killing Floor' his jaw dropped open and the old order lay in ruins.
The afternoon before the coup, Jimi was gazing laconically from his manager's office window when NME journalist Keith Altham asked him how he rated Clapton. "He is a kinda hero of mine" replied Hendrix, "except I don't really have heroes. But I can't wait to see if he's as good as he really thinks I am." Jimi went back to gazing slyly out the window…
* * *
I was interested to see what pitch the guitar was tuned to for this 1965 show. E is the norm for guitar, although after his first US tour in 1967 Jimi began tuning down half a step to E-flat (a tonality adopted by countless HM bands over the following decades). Slacker strings are less work to bend, and the lowered pitch made singing easier, placing less stress on a charming, idiosyncratic, but never especially powerful voice. "He wasn't a great singer but he had a great voice" as Steve Cropper's put it.
But if Hendrix started using E-flat circa '67, why look at a 1965 recording? Well, there's a second source of E-flat tuning. Soul bands, especially those with brass sections, traditionally played in the 'flat keys' of F, Bb, Eb, etc. to suit the horns. Great for the horn players: no problem either way for a competent keyboard player, but a nightmare for guitarists, since standard guitar tuning suits the sharp keys - G, D, A, and especially E. During his scuffling years, Jimmy may well have come across soul band guitarists tuned down to E-flat to fit in with the horns, but he's tuned to a standard E here.
Certainly Steve Cropper of Booker T and MG's knew all about open- and alternate-tunings. He showed Vasspo' tuning to Otis Redding, who took away the open-tuned guitar and returned 15 minutes later with 'Dock of The Bay' written. Cropper also knew about the soulful sound - 'churchy' is his word - obtained by dropping the bottom string of a standard-tuned guitar, down to D or even way down low to C. Pop Staples country.
Cropper and Hendrix met up and played together in Memphis, late '64, during Jimi's journeyman days. A tremendous amount of rubbish has been written about this meeting - stories of secret tapes etc. - so I asked Cropper to tell me what happened:
Steve Cropper: Well, Jimi came into Stax one day -- and somebody said 'there's this guy out the front wants to see you'. Well that used to happen once or twice a day on a regular basis, and they'd be told 'well Steve's real busy but if he has time he'll try and see you'. I don't think I was cutting anything that day but I was doing tape editing, a bunch of stuff and I completely forgot about it. Situation like that, without being rude, I'd always assume when it reached a certain point that a secretary would go out and say 'Mr. Cropper's not going to have time to see you' and boom - there you are.
So I finally came out about 5 o'clock one of the girls was still there and she said 'did you see that guy wanted to talk to you today?' And I said 'no - why, he's still hanging around?' and she said 'yeh he just walked across the street to get something to eat - hopin' that he'd get a chance to still see you.' She said 'I think he's came in from outta town - he's not a local guy' and I felt real bad, y'know, that somebody had sat there all day long, so I was hungry anyway, I went over and introduced myself, and he said 'yeh I play a little guitar, up in New York, a few places' and I said 'uhhh great, what have you played on?' and he named a few things, then come up with a Don Covay record ['Have Mercy']. I said ' You played on that !!!' - cos that was one a my favourite records - that lick that's in there, that funky little intro lick. So we ate and I said 'why don't you come over to the studio?
He didn't have a guitar, and of course he was left-handed, but he took one of mine and turned it upside down, and tried to show me this lick - upside down! - which I never did quite get … but anyway. We hung out for a bit, though we never did make any recordings or anything, like it says in those books. And then later we ran into each other a few times on the road. Next time I saw him, I was playing Monterey with Otis, and he was JIMI HENDRIX !"
He formed the Only Ones with Peter Perrett and has recently published 2 books for Simon & Schuster, "Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy - The Who's Singles" and "Exile on Main Street."