Jimi Hendrix released just three studio albums in his brief career, yet even 43 years after his death, his influence remains enormous. Are You Experienced (1967), Axis: Bold as Love (1967), and Electric Ladyland (1968) were credited to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which also included Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums). As the lengthy list of credits on Ladyland shows though, Hendrix’s musical vision was becoming much more expansive as time went on. The trio format could hardly do justice to the music he was creating. With talk of collaborations between Miles Davis and other luminaries, it was clear he was just getting started when he passed in 1970. The new 12-song compilation People, Hell, and Angels reflects the directions Hendrix was exploring in his final full year on this planet.
Much like the previous release, Valleys of Neptune (2010), People, Hell, and Angels has been assembled with the full cooperation and endorsement of the Hendrix estate. Where Valleys presented us with the final unreleased recordings of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, People, Hell, and Angels goes even further. Most of the tracks were recorded in 1969, with various “post-Experience” ensembles. The set offers some fascinating clues as to where the unbridled creativity of Hendrix was leading him.
“Earth Blues” is the opener, and is an excellent example of what makes this such an important album. Hendrix recorded the track in November 1969 with Buddy Miles (drums) Billy Cox (bass), a.k.a. the Band of Gypsys. Fans may know “Earth Blues” from Rainbow Bridge (1971), but this is a completely different take. The Rainbow version is a prime example of what Hendrix fans took such offense to with the early posthumous releases. That recording included overdubbed backing vocals from the Ronettes (!), as well as additional guitar overdubs from Hendrix himself. Mitchell also replaced the original drum parts recorded by Miles with his own. This is a completely different track, and a showcase for the funk that he was beginning to incorporate into his music.
The focus on maintaining the integrity of the tracks is evident throughout the set. “Somewhere” was recorded in New York in 1968, as a bit of an experiment. Bass duties are handled by one Stephen Stills, with Miles back at the drum chair. The song was never released during Hendrix’s lifetime, but did appear on the controversial release Crash Landing (1975), and in another version on the Jimi Hendrix Experience box set (2000). This is a completely different take from either of those, and sounds fantastic.
One of the finest blues workouts on Electric Ladyland was “Hear My Train A Comin’.” This blistering side was recorded with Miles and Cox in May 1969. On it, Hendrix’s solo just roars with menace. “Bleeding Heart” hails from that same session, and is another wonder. This Elmore James composition was one that Hendrix found elusive to nail down, and like so many others, it remained in the can for decades. A version of the song with the Experience did see the light of day on Valleys of Neptune; this one was recorded three weeks prior to the version heard there.
Of the 12 cuts, “Let Me Love You” is the tour de force. The song finds Hendrix looking back at his days as an anonymous guitar player with the likes of the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. It sounds like the expanded six-piece band was having one hell of a time at the Clinton Recording Studios the night of March 18, 1969. “Let Me Love You” is basically Hendrix offering his services to pal Lonnie Youngblood, who sings and blows sax with abandon. Although this is a Youngblood tune, Hendrix’s guitar invariably makes it his own. The party atmosphere is contagious, and while the song would not have fit on any of Hendrix’s albums, it sounds as if he is having the time of his life.