Music: Jimi Hendrix's 'Valleys of Neptune'

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson



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Fans of Jimi Hendrix's unparalleled guitar wizardry have a new reason to rejoice: The new Sony/Legacy release Valleys of Neptune, which comprises 12 rare and (mostly) unreleased studio tracks, is the most exciting “find” to come from the Hendrix estate in many years. You are to be forgiven if you have been unable to keep up with the dozens upon dozens of posthumous releases — authorized and not — that have appeared since Hendrix's death in 1970. I consider myself a serious fan and even I gave up many years ago, frustrated by the uneven quality of the releases and many overlaps. In the past few years, however, the Hendrix house seems finally to have been put in order, with Jimi's sister, Janie, as a capable curator at the head of Experience Hendrix, LLC, and archivist John McDermott and Jimi Hendrix's principal engineer, Eddie Kramer, spearheading what appears, on the basis of Valleys of Neptune, to be a sensible (and sensitive) approach to getting some gems from the hundreds of hours of Hendrix studio recordings into our eager little paws.

The genesis of this particular project was some tapes recorded at London's Olympic Studios in mid-February 1969 and unearthed not too long ago by McDermott. “That was a great windfall,” comments Kramer from his L.A.-area home. “It shows the Jimi Hendrix Experience [Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding, drummer Mitch Mitchell] at their peak — this was the last set of recordings the band did together at Olympic. It's live, it's on the floor, Jimi's singing is great, the band is playing fabulously. They're prepping for what was to become the famous Albert Hall concert [February 24, 1969].” So are they rehearsals? “I wouldn't call them rehearsals exactly; it's a lot more than that. He's trying out stuff. He wanted to hear what some of the material would sound like with different arrangements. He's experimenting. It was a test.”

The year 1969 turned out to be a transitional one for Hendrix. Though the Experience would tour and record together until the end of June, Hendrix's relationship with bassist Redding was starting to unravel, which explains why on some Hendrix sessions as early as April '69, bassist Billy Cox — an old Army buddy of Hendrix's — appears instead of Redding. “In general during 1969,” Kramer offers, “Jimi was interested in trying new things. He was looking for new directions after the smashing success of Electric Ladyland [his epic 1968 double-album], and this project [Valleys of Neptune] reflects that. He played with a lot of different musicians and he also did a lot of jamming in the studio. We're lucky Jimi loved to record.”

Though Kramer's association with Hendrix goes back to Are You Experienced? in 1967, the two did not work together much during 1969. “What would happen in '69 is, he would call me, and say, ‘Hey, man, can you come up and help us out; this studio's not too together.’ So I'd jump in a cab, run uptown to wherever he was working and go help him out for a couple of days, and he'd be happy and he could keep on working with someone else. Then I had to get back to my other stuff, because during that time I was building Electric Lady Studios [for Hendrix]; I was pretty consumed with that. And I was also working as an independent engineer with Led Zeppelin and various other bands.”

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