by Rich Maloof
The new Hendrix release is out today. Valleys of Neptune is based primarily on tracks recorded though never released by Jimi back in 1969.
Jimi released just three studio albums in his lifetime, but his posthumous output has been prolific. Experience Hendrix, the company headed up by his adopted half-sister Janie, says they have material to satisfy fans for at least another decade. Here in 2010, the 40th year anniversary of Jimi’s passing will also be commemorated — or exploited, if you see it that way — by a tribute tour, the remastering of several older titles, and an all-Hendrix version of Rock Band.
Of course, if Jimi had himself completed the tracks heard on Valleys of Neptune and seen them fit for release, it would have come out in 1970 rather than forty years later. Instead, it took some studio magic to resurrect Jimi and complete some performances. For the title track, engineer Eddie Kramer synched up a recording of Jimi’s original guitar and vocals with a live version he had played with his Experience trio in 1970. For “Crying Blue Rain” and “Mr. Bad Luck,” performances from 1987 by Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding were added to the sparse original tracks. So there’s a certain Weekend at Bernie’s aspect to Neptune, much like back in 1995 when three then-surviving Beatles added tracks and released John Lennon’s “Free As A Bird.”
Anyone who loves Jimi and can never get enough should still be pretty amped up by how well Neptune captures the vibe of original Hendrix recordings. It’s nearly worth the price of admission just to hear his reading of Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love” and a stomping version of “Hear My Train A Comin’.” And it’s great that a younger generation is being exposed to, and embracing, an incredible musician who lived and died before they were a sparkle in their daddy’s pants.
Yet a nagging question remains: Would Jimi have wanted us to hear it? For all of his laidback, late-’60s looseness, Jimi Hendrix was a perfectionist — not to mention shy and famously insecure about his own performances. To us it’s like uncovering a stash of pure gold but maybe to him it would be like being caught in his underwear. As fans, we want to hear it; as fellow musicians, we owe him a second thought. What if someone went into your hard drive, found all of your rough, half-finished demos and shared them with the world? Even if they sounded as good as Valleys of Neptune, you’d probably wish you could have finished them first, on your own terms.
The Punch-In is edited by Rich Maloof, who has a long history with TrueFire as artist, educator, and producer. Rich’s body of work as a published author and Editor in Chief of Guitar magazine has been distributed and translated internationally.