Years ago I read a magazine article where someone involved with maintaining the Hendrix legacy claimed to have around 300 hours of unreleased material – demos, studio jams and live recordings – stored in a bank vault in Manhattan. Fifty years on from its original release, and there’s certainly a more lengthy article to be written about how ‘Electric Ladyland’ was recorded and about Jimi Hendrix, a performer who seems to gain in actual notoriety with the passing of the years, an increasingly mysterious figure among the rock pioneers of the late 60s.
A lot of this revolves around the actual quality of his music. No oldies radio show is complete without ‘Purple Haze’ or maybe ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, and there are several tracks on ‘Electric Ladyland’ that a lot of people would recognise, although for the most part you’ve probably never heard more than half of it unless you are a present day Hendrix enthusiast.
Expanded from its original 16 tracks to 37, ‘Electric Ladyland’ seems like a colossal monument to a highly original talent, steeped as it is in the experimentalism of five decades previously. It’s easy to forget that Hendrix was as big a star as Prince or perhaps even Lennon in his day, selling millions of albums and reputedly the world’s highest paid musician in 1969. Nowadays he’s probably best remembered for practically eating his guitar and burning its remains at the Isle Of Wight festival in 1970, so there is an element of surprise in hearing exactly what his third album consists of.
Yes, there are the virulent proto-funk guitar freakouts such as ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and ‘Crosstown Traffic’, but there are also ballads like ‘Little Miss Strange’ and ‘Long Hot Summer Night’ and two lengthy improvisations – ‘Voodoo Chile’ and ‘1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) that are both very much of their time and a fascinating reminder of the boundary pushing recording techniques that Hendrix was at the forefront of, along with his regular Experience sidemen and a supporting cast of guest performers that is too lengthy to go into here (including Pink Floyd’s Dave Mason and Brian Jones).
On top of the remastered 16 tracks of the original album there are also a number of demo tracks including no less than five versions of ‘Long Hot Summer Night’ – Hendrix was something of a perfectionist in the studio – and 9 live tracks recorded at the Hollywood Bowl including a cover of Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’. It’s a lot for even the most committed Hendrix fan, but ‘Electric Ladyland’ deserves its monument. It’s certainly far more than just a historical curio.