HIGH FREQUENCIES: Saving the best for last

Previously-unreleased Hendrix recordings worth the wait; Kaki King draws from a blank slate

CROPPED Album Artwork   Jimi Hendrix Copy 2
Photo credit: Courtesy Experience Hendrix

In a postcard dated October 8, 1964, guitarist Jimi Hendrix wrote to his father, “Dear Dad. Here we are in Florida, we’re going to play in Tampa tomorrow — then Miami, we’re playing all through the south — We’ll end up in Dallas — My home address is in Atlanta — I hope everyone’s ok tell Grama in Canada Hi for me. Tell Leon to be kool and to go to school. I must run now — take it easy — my address is 318 Fort St. APT. 3 Atlanta Ga. Jimmy.”

Before Hendrix went to England and returned to the U.S., a star on a meteoric rise, he lived in Atlanta, getting his chops together at the Royal Peacock on Auburn Avenue, not a mile away from his apartment just off Memorial Drive. An unknown guitarist playing the Chitlin’ Circuit, as the segregated soul and R&B scene in the South was known in the late ’50s through the ‘60s, he performed with many of the traveling musicians of the day, Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, the Tams, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Gorgeous George among them. Hendrix wasn’t some psychedelic celestial body that just fell to earth, but a pioneering musician with roots deep in the blues and the struggles of the pre-Civil Rights era.

Both Sides of the Sky, the latest Hendrix album, captures this side of the guitar virtuoso. Referred to by Experience Hendrix and Legacy Recordings as “completing the trilogy started with Valleys of Neptune and People, Hell and Angels,” Both Sides of the Sky is said to be the last of the studio recordings in a long line of posthumous releases since his death in 1970. It’s certainly the best of the trilogy.

Starting off with a reworking of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” — a song he probably jammed on more than once at the Royal Peacock — and ending with the shamanistic rhythms of the exploratory “Cherokee Mist,” Both Sides of the Sky offer a glimpse into the many facets of Hendrix’s music, from the psychedelic work he created with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding in the original Experience to his funk-inspired rave-ups with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles in the Band of Gypsys.

While a few Hendrix mainstays — “Lover Man,” “Hear My Train A Comin’,” “Stepping Stone,” and “Sweet Angel” — appear yet again on a posthumous Hendrix release, these versions offer an energy and sense of adventure consistent with the other tracks included on this offering.

Two selections culled from Hendrix’s many sessions with guitarist Stephen Stills find Hendrix acting as a sideman to the musician he befriended at the Monterey International Pop Festival. “$20 Fine” is a Stills original that would sound at home next to “Old Times Good Times” a song Hendrix contributed to on Stills’ first solo album. “Woodstock,” the well-known Joni Mitchell-penned homage to the 1969 music festival, made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on Déjà Vu, predates their recording, and features Hendrix on bass guitar. Rawer and earthier than the CSN&Y single, it — and “$20 Fine” — offer but a glimpse into the magic the two musicians created together.

A take on Guitar Slim’s “Things I Used to Do” finds Hendrix dueling with slide guitarist Johnny Winter, while another 12-bar blues, “Georgia Blues,” has Hendrix providing rhythm and lead guitar for Lonnie Youngblood behind the Augusta, Georgia native’s soulful narrative. What’s striking in these, and the majority of the compositions on Both Sides of the Sky, is you hear Hendrix playing guitar without his usual pedals and effects, nothing but his fingers bending the strings, sending notes of unadulterated truth and emotion through the amplifier.

Closing out the album are two unfinished songs, “Send My Love To Linda” and “Cherokee Mist,” the former making its first appearance on an “official” Experience Hendrix-authorized released, the latter making its second appearance on such a record, but in a drastically different form.

“Send My Love To Linda” is accepted to be a love song to ‘60s British model Linda Keith, who, at the time of her meeting Hendrix, was girlfriend to Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. A plaintive, emotion-filled song, this version, pieced together from three different takes, offers a brilliant solo that lifts it into the usual Hendrix stratosphere.

“Cherokee Mist,” as found here, is a tribal war dance accented by the unlikely pairing of Hendrix playing sitar among the guitar multi-tracks. A melding of Hendrix’s North American Indian roots and the Indian subcontinent, one wonders from where the inspiration for this hypnotic track comes, though listeners would have to go no further than the cover of his second album, Axis: Bold As Love, for a clue. At the time of its release, Hendrix was disappointed with the Vishnu-inspired cover, which portrayed him and the other two members of the Experience as the Hindu god. He had wished it portrayed his Native American roots instead. With “Cherokee Mist” is Hendrix forging a musical battle between the two cultures, or, with its descending, nuanced coda, or has he finally resolved the conflict of the cover in his mind?

That answer, and those to so many more questions raised by the legendary guitarist and his musical legacy, remain to be answered. No, his death in 1970, at 27 years of age, cut short any more conversation. All we have left are the recordings he made. While much has been said about the motives and aims of Experience Hendrix, the company that oversees Hendrix’s estate and legacy — run by Janie Hendrix, the daughter adopted by Jimi’s father, Al Hendrix, when he married his second wife in the ‘60s long after after Jimi had left home — with the release of Both Sides of the Sky, the best of the previously-unreleased recordings have been left for last.

Maybe this weekend I’ll take a six-pack over to the empty parking lot at the corner of Fort Street and Memorial Drive — all that’s left of what was once “318 Fort St. APT. 3 Atlanta Ga” — play Both Sides of the Sky on my cellphone and pop open a beer or two. Anyone care to join me?

No true masterpiece will ever be complete dept. … Atlanta has had many innovative and influential guitarists call this city home. One of them, Kaki King, returns to Atlanta Saturday night, March 10, for a show at the Ferst Center for the Arts on the Georgia Tech campus. While not readily identified as an Atlanta guitarist — she headed to New York University upon graduating The Westminster Schools here — King was born and raised in this city.

Yet it was in New York where she reclaimed the guitar — an instrument she first started playing as a four-year-old, before throwing it aside for a set of drums — and developed a percussive and finger-picking style that has set her apart from other acoustic and electric guitarists.

While her first records captured her command of the instrument and her ability to pull sounds from it unlike those before her, King's later works have found her to be much more experimental, losing herself in the rhythms and sounds of her music, not unlike the altered state of consciousness attained by Sufi practitioners. Whether or not King’s path is spiritual in nature is no matter, her practice on the guitar has certainly led her to constantly develop hidden and previously-unknown capacities, taking the listener with her on that personal journey.

For her show this weekend, King presents The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, a multi-media assault on the concert-goer’s senses that has gained praise world-wide. With flashing lights and filmed images projected behind her and off the front of her white, custom-made Ovation acoustic guitar, King leads the charge with her virtuosic guitar playing. The word “virtuoso” is not often used these days when describing a musician with somewhat of a rock ’n’ roll or pop background, yet with King, it’s deserved.

With eight albums, a number of EPs and at least two TED Talks under her belt, not to mention being the only female and the youngest guitar player included on the February, 2006, Rolling Stone list of “The New Rock Guitar Gods,” King continues to explore her relationship with the instrument. At the beginning of her 2008 Ted Talk, she tells the audience, “I was thinking about my place in the universe and about my first thought about what infinity might mean when I was a child. And I thought that if infinite time could reach forward and backward infinitely, doesn’t that mean that every point in time is really infinitely small and therefore somewhat meaningless? So, you don’t really have a place in the universe, as far as on a timeline, and nothing else does either. … Therefore every moment really is the most important moment that’s ever happened, including this moment right now. So, therefore, this music you’re about to hear is maybe the most important music you’ll ever hear in your life.” It reads somewhat pompous and pretentious, but when you watch the Youtube video, and you hear her say it, it’s obvious she does so with a nod and a wink.

Contact Tony Paris regarding upcoming gigs; noteworthy news, rumor, and innuendo; or, if you just want to say, “Hi,” at cl.highfreqs@gmail.com, as you probably know he doesn’t read messages received on his Facebook account.

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