" West Coast Seattle Boy Four CDs and one DVD "
Blueswax Rating 7
Exhaustive, But Never Exhausting
West Coast Seattle Boy is an ambitious collection mostly of previously unreleased Hendrix recordings on four CDs and one DVD. Be ready for overload, but no repetition. This exhaustive collection portrays Hendrix's growth, insatiable thirst to rise above the normal, and his disdain for being bored, and/or kept in a box, which is brought out best on the extremely well-done DVD with Bootsy Collins speaking as Hendrix.
The first disc is all about Jimi's early on sideman work with heavyweights like the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Don Covay, and King Curtis, as well as lesser known artists Rosa Lee Brooks, Frank Howard, Ray Sharpe, Jimmy Norman, and Billy Lamont.
While some of the recordings here are not well recorded, the standout tracks include Don Covay's 1964 Cashbox number one R&B hit, "Mercy, Mercy;" Little Richard's 1965 "Dancing All Around the World;" The Isley Brothers' funky "Move Over and Let Me Dance," also recorded in 1965; and King Curtis' "Instant Groove" listed as being recorded in 1969 [See Note below]. While most of these tracks are currently commercially available, they are difficult to obtain, making this disc a nice addition to this box.
The second disc of all previous and/or alternate versions is taken from 1967-68 sessions with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Unlike the first CD, these tracks sound remarkably clear and sparkling remixes recently re-engineered by Eddie Kramer who originally worked with Hendrix on the same recordings. An instrumental version of "Are You Experienced" shows the beginnings of the mind-bending song. I love it! There's a hip live rendition of "The Wind Cries Mary" from Stockholm, Sweden, that's sweet. Two other instrumentals, "Cat Talking to Me" and "Little One," feature Dave Mason on sitar. Remember, this was the 1960s. I could have done without six tunes that were recorded in Jimi's hotel room in New York City, two with his friend Paul Caruso on harp and vocals. These hotel tracks sound awful and do little to enhance the breadth of this box-set endeavor. I see these tracks as filler, but I am certain that the Jimi fanatics will approve of these inclusions.
Disc three covers 1968 and '69 and portrays Jimi in a more exploratory direction. Here Hendrix works with different musicians like Traffic's Chris Wood, drummer Buddy Miles, and guitarist/vocalist Larry Lee. Additionally, the liners mention that it is perhaps Lee Michaels' B3 organ on "Hear My Freedom," but that could not be certified. I did dig their take of Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog Blues" with Chris Wood's sax, and a very soulful tune "Mastermind" with Larry Lee's vocals, a much better versions than at Woodstock.
The standout out on this disc is "Young/Hendrix" featuring jazz organist Larry Young, who passed in a hospital in 1978 from untreated pneumonia. Buddy Miles is on drums and an un-credited bass player that according to the liners was probably the great Dave Holland on electric bass. This lengthy track clocks in at more than twenty minutes. It has been issued previously but was edited down to about ten minutes on the Nine to the Universe recording. It is here that we hear Jimi pushing his limits and lengthening his reach into a jazzier zone in what could easily be considered the beginnings of jazz-rock.
Let us not forget that it was around this same era that Miles Davis was experimenting with similar forms of jazz-rock that later evolved into the fusion explosion. Davis alumni John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and this same organist Larry Young were all members of Miles' late 1960s and early '70s electric bands. All of these fine artists (except for Young) stepped out with their own bands and gathered vast amounts of notoriety and popularity.
Disc four covers 1969 and 70, starting with a 1969 Fillmore East live rendition of "Stone Free" which is hair-raising. Two other studio instrumentals merit additional mention. "Burning Desire," much like disc two's "Are You Experienced," demonstrates the evolution of this classic song, and "All Gods Children" is ear catching as well. The alternate of "Freedom" is also an excellent addition that must have made for a hard decision when it was originally left on the cutting room floor. The live version of "Red House" recorded in Berkeley, California, in 1970 with Billy Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell's drums had been a staple and show-stopper of Hendrix' performances. It is also a welcomed gem here. The appropriate closing song is titled "Suddenly November Morning" which according to the liner notes is an apparent footnote to Jimi's sudden and unexpected passing.
I've saved the best for last. The ninety-minute DVD is excellent. Most of Jimi's words are read by Bootsy Collins, plus there are interviews with Hendrix. Some of Collins' spoken words are taken from postcards and letters sent from the road to his dad and family. I learned a lot from this DVD. For example, it describes how Animals bassist Chas Chandler discovered and developed Hendrix into what he became. Jimi speaks about Dylan's out-of-tune vocals but also talks about how important Dylan's words were. Hilariously, Jimi calls the Monkees "plastic Beatles." He left Little Richard's band over money disputes, and he talks about Paul McCartney getting him the Monterey Festival gig.
This video really gives us all a far better understanding of Jimi Hendrix, telling us how bored he was being a sideman, how restless he was to breakout on his own, and how he was always thinking about the next new thing, not the past. Hendrix was definitely "out there," but he certainly knew what he wanted from his music. He was an artist that was never satisfied with the "status quo" in his playing, constantly evolving, and a bit controversial. In a scene from a British TV show with Lulu, the band starts with "Hey Joe." Midway Jimi calls it crap and switches into "Sunshine of Your Love" offering kudos to Clapton, Bruce, and Baker. Hendrix also spoke about not living long and disliked the prospect of becoming eighty years old.
Near the end of the video, he talks about playing at his own funeral, tells us how'd he probably be busted at such a life ending celebration, and goes on to say that he'd want jam with Miles Davis as well which brings us back full circle to that previously mentioned jazz/rock tune with Larry Young. We'll never know to what direction Jimi's music would have led him and us, but I can safely say he would have been constantly evolving and moving forward.
Last, but not least, the box packaging is top notch with dozens of great photographs. West Coast Seattle Boy is not only an in-depth portrayal of Hendrix's music, it's also a deep look into to his words, eyes, and ears. Enjoy!
Note: After writing this I received an e-mail from bass player Jerry Jemmott about playing with King Curtis:
"I believe this was my first session with King Curtis after I quit his band in August when he recorded "Memphis Soul Stew" without me and used the Memphis cats that included Tommy Cogbil on bass. Kinda like payback! This had to be sometime around November of 1967 (not 1969 as the liner notes indicate) after Lionel Hampton fired me, and I decided I was going to stay in New York and get into the studio recordings. That's when I got the call from Curtis to just make King Curtis records, plus I wouldn't have to tour with him, so I could stay on the scene in New York City."
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com