Perhaps emboldened by the estates of Elvis, Michael Jackson, Jim Morrison and Tupac Shakur, the family of Jimi Hendrix are big on posthumous releases. Whether it’s ‘songs from the vault’, ‘remasters’ or ‘lost recordings’, you can bet that there’s a way to market it, and that’s particularly true of psychedelic rock’s most beloved left-handed axe-slinger. Valleys Of Neptune, which dropped like manna from heaven for Hendrix-o-philes late last year, is the eleventh studio release from a man who died with only three completed albums under his belt. But here’s the rub; it’s really very good. You’ll have to have heard the original versions of songs like ‘Stone Free’ to appreciate the difference, but the three years behind a studio desk between writing the song in 1966 and re-recording it in ’69 clearly had a profound effect on Hendrix. He’s listed here as the producer as well as the songwriter, unlike the original sessions, which were primarily handled by Chas Chandler of The Animals. I know this because I still buy records. People stare at me like I’m from another planet when I do this.
So why should you hear this particular version of a relatively benign Hendrix cut, apart from the fact that it was rumoured to be the first song Jimi ever wrote? Because it sounds gorgeous. But more importantly, it has a really interesting release history. This song was first offered up as a B-side to ‘Hey Joe’, and three years later it became it’s own single with ‘If 6 was 9’ as it’s other half. Most importantly, it was absent from Hendrix’s debut album Are You Experienced? until as recently as the 1993 Alan Douglas edition. That means that although this song was put out in various incarnations, it was a bit of a bastard child. But by all accounts it was a live favourite; indeed it was his frequently extended jams on the track in London performances that apparently inspired Hendrix to head back to the studio and re-do the song you are about to hear. There it stayed for about forty years until someone (probably his Dad) decided it was time for it to see the light of day, or for him to buy a new ride-on mower.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Stone Free (1966 Original)’
But back to the song at hand. If you are a drummer, you will have a religious awakening when you hear how crisp Mitch Mitchell’s beats sound this time around. The man was always a dynamo, but my biggest sore spot was that the production values of the day never really captured his fiery rolls as well as they could have, that is until Valleys Of Neptune. Harmonically, there’s a lot more blues jam than psych rock happening in this version, with Hendrix taking some extended forays into soloing, far less restrained than he was the first time around. Altogether, it sounds like an almost entirely new song. There’s none of that trademark cowbell slugging along, Hendrix leaps from phrase to phrase with the agility of someone who’s been playing the thing for so long live that he could do it in his sleep, and the backing vocals are brought up in the mix properly for the first time. All of this is very interesting if you’re at least remotely curious as to how the finished product ends up being filtered into your earbuds, particularly in the case of rock legends. So while someone in the Hendrix family got a new home cinema system installed, I’m glad that this batch of recordings finally left the crypt. Even in guitar heaven, Hendrix is still changing shit up. And that’s just the way I like it.
Jimi Hendrix – ‘Stone Free (1969 Re-Recording)’
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