A rare glimpse into the early days of The Jimi Hendrix Experience – just as they were about to change the world forever.
Release Date: 10th November 2023
Label: Legacy Recordings / Sony Music
Formats: CD / Vinyl / Digital
THE RETURN TO THE USA
To suggest that Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 return to his native USA was an action-packed trip would be to understate things somewhat.
He’d accompanied former Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler to London in September 1966 after Chandler had spotted him playing in New York’s Café Wha? Things were happening fast in London at the time and Chandler was quick to show off his discovery to a cognoscenti that included the likes of Paul McCartney, Brian Jones, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck; bassist Noel Redding and Drummer Mitch Mitchell were signed up and The Jimi Hendrix Experience was born. Hit singles – Hey Joe, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary – were quick to hit the shops and the charts and, in May 1967, a debut album, the era-defining Are You Experienced made its UK appearance. Jimi Hendrix was a star, at least on these shores. It’s a story that will be familiar to just about anyone who bothers to browse these pages.
Stateside, it was a different matter. None of those early singles troubled the Billboard chart and the release of Are You Experienced was held back, at least for the time being. But, when Paul McCartney became aware of a monstrous and new kind of event to be held at The Monterey County Fairgrounds in Southern California over the weekend of June 16th– 18th, 1967, he had no hesitation in recommending The Jimi Hendrix Experience to the organisers of the event. History, vinyl and celluloid all stand testimony to the storm generated by Jimi and his band at the first (and so far only) Monterey International Pop Festival.
After the triumph of their Monterey appearance, the Experience stuck around in the US and it wasn’t all a bed of roses – at least at first. After their festival appearance, they embarked on an ill-advised tour, opening for The Monkees and it’s fair to say that Hendrix’s version of sex-infused cosmic blues didn’t go down too well with The Monkees’ audience of screaming primary school-aged girls. The Experience lasted for nine shows on the tour, before things came to a head after a show at Forest Lawns, New York, when Hendrix unplugged his guitar and walked off the tour. Fortunately, The Experience hooked up with John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas – a co-proprietor of the Monterey event, who invited them to share the bill at the Mamas & Papas’ forthcoming Hollywood Bowl concert and, on 18th August, Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell strode out onto the Hollywood Bowl stage to open a bill that, as well as The Mamas and the Papas, also included Scott McKenzie – he of “If you’re going to San Francisco…” fame.
And, for the first time ever, the full 40 minutes of The Jimi Hendrix Experience set performed that evening is presented here. Surprisingly, this performance has never before seen light of day, even in bootleg form, and this release is a real time capsule.
For a start, it captures The Jimi Hendrix Experience on one of the last occasions when they were still relatively unknown. Five days after this show, Are You Experienced finally received its American release, and things would never be the same again. This show catches The Experience at the very point at which they were about to change the world forever.
Of course, much of the material included in the band’s 10-song set will be entirely familiar to even the least-seasoned of modern-day Hendrix watchers; there’s a smattering of hits, a couple of blues work-outs, the obligatory rework of Dylan and a couple of novel cover versions. But, to a 1967 audience more intent on enjoying the hippy musings of Scott McKenzie and the hymn-like tight harmonies of The Mamas and the Papas, it’s clear that Hendrix’s fare was well off the scale. The audience’s reaction to The Experience’s bombast is decidedly muted but it’s great to hear the band work their socks off to make an impression and, by the end of their set, you can sense that they’ve made a lot of progress.
It’s DJ Robert Morgan that gets the show on the road, asking the audience if they’re “…Ready for a groovy night?” before announcing “The Jimi Hendrix Experience!” Jimi returns the compliment by quipping: “We don’t mind if you laugh…as long as you laugh in key,” before launching into a blistering take on The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s a song that Jimi and the band had performed before, most notably at London’s Saville Theatre on 4th June – just three days after the Beatles had released the song – and here, it seems likely that Jimi had included the song to settle an unfamiliar audience by giving them something they know. It’s evident from the outset that the sound quality of the recording is good, if dated, and the band sound confident and tight.
Jimi introduces Killing Floor – “a little thing by Howlin’ Wolf” and it’s good to hear the band play the entire song rather than the snippets that would crop up frequently throughout Jimi’s career. It’s fast, furious and a great example of what The Experience were rapidly becoming. Jimi forgets the lyrics a couple of times during The Wind Cries Mary, but it’s otherwise a sublime version and Jimi’s guitar solo is true, virtually note-for-note, to the recorded version. And the same can be said for Foxy Lady – it’s sensational and dramatic and it’s good to hear a live version of the song that excludes some of the pyrotechnic excesses that were to become a feature of later Hendrix live performances. Noel’s whispered “Foxy..” backing vocals are a bit embarrassing though…
The band are working hard by this stage, and it’s clear, too, that they’re well and truly into it. And all that effort reaps its reward by the end of Catfish Blues, when it seems that the audience are, at last, starting to sit up and take notice. Hendrix delivers his best vocal on the album – he really inhabits the characters in the song – and the band really cook on the extended instrumental passages. I’m not sure whether Mitch’s lengthy drum solo really fits, or whether it was really necessary – but maybe that’s just me viewing things from a 2023 perspective. It was probably very exciting at the time…
Fire, a track from the soon-to-be-released Are You Experienced is slotted into the set, in response to an audience request; it’s a bit loose, and Noel’s backing vocals are truly dreadful, but it’s exciting, nonetheless, before the pace is slowed for a mellow version of Like a Rolling Stone. As it was at Monterey, it’s something of a centre-piece to the set; Hendrix delivers a passionate vocal and, of course, it paved the way for THE definitive Dylan cover version, when Hendrix released his take on All Along the Watchtower just 14 months after this show.
It’s getting close to the end now, so why not throw in another (UK) hit? Purple Haze is stomping, frantic, and the band are really up for it. Mitch covers every inch of his kit, Hendrix reminds us exactly what it was that made us all sit up and take notice in the first place, and it sounds so FRESH! Oh yes – and Jimi really does sing “’Scuse me, while I kiss this guy” here!
Noel warns the audience that “It’s going to be a bit loud this one” as the band prepare to fire their parting shot. Wild Thing was a regular feature of the Experience live experience and the version here is a corker. Jimi always did this song better than The Troggs could ever manage, infusing the song with more volume, more menace, more raw sexual energy, and with guitar solos that couldn’t, ever, be mistaken for anyone else’s. It all ends in a delirious cacophony of feedback and wild drum flurries, before the Experience head for the dressing room and leave their new audience to the care of Scott McKenzie. I wonder how long it took that audience to realise what they’d been witness to… Live at the Hollywood Bowl is a fascinating time capsule – a welcome and unexpected peak into a world that was just about to change forever. If you’re a Hendrix fan, this is essential listening.
MONTEREY POP TO THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL
Below, you can watch Monterey Pop To The Hollywood Bowl. This is a new mini-documentary which details Jimi Hendrix’s tumultuous journey upon his return to the US in June 1967, through August of that year. Featuring new interviews from The Mamas & The Papas vocalist Michelle Phillips, longtime Paul McCartney guitarist Brian Ray and others, the impact of Hendrix’s Hollywood Bowl performance by eye witnesses is discussed, and is placed in historic context.