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- Posted on Jan 27th 2010 5:00PM by Dan Reilly
Now that you have the opportunity to hear the exclusive premiere of the title track before the album is released on Mar. 9, read about Hendrix's legal and touring struggles, his decision to break up the Experience and how he progressed his craft to new heights in the studio.
How did the 'Valleys of Neptune' album come about?
These were a series of recordings that Jimi made that came at a particular time in his career. In the aftermath of 'Electric Ladyland,' his third record, he made a series of recordings with the original Experience, and when they effectively stopped working as a three-man recording unit, he brought in Billy Cox -- this album captures that transition. It's not his last recordings, it's not the album that he was on his way to the record company with when he was taken from us. We don't want to overdramatize it. It's just that this is that missing period of time between the third record and 'First Rays of the New Rising Sun,' which are the recordings he made in the summer of 1970 before his death.
What were Jimi's intentions for the material that's coming out 'Valleys'?
Well, the interesting thing with Jimi is that unlike his contemporaries at that time, he owned his own master recordings and didn't have to record at his record company's studio like, for example, the Beatles did. As he became more successful and the demands on his schedule were such, the studio became a place to write and develop material. As we saw with 'First Rays,' what he would do is look at particular recordings and say, "Well, I can overdub this. I can make a change here." That was his work approach: to continue to tinker and refine and keep going back with fresh ears. With [the song] 'Valleys of Neptune,' even after the version we put on the record, he was still thinking and considering ways of improving that song prior to his death. He had this ceaseless creative spirit. We certainly don't want to take the position where we're thinking for him. It's a snapshot, a window into that period without necessarily saying what Jimi was thinking.
Why did he rerecord his earlier songs like 'Fire,' 'Red House' and 'Stone Free'?
There are different reasons for each. 'Stone Free' was a song which now we know to be one of the signature songs for Jimi, but at the time it was only a b-side to 'Hey Joe' outside the United States. By 1969, he was the most popular and profitable touring artist in rock and he was at the peak of his game, and it was a song he had put back into the set list. He felt that the original, which was the first song he ever wrote for the Experience, was recorded very quickly in 1966, and I think he felt he could do it justice by having more time and being able to develop and flesh out the song. He did it twice in '69: once with the original Experience, and he wasn't satisfied, and then he had Billy Cox do it and that's the version that's on this record. It didn't come out, I surmise, because that summer Reprise put it out on the compilation, 'Smash Hits.'
With 'Fire' and 'Red House,' we were lucky in that he used the studio as a place to refine his material. Those were the 1969 live arrangements and those sessions caught the guys developing how they would play these songs live. The difference in 'Red House' is great because you hear the extended version of the song as he did it with the slow passage where he would tap the neck and do all kinds of cool things in the breakdown. It shows that it wasn't just "plug it in and jump onstage." Jimi had a plan and took his music very seriously.
Jimi had been performing 'Hear My Train a Comin' live for years. Why hadn't he recorded it in the studio?
Well, they tried. They were certainly trying in '69 to get it and this was an important song for Jimi. It was still a song that hadn't been commercially issued and for him it was about capturing it the right way. When you listen to it on this album, you get an idea that he really want to capture that raw blues feel they brought to it when they performed it live. The playing is really spectacular and he was able to capture the emotion of the song, which made it such a great concert staple. He's singing really passionately and Mitch and Noel know the song very well from having played it onstage. It's a great take. One of the highlights of the record, in my opinion.
With the record in general, how do you see it as a progression from 'Electric Ladyland'?
It fits nicely to help document that growth. It's hard to believe that from 'Electric Ladyland,' October '68 to December '69 he was doing 'Machine Gun.' We break his career down now in days and weeks. His music took a big quantum leap at that time in terms of his playing and the songs he was doing.
The addition of Billy Cox can be easily heard with Band of Gypsys but what difference did it make for Jimi in the studio?
Well, it changed a lot of things because the Experience had become such an enormous international act. With the pressure and the stress, the ability for Hendrix and Redding to work together cohesively had kind of come to an end. Jimi, as far back as 'Electric Ladyland,' had started to play a lot of the bass parts himself. He had a definitive idea of what he wanted. Billy came in as an old friend and his sole agenda was to help. There was no stress. Musically, Billy brought a sophistication to his playing, particularly from an R&B and blues root, that really meshed well with Mitch. Jimi could've had his choice of any bass player, but he knew he needed somebody who would at least listen and understand and be confident enough in his own playing to just do what he asked.
This was a tumultuous time for Jimi. Aside from the Experience breaking up, what else was going on in his life?
What was difficult was that when he became successful, he had people from his past looking for money and trying to chase after him. They were challenging his contract with [managers] Chas Chandler and Michael Jeffrey, and it drew down on the strength and the stamina that he had. Touring wasn't nearly as sophisticated as it is today. FM radio had just started and embraced Jimi -- he was considered too hard for AM radio -- so when there was an opportunity to play [somewhere] that had embraced his music, they got in the station wagon and went. That beat him up because it was hard to maintain that pace and then come back into the studio and to try to do the kind of things that Jimi wanted to do. He viewed his success as something that validated his music, not as something that was fleeting so he had to run around because this thing might end tomorrow. That wasn't always the thinking shared by those around him.
With your position of trying to preserve and protect Jimi's legacy, how did you and Experience Hendrix react to his former roadie's claims that he was murdered by Michael Jeffrey?
Oh, you know, anything you say about it only gives credibility to something that deserves none. The less said, the better. Anything surrounded by a project of some sort, you [have to] wonder.