There were many factors that contributed to his swift success in this country. His English manager, Chas Chandler, was well-placed to help Hendrix put a sensational band together and secure a recording contract. His early live shows were like a bomb exploding in the heart of "swinging" London, and word of mouth among the tightly-knit English guitar-hero fraternity - including Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton - was quickly converted into supportive press coverage. And when Hendrix first appeared on the British TV shows Ready Steady Co! and Top Of The Pops singing "Hey Joe" in December 1966, the impact was instant and nationwide.
But one piece of the jigsaw, which has often gone unremarked, was the role of BBC radio, the state-owned, publicly-financed national broadcaster, in promoting, and more especially nurturing, such a radical talent.
|Radio Caroline (1960's Pirate Radio Station)|
But there were two factors which nevertheless enabled the BBC to become a key player in the development of British rock in the 19605 and, quite by accident, to build up a recorded archive from that era which is as priceless as it is unique.
One was the existence within the BBC of a small but dedicated cabal of rock enthusiasts, including DJs John Peel, Alexis Korner and Tommy Vance, producers Bernie Andrews, Jeff Griffin and John Walters and engineers such as Pete Ritzema and Bob Conduct, who actively sought out and endorsed all that was boldest and newest in contemporary music.
The acts they championed were frequently ahead of popular taste, the music they promoted on shows such as Saturday Club and Top Gear may not have been to the liking of the BBC suits. But it was part of the corporation's public service remit to make provision for music across the spectrum, and these programmes clearly met a need that was not being catered for elsewhere.
The other factor was the BBC's longstanding practice of recording musicians "in session", a procedure which falls half-way between making a "proper" studio recording and playing live, and which remains part of the fabric of music broadcasting in Britain to this day.
|Pirate Radio DJ's|
Bizarre as the idea now seems, in those days, playing records on the radio was perceived as a threat to the livelihood of working musicians. Not only did it mean that the radio station did not have to hire live musicians to play on its programmes, it was also widely believed that playing records on the radio too.
Thus was born the concept of needletime, which referred to the strictly limited number of hours of music on record which the BBC (and other broadcasters) were allowed to play per day. It was allocated by a rights-negotiating company called Phonograph Performance Limited (PPL) representing the record companies, who had an agreement with the MU as to how many hours broadcasters were entitled to have. To give an idea of how limiting this was, when the newly-formed Radios i and 2 first went on the air in 1967, the two stations were allowed just seven hours of needletime between them, per day. Incredibly, the needletime system was not abandoned until 1988.
In order to circumvent this situation, the BBC would record its own sessions; or in other words hire musicians to come in to its own studios and quickly record a batch of songs which could then be played on the radio (albeit only twice) without using up precious needletime. Most of these sessions were simply an expedient way of gaining access to the popular jazz, swing or light orchestral music of the day, but in the hands of the rock specialists they quickly became a means of discovering and exposing new talent. As far as John Peel was concerned, the brief of his programme Top Gear, was "to look beyond the horizons of pop," and the session gave him the perfect tool for doing just that.
Often rock artists would record a BBC session before they had recorded their first album, and sometimes even before they had signed a recording contract. Hendrix's first two sessions for Saturday Club, recorded on February 13, 1967 and March 28,1967, both took place before he had finished recording Are You Experienced, and for him and other future superstars such as Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie and Genesis, a BBC session was the first chance of exposing tracks other than hit singles to a mass audience.
But although a session at the BBC was an important step to take, it was not a place where a performance had to be cast in stone. Artists were encouraged to regard the session as an opportunity either to try out new songs, or rework old material in fresh and surprising ways, or simply to have a bit of fun. The best sessions, in other words, were those that brought a sense of occasion or were in some other way unique to that specific programme. As Ken Garner wrote in his book In Session Tonight (BBC Books, 1993): "Whatever it is, when you tune in and catch a new session, somewhere deep in the back of your mind, you know you are hearing something extraordinary; something you would not otherwise have heard were it not for the BBC, Radio 1 and DJs like John Peel."
The recording of these sessions was, of necessity, a quick, low-budget affair. At the height of its music recording activity in the 1960's and early 1970's, the BBC had fourteen studios at its disposal, most of which were converted theatres or cinemas. The Playhouse Theatre in Charing Cross where the Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded at least one of their Top Gear sessions (October 6, 1967), has since been refurbished and has become a fully functioning West End theatre again. The Camden Theatre in Camden Town is now an established live venue called the Music Machine. The most famous BBC recording facility, and the only one still in use for that purpose today is Maida Vale, a purpose built rock recording studio in North West London.
|John Peel On The Deck Of Galaxy (Radio London)|
"We used to record a backing track, in mono," recalls former engineer Bob Conduct, "and that track maybe didn't have vocals or a guitar solo or whatever. Then you'd play the track back to the band, usually via very small communications headphones - high quality cans just didn't exist - and you couldn't vary the mix in any way at all, either for the band or for yourself. That was also copied onto a second tape and mixed live with whatever the band were adding to it which might be a first layer of backing vocals and a keyboard overdub. There was no chance to go back and alter the mix so you simply had to get it right in the first place. That process could happen up to a maximum of three times, after which you lost quality enormously."
|The Jimi Hendrix Experience|
It is that never-to-be-repeated combination of youthful bonhomie and carefree sense of adventure which defines the special magic of the Jimi Hendrix Experience BBC Sessions which have been collected in their entirety for the first time on this album.
|L-R: Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding|
"It's not that wonderful," recalls engineer Pete Ritzema of the recording. "But it is one of those legendary things; Stevie Wonder did jam with Jimi Hendrix and it's there on tape."
Given that such connections often happened, perhaps it is not surprising that rumours have long abounded that the back-up vocals on "Day Tripper," a barnstorming version of the Beatles song recorded for a later Peel session, were sung by John Lennon. In fact it was Redding, rising to the occasion with his best Lennon impersonation. In that same session Hendrix came up with a jingle for Radio 1. Making it up on the spot, he responded by singing, in a giggly drawl, "Radio 1 you stole my gal but I love you just the same," surely the most off-the-wall station ident in the history of broadcasting.
It wasn't all plain sailing, however. When Hendrix turned up to do his first BBC session for Saturday Club the group was allocated S2, a tiny studio in the Broadcasting House sub-basement, three floors below street level. Producer Bill Bebb was aghast at the volume - "We could hear Jimi through the soundproof glass, and we could see the glass moving," he said - and he remembers fielding a complaint from the Concert Hall two floors above where a string quartet performance going out live on Radio 3 was being interrupted by the faint but unmistakable sound of Hendrix's guitar.
But along with the larking around and occasional volume crisis, the BBC Sessions also coaxed vintage performances of many Hendrix classics - "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady," "Spanish Castle Magic" and "Stone Free" - alongside some blistering, off-the-cuff workouts of blues standards such as Muddy Waters' "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" - featuring BBC presenter Alexis Korner on slide guitar - and Howlin' Wolfs "Killing Floor" taken at Hendrix's preferred breakneck pace.
Four tracks in particular stand out as an absolutely essential part of Hendrix's recorded legacy. "Drivin' South," a hefty instrumental groove, conjures astonishing performances from both Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell, while "Wait Until Tomorrow" and "The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp" (with its neat new ending) are both exceptional performances of songs which the Experience hardly ever played live.
While Hendrix's recordings for BBC radio make up an essential alternative portfolio of his best work, the legacy of his many appearances on BBC TV were not, generally speaking, of such intrinsic value. Often, as on programmes such as Top Of The Pops, he would either sing live vocals over a backing track or else mime to the record, and these appearances were nearly always to promote his latest single. There were, however, live performances of different material, such as the occasion on the Dusty Springfield Show when he sang an endearing duet with Dusty Springfield of the Charlie & Inez Foxx song "Mockingbird." Sadly this has been lost, along with recordings of many other TV appearances which have either been wiped, stolen or in some other way gone missing over the years.
But not everything has disappeared, and as a bonus, BBC Sessions also includes some of Hendrix's most memorable appearances on BBC TV. One is a version of "Manic Depression" played completely live on Late Night Line-Up, an arts discussion programme which had little, if anything, to do with high-voltage rock'n'roll.
"It was recorded in Studio B," recalls the show's producer Michael Appleton, "which was basically a studio that was built for the continuity announcers to sit in and say their links between programmes. It was basically made for one person and a camera and a vase of flowers. When Jimi came in, we did the session and it filtered in from Floor 4 all the way through to the ground floor, and there were complaints about the sound in the studio directly below us."
|Jimi with Lulu|
The show was being broadcast absolutely live and the producer and floor manager were growing increasingly agitated when, eventually, the first verse of "Hey Joe" emerged from the melee and the song settled into recognisable shape. Hendrix was in peak form, even tuning up his bottom E string on one of the verse turnarounds and giving Mitchell a wink of cheerful disbelief at his own audacity.
Then he suddenly abandoned the song altogether and announced that the band were instead going to play a tribute to Cream, who had recently decided to split up. The Experience launched into an unscripted instrumental version of "Sunshine Of Your Love" while behind the scenes pandemonium broke out, as the production team saw their carefully-planned and timed-to-the-second schedule spiralling out of control. The last thing you can hear on "Sunshine Of Your Love" is Hendrix calling out "We're being put off the air..." the perfect end to one of the most fondly-remembered live television appearances in the history of rock'n'roll.
Jimi Hendrix was a musician who changed the face of rock'n'roll, but he was also a personality who left his mark wherever he went. As well as offering many glorious insights into his music, The Jimi Hendrix Experience: BBC Sessions, more than any other Hendrix collection, gives you a sense of the man and his group as they really were during that first, heady flush of success, breaking new ground on a daily basis and enjoying every minute of it. [written by David Sinclair. 1998]
This set was compiled from the true mono BBC masters and not the poor fake stereo tape dubs used for "Radio 1" and "
BBC Sessions". The songs have been edited together to flow straight through like a radio broadcast or session tape. The extra session material included on "BBC Sessions" has been excluded, however, this bootleg is more complete than "Radio One". This set was designed for audiophiles, but even the casual listener will notice an improvement over the official releases. There was no compression or noise reduction added in the remastering process, however my source for this bootleg was presented in MP3 format (320kps), and so there is some compression. If anyone has a FLAC copy of this bootleg I'd love to hear from you. Full album artwork and associated photos are included (with choice photos of John Peel taken from his Auto-Biography entitled 'John Peel: Margrave Of The Marshes', which by the way is an excellent read). Some alternative covers for this release are shown below.
01. Interview 1
02. Hey Joe
03. Stone Free
04. Love Or Confusion
05. Foxy Lady
06. Purple Haze
07. Killing Floor
09. Interview 2
10. The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
11. Little Miss Lover
12. Drivin' South (Version 1)
13. Catfish Blues
14. Hound Dog
15. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
16. Hoochie Coochie Man
17. Drivin' South (Version 2)
18. Radio One Theme
19. Spanish Castle Magic
20. Wait Until Tomorrow
21. Day Tripper
22. Hear My Train A Comin'
Jimi Hendrix Experience:
Jimi Hendrix, Guitar, Vocals
Noel Redding - Bass, Backing Vocals
Mitch Mitchell - Drums, Backing Vocals
Tracks 1-5: February 13, 1967
Tracks 6-8: March 28, 1967
Tracks 9-14: October 6, 1967
Tracks 15-17: October 17, 1967
Tracks 18-22: December 15, 1967
Jim Hendrix At The BEEB Link (183Mb)