Review: Jimi Hendrix, West Coast Seattle Boy (single disc)

Posted: December 7, 2010 in Album Reviews

I remember the first time I saw Jimi Hendrix on television. I was 11 years old, living in a small town in Pennsylvania called Tamaqua. MTV or VH1 had a lunchtime classic rock show during the summer, and I caught a video for Hendrix’s title track to the outstanding 1967 debut album, Are You Experienced?
The whole thing was riveting, his psychedelic bad-ass look, the swirling backwards guitar, the highly suggestive drug-laced lyrics. I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV.
A few years later, I picked up both “Essential Jimi Hendrix” albums on cassette, giving me a nice sampler of his career. It’s truly amazing how much music he put out over a short period of time (early 1967 through his death in September 1970). Hendrix was a true perfectionist, and he often recorded take after take to get a song right. He left a career’s worth of unreleased material behind, and in the past 40 years, the music has come out in various posthumous collections, some good and some not so good.
Ever since the Hendrix family gained control of his back catalogue, the releases have been much more tastefully done, including thorough liner notes and rare photos to go along with the unreleased tunes.
Just in time for the holiday season comes West Coast Seattle Boy, a four-disc retrospective of unreleased and alternate tracks encompassing Hendrix’s entire career. Disc 1 of the box set comprises Hendrix’s work as a sideman for various R&B and soul acts such as the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. Since I read the Jimi quotient was pretty low on most of these recordings, I opted for the more consumer friendly single-disc version, which gives a nice overview of the box set.
Some of these songs, although officially unreleased, have been bootlegged heavily through the years. And some of the alternate takes aren’t all that different from their released counterparts.
Four tracks, sans overdubs, from Are You Experienced appear, including the 15 millionth version of “Fire,” an early hit which I’ve never been all that fond of anyway. “Fire” and “Love or Confusion” aren’t very different at all, and I’m not quite so sure why “Fire” was included, since yet another version of it was released earlier this year on the excellent Valleys of Neptune release.
“May This Be Love” is slightly altered, with double-tracked vocals throughout augmenting the lovely tune. The real find among the Are You Experienced? tracks is the instrumental backing of the title track, where you get to hear how it sounded when the band laid it down and before they flipped the guitar passages and solos backwards. Pretty cool stuff indeed.
Much of the rest of the album is quite outstanding, with several hot jams, including the organ driven “Hear My Freedom” and the eight-minute instrumental “Burning Desire.”
There’s a stunning demo of Bob Dylan and the Band’s “Tears of Rage”, recorded with Hendrix on guitar and vocals and good friend Paul Caruso on harmony vocals and harmonica.
Also included is a slower, early take on “Room Full of Mirrors” recorded in late 1968, before the Jimi Hendrix Experience had broken up. (“Mirrors” wouldn’t be released until after Hendrix’s death, in many posthumous albums). “Mirrors” rolls right into a rough jam called “Shame Shame Shame” and it’s well worth the price of admission.
Another find is the melding of an unreleased instrumental “Bolero” into “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun), one of Hendrix’s final recordings in 1970. “Hey Baby” would appear on its own on various releases, but Hendrix apparently meant to pair it with “Bolero” as the songs flow into each other seemlessly.
It’s great having another Hendrix release on the market, but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s anything left in the vaults. The version of “Mr. Bad Luck” is pretty much the same one found on “Neptune” and “In from the Storm” has a few subtle differences but not much.
For die-hard fans who have a little more money to spend, check out the four-disc box set edition of the album. I’m sure there are a few more revelations included, especially if you want to hear how Jimi sounded before he became a megastar.

Sod rating: ****

Ratings system:
***** Best of the best, a true classic
**** Outstanding purchase, crowd pleaser
*** Worth it, but a few lulls
** Couple decent tunes, let someone else buy it
* An album full of armpit fart noises would be an improvement


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