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The Jimi Hendrix Experience — Hendrix in the West / Winterland



I have no doubts that the news of Merge Records’ forthcoming reissue of Superchunk’s 1994 classic, “Foolish,” has my friend George Lang at The Oklahoman nervously checking his inbox every four or five minutes, anxious to download that remastered 50 minutes of 90s indie-guitar glory. The re-done edition is accompanied by never-before-heard bonus material and never-before-read liner notes from drummer Jon Wurster.

Such fresh supplementary content is often enough to convince the oldsters to part with $12.99 to $17.99, and the curious younger listening audience to do the same in order to hear a properly marketed classic. I totally support this.

However. Sometimes reissues come along just to reanimate dead album sales. I suspect this to be one such time.

For one thing, spread out over five discs and two separate collections, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Hendrix in the West” and “Winterland” include only a smallish portion of fresh content. (A brief note to publicists: If your reissued product hinges on 36 pages of previously unpublished photos, it would help to include said document in the press kit.) Included is the aforementioned new album art; a couple of new tracks on both albums; an interview with the wild-haired, otherworldly guitarist himself on “Winterland” (that was recorded in Boston, on the other side of the continent from San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom — it kinda seems like they just slapped whatever they could find on the back end of the CD and said, “What the hell!”); and an essay from longtime Rolling Stone critic and liner-note freak David Fricke.

The problem is that the damn market for Hendrix’s live material is already flooded with this stuff. There’s the excellent 1997 remastered version of “Band of Gypsys (Live)” (originally published in 1970) that features some of the rarest such tracks recorded with a lineup entirely different from the Seattle-born guitarist’s classic lineup. There’s also the four-disc “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” box set, boasting a mix of unreleased alternate takes and odds and ends live recordings. And don’t forget “Live at Monterey” from 2007, which blazes through his infamous guitar-burning sacrifice performance of June 18, 1967.

I’d be remiss not to discuss the actual audio contents of the “Winterland” and “West” rereleases, so here goes: They’re pretty impressive. One day, when books are completely digital and available for free on some database far more vast than the Internet, “West”’s version of “Red House” will be available for download from the rock ’n’ roll dictionary next to the phrase “blues rock.” It’s absolutely definitive, winding its way throughout the very past, present and future of the way human beings play electric guitar. What begins with a mystic, slow-walkin’ blues from the Mississippi delta eventually finds its way to speedier Chicago, and the psychedelic beyond before it, bends back in upon itself, mixing styles and genres like no musician ever could, even to this day.

“Foxy Lady,” on the first “Winterland” disc, also stands out, its leering, creepy opening note seemingly mimicking its player’s unquenchable libido. During one of the performances of “Purple Haze” (I really don’t feel like going back through and finding which one exactly, as there are four), Hendrix even forgets the words. “So what?” he shouts before expounding massive layers of manic distortion through his Marshall amps. The funny thing is, he’s right.

I find it a little bit ridiculous that Experience Hendrix LLC (founded in 1995 by the late guitarist’s father) felt the need to get this out there for pure posterity. But then again, judge the purity in Jimi’s Boston interview: “Take the show tonight: Nothing as put on. It was exactly what you felt,” and decide for yourself. —Matt Carney

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