Sep 26 2023
by Steven C. Pesant.
FROM THE VAULT. This classic interview with Experience Hendrix Catalog Manager and Producer, John McDermott and was conducted in 2000 as we neared the release of The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set. It was first published in the Fall 2000 edition of Experience Hendrix Magazine.
For many Hendrix fans in the late Nineties, the absence of an authorized Jimi Hendrix box set seemed glaring. Every major artist from Cream to Metallica had a multi-disc set chock-full of unreleased music, timeless hits newly remastered, and great photographs. Everyone it seemed, except our favorite guitarist.
“the Rolls Royce of posthumous collections”
Fortunately, in September 2000, Jimi Hendrix finally joined the ranks with an impressive four CD and eight LP box set of his own, simply titled The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The original collection was packaged in imported French purple velvet and housed in a shoebox style configuration accompanied by a lavishly illustrated 80-page booklet filled with photos, handwritten lyrics, and memorabilia as well as an essay by noted rock journalist Dave Marsh and complete track-by-track annotation by John McDermott.
Upon its original release on September 12, 2000, The Jimi Hendrix Experience fast became one of the most talked-about artists collections on the scene with Rolling Stone dubbing it “the Rolls Royce of posthumous collections.”
Featuring 60-songs and more than four hours of music, The Jimi Hendrix Experience marked the first comprehensive Hendrix collection to cover every period of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s recording output.
We sat down with John McDermott during production of the compilation to get some behind-the-scenes insight on the planning and production of the new box set.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: Releasing a set such as this is obviously done to answer some strong creative questions. Explain how and why this set was released and what it represents?
JOHN McDERMOTT: One of the goals we shared from the very beginning was that the box set should trace Jimi’s incredible development from 1966 to 1970. Rather than a larger scale, well dressed greatest hits package, as some box sets essentially are, we hoped to unify a number of previously unreleased tracks with some great studio recordings and live performances which had fallen out of print and were no longer readily available to Jimi’s fans. We also felt that the box set should compliment the albums Jimi had authorized for release during his lifetime.
The unissued studio material should be viewed in this manner. The version of “Purple Haze” on the box isn’t ‘better’ than the classic one; it is just another look at a lasting achievement. The same goes for any of the alternate studio recordings selected for the set. We hoped that Jimi’s fans would come away with a new appreciation for these songs as well as reaffirming an understanding that Jimi was capable of greatness every time a tape machine snapped on.
EH: In addition to the four-CD box set, there is also an eight-disc vinyl box. What can you tell us about that?
JM: Experience Hendrix has made a strong commitment to vinyl right from our very first release in 1997. The vinyl box looks great. Each of the eight discs comes in a separate jacket and is housed in box covered with purple velvet. The vinyl box maintains the same design as the CD set, but the 40-page booklet is now 12” x 12,” which allows the images to be larger throughout. Even though the music is now spread across eight discs, the sequence essentially remained the same.
EH: Apart from flawed sets like Stages, Lifelines, or the repackaged Jimi Hendrix Collection, there had never been a formal Jimi Hendrix box set in the tradition of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads or Bob Dylan’s Biograph prior to this release?
JM: We had started discussing the box set as far back as 1997. However, at the time when the Hendrix family reclaimed the legacy, there was a lot of important music that had been withdrawn from the market by the previous administration. First Rays Of The New Rising Sun got things started and with South Saturn Delta, we were able restore much of the Rainbow Bridge/War Heroes material that many people wanted on compact disc. With the box set, we not only were able to complete that task, making available songs such as the studio version of “Star Spangled Banner” which had never been issued on CD, but we also got to showcase a host of great tracks which had not yet been issued.
EH: Speaking of unreleased material, it’s amazing to finally hear the 1966 Paris recordings. Where had those been?
JM: They were archived by the radio branch of the French government. We were fortunately able to establish a formal relationship between them and Experience Hendrix for the use of those materials.
Listening to the Paris 1966 recordings always reminds me of Chas Chandler. Chas was convinced that French radio had never recorded Jimi’s show. I even quoted him in my book [Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight] denying that the concert had been recorded. It’s such a shame that he has passed away. He had such fond memories of Jimi’s success in Paris and I would have loved to seen his expression upon hearing them for the first time.
“Fans have long awaited a comprehensive box that covers Jimi’s career. Jimi’s music stems from two parallel worlds—the studio and the stage”
EH: Fans have long awaited a comprehensive box that covers Jimi’s career. Jimi’s music stems from two parallel worlds—the studio and the stage. With so much material to work with, why doesn’t The Jimi Hendrix Experience focus solely on the ‘studio’ career of Jimi Hendrix or just the ‘live’ aspect of his sound?
JM: We hoped to showcase Jimi’s growth over the course of those four incredible years. In trying to do so, why limit the choices of music? Particularly as Jimi was such an extraordinary artist onstage, I feel that the box set would have been incomplete if it didn’t feature live recordings like “Like A Rolling Stone” from Monterey, “Johnny B. Goode” from Berkeley, or the “Red House” from San Diego.
EH: By most accounts, Hendrix: In The West is, by far, the most requested album not currently available on compact disc.
JM: That is true. Most fans will agree that Hendrix: In The West had featured some of, if not the, greatest live performances Jimi ever gave. The box set gave us an opportunity to include the majority of those songs as they had appeared originally on that album. Hendrix: In The West was my favorite album and I felt it was imperative that we use the same mixes featured on the original disc. As we have done previously, we transferred the material from the original ‘flat’ master to insure the very best possible quality.
EH: Does the inclusion of selected live tracks from Berkeley, Maui, Monterey, and the Isle Of Wight mean that there will not be separate releases of albums drawn from those concerts?
JM: Not at all. Experience Hendrix will issue those concerts and others in the coming years.
EH: What about the ‘lost’ Experience live album from 1969?
JM: The mixes from that album had been stored in the Warner Bros. tape library for years. Eddie had told me about the mixing sessions at Wally Heider’s in L.A. He remembered them particularly because he had been introduced to Crosby, Stills, & Nash while working at the studio. In addition, I remembered hearing a tape of an interview Noel had given in July 1969 where he spoke about the pending release of an Experience live album.
With that in mind, we dug out Eddie’s original mixes. By chance, during the Hendrix family’s legal battle some years back, I had also done some research within Reprise Records’ archives and came across a 1969 paper trail about the album.
Apparently while Kramer was preparing the proposed live album with Jimi in L.A., Reprise had simultaneously commissioned another engineer to craft a Monterey Pop live album at a separate studio. I don’t know if Jimi or even Michael Jeffery were aware of this, but a Monterey album was prepared and delivered to Reprise. Neither Jimi nor Kramer had taken any part in the mixing. It was a moot issue anyway, as Reprise ended up pushing both aside in favor of Smash Hits.
In putting together the box set, we felt that there was real historical significance to those 1969 mixes. Jimi had played a role in their creation and ultimately we drew upon “Purple Haze” from San Diego and “I Don’t Live Today” from the Los Angeles Forum.
“No one knows for sure where he would have gone with this song had he lived, but at least fans now know where things stood when he last worked on it.”
EH: The box set features the original versions of songs such as “Stone Free,” and “Come Down Hard On Me” which had been subjected to overdubs and released as part of the controversial [and now long out of print] 1975 Crash Landing album.
JM: The important thing was to get at the original multi-track masters for each of those performances. For example, there had previously been two versions of “Come Down Hard On Me” [Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York. July 15, 1970] which had been issued posthumously. One was mixed by John Jansen in 1972 and included as part of the 1973 compilation Loose Ends. The other had unfortunately been overhauled by Alan Douglas and dressed with new overdubs for Crash Landing in 1975. We decided to go back to the last mix Jimi had created for the song during his lifetime, which had been August 22, 1970.
No one knows for sure where he would have gone with this song had he lived, but at least fans now know where things stood when he last worked on it.
Regarding “Stone Free,” [Recorded: Record Plant, New York. April 7, 9, 14, 1969] we followed the same methodology. I had found a ¼” rough mix that Jimi had made with Gary Kellgren which led me to believe that the original April 1969 multi-track performance existed somewhere. The original parts had been erased on the Crash Landing multi-track master, but fortunately, we were able to locate a master from which Eddie mixed the version featured on the box set.
EH: I would like to throw out some songs from the box set to you. Give me some background about the recording and how it came to be included. Let’s start with “Title #3″
JM: [Recorded: Olympic Studios, London. April 3, 1967] That one threw me for a complete loop. That master had been among the tapes in the possession of the Chandler family. It was really amazing to hear outtakes like this and “Here He Comes (Lover Man)” from this period. They sounded so vibrant.
“We felt it would be more significant historically to issue Jimi’s original recording as part of the box set.”
EH: “Taking Care Of No Business”
JM: [Recorded: Olympic Studios, London. May 4,5, 1967] This was another great Olympic Studios track from 1967. Like many collectors, I first learned of the existence of this song when I heard the version Chas Chandler had overdubbed in 1988 with new performances by Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. That overdubbed track has become widely bootlegged since that time. We felt it would be more significant historically to issue Jimi’s original recording as part of the box set.
I am sure that at some future date, the overdubbed recording, like the handful of other songs Chandler posthumously tended to, will become part of a future release by Experience Hendrix.
EH: “Spanish Castle Magic”
JM: [Recorded: Olympic Studios, London. February 17, 1969] This is one of my favorites from the box set. It was great to hear a studio version of this song, which featured the extended 1969 live arrangement. Jimi, Mitch, and Noel really built this out, seemingly pushing each other to the breaking point. The “Hear My Train A Comin’” is just as intense.
EH: “Astro Man”
JM: [Recorded: Record Plant, New York. January 21, 1970] “Astro Man” was a lucky recovery. The take used on the box set had been edited out of the original master [which had been returned to the Hendrix family in 1995] and placed on a work reel. That work reel was nowhere to be found when the Hendrix family reclaimed the legacy [or when I had written Jimi Hendrix: Sessions and listened to the original reel for that matter]. I loved the version and had suggested that this track be added to South Saturn Delta actually, but it was decided to save it for the box set.
“I have always enjoyed [’Country Blues’] and how it builds from a simmer to a full boil.”
EH: “Country Blues”
JM: [Recorded: Record Plant, New York. January 23, 1970] “Country Blues” was a track that most long time Hendrix fans became aware when it was included as part of a NPR radio tribute almost two decades ago. I have always enjoyed how it builds from a simmer to a full boil.
JM: [Recorded: Record Plant, New York. February 16, 1970] “Freedom” was a track we found within the cache of tapes we recovered from Shaggy Dog Studios. Like “Astro Man” and so many others, it had been excised from its original reel and stuck on a separate work reel at some point in the middle 1970’s.
Eddie was particularly intrigued by this track and wanted to include it as part of the box. He was involved front to back for the recording of the version which is now part of First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, but it was a treat for him to hear that demo and realize how Jimi had previously experimented with that song.
EH: “Ezy Ryder”
JM: [Recorded: Record Plant, New York. December 18, 1969, January 20, 1970 and Electric Lady Studios, New York. June 15, 1970] This was unique because some of the guitar parts you hear on this mix were later erased and replaced with new parts by Jimi in the weeks and months, which followed. Because there were only sixteen available tracks on the multi-track master to start with, Jimi’s options were somewhat restricted. According to Eddie Kramer, Jimi would try take after take of overdubs before he felt he had captured his vision for the song.
On this evening, backing vocals were recorded by Chris Wood and Steve Winwood from Traffic. From reviewing the remaining reels in the library, it sounds like once they finished with ‘Ezy Ryder”, they were able to get down to jamming and having fun.
” I was struck by the irony of the music, like that of Jimi’s life one month later, cutting to an abrupt, inexplicable halt.”
EH: “Slow Blues”
JM: [Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York. August 20, 1970] I first heard this recording when I was researching for Jimi Hendrix: Sessions. I must admit that I was struck by the irony of the music, like that of Jimi’s life one month later, cutting to an abrupt, inexplicable halt. We all thought that it was the appropriate track to close the box set.
THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE
Originally released in September 2000, The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Purple Box” earned RIAA Gold Album sales status in the US and has enjoyed widespread critical and commercial success throughout the world. Expanded in 2013 to now feature 60 songs and more than 4-hours of music, the new collection features the entire 2000 original edition in addition to four tracks eagerly sought by fans of the legendary guitarist.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience presents 60 previously unreleased or unavailable studio and concert recordings from a remarkable four-year period in musical history–1966-1970–when guitarist Jimi Hendrix was bringing pop and blues and jazz and soul and psychedelia together and changing the way everybody listened to everything.