May 13th, 2009
Artist: Jimi Hendrix
Director: Roger Pomphrey
Label: Experience Hendrix
Catalog No.: B0012279-09
Release Date: December 9, 2008
In December 1966, Jimi Hendrix released his first single, a cover of “Hey Joe.” Less than two years later, in October 1968, he released his studio masterwork, Electric Ladyland, a sprawling 2-LP set that took Jimi to #1 on the U.S. Pop charts for the first time. Less than two years later, he was dead.
The artistic and sonic achievements of Electric Ladyland can hardly be overstated. It’s an amazing album that belongs in the collection of every student of 20th century music, and At Last…The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland, an 86-minute DVD documentary on its recording, is a must-have companion for all serious Hendrix fans. Featuring all of the album’s important contributors – reminiscences by musicians Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding, Buddy Miles, Jack Casady, Steve Winwood, Dave Mason, and Mike Finnigan coupled with testimony from Jimi’s support team of manager Chas Chandler, engineer Eddie Kramer, road manager Gerry Stickells, label owner Chris Stamp (and many more) – this program provides a fascinating glimpse into not only the album’s songs and recording sessions but also The Experience’s brutal work schedule and, most importantly, the working methods and personality of Jimi Hendrix. The few clips of Jimi speaking are frustratingly brief, and, as a result, his specter hovers above the proceedings but remains distant and elusive.
The documentary’s most revealing segments are those that feature Eddie Kramer at the mixing board describing the album’s recording sessions as he solos tracks from the original master tapes. The soul, subtlety, and artistry of Jimi’s guitar and vocal overdubs can best be appreciated when they are heard in isolation. For example, the delicate rhythm guitar performance that underlies “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” (heard in its entirety over the show’s closing credits) is some of the most achingly beautiful playing you’ll ever hear. In addition, Eddie plays demos of “1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” and “Gypsy Eyes” that will leave you wanting more. If the people at Experience Hendrix really want to reward Jimi’s long-standing fans, they should consider releasing a box of demos, session highlights, and new Eddie Kramer mixes that isolate the many layers of Jimi’s arrangements. Consider the success of The Beach Boys’ 3-CD set The Pet Sounds Sessions, for example.
At Last…The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland is a newly edited, expanded edition of the original 1997 60-minute Classic Albums version. I’ve shown that edition to the students in my Music of Jimi Hendrix class every semester for years, so I practically have it memorized. At first, this version’s claim of featuring “forty minutes of additional content not seen in the original television broadcast and never before released on DVD” was quite exciting, but, sadly, that statement is patently misleading. This version is only twenty-six minutes longer and, while it does feature some new content – specifically new sections on “…And The Gods Made Love” and “South Saturn Delta” – the bulk of the “new content” comes from the original interviews being slightly expanded and/or viewed from a different angle. For example, instead of Eddie Kramer looking at you from across the console, the new edit utilizes the exact same comments shot in close-up by a second simultaneously-running camera in intimacy-reducing profile. Call me a stickler, but the original commentary shown from a different angle hardly meets the definition of new content. Other additional footage includes performance footage of “All Along the Watchtower” from the Isle of Wight and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” from Woodstock, both of which are readily available on DVD. There are no special features, which is unfortunate, since unbroken performances, especially of the Lulu show’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” or Jimi’s interview segments would have been a serious bonus. A short promo video can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/mHG43J7URHOQ
All Hendrix devotees should own this documentary in one form or another. There is a wealth of valuable information to be found here. My only fear is that a person who already owns the original 60-minute version will be torn – thankful for the new bits but disappointed by the lack of substantial additions or improvement. Enhanced audio and video quality coupled with a nice photo booklet should help offset the maddening feeling that comes from buying a Hendrix product again – a common sentiment among serious Jimi fans.
Posted by Andy Hollinden, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
Editor’s Note: This review is part of our ongoing examination of black rock in preparation for the conference “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music.” Visit the conference website at: http://www.indiana.edu/~aaamc/br/brconf_2009.html
Review Genre(s): Popular, Rock, and Misc.