Curtis Knight [featuring Jimi Hendrix]: Live at George’s Club 20

Jimi “Jimmy James” Hendrix, transitioning from R&B sideman to star

Last year’s You Can’t Use My Name rescued Hendrix’s early career as a featured sideman for R&B singer Curtis Knight. During his lifetime, Hendrix resented his work with Knight being represented as his own artistic statement, but in retrospect, those studio recordings, and now these mid-60s live dates, help flesh out Hendrix’s climb up the professional ladder to stardom. These do not represent Hendrix’s explosive creativity of just a year later, but they show off the solid blues grounding that provided him a launching pad, his growing confidence as a performer, and his emergence as a musical leader. He hadn’t yet been afforded the stage space for his wildest innovations, but neither was he still marking time as a sideman. Hendrix crams a lot of playing into short solos, with vocal asides to himself and the crowd, and even his rhythm playing had a snap one wouldn’t expect from a backing player.

The songs includes titles from Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Ballard, Bo Diddley, Smokey Robinson, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Albert King and Earl King, with the blues titles providing the most excitement. Albert Collins’ “Driving South” – a song Hendrix took with him to the Experience – provides an especially fiery showcase. The tapes are amateur recordings that had no obvious historical value at the time, and though rough, they’re quite listenable. The vocals (which trade off leads between Knight and Hendrix) and guitar are up-front, the guitar reflecting both the volume at which Hendrix played and his musical leadership. Eddie Kramer’s restoration and Bernie Grundman’s mastering peel away years of edits, overdubs and studio effects that sought to bury the ephemeral, primitive beauty of the original recordings. Fans only perhaps, but Hendrix has a lot of fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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