On March 5, 2013, history repeated itself with the posthumous release of the Jimi Hendrix album “People, Hell and Angels.” It is the twelfth studio album released after Hendrix’s death on Sept. 18, 1970.
The album entered the Billboard charts at No. 2, not that such a thing matters for a rock ‘n’ roll icon releasing music from beyond the grave. Even though some of the songs, such as “Izabella” and “Hear my Train a Comin” have appeared on other albums,this album features different versions of previously released songs.
“People, Hell and Angels” features a variety of musicians scattered throughout the album, but at the core is the rhythm section of drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox, which along with Hendrix,came to be known as the blues-soul group Band of Gypsys. By the middle of 1969, Hendrix had already been solidified as the greatest guitar player on the planet due to songs like “Foxey Lady” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. Original Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding had departed the group. Original Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, who fans have come to love as the quintessential Hendrix drummer, only appeared on three tracks. During this time, Hendrix experimented by inviting many musicians to record with him such as Steve Winwood, organ player for the psychedelic band Traffic and Stephen Stills, Guitarist and vocalist for the folk-rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young. Stills appears on this album as the bass player on the song “Somewhere.”
The opening song “Earth Blues” is appropriately named for both the style of the song and the feeling of the album. The songs on this album only have a few overdubs, which is different than classic Hendrix albums like “Axis: Bold as Love” and “Electric Ladyland.” Hendrix used to talk about the sound he wanted to convey as “new blues,” which is a respectful departure of the past styles from blues musicians Muddy Waters and Albert King. This the sign of a true artist: experimenting with the influence of the past to create a new future for music. “Earth Blues” reflects the new direction.
“Bleeding Heart” is a song made popular by Elmore James, but is made legendary by Hendrix on this album. What starts out to be a straightforward blues song is then pushed into overdrive with Miles drumming in double-time over Cox’s smooth bassline. This rhythm, paired with Hendrix’s playing, makes the song sound both aggressive and subtle. Imagine Hendrix’s heart starting to bleed through his veins, out his fingertips and into the wood of his guitar. That is the sound of this future classic.
The song “Let Me Move You” is a rare type of song to hear on a Hendrix album because it featured Hendrix playing sideman to Lonnie Youngblood, who provides saxophone and vocals. Youngblood leads an ensemble of R’n’B musicians through this rousing little number that provides a glimpse into Hendrix’s history, not only as Jimi Hendrix, guitar all-star, but also as James Marshall Hendrix, the backup guitarist for such acts as Little Richard and the Isley Brothers.
Even with the role reversal, “Let Me Move You” grooves and moves with all the soul of Stax or Motown Records. Just like an open marriage, it swings.
Hendrix was at unique position in 1969. His fame allowed him to have a recording studio open to him 24/7. He could lay down a track whenever inspiration struck him. The opportunity enabled the growth of the music from simple jam sessions into rock ‘n’ roll classics.
Since “People, Hell and Angels,” which was engineered and mixed by the legendary Eddie Kramer, lacks many overdubs, the heavy emphasis on jamming further solidifies the two-part characteristic of Hendrix. This is not the psychedelic space god who crash landed in swinging London in ‘66, but the soulful blues legend who redefined blues guitar. Then again, you can’t have one without the other.
Is it Hendrix’s best album? No. Is it worth a listen? Absolutely.