FAMILY: Janie Hendrix spends time with her famous stepbrother, Jimi, in… (Ulvis Albert / EMP )
The keepers of Jimi Hendrix's flame are calling the new album of long-buried recordings by the proto-rock guitar hero “Valleys of Neptune.” The obvious explanation is that it's the title of one of the cornerstone songs that emerged during a fertile, albeit transitional, period in Hendrix's career: the early months of 1969, when the original Jimi Hendrix Experience was dissolving and its namesake was figuring out what to do next and with whom he would do it.
FOR THE RECORD:
Jimi Hendrix legacy: An article in Calendar on Feb. 14 about efforts to preserve Jimi Hendrix's recorded legacy described Janie Hendrix as the guitarist's stepsister. Jimi's father, Al Hendrix, adopted Janie after marrying her mother, making Janie and Jimi half siblings. In a subsequent interview, Janie Hendrix confirmed that description as accurate but added that Jimi always referred to her as his "little sister." —
But spend a little time talking with those keepers -- Hendrix's stepsister, Janie, who controls his estate, recording engineer Eddie Kramer, who was there in the studio much of the time when Hendrix was at work, and music historian and Hendrix devotee John McDermott -- and you quickly sense that "Valleys of Neptune" also describes just how far they've been willing to go in recent years to put his recorded legacy and -- in a grander sense -- his memory in order.
"I keep saying that this is the most fun, archaeological dig you could possibly go on," said Kramer, one of the handful of people still alive who spent significant time with Hendrix in a recording studio. "You unearth these little gems, and you go, 'Wow, I don't remember him doing that.' But then all these little pieces start to fit together. . . . That's the intrigue: You get on the scent of something, then you get that lovely moment of discovery -- like that classic moment when we found an enormous pile of tapes that had been left at some studio on the East Coast because a phone bill hadn't been paid."
Hendrix, Kramer and McDermott gathered recently at the North Hollywood recording studio where Kramer and associate Chandler Harrod have been putting finishing touches on master recordings they're using for "Valleys of Neptune." They're working with 41-year-old 14-inch reels turning on vintage Ampex tape machines hooked up to banks of the latest digital equipment to ready them for release March 9 on CD and audiophile vinyl pressings.
The releases roughly coincide with the launch of the latest Experience Hendrix Tour, this one kicking off in the Southland with shows March 4 in Santa Barbara and March 5 at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. On the bill are Hendrix disciples, including Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang along with bassist Billy Cox, Hendrix's Army buddy who joined him when Noel Redding exited the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
For a couple of decades after Hendrix's drug-related death at age 27, fans were deluged with what seemed like every scrap of tape that had ever captured some of his musical landscape-altering guitar work or his fierce, blues-fired vocals. He released just three official studio albums during his lifetime: the watershed 1967 debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Are You Experienced," followed in relatively short order by "Axis: Bold as Love" and his only No. 1 collection, "Electric Ladyland."
A live set from Hendrix's Band of Gypsys surfaced shortly before his death on Sept. 18, 1970.
In succeeding years, however, various labels have issued more than 30 albums of live performances and assorted studio recordings he left behind. Since Janie Hendrix emerged as the victor in the legal wrangling over who would control the estate after the 2002 death of her father, Al Hendrix, she, Kramer and McDermott have busied themselves trying to redress what McDermott terms "a short-sighted approach that was just to try to grind [his catalog] for what it was worth at the time. There was no long-term thought or care, and this was a guy who wanted all of that."
Their first step has been to prep the three original albums for deluxe reissues, also due March 9. Those will include bonus tracks, extensive liner notes and a DVD on the making of each album featuring interviews with original Experience members Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, producer Chas Chandler, Cox and Kramer.
They'll be giving a similar treatment to remastered editions of "First Rays of the New Rising Sun," the double album Hendrix was working on when he died that was the initial release from the Seattle-based company Experience Hendrix in 1997, the "Smash Hits" compilation and "Live at Woodstock."