History is replete with tales of artists and poets who, after lives of penury and not being recognized for their talent, are revealed as geniuses after their deaths. While some might see this as some sort of posthumous justification for their work, I think they probably would have appreciated it the slightest bit more if they'd been alive to revel in it. There's nothing romantic about being a starving artist and having the money to buy the occasional meal actually makes it easier to paint or write.
One of the significant improvements the world underwent in the 20th century was how it became easier for artists of true talent to achieve recognition. Sure some still get overlooked, that's bound to happen, but innovation and genius are now rewarded far more often then they once were. However, no matter how famous today's popular artists manage to become during their lifetimes, an early death, especially one that occurs under mysterious conditions, is still their best chance at immortality.
One only need examine the way people are still obsessed with everyone from Elvis Presley to Sid Visous to see the proof of this. While the former's impact on popular music can't be denied, the only reason for the latter's lasting fame is the sordid and sad manner of his death. (This is nothing against the man personally, as all accounts I've heard say he was a decent enough guy, but he was no musician and didn't even play bass on the one album the Sex Pistols released - Glen Matlock holds that honour)
Of course popular music is littered with tragic deaths from its earliest days. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper dying in a plane crash in 1959 and Sam Cooke shot dead in a motel room in 1964. However it wasn't until the late 1960s the death toll really began to add up; Brian Jones 1969, Janis Joplin 1970, Jim Morrison 1971 and Jimi Hendrix 1970. While Jones' career was on the wan at the time, he'd just been fired/quit The Rolling Stones, the other three were at the zenith's of their talent and popularity. While both Morrison and Joplin were undoubtedly talented individuals, with their own unique abilities as vocalists and lyricists, it's Hendrix's body of work which has stood the test of time; continuing to be appreciated and grow in stature.
In the years immediately following Hendrix's death large numbers of poorly recorded and mastered records were sold by unscrupulous people looking to cash in on his popularity. While they might have resulted in some quick cash for a few people, they didn't do Hendrix's reputation any favours. Thankfully recent years have seen a concentrated effort from the people at Legacy Recordings and Hendrix's family to correct this problem through a series of remastered re-issues and previously unreleased recordings. The latest of these to come down the pipe is ,Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival. To be honest I'd never heard of the Miami Pop Festival, but it was to have been a weekend long pop music festival put on by the same guys who staged the Woodstock festival a year later, but the second day was rained out.
While Hendrix and The Experience (Mitch Mitchell drums and Noel Redding bass were the other two thirds of the band) had only recently started to tour America, they had already graduated from being the opening act for the Monkees (and they say the musicians were doing strange drugs - what kind of trip must the guy at Warner Brothers been on who suggested that pairing) which lasted all of three gigs, and had gone on to headlining bigger and bigger venues. By the time they showed up in Miami they were considered one of the top concert draws in America. Hendrix's reputation as a genius on the guitar had spread like wild-fire. In the pre-internet days word of mouth was the most efficient means of communication, and the word had spread, this guy was unreal.
The Experience played a morning and an afternoon set on the Saturday, and were supposed to play another set on the rained out Sunday. The disc contains their complete set list from the opening show plus two tracks from the afternoon show the same day. With only two studio albums under their belts at this time, Are You Experienced and Axis Bold As Love, they didn't have a wealth of material to draw upon, so both sets would have been nearly the same. In fact, a quick glance at what's included on the disc shows a lot of familiar song titles. "Purple Haze", "Hey Joe", "Foxey Lady", "Fire", "I Don't Live Today" and others we've long grown to recognize as staples of Hendrix's live performances.
While Hendrix's reputation is based on his ability to improvise and his intricate and elaborate solos, this gig shows another side of him and his band. Aside from a ten minute version of "Red House", most of the tracks are about the same length as the studio versions of the songs. Yet, as far as I'm concerned, this shows off his abilities just as well as any of his pyrotechnical solos ever did. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard "Purple Haze" and "Hey Joe". Yet aside from the studio versions of the song, I've never heard him play either song the same way twice, and this gig was no different. Each time he manages to put some new flourish or twist into his playing which changes the tune's flavour or adds a different texture to a line or a verse.
Hearing him play the tracks fairly straight also gives you a new appreciation for his ability to integrate his leads into the rhythm of a song. Most guitar players simply let the beat of the song fall by the wayside when they play their leads either leaving it to a second guitarist or his bass and drummer to hold things together.
Somehow Hendrix is able to do both at the same time. Sure there are times he does the same types of leads as other guitarists, but listen to him as he's playing the short fills between vocal choruses. He adds ornamentation to almost everything he does yet somehow without it becoming distracting or detrimental to a song's overall sound. Like the painter who knows when another daub of paint will kill his masterpiece, Hendrix always seemed to know exactly when one more note would have been one too many.
Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival is the latest in a series of remastered re-issues or previously unreleased material to have been released in the past few years. Available as either a CD or a limited edition double LP it offers further proof of why Hendrix's reputation hasn't diminished over the years. In fact, as more and more material is released for public consumption not only does his reputation grow, but his place in history is solidified. You may not be able to tell it from simply listening to this recording, but when added to the rest of his catalogue it grows hard to argue with the statement he was one of the most important guitarist in popular music, and remains so more then 40 years after his death.
A version of this review first appeared at Blogcritics.org as Music Review: The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival)
(Originally posted November 2013)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.