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Hendrix Live In Maui, Part 1: The Vinyl Experience

In the universe of psychedelic rock ’n roll, there have been a number of films over the years which have gone on into the annals of music legend for their combination of innocence and ineptitude. Movies at times weird — and to some unwatchable —yet which have delivered an amazing trail of recordings.

Perhaps most well known is The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour which they self produced with vivid psychedelic color and imagery only to be shown on black and white BBC television back in 1967. The made-for-television movie itself has gone on to be considered an influential period piece and the soundtrack delivered some of the group’s most beloved later period songs. 

The Monkees’ own Head trip film has also gone on to be considered a psychedelic masterpiece (by some, at least) and the soundtrack has enjoyed numerous reissues in recent years as new generations have discovered its many joys.  

In the underground tape trading scene of The Grateful Dead’s universe, for many years the strange but wonderful concert film Sunshine Daydream circulated among fans on blurry multi-generation VHS dubs. Eventually, it was restored and mixed into surround sound and issued in a deluxe package with the complete concert which is widely considered one of the all time best Grateful Dead performances, ever!  

Peter Yarrow’s trippy You Are What You Eat hasn’t been released commercially as far as I know (though there is a soundtrack album on Columbia Records!) but it does seem to live on YouTube in a blurry but watchable version. It is worth seeing if only for the scenes of Tiny Tim performing “I Got You Babe” backed by no less than The Band!   Click on any of the titles in these last two paragraphs to jump to reviews or more information on those films.

I think you get the idea…

So, in and around those ranks is a lost film seemingly featuring Jimi Hendrix called Rainbow Bridge which has a production history as convoluted as its non-existent plot-line. You can read about that film’s history when you buy the recently released complete true soundtrack recordings now under the title The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Maui.  

In short, the band’s participation in the film — crafted by an impresario many apparently called The Wizard — was triggered by Hendrix’ then manager and the whole production apparently turned into fiasco!  Fortunately, Jimi and his band delivered on their part of the deal, leaving behind a soaring concert performance — and a once-in-a-lifetime memory for the several hundred people who were there for the free shows on the side of a dormant Volcano — which elevated the whole project into the stuff of legend.

Spread across six sides of three vinyl long playing records, The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Maui sounds quite incredible all things considered. Mixed from the original eight track multi-channel tapes recorded on location in 1970, apparently, original engineer Eddie Kramer was able to work much modern digital restoration magic on the tapes which for years were plagued by technical problems. 

Most notably, Mitch Mitchell’s drums at the time were unusable due to signal path problems. It is worth noting that Mitchell did a remarkable job on re-recording his performance in the studio for the tracks that were used back in the day for the film. But on these new mixes, Kramer was able to salvage larger portions of the original recordings using modern technologies, so what we hear now is a combination of original and replacement drum performances.  It all works and shouldn’t really bother you — realize that this sort of thing has been done by many many artists over the years from Duke Ellington to The Grateful Dead.  

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Maui sounds remarkably good to my ear, again especially given the conditions under which it was recorded. The variances are most noticeable when you watch the film footage on the Bluray Disc (more on that in part two of this review series).

Ultimately, it is all about the music and the performances on The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Maui are exemplary!  Killer versions of classics like “Stone Free,” “Purple Haze” and “Foxey Lady” are great but for me, the real joy is hearing Hendrix stretch out on jams like “Red House.”Then unreleased new songs such as “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun),” “Dolly Dagger,” “Villanova Junction” and “Ezy Ryder” also stand out.  

Again, some of these tunes would appear in the studio versions on the posthumous soundtrack album to the film Rainbow Bridge (which apparently almost no one has seen!) and studio versions of some of these songs were issued on The Cry Of Love. Most of those songs were compiled and remixed on a later-still posthumous release, the terrific First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (as close an approximation as we’re likely to get of what Hendrix’ fourth album might have been like had he lived).

The vinyl records pressed at at QRP are excellent, quiet and well centered, so I have no problems on that front. My only nit is that the file-box styled packaging is creative but I do kind of wish they had opted for a sturdier, more traditional gatefold design – this feels a little flimsy and if not handled carefully it will quite easily get crushed. 

Tomorrow we’ll explore the Blu-ray Disc included in The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Maui with a documentary about the debacle that became Rainbow Bridge film on it as well as all available film footage shot during these concerts. Tune in tomorrow!

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