Jimi Hendrix | Songs For Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts – Box Set Review

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The Jimi Hendrix vault continually draws from what appears to be an infinite amount of unreleased recordings. For 2019, the keepers of the flame went deep to bring together all four shows the guitarist played with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles at the Fillmore East on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970.  Songs For Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts captures these performances — 43 songs in all — over five CDs (or eight LPs) in all their soulful, spontaneous glory. The rapid-fire success and demands of the Jimi Hendrix Experience behind him, the man many consider to be the greatest guitarist who ever lived wanted to get back to his roots, build his own studio, and jam. With Buddy Miles and Billy Cox in his corner, Jimi Hendrix was able to let his fingers and imagination fly without time restraints and other impediments to his creativity.

Hendrix fans only got a taste of the Band of Gypsys when the album with only six songs dropped in April 1970. It would be the only live album released during Hendrix’s lifetime, and he was reportedly unhappy with the end result. Working under pressure to get it out due to a gaping contractual obligation, the guitarist later said he felt there wasn’t enough preparation, and that the playing and production were not to standard. Nevertheless, Band of Gypsys stormed the charts, sold a respectable two million copies, and features some of Hendrix’s most brilliant playing.

Video and additional tracks have surfaced on various posthumous releases, including 1986’s Band Of Gypsys 2, 1999’s Live At The Fillmore East, 2010’s West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology, and 2016’s Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show. To have the whole run, presented in sequence (with a handful of songs still held back), certainly provides a different perspective. The pace and dynamics of “Machine Gun,” which the band played at each show, seem to evolve with each subsequent set. Cox’s funky, rhythmic bass gives Hendrix a foundation to form and finger licks. Buddy Miles’ instincts for fusion, funk and soul also brings the best out of Hendrix on other originals like “Power Of Soul” and “Izabella.”

Along with the Band of Gypsys songs, Hendrix knew he couldn’t leave the stage without playing some of the “hits” he had with the Experience. Loose and easy versions of “Fire,” “Stone Free,” “Foxy Lady,” “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze” are less frantic and more laid back. Miles’ own “Changes” and his vocals on the cover of Howard Tate’s “Stop” sidle up nicely next to the Hendrix tracks, though the drummer’s tendency to talk incessantly to the audience reportedly didn’t please the guitarist. The newer material at that time definitely signaled a new direction. Unfortunately, after one final show just weeks after the Fillmore stand, Band of Gypsys went belly up. Hendrix and Cox would tour all over Europe with drummer Mitch Mitchell until the guitarist’s untimely death.

Listening to the five discs and combing through the 39-page booklet of photos, liner notes, and recollections from Billy Cox that come with Songs For Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts, you can’t help but think of where Jimi Hendrix was hoping to take his music next. So many obstacles — fame, women, alcohol, drugs, his own manager, and eventually death — stood in his way. And as the vault continues to reveal more sides of Hendrix’s complex career and creative personality, it begins to make more sense that you take the bad with the good to measure a man’s nature.

~ Shawn Perry         

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