Jimi Hendrix only released four official albums during his lifetime, but the Hendrix vault from the last half-century of albums, books and films could fill a library. Here’s a breakdown of a few essential titles to read, watch and hear to get to know the Seattle superstar and international rock icon.
And for Seattle-based readers: Paul Allen initially wanted to name his museum at Seattle Center “The Jimi Hendrix Museum,” and MoPOP, as it is called now, is an excellent source for anything Hendrix. Its gift shop carries many of the items listed above, or call Easy Street Records, or any of the independent record shops and bookstores in Seattle, and they will track down anything on this list for you.
There are several dozen Hendrix biographies or encyclopedias, and as you might expect I’m biased to mine, “Room Full of Mirrors,” a 2004 title from Hyperion Books (and now free as an audiobook on Amazon’s Audible). I tried to focus on Hendrix’s entire life, two-thirds of which he spent in Seattle, whereas most other books jump to his fame.
I also often use as a reference Tony Brown’s “Hendrix: The Visual Documentary,” which has many rare images and clippings. I also recommend a series of books by superfan Ben Valkhoff under the title “Eye Witness” that detail every Hendrix show.
Many Hendrix biographies tell the story from the perspective of the person who knew Hendrix; in that context you can’t do better than Kathy Etchingham’s book “Through Gypsy Eyes.” She was the longest of Jimi’s girlfriends, and also was central to the “Swingin’ London” scene.
There are dozens of live shows on DVD, many with excellent quality, but “A Film About Jimi Hendrix,” a 1973 film by Joe Boyd, might be the best. It’s been released a number of ways, so look for the director. It includes incredible footage from his iconic performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and Berkeley, California, plus Jimi playing acoustic.
A full film titled “Jimi Plays Berkeley” is also excellent, and “Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight” captures Jimi not long before his death, and is therefore eerie.
Don’t underestimate “Jimi Hendrix: The Dick Cavett Show.” It shows Hendrix conversing, and his intelligence and humor make it a winner. The episode of the documentary series “Classic Albums” dedicated to Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” is also wonderful. Avoid at all costs “All By My Side,” an inaccurate biopic that stars Andre 3000.
You can’t go wrong with “Are You Experienced” (1967), “Axis: Bold as Love” (1967) or “Electric Ladyland” (1968), the three studio albums Hendrix released in his lifetime. “Electric Ladyland” is the masterpiece in my opinion, while the first two were more oriented to get Jimi on the radio in the U.K. with singles. One trivia note is that “Are You Experienced” was recorded and mixed in only 72 hours total, and for only a few thousand dollars of costs — no album in history has had such bang for the buck. Many casual fans might just buy “Smash Hits,” the 1969 greatest hits collection.
Often overlooked is “Band of Gypsys,” released in 1970, Hendrix’s fourth and final album before his death. It captures Jimi live with an all-Black trio at the Fillmore East in New York City, and the recording is frequently cited as one of the greatest live albums of all time.
Essentially four different entities have controlled Jimi Hendrix’s estate since his death, leading to a mishmash of releases, some of inferior quality.
To complicate matters further, Jimi signed an early career publishing deal, so a slew of semi-official releases flooded the market as soon as he got famous, almost all billed as Hendrix albums, but without the Jimi magic. Even some of the completely official posthumous releases had heavy editing, with original backing tracks rerecorded. Hendrix purists stay away from “The Cry of Love,” “War Heroes” and “Hendrix in the West,” and you should too, and avoid anything where Jimi was billed with Curtis Knight.
The are hundreds of live albums, and a dozen are free to stream on the Experience Hendrix website, where official bootlegs are also sold. You won’t go wrong if you stick with releases from these important shows: Isle of Wight, Monterey, and, of course, Woodstock.
Hendrix played four shows in Seattle, and there are amateur bootlegs, but nothing has ever been officially released. We can dream.
The best Hendrix box is simply titled “The Jimi Hendrix Experience,” a four-CD set released by MCA in 2000. It has a purple, velvet cover (a 2003 rerelease adds four bonus tracks, while a third issue from 2005 adds a bonus DVD).
“West Coast Seattle Boy” is a 2011 four-CD set that collects some of Jimi’s earliest recordings, though all after he left Seattle. Completists will enjoy hearing his band work with The Isley Brothers, and other contemporaries.