Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock
|Performed on||Day 3|
|Started at||9.00 am, Monday, 18th|
|Played for||130 min.|
|Festival Day Chronology|
|Prev. artist||Sha Na Na at 7.30 am|
|Next artist||end of day 3|
Jimi Hendrix and his band were known under several names. They were introduced by Chip Monck as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but Jimi informed everyone that he had disbanded "The Jimi Hendrix Experience," and that he had formed a new band called Gypsy Sun & Rainbows. Some might know them also under the name Band of Gypsys, a very short-lived formation after Woodstock. Beside his backing band, it was Jimi Hendrix playing.
The band was scheduled as the last performance of the festival, Sunday night. Due to several delays, they eventually played on Monday morning, 9:00 am, when most of the audience had already left.
- Jimi Hendrix - guitar, vocals
- Billy Cox - bass
- Larry Lee - rhythm guitar, vocals
- Mitch Mitchell - drums
- Juma Sultan - congas
- Gerardo "Jerry" Velez - congas
- Message to Love
- Hear My Train a-Comin'
- Spanish Castle Magic
- Red House
- Lover Man
- Foxey Lady
- Jam Back at the House
- Gypsy Woman
- Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
- Stepping Stone
- The Star Spangled Banner
- Purple Haze
- Woodstock Improvisation
- Villanova Junction
- Hey Joe
After all the years and the possibility to analyze and compare individual Jimi Hendrix shows with each other, critics are unsatisfied with his Woodstock performance. The significance and sheer greatness of this festival leads to the assumption that the headliner would deliver the musical highlight, the grand finale. But somehow he didn't deliver. That may have various reasons.
The most obvious one is that he has restructured his band. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had just Mitch Mitchell on the drums and Noel Redding on the bass. For Woodstock, Billy Cox (an old friend of Hendrix') replaced Redding, and he also added a second guitarist, Larry Lee, and a rhythm section. There wasn't much time for rehearsal, or to quote Hendrix: "Like we only had two rehearsals so we'll only do a primary rhythm thing".
And so it was again almost only a power-trio that performed at Woodstock. Though you can see all the musicians on stage playing, you can only hear Cox, Mitchell and Hendrix - the percussionists and the second guitar are mixed far in the background. That was probably not Jimi Hendrix's idea, who kept looking for some jamming during the longer, improvised songs. Juma Sultan claims that Eddie Kramer and Hendrix's people hated the new band format and didn't want to waver from the three-piece format which is the reason that Lee, Sultan and Velez are turned down in the mix. On the other hand it was Hendrix who left little room for other musicians to step in front. The whole structure of the show is centered around Hendrix' guitar work and he constantly had to deliver.
The setlist was a mixture of well-known Jimi Hendrix Experience songs as well as some new material. That includes "Message to Love" (called "Message to Universe" by Hendrix), "Jam Back at the House", "Izabella" and "Villanova Junction". They added some new aspects to the rendition of Hendrix' oeuvre, but generally the band was more familiar with the older songs.
"Spanish Castle Magic" for instance has - besides Hendrix' amazing solos - a small but nice rhythm section where the congas players are really audible. The blues guitar on "Red House" is immanent, always contextually responding to the currently sung text line. And of course Hendrix brings out "Voodoo Child" with its recognizable guitar signatures. Here Larry Lee is quite well audible and the guitarists are able to interact, though Lee mainly focuses on rhythm guitar.
The later songs finally show the true genius of Jimi Hendrix and stick out of every Woodstock collection. It's also his furious version of the "Star Spangled Banner" (the national anthem of the United States of America) that made Woodstock so famous. Though he played it also on other occasions, the Woodstock version is the most radical. He imitated the fire of guns, the dropping of bombs and flying rockets within his guitar work, criticising the politics and condemning the Vietnam war.
The cacophony suddenly transforms into the well-known "Purple Haze", a drug-influenced song that he already played two years before at Monterey International Pop Festival. Following "Purple Haze" is an improvisation (simply entitled "Woodstock Improvisation") by Jimi Hendrix alone. He breaks out with a lot of fascinating guitar riffs, many of them which could have formed great songs if he lived somewhat longer. It's simply amazing watching him play, totally in control of what he's doing, yet he's still improvising or playing song patterns from memory. When the rest of the band rejoined they continued with their last number "Villanova Junction", a fine instrumental Blues song.
Jimi Hendrix and his band returned for the encore with "Hey Joe", a slow and simple song thematically dealing with a man who has murdered his wife and is now fleeing. But the lyrics bare more than a man who shot his lady. After all, Jimi Hendrix was asking the audience: "Where you gonna run to now? Where you gonna go?".
After all had finished and Woodstock was closing, there was no more reason to stay. For many the normal rules of life had been suspended for a long weekend. Instead of the predicted anarchy and murder there was peace and love. But one can be sure that the spirit of Woodstock is carried on.
"Master Mind" and "Gypsy Woman" are sung by Larry Lee.
During "Red House" a string broke (the high E) on Hendrix' guitar, but he kept on playing.
"Jam Back at the House" includes a short drum solo by Mitch Mitchell.
Larry Lee's guitar is clearly heard on a number of songs, which include rhythm work supporting Jimi's solos, and lead guitar work as he follows Jimi's lead in "Jam Back at the House". As his guitar rig was identical to Hendrix' his contribution could have been mistaken for that of Jimi (Larry is using a Gibson Les Paul and Jimi a Fender Stratocaster).
Before the encore Hendrix considered playing the very rare "Valleys of Neptune" which was only released posthumously, mostly on bootlegs. But he didn't play the song (and never played it for the rest of his career on stage). He can be heard saying: "Ok, now don't laugh at us. We gonna try this one song called Valleys of Neptune... oh, no I forgot the words of that, I forgot the words of that! I can't do it." This is quite ironic because most recordings of "Valleys of Neptune" don't have any lyrics, so why should he play it at Woodstock with lyrics? But maybe Hendrix couldn't remember the guitar patterns and notes or it was totally unplanned anyway. Instead he launched into "Hey Joe", a more classic song.
Jimi Hendrix was already a legend, so the sound engineers and camera team paid attention to capture every bit of him. His music is available on several official and unofficial releases. Here are only the most important ones listed:
- 1970: Woodstock I
- 1971: Woodstock II
- 1994: Woodstock - Three Days of Peace and Music
- 1994: Best of Woodstock
- 1994: Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock
- 1995: Monday Morning: Jimi at Woodstock
- 1999: Live at Woodstock CD
- 2009: Woodstock: 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm
- 1970: Woodstock
- 1994: At Woodstock (VHS)
- 1994: Woodstock Diaries
- 1999: Live at Woodstock (DVD)
- 2012: Hendrix 70: Live At Woodstock film
Most official recordings have the second guitar of Larry Lee and the congas of the rhythm section edited out. An unedited soundboard copy of this show exists where these instruments can be heard, although far in the background.
Note that all official recordings are missing the songs "Master Mind" and "Gypsy Woman" which are both sung by Larry Lee. However, these are present on the soundboard copy.
- Unpublished interview with Jack Lokensky conducted on 10/25/2009 at the Living World Chapel in West Hurley, NY