The last year in the life of Jimi Hendrix (1942-70) has always represented something of a puzzle for fans of the guitar great. Hendrix’s Experience, which hit a commercial peak with the release of Electric Ladyland (1968), had announced its breakup by early ’69.
Later that year, Hendrix thought of recording with Miles Davis, and even invited Paul McCartney to join in on bass. By the close of ’69, Hendrix played with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums in the New Year’s shows that made up the Band Of Gypsys album.
But while Miles had his strengths as a drummer, he didn’t fit in the band with his overbearing vocals. Soon after, Hendrix brought Experience man Mitch Mitchell back into the fold for studio sessions and performances. That included the live sets Hendrix played in Hawaii in July ’70.
In what became his final U.S. shows, Hendrix (with Cox and Mitchell) played to small audiences on Maui as part of the Rainbow Bridge film project. And Hendrix’s work on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” stands as some of the most explosive work of the guitar master’s career.
Jimi Hendrix soared as only he could on ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ at his 1970 show in Maui
“Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” which closed out Electric Ladyland, almost immediately became one of Hendrix’s signature tracks. The song is built for extended guitar improvisations, and Hendrix’s sound on record might be the purest expression of his work. At live shows, it could get even better.
Ace guitarist Joe Satriani considered it the greatest electric guitar work ever put on record. “The whole song could be considered the holy grail of guitar expression and technique,” Satriani said, via MusicRadar. “It is a beacon of humanity.”
At the Maui show in July ’70, Hendrix and his band tore into an uptempo version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” And once Hendrix shredded his way through the intro, first verse, and chorus, he really let loose. Somehow, engineers got a clear recording of his performance.
Around 1:45, Hendrix takes flight, and words like “ecstatic” and “otherworldly” pop into your mind and immediately sound inadequate. By 2:25, he’s well beyond the point of god-like. And by 3:05, if we’re to believe the audio and visual synching, Hendrix has brought himself to his knees with his playing.
Recording problems necessitated the dubbing of Mitch Mitchell’s drum part
While the film and sound appear to match completely in Hendrix’s case, the drums of Mitchell were a different story. (Notice the sound of fills you don’t see him perform.) For the Live in Maui (2020) release, engineer Eddie Kramer had to draw on recordings of Mitchell’s parts the drummer made after the Maui gig.
“Mitch did a tremendous amount of work on the overdubs,” Kramer said, via the Jimi Hendrix official site. “He was determined to fix what suffered on the recordings due to the 50 mile-an-hour winds because they were playing on the side of a bloody volcano!”
While you might get confused trying to follow the concert concept and related post-production work, the audio is mesmerizing. Hendrix found himself searching for a new musical direction in the last year of his life. But at Maui, playing “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” he sounded near or at the height of his powers.
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