Jimi Hendrix – ‘People, Hell and Angels’

The album that never was, by the man who reinvented the guitar. But is this the best of posthumous Hendrix?

Given he died 43 years ago at the age of 27, a ‘new’ album from Jimi Hendrix might, at first glance, seem an impossible dream. But that’s not quite the full picture, as ‘People, Hell & Angels’ is no lost gem. Each of these 12 songs will already be known to fans, even though they’re all previously unheard versions from sessions that took place between early 1968 and late 1969.

Had everything gone smoothly, what’s here might have ended up on the follow-up to ‘Electric Ladyland’, tentatively titled ‘First Rays Of The New Rising Sun’. It never happened, of course, but this collection has a tantalising flavour, the sense of an alternative history of rock. Various musicians drop in and out of the electric blues workouts, including Jimi Hendrix Experience bandmate Mitch Mitchell, old army buddy Billy Cox, drummer Buddy Miles, saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood, and Stephen Stills, who plays bass on ‘Somewhere’. This is the track, full of Jimi’s explosive wah-wah guitar, that first puts ‘People, Hell & Angels’ in a different league to many of the other Hendrix cash-ins filling up the bargain bins.

There are notes of will-this-do here, too – neither ‘Easy Blues’ or ‘Hey Gypsy Boy’, with their jazz-lite noodling, will be hailed as the Hendrix Holy Grail. But there are special moments: the laid-back ‘Hear My Train A Comin’’, remastered by Jimi’s friend and engineer Eddie Kramer, has a Technicolor vibrancy that belies its age; a cover of slide guitar player Elmore James’ ‘Bleeding Heart’ is vital, and so old-school it sounds black and white. Initially recorded by The Ghetto Fighters at the legendary Fame Studios, this was an unremarkable soul stomper before Hendrix overdubbed his unmistakable playing.

There’s no shortage of posthumous Hendrix. He only released four long-players before his death in 1970; three times as many have been released since, and that’s before you get into unofficial bootlegs. If you’re going to get one of them, make it this.
Andy Welch