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Hendrix: The Final Year

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In the final 12 months of his life, Jimi Hendrix retooled his band several times, toured extensively and recorded frequently as he tried to unlock the music that would comprise his never-realized fourth studio album. In preparing the follow-up to his classic third studio album, “Electric Ladyland,” released in 1968, Hendrix aimed to reinvent himself yet again, to expand his already widescreen vision. He ran out of time, but left behind a trove of compositions that would reveal the new directions he was pursuing. These would filter out across the decades on countless compilations. Here’s a Hendrix playlist of some key tracks that span September 1969 to September 1970.

“Valleys of Neptune” (“Valleys of Neptune” album, 2010):

This ebb-and-flow track about a mythical Atlantis-like world obsessed Hendrix for years, and he recorded multiple versions with different lineups of musicians.

“Stepping Stone” (Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection” album, 2001):

A 1970 single that marks a rare finished studio track with Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys lineup.

“Izabella” (Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection” album, 2001):

The B-side of “Stepping Stone” boasts a bold Billy Cox funk bass line.

“Ezy Rider” (“The Cry of Love” album, 1971):

Inspired by the “Easy Rider” movie with its depiction of freedom-seeking outcasts meeting a violent end, Hendrix drew parallels to his own life in his final months.

“Earth Blues” (“Rainbow Bridge” soundtrack, 1971):

The call-and-response vocals were another sign of how the brief Band of Gypsys era shifted Hendrix’s sound.

“Room Full of Mirrors” (“Rainbow Bridge” soundtrack, 1971):

The title was Hendrix’s way of describing his chaotic rock-star life and his growing wariness of the music-industry machinery.

“Message to Love” (“Songs for Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts” box set, 2019):

From the same set of concerts featured on the Band of Gypsys’ sole, self-titled album, this track underlines how the guitarist and his new rhythm section weaved funk and R&B accents into their repertoire.

“Machine Gun” (“Band of Gypsys” live album, 1970):

With the short-lived Band of Gypsys (Buddy Miles on drums, Billy Cox on bass), Hendrix took his music in a funkier, more explicitly political direction. His gunfire guitar mirrors the violence described in the lyrics.

“Dolly Dagger” (“Rainbow Bridge” soundtrack, 1971):

The last Hendrix single to crack the pop charts, a year after his death, with its cut-throat guitar and accusatory lyrics describing one of the more tumultuous relationships in the singer’s life.

“Freedom” (“The Cry of Love” album, 1971):

One of Hendrix’s signature riffs, this posthumous single reportedly chronicles the same toxic relationship described in acid terms on “Dolly Dagger.”

“Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” (“Rainbow Bridge” soundtrack, 1971):

The majestic intro, the contemplative feel – Hendrix was on to something new as this two-years-in-the-making track took shape in his final days.

“Hear My Train A Comin’” (“Rainbow Bridge” soundtrack, 1971):

In the tradition of great gospel and blues songs that use trains as a symbol of salvation, Hendrix digs deep into the music of the African-American diaspora, a cloud-piercing plea that rockets Muddy Waters into space.

“Belly Button Window” (“The Cry of Love” album, 1971):

The singer has never sounded more intimate, as he imagines himself in the womb, uncertain if the world is ready for him, or he for it.

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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