Sound: 'Winterland' is a four-disc collection, documenting six performances at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California between October 10th and 12th, 1968 from The Jimi Hendrix Experience (consisting of namesake Jimi Hendrix, bassist and backing vocalist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell). An exclusive extra disc is included when the box set is bought through Amazon.com a single disc highlights edition is also available for purchase. A live rendition of Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone backed with Spanish Castle Magic was released as a single. Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady supplies guest bass on an interpretation of Howlin' Wolf's Killing Floor.
The great strength in live material of Hendrix is that track performances varied from concert to concert, with no two performances sounding exactly the same. The Jimi Hendrix Experience often took part in impromptu jams; Tax Free features on disc one and two for example, its length varying by as much as five minutes. This free-flowing nature is fully apparent on the aforementioned, as well as where homages are paid to the likes of Cream (a loose instrumental jam of Sunshine Of Your Love) and Bob Dylan (Like A Rolling Stone), as well as originals like the overtly bluesy Red House included twice, and a definite highlight of the box set. Star Spangled Banner is included twice; while being commendable efforts, neither performances live up to the famed Woodstock performance.
No review is complete without making reference to the guitar work of Hendrix; some deem it overrated while others feel it isn't, but without doubt the man was immensely talented. The spacy, earthy sounds (as well as distortion) he was capable of generating through his Fender Stratocaster as can be heard on 'Winterland' were uniquely Hendrix: when you hear a live recording of one of his tracks, you can immediately tell whether he's behind the guitar or one of many musicians influenced by him. // 8
Lyrics: Hendrix' lyrics are inspired by various sources. Purple Haze was penned about a dream Hendrix had about walking under the sea for example, while Fire was inspired by a comment made by Noel Redding's mother to Hendri on a cold New Year's Eve in Folkestone, England following a concert. Red House, meanwhile, is about a vocalist's girlfriend who's moved and doesn't love him anymore, whereas Manic Depression resulted from manager Chas Chandler calling Hendrix a manic depressive following a London press conference. Little Wing captures Monterey, California's surroundings embodied in the shape of a woman, and Are You Experienced takes the listener on a psychedelic journey.
Hendrix lightly regarded his vocal abilities; while he might not have boasted the finesse of other singers of the time, his carefree notes strangely suited the material he played. The fact he sang without channelling a genuine effort into the lyrics make it all the more charming. Greater vocalists have attempted Hendrix' material, but haven't bettered him at his own game. Hendrix vocals arguably take on an extra passion during bluesier material, like the drawl of Hear My Train A Comin' or the questioning Hey Joe. On heavier fare like Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and Purple Haze, his vocals become more high-pitched. // 8
Overall Impression: Winterland' is a welcome addition to the Jimi Hendrix posthumous live catalogue, though given the expansive nature of the catalogue especially when official Dagger Records bootlegs are taken into account the box set should be deemed only worth purchasing if you've already investigated the man's music and are seeking further delights. Should you belong to that category, it's advisable you avoid the single-disc edition altogether. Technically, you should even avoid this four-disc set and seek out the Amazon.com exclusive five-disc set (which notably includes the band covering Dear Mr. Fantasy, originally by Traffic). However, the cynic in me poses the following question: is this the definitive release of the 'Winterland' performances, or are there other tracks from those performances being held back for future Hendrix releases? Let's hope this is definitive, but the way record companies work it's doubtful if that is the case. For now though, this is the definitive release of the 'Winterland' performances.
Those unfamiliar with Jimi Hendrix' music and some out there probably aren't, even if that seems surprising should begin with the three studio albums issued during his lifetime: 'Are You Experienced' (1967), 'Axis: Bold As Love' (1968) and 'Electric Ladyland' (1968). If you're intrigued further, then purchase 'First New Rays Of The Rising Sun' (1997), which includes the best of Hendrix studio output not released at the time of his death (like Freedom and Dolly Dagger). Only following those purchases should you go about exploring Jimi Hendrix' expansive live catalogue, including 'Winterland'. // 7