Just weeks after rushing through Axis: Bold As Love, Hendrix greeted 1968 having already started on the follow-up. This time he was determined to make the album of his dreams: take his time and do it right, unrestricted by the studio clock or even commercial expectations. Nine months later Jimi gave birth to his masterpiece: Electric Ladyland, one of the greatest albums of all time.
Creating the double-album was fraught with obstacles and interruptions, such as touring to finance the marathon recording sessions which eventually cost Hendrix his mentor Chas Chandler and, ultimately, Experience bass-player Noel Redding, who only played on five tracks. Neither could handle Hendrix’s laborious retakes and remixing, plus the endless ligger-stoked partying which kicked in after recording switched from London’s Olympic to New York’s newly-opened Record Plant during the first half of 1968.
Electric Ladyland stands as the nearest we’ll ever hear to Hendrix’s complete, unfettered vision of an album, remaining a timeless work of fearless studio exploration. Its creator was still unhappy when the finished product emerged (initially under the title Electric Landlady!), however, with much of the mind-blowing crosspanning and studio effects flattened at the mastering stage. He was also miffed when his instructions to use Linda Eastman’s photo of the Experience hanging with a group of kids around Central Park’s Alice In Wonderland statue were ignored in favour of a standard live portrait (used on this reissue) and, even worse, the naked ladies who graced the cover of the UK sleeve.
At least the mastering gremlins are set straight on this latest reissue, which marks the album’s 40th anniversary as a deluxe edition bolstered by The Making Of Electric Ladyland DVD, which expands 1998’s Classic Album documentary (itself last released in 2005 but now also available as a standalone title in its new form). Sadly there are no bonus tracks, as outtakes would probably be embalmed in litigation (though they’re running wild on the bootleg circuit). The music has become part of rock’s infrastructure but something genuinely new would have elevated the set into the realms of further greatness – for instance, South Saturn Delta, which is even discussed around the mixing desk on the DVD.
The documentary remains a beautiful insight into Hendrix both at work and play, with home video footage and much evidence of his humour and stratospheric talent. Eddie Kramer, the engineer with whom he developed an almost telepathic rapport, dominates proceedings, playing unadorned master tapes with undiminished enthusiasm. There are also interviews with Chas Chandler, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell and other musicians who played on the album, including Buddy Miles, Stevie Winwood and Jack Casady.
The film unwittingly brings home the fact that, with the recent death of Mitch Mitchell, none of the Experience is with us now and neither are the likable Miles or Chandler. This set now stands as a fitting tribute to them and, particularly, Mitchell, who shines as the other main musician on Electric Ladyland. These five stars are for Mitch and the incredible music to which he contributed so much.