At first glance, the archival Jimi Hendrix Experience Live In Maui album, seems like it could be a patchouli stink disaster. The documentary Music, Money, Madness, directed by John Mc Dermott, features concert footage, interviews and gives a vivid portrayal on how this trio battled the natural elements—I’m talking major gale force winds—and still pulled off two 50-minute shows that feel anticipatory, not retrospective.
The audio portion of the documentary represents the first authorized release of the two sets played in late summer 1970. In what some would view as another gross malfeasance of Hendrix’s talent and time, he ended up playing this concert in front of a few hundred spectators at a windy cow farm next to a Hawaiian volcano in Maui. Yes, a cow farm next to a volcano.
Until his fateful death in September that year, Hendrix kept up a breakneck pace of performances that required him to ignore death threats and conduct business with managers and handlers who only had personal financial gain as their first priority. By the middle of 1970, he was working on a follow up album to Electric Ladyland with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass, headlining festivals and arenas across the U.S. and building Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Completing this state-of-the-art recording facility was proving to be a costly endeavor, so his manager Michael Jeffery procured a $500,000 advance from Warner Bros. to fund the remaining construction required to complete the studio. At those same meetings, Jeffery convinced Warner Bros. executives to finance a film called Rainbow Bridge that was to be shot in Maui, in exchange for rights to its soundtrack album consisting of new Jimi Hendrix studio recordings.
Inspired by Easy Rider and directed by Warhol acolyte Chuck Wein, Jeffery’s film centered around the idea of a “rainbow bridge” between the unenlightened and enlightened worlds. It was envisioned to feature everything from surfing and yoga to meditation and Tai chi and filmed without the aid of a script or professional actors. It proved to be a rambling assemblage of hippie excess, and Jeffery grew concerned that his investment was being squandered. The Experience were already booked to perform a concert in Honolulu at the H.I.C. Arena on August 1, 1970. Wein, desperate to feature Hendrix in some capacity within the film, devised a plan to film a free “color/sound vibration experiment” on the lower slope of the dormant Haleakala volcano.
You get the feeling Hendrix saw the completion of his studio as a rebranding moment, where the sound could change and he could finally dead-end all the pop shit. With a canon of new arrangements, designed for the increasing cash-flush festival circuit, he could be free from the greatest hits schmaltz—and do some wild fusion experiments similar to Miles Davis’ reinvention. So no matter the extreme touring schedule and weird contract dealings he chose to ride the Experience—in name only—until he could start the next phase. Electric Lady Studios, in his eyes, would be his saving grace, in ownership and concept.
Playing all those hits that probably sounded washed running them back, every damn night. “Fire” and “Purple Haze” on this comp, feel like worn tire treads, with minimal vocal accompaniment. Ad infinitum Vegas rehash, until we hit the guitar solos. Then Jimi awakes, whipping his cash cow hits with light saber savagery. People looking for the radio solo, get confused real quick. Thick viscous ooze permeates these songs’ interiors, conveying a wizard extolling ire at his lesser works, unloading sheer anger via demonizing solos . Which also exudes a certain type of magic. One that cannot be mass marketed. You have to know these tunes backwards and blind in order to grind them to smithereens.
The Seattle-born polymath, who opened for The Monkees at the beginning of his solo career, played guitar behind his back, between his legs, and making it look as if he were playing it with his teeth. Hacks learned out on the R&B chitlin’ circuit, backing up Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, in Hendrix’s lean-eating, primary fame stage of the early 1960s.
But things were changing. His Band of Gypsys—released on Capitol Records March 25, 1970—came together for their two-night performance at the Fillmore East on New Year’s 1970, with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. This rhythm section galvanized Jimi’s embrace of the R&B tradition. Merging it all with a blues root, it produced unparalleled rhythmic stability. One that was lacking before.
Opening the Maui concert with “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” signaled a continuation of that feel. He didn’t stick this new work at the end of the show. Instead Jimi is hollering at fate, and critics for that matter, with a blues boogie, letting them know the upcoming projects are complex melds of fusion and fried funk. In the 27-second ramble before “Hear My Train A Comin,” Hendrix calls the tune “Getting My Heart Back Together” before diving head first into the semi-autobiographical searing dirge, that starts morose, hits peak psychedelic gut wrench in the middle and completes with its tail between its legs.
The sidewinder trajectory of the masterful “Villanova Junction,” a lesser known live song performed at Woodstock, allows the trio to operate an instrumental unit, with not an idea of a vocalist in sight. Sometimes it feels like Hendrix just wanted to fade into the amp with his guitar and become electricity. “Ezy Rider” is a showcase of full tilt boogie perfection, whereas “Jam Back At The House” is that new fusion direction he wholeheartedly was ready to leap into.
In the aftermath of his performance on Maui, Hendrix would return to New York and his work at Electric Lady Studios. He had no further involvement in Rainbow Bridge. He left for Europe at the end of August to headline the massive Isle Of Wight festival and begin a European tour. Which, tragically, would all end up being cut short in London on September 18, 1970.
Label: Experience Hendrix
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to Treble since 2018. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in The Wire, 48 Hills, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK and Drowned In Sound.