50 years ago, two of American music’s greatest talents proved they were still venturing into new territories. Elvis Presley, some decade and a half after he first took the world by storm, was setting up shop in Nashville for a marathon session that saw him pulling from the new popular songbook and many songs written just for him. These sessions delivered several albums’ worth of material and are now presented chronologically in a new box set, complete with exciting new mixes on From Elvis In Nashville . The same year, Jimi Hendrix was building a new studio and got brought into a deal that involved a zany film soundtrack and one of the most fiery performances of the latter part of his tragically-curtailed career. Jimi Hendrix: Live In Maui brings together all the existing audio and video from the gig, plus an excellent documentary that puts the project into context, showing it as a product of the times and of Jimi Hendrix’s restless creative spirit. Both sets are available now from Legacy Recordings.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the 4-CD box From Elvis in Nashville. Its 76 tracks bring together all the material recorded during The King’s June 1970 “marathon session,” which took place at RCA Nashville’s Studio B. Over five nights , Elvis, guitarist James Burton, and some of the city’s finest session musicians would create what would become the basic tracks for three of his finest later-period albums: That’s the Way It Is, Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old), and Love Letters from Elvis. (Another session followed in September with Eddie Hinton on guitar, excerpts of which also appeared on these albums). The tracks were raw and immediate, and they put the spotlight on the sheer power of The Nashville Cats – multi-instrumentalists Charlie McCoy, bassist Norbert Putnam, and pianist David Briggs – as well as the trusty Burton on 40 songs hand-picked by Elvis. Just one look at the selections, like the June takes of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” the stirring interpretation of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” jams on blues favorites like “Got My Mojo Workin’,” or the September session highlight “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and it’s clear to see that Presley’s musical interests were as wide-reaching as ever. Together, these songs form something of a bridge between his roots in bluegrass and country, the rockabilly style with which he revolutionized all of music in the ’50s, and the contemporary pop sounds he was embracing in his live shows. It’s all performed with unbridled energy and intensity.
Now, the influential marathon session (and the September session, too) are collected for the first time on one collection. And every track has been newly remixed by Matt Ross-Spang to strip away the orchestration, overdubs, and general excesses of the familiar album versions. That means what you hear is exactly what the band laid to tape those nights in June and September – and even more raw and immediate than ever in Vic Anesini’s mastering.
The CDs are presented in a slipcased gatefold media pack alongside a 28-page book filled with rare photos, a day-by-day account of the sessions, commentary from Elvis experts and session sidemen, and a new essay by David Cantwell speaking to the musical impact of the marathon sessions.
On the same November day that the Elvis Presley box landed, so did The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Maui, the definitive look at one of the strangest projects Hendrix ever became involved in. To help finance Electric Lady Studios – the project that kept most of Hendrix’s attention those days – his manager, Michael Jeffery convinced Warner Bros. Pictures to advance Hendrix $500,000.00 in return for Rainbow Bridge, a film that would be shot on the Hawaiian island of Maui, and the exclusive rights to a proposed Hendrix-composed soundtrack.
The project didn’t quite go to plan, though. Chuck Wein, a film director, self-professed shaman, possible astral traveler, one-time Warhol associate, and full-time businessman of general disrepute created a strange film set in a boarding school that followed hippies in search of enlightenment. Hendrix only appeared for 17 minutes in the theatrical cut of the film, including a strange scene at the school and small excerpts of a concert that took place on the island on July 30, 1970 (one day before a Honolulu arena performance).
Hendrix’s performance was, despite the ferocious wind and limited rehearsal time, an incendiary one, mixing classic hits, new songs, and a whole second set of blues numbers. While everything around them seemed to be a crumbling mess, Hendrix and his new Experience (Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass and backing vocals) delivered their end of the deal with the powerful performances. A score was never to be composed, though, as Hendrix passed away during post-production. The crew scrambled to create something out of the countless hours of meandering footage. When Rainbow Bridge was released under the guise of a concert film, most were disappointed by the lack of Hendrix footage.
Fifty years on, that issue is fixed as Legacy brings together all the surviving audio recordings of the Maui concert, complete with Mitch Mitchell’s meticulously recorded drum overdubs from 1971 (as the original tracks weren’t usable) in Bernie Grundman’s new mastering. Recently-unearthed film of the concert is also included in the set, mixed in 5.1. But the star of the set might just be Music, Money, Madness . . . Jimi Hendrix Live In Maui, a new documentary about the creation of the wild film project featuring new interviews and archival footage of most of the figures involved will the ill-fated film. It’s a strange tale of haphazard planning, bad luck, and the extent to which a charlatan will go to get his film off the ground. The 2 CDs of music and the Blu-ray disc with the live performances and documentary are housed in a magnetic flip-top digipak with a booklet featuring unseen photos and a new essay by Jeff Slate.
So, whether it be the unbelievable story of an ill-fated film and an incendiary concert by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, or a collection of Elvis Presley sessions as you’ve never heard them before, your Christmas will surely not be blue with these new releases under the tree! You can order your copy wherever fine music is sold, including through the following links. Please visit our full Holiday Gift Guide here!
From Elvis In Nashville:
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live in Maui: