In the 40 years since his untimely passing, the legacy of Jimi Hendrix has grown to godlike status. Considered by many to be the greatest rock guitarist of all time, 2010 finds a brand new album of unreleased tracks entitled Valleys Of Neptune, along with the reissued and remastered Jimi Hendrix Experience catalog. In addition, a national Experience Hendrix tribute tour comes to Atlanta's Fox Theater on Sat., March 27 ($39.50-$69.50. 8 p.m. www.foxtheatre.org), featuring former Hendrix band member Billy Cox along with such guitar luminaries as Joe Satriani, Johnny Lang, Susan Tedeschi, Eric Johnson, and others.
In this Q&A, former CL music editor and avid Hendrix collector Tony Paris describes his own treasures, reflects on the economic and cultural impact of Hendrix reissues, and considers his continued influence in rock music.
Can you briefly describe your Hendrix collection?
I started collecting Hendrix records when I was 9 years old after hearing Third Stone From the Sun on WPLO-FM, Atlanta's original underground radio station. I saved my allowance until I had enough money to buy Are You Experienced? at a Woolworth's. Since then, I've amassed over 500 Hendrix albums, 45s and EPs. While most LPs are variations on the original three albums (Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland), either issued in different countries or with different cover variations, I've got a ridiculous number of bootlegs of live shows, studio sessions and demos. Then, there are the in memoriam collections that came out immediately following his death, and the early stuff he recorded with Lonnie Youngblood, Curtis Knight, Little Richard, the Isley Brothers.... I keep all of this stuff, along with my other archives, in a climate-controlled warehouse in north Atlanta.
What is your most prized Hendrix item? Is there a Hendrix "holy grail?"
What immediately comes to mind is the copy of Electric Ladyland Santa left for me under the Christmas tree in 1968, strictly for sentimental reasons. Then, there are the first U.K. mono pressings of the first two albums on Track Records. I've got Track Records promo posters of Hendrix's first three U.K. singles, along with promo copies of the respective singles. It's hard to say. I've got a U.K. promo poster for The Cry Of Love that is beautiful. As for a holy grail, I don't know. I guess it's up to the individual collector. Patti Smith used to say she owned over thirty copies of the U.S. pressing of Are You Experienced? in mono.
Why collect Hendrix?
I started collecting Hendrix strictly because of the music. It was so powerful, so extraordinary, so different, that I wanted everything he recorded, whether to hear where he was taking music or where he had come from.
What keeps Hendrix relevant in today's music world?
He's still the greatest, most inventive guitarist to ever pick up the instrument. It wasn't just the pyrotechnics, the flash ... you can feel the truth and emotion in every note he plays. He may not have always been in tune, but the feeling was, is and always will be there. The fact that his peers and just about every guitarist who has come after him acknowledges his originality, his influence, keeps him relevant on one level, while his music, the songs he composed, sang and played guitar on, keep him relevant on a much greater level. It's timeless, even though it most certainly was of a time.
How does the reissue phenomenon affect both the intrinsic and monetary value of collectibles?
It's both good and bad. Reissues bring to light music that may have gone unnoticed at one time, and they reconfirm what we already know about great works. I think when you have a reissue that presents the original album with bonus tracks added on (demos, outtakes, etc.) it reinforces the artist's original vision. The listener can hear what the artist wanted to achieve with the songs selected. Hearing tracks that were not part of the original album, while they may be really good, usually lend themselves to understanding, more times than not, why they were left off the original release. The bad side of reissues is best exemplified by the 'new' Hendrix album, Valleys Of Neptune. On their own, each track is an interesting look at the Hendrix creative process, yet put together as an album, they create the first truly bad Hendrix album ever released. As part of a larger work, maybe as bonus tracks, or on a multi-disc box set, they would prove valuable. But presented as a complete work on their own, they fall short, an embarrassing addition to the Hendrix canon. The tracks are obviously demos and studio circle jerks, most with only basic tracks of guitar, bass and drum and hurried scratch vocals from Hendrix.
That being said, the reissue phenom only serves to increase the monetary value of the original artifacts, those records, posters and other memorabilia issued at the time, back in the day. Hendrix recordings, and his three main Experience albums, continue to be reissued, whether as CDs with different covers, different mastering techniques, or in 180-gram and 200-gram vinyl editions. They serve as a quick-fix for those who want a piece of what they never had. But, for the true collector, nothing will replace the original items, and for that reason the prices keep getting higher. The future of Hendrix items in particular, and rock 'n' roll collectibles in general, is only growing.
(Album cover courtesy Sony Legacy)
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