West Coast Seattle Boy is an amazing chronological, career-spanning collection of Hendrix material, but it's far from a greatest-hits or career overview and is probably not intended for the casual Hendrix fan. It's more of an examination of Jimi's musical and artistic growth as a professional musician following his discharge from the Army.
Disc one is a fantastic compilation of Jimi's appearances on record as a sideman with the likes of the Isley Brothers, Don Covay, and Little Richard. While the tunes are great, the actual Jimi quotient is pretty low. The Isley Brothers give him a couple hot breaks during his two stints with them and Jimi plays tremolo guitar on their lengthy ballad "Have You Ever Been Disappointed" and Little Richard's "I Don't Know What You Got But It's Got Me." Jimi does manage to peek through on a couple cuts, though. Rosa Lee Brooks' great "Utee" has a hot little solo and you can hear ideas that would later be reworked into "Little Wing" on the Icemen's "(My Girl) She's a Fox." The vast majority of these tracks are difficult to impossible to find, so it's great to have them all in one place.
Disc two starts with some fascinating alternate mixes or takes of several tunes from Are You Experienced? in perfect sound. But these aren't actually "lost mixes" that Chas Chandler had stashed away all these years; they're recent remixes by Eddie Kramer (the original engineer for most Hendrix recordings) using the original multi-track recordings for the first time. Remember, Are You Experienced? was recorded on a four-track and there were multiple bounces down to two tracks to make room for overdubs. Using the original multi-tracks results in a clarity to the instruments we've never heard before. The take of "Are You Experienced?" is just the original instrumental basic track (and structure for the song), but we get to hear the backwards guitar solo from the LP version played as it was originally before being flipped around on the tape. "May This Be Love" has a double-tracked lead vocal on this version, and the guitars are mixed differently. "Can You See Me" is actually a Chandler mix: an unused mono mix. "Little One," "Mr. Bad Luck," and "Cat Talking to Me" have been available in collector's circles for many years, although the sound here is definitely an improvement. "Castles Made of Sand" is just Jimi and Mitch Mitchell doing a slightly uptempo and more aggressive instrumental take.
Then starts a really interesting run of self-recorded demos that Jimi made in hotel rooms and apartments. His old friend Paul Caruso helps with harmonica and vocals on a cover of the Band's "Tears of Rage" as well as his emerging new composition "Hear My Train a Comin'." The rest are just Jimi and are pretty interesting not just to see where an elaborate studio creation like "1983" began but also to hear Jimi really singing without the self-consciousness that could sometimes affect him. In fact, this particular version of "Angel" is one of Jimi's sweetest vocal performances. "1983" and "Angel" had been previously available as part of Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix (a graphic novel with CD), but these others are surfacing for the first time. "Calling Devil's Children" is another that's been floating around for a while, but "New Rising Sun" might be the jewel of the set. Briefly released in heavily edited form on the ill-conceived and atrocious Voodoo Soup compilation, it's a really cool studio collaboration between Jimi and Eddie Kramer that's like a cross between "And the Gods Made Love" from Electric Ladyland and "Little Wing."
Disc three starts with a handful of studio outtakes where Jimi starts incorporating some other players and instruments. "Hear My Freedom" probably isn't much more than a studio jam with Buddy Miles and (probably) Lee Michaels on organ joining the Experience, but it's a hot one. Percussionist Rocky Dzidzornu joins on a couple tracks, "Messenger" has some cool uncredited piano (possibly Eddie), while Traffic's Chris Wood plays sax on their take of "Hound Dog" ("Hound Dog Blues"). The L.A. Forum tracks have been released before but this is the first official release of the unedited jam with Larry Young. It appeared in edited form (about half as long) on the Nine to the Universe album, but serious collectors have heard this unedited take. This is another set highlight as it shows Jimi really stretching out and improvising with a jazz master, even though it's just a loose jam. "Mastermind" is actually a Larry Lee tune that sounds much better in this studio version than it did when they tried it at Woodstock. "Message to Love" is basically the Crash Landing version, but this is a mix that Jimi did with Eddie Kramer without the edits and overdubs that plagued Crash Landing. Collectors have also heard the entirety of the legendary Fillmore East shows with Band of Gypsys, but here we get the first official release of three of Jimi's early hits from the second New Year's Eve 1969 show (including a lengthy and blistering "Stone Free"). "Burning Desire" was part of the Loose Ends compilation and an edited version of the goof-off track "Peter Gunn/Catastrophe" was on War Heroes, but "Lonely Avenue" makes its first appearance on this set. Much like "Message to Love," the version of "In from the Storm" here is a mix that Jimi did with Eddie that has much more prominent backing vocals than the Cry of Love/First Rays version. "Freedom" is another Cry of Love/First Rays tune, but this is a different, longer instrumental take. "All God's Children" is another high-quality studio instrumental with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, while this "Red House" came from the well-known 1970 Berkeley shows.
Disc four closes with a couple other set highlights. "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)" was a live-in-the-studio track that was included on both Rainbow Bridge and First Rays, but that tune actually flowed right out of an unreleased instrumental called "Bolero" in the original studio take. This is a restoration of that original medley. The CD ends with another apartment demo: an unreleased track called "Suddenly November Morning." It's interesting because while it sounds like a finished composition, at the end it turns into "Drifting." "Drifting" was ultimately revisited and released on The Cry of Love and First Rays, but "Suddenly November Morning" was not realized further. As the liner notes point out, it's a sad reminder of the lost potential resulting from Jimi's untimely death.
The DVD is also excellent. It's 90 minutes of Jimi in Jimi's own words along with some great performance footage. What isn't Jimi's voice on tape is from Jimi's own words from letters and journals, voiced by Bootsy Collins. Actually, William Collins is probably more appropriate since there isn't a trace of Bootsy's persona present. In fact, Mr. Collins did an excellent job of getting inside Jimi's words, and his speaking voice even has a similar soft-spoken quality. In addition to footage of Jimi, there are lots of photos, letters, and handwritten lyrics on display. The box packaging also has dozens of great photographs. West Coast Seattle Boy is an in-depth examination of Jimi Hendrix for those that want to dig deeper than his album tracks and is quite a boon, even to longtime collectors.