Jimi Hendrix

The Essential Jimi Hendrix, Vols. 1-2

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During the late '70s, it became clear to executives at Warner/Reprise and also to the Jimi Hendrix estate (then under the archival control of producer Alan Douglas) that the late guitarist had acquired a whole new generation of fans in the years since his death -- and, equally important, that few members of Hendrix's original audience had forgotten him. Bootleg LPs of live performances were still appearing with frustrating regularity, and the Reprise-generated posthumous compilations Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning had both sold well; what's more, the original catalog, including the compilation Smash Hits, was all in demand; and the double-LP Soundtrack Recordings from the Film Jimi Hendrix, five years after its release, was still a perennial favorite acquisition. And so in 1978, Reprise issued The Essential Jimi Hendrix, a double-LP set that bridged the gap between Smash Hits, which covered the basics of Hendrix's popularity, and the posthumous excavations (and the more outre FM radio favorites from his repertory) that had cropped up in the years since. It was like a dream come true for serious fans and a listener's best opportunity for total immersion, two hours' deep, in the guitarist's history. It was also a very respectful release, highlighted by a reprint of Don Menn's lengthy and astute Guitar Player magazine overview of Hendrix's career, and fans new and old could revel in its content, which made this one of the forerunners of the modern box set. And it sold so well that a single-LP follow-up, The Essential Jimi Hendrix, Vol. 2, appeared from Reprise in 1979, this one covering the few major studio bases left untouched by its predecessor, along with an acknowledgment of Hendrix's legacy of live recordings ("Wild Thing," "The Star Spangled Banner," etc.). As an addendum to the double set, it was fine, if not always quite as essential. Cut to 1989 and the CD boom, with Reprise's hold on the Hendrix library soon to slip away with the end of the company's original 1967 contract -- and they end up doing us all a favor by issuing this double-CD set, The Essential Jimi Hendrix, Vols. 1 & 2, the contents of the two separate original sets recompiled together, more or less seamlessly, and with one additional track, "Gloria," at the end of the second disc. The sound may not match the standard for CDs achieved in the two decades since, but this is still a powerful listening experience -- the first half of the first disc effectively acknowledges the singles that loomed large in his first two years of success, with the more challenging material following on from there. The Hendrix catalog has since moved to two subsequent labels, Universal and Sony Music, but the appeal of this set, in content and packaging, remains undiminished.

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