Before he became a psychedelic shaman and the most lauded guitar player or his (or, arguably, any) era, Jimi Hendrix was "Jimmy" Hendrix.
A jobbing, wandering axeman for hire, he spent lean years lending his brewing talents onstage and in the studio by backing acts like Little Richard, King Curtis, the Isley Brothers, Don Covay and even Joey Dee and the Starlighters. One of his more lasting relationships was with the Harlem-based R&B combo Curtis Knight and the Squires, with whom he both performed and recorded numerous sides in 1965-'66.
That was before ex-Animal bassist Chas Chandler whisked him away to England, where he became a sensation and the most talked-about American import since Elvis. And then returned him to these shores for Monterey Pop and worldwide success. Now, fans can finally hear a number of those cuts with Curtis Knight and the Squires -- legally, and after decades of litigation -- on the new compilation You Can't Use My Name: The RSVP/PPX Sessions (Experience Hendrix/Legacy Recordings).
"These tracks have been around forever, and we had a battle on our hands with the restoration work," says Eddie Kramer, who engineered and mixed the CD. "There was a lot of distortion, and the recordings were primitive."
Kramer is the legendary engineer and producer who has worked with a who's who of classic-rock greats from the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Peter Frampton to Traffic, KISS, and Spooky Tooth. However, he is best-known for his work with Hendrix, both on every album released while he was alive and a slew of posthumous efforts.
"I have to mention the one fact governs everything: Jimi signed a piece of paper that haunted him his entire career, and it's only recently been resolved," Kramer adds. "But we got all of the tapes back."
The crux of the matter begins with Ed Chalpin, an entrepreneur and record producer who owned production company PPX International, housed in the same building as RSVP recording studios. After working with Knight and his band as a manager/producer, he later was introduced to their new guitarist, a certain Jimmy Hendrix.
Sensing a star in the making, Chalpin presented Hendrix with a one-page contract, which he duly signed. Even though it offered a pittance of $1 fee and a 1 percent royalty on songs. And that's where the problem started.
Hendrix thought he was singing an agreement strictly for session work as a backing musician. But what the words actually bound him to was a three-year exclusive recording contact to Chalpin.
Furthermore, Hendrix forgot to tell Chandler about that contract as the latter began extricating him from other agreements and contracts he'd signed. So when the now-named "Jimi" Hendrix became an international sensation, Chalpin felt he was legally entitled to a piece of the action.
Lawsuits were filed back and forth between the parties. And Chalpin began putting out the Hendrix/Squires material on his own as well as licensed to others. Often with misleading packaging as to Hendrix's contribution to the songs.
The first release, 1967's Get That Feeling, mentions Hendrix prominently on the cover, and with a photo from his much-later appearance at Monterey Pop to boot. Not surprisingly, it confused Hendrix fans and possibly hurt sales of his own more current efforts.
"It took awhile to figure out where all the pieces were. It was like working on a giant jigsaw puzzle," Kramer notes of the material. "The songs had a lot of overdubs put on over the years, and I knew if we dug back far enough, we'd find the original sessions without the junk added on. And once we did, we found some pretty cool stuff."
Story continues on the next page.
Kramer adds that "nefarious Mr. PPX Enterprises" converted an eight-track recorder to a ten track unit for the sessions, suggesting it was done not for the sound, but so the tape were not playable on other systems.
Litigation dragged on and -- in not the smartest move -- Hendrix even agreed to return to RSVP studios and contribute to two days of 1967 sessions for the band. But what he saw as a goodwill gesture, Chalpin took as further evidence of the binding power of his contract.
So what of the material on You Can't Use My Name? While it's true that Hendrix plays only bass and guitar, there is a glimpse of the direction he was headed to, particularly on instrumentals like "Knock Yourself Out (Flying on Instruments)" and "Hornet's Nest," both of which he composed.
The CD also shows that Curtis Knight & the Squires were perhaps a bit more versatile. There are standard blues/R&B and dance numbers ("Gotta Have a New Dress," "Don't Accuse Me," "You Don't Want Me"), but also excursions into garage-rock, surf and neo-psychedelia ("No Such Animal," the creepy tale of monsters and dead bodies "Strange Things").
One of the more interesting tracks is the opening track, "How Would You Feel?" With a melody and instrumental efforts lifted straight from Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," Knight's lyrics address the not-so-great side of the black experience in America in the '60s.
You Can't Use My Name takes its title from a bit of 1967 studio chatter (included on the CD) in which Hendrix makes that statement to Chalpin as a warning when promoting material. Chalpin laughs it off and is noncommittal, saying "don't worry." The CD's last track, "Gloomy Monday" is from that last session.
"I don't know why he did [Chalpin] a favor, but he did," Kramer says, though he admits he was excited to extract that bit of dialogue. "Oh, we had to dig for it! I found various takes where the sound was leaking over, but I did my forensic research and swept away the dust so you can hear Jimi say those words."
Kramer also praises Hendrix's "impeccable sense of rhythm" and his ability to play both lead and rhythm guitar at the same time, which he demonstrates even as early as these PPX sessions.
While he remains very active as a producer, engineer, photographer, and making his line of signature guitar effects pedals, the Jimi Hendrix estate -- under the name Experience Hendrix, which is run by Jimi's half-sister, Janie -- has been keeping Kramer busy with a steady stream of new Hendrix projects, reissues, live releases, and compilations. An amazing output for a man whose career lasted less than half a decade.
When it's suggested that Kramer is the most active "shepherd" of the musical legacy of Jimi Hendrix -- from the pair's first meeting in January 1967 while working on his debut record -- he likes the term. And while many may see engineers and producer simply as talented "knob-twiddlers," more hardcore fans know that they have a sizable hand in how the finished material sounds.
Kramer doesn't take that responsibility lightly, and he strives even today to keep up with the latest technology in his work, whether it's for use on a song recorded last week or 50 years ago.
"That is part of my role. I feel a great connection with Jimi and his music," Kramer sums up. "And thank God he recorded as much as he did! The studio was his second home, and he always, always had tapes rolling!"
Like what you read? Or are we missing something? We'd love for you to join our team.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!