By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If there were any doubts about the lingering force of fabled rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix more than four decades after his death, his latest single should put them to rest.
The single "Somewhere" went to No.1 on the Billboard Hot Singles sales in February. That bodes well for the latest posthumous album plucked from the Hendrix musical vaults, which producers say has stood up well to the test of time.
"People, Hell and Angels," to be released on CD this Tuesday, is billed as a collection of twelve previously unreleased studio performances by Hendrix, although some of the songs have emerged in other versions since his death at age 27 in 1970 from an accidental drug overdose.
The album arrives with the simultaneous release of newly struck mono vinyl editions of early Hendrix classic albums "Are You Experienced" and "Axis: Bold As Love."
The tracks on "People, Hell and Angels," were planned as a follow-up to the influential guitarist's chart-topping 1968 album "Electric Ladyland."
"After the huge success of the (Jimi Hendrix) Experience and those first albums, he wanted to branch out more, and the blues sound on this is just different from the others," said Janie Hendrix, Jimi's step-sister and president and CEO of Experience Hendrix, the company founded by the musician's father to oversee the star's estate.
"This new album is very important for all his fans as it really showcases his creativity and a different side to him," she told Reuters.
Feeling constrained by the limitations of the Jimi Hendrix Experience trio (which included drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding), the guitarist had already started working with an eclectic group of musicians.
They included the Buffalo Springfield's Stephen Stills, drummer Buddy Miles, saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood and bassist Billy Cox, with whom Hendrix had served in the U.S. military.
The resulting sessions, culled from 1968 and 1969, form the basis of "People, Hell and Angels," co-produced by Janie Hendrix, original engineer and mixer Eddie Kramer and long-time Hendrix historian John McDermott.
"What we wanted to do with this new album is provide what we all felt are really compelling examples of Jimi's artistry and also his often-overlooked role as a producer," said McDermott, a long-time collaborator with Experience Hendrix on various Hendrix projects.
"He saw right away that guys like Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, with whom he later formed Band of Gypsys, brought a new approach and sound to his songs and music. And Jimi was always very free creatively. He wasn't afraid to serve the song," McDermott told Reuters.
McDermott cites "Electric Ladyland," which featured such diverse players as Stevie Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood.
"Working in the studio was a totally different palette for him, compared with playing live," he said. "He could experiment with extra percussion, an additional guitar, organ - whatever he felt the track needed."
And while those tracks, which include such titles as "Earth Blues," "Baby Let Me Move You" and "Izabella," are now 45 years old, the audio quality is superb, because nothing beats analog tape for enduring sound quality.
"Jimi's masters were recorded before the era of mass-production that caused the archival nightmares of the Seventies, for example, where tapes lose their glue backing, (so) we've never faced that problem with the Jimi Hendrix library. His whole tape archive is in very good shape," McDermott said.
The new album is the latest in a slew of albums, films, tribute tours and books following Hendrix's death in 1970 in London. These materials far outnumber the three studio albums he released in his four-year career at the top.
"He's a timeless artist and the technology's finally caught up to what he was trying to do musically," Janie Hendrix said.
"People are still hungry for real music and good songs, and Jimi was a great songwriter and one of the greatest guitarists of all time," she said.
Every new generation regards Hendrix as a touchstone, said McDermott. "If you want to understand the role of rock guitar and listen to real virtuosity, then Jimi's the man.
"People react to the originals, and that's what he was, a true visionary whose music doesn't sound dated at all nearly half a century later," he said..
(Reporting By Iain Blair, editing by Jill Serjeant and Todd Eastham)