When Jimi Hendrix’s First Posthumous Album Was Released
Jimi Hendrix left tons of unfinished songs when he died suddenly in 1970. Over the two years following the breakup of the Experience, the trio that catapulted him to fame on three classic albums and countless live performances, he started but never quite completed a number of projects.
The led to scores of album releases after his death. In fact, nearly every scrap of tape found in the vaults (and most likely found on the floor too) has been collected and slapped onto an album in the decades since. More than any other artist, Hendrix has paid for his proficiency and restlessness with a pile of posthumous records.
Some of those LPs (like 1997's First Rays of the New Rising Sun, which attempts to replicate the album Hendrix was working on when he died) are excellent. Others (like many of the live records culled from concert performances that sound like just another stop on the promotional trail), you can skip. And they all can be traced back to The Cry of Love. The very first posthumous Hendrix album was issued on March 5, 1971, just six months after his death.
Unlike many of the LPs that have surfaced since Hendrix's death, The Cry of Love doesn't try to replicate a work in progress or thematically pull together a series of tracks that were either abandoned or left unfinished by the fidgety artist. The 10 tracks were collected from almost two and a half years of studio sessions, spanning March 1968, when he started work on his final album with the Experience, Electric Ladyland, through just a month before his death.
At the time, they were simply the best leftovers in the Hendrix vault and represented both his new work and direction. Some of the tracks were already somewhat known (like the funky "Freedom" and sublime "Angel"); many were brand new, even to Hendrix's biggest fans. And the best of them – "Freedom," "Drifting," "Night Bird Flying," "Angel" – are significant songs in the guitarist's brief but influential catalog.
The core group on many of the recordings includes many familiar names, including the Experience's Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding (who appear on "My Friend," an Electric Ladyland outtake), and Billy Cox and Buddy Miles (who played with Hendrix on the Band of Gypsys live album from the previous year). Stephen Stills, Steve Winwood and Traffic's Chris Wood also appear.
But this is all Hendrix's show – from his pounding piano on "Freedom" to "Night Bird Flying"'s stinging guitar to his production throughout. The period in question here (the biggest chunk of tracks were recorded at Hendrix's New York Electric Lady Studios in 1970 with Mitchell and Cox) is one of Hendrix's busiest and most creative. Countless unfinished studio jams from the era have appeared on posthumous albums for decades; The Cry of Love includes mostly songs, and the best of them at that.
Over the years, the same material – about half of which was completed and mixed by Hendrix – has shown up on other records over the years, most prominently on First Rays of the New Rising Sun with other leftovers. But the central cuts (which include some overdubs overseen by Mitchell and loyal engineer Eddie Kramer) are key to completing Hendrix's story. They remain the short handful of posthumous songs by any artist that deserve a spot alongside the essential records.
The Cry of Love was a hit upon its release, reaching No. 3 in the U.S. (higher than Are You Experienced?, which stalled at No. 5). It set the stage for another memorable posthumous Hendrix release, Rainbow Bridge, a soundtrack of sorts to a film that was released later in the year. After that, the floodgates were opened to pretty much every grunt Hendrix left behind. But there's none of that debris here. The Cry of Love gathers the final essential recordings of one of rock's true giants and reflects his legend at the same time it faithfully expands it.