Here is a rare example of Jimi Hendrix as a sideman playing to accompany a vocal. He overdubbed a couple of passes on top of an instrumental track that The Allen Twins, Taharqa and TundeRa Aleem, brought from Muscle Shoals. At the time, the twins were singing background vocals on recordings that would be released after Hendrix’s death and Jimi thought the Muscle Shoals track would be a good place to start on the GhettoFighter album he planned to do with the them.

The instrumental track was a fresh slice of Southern soul, coming out of the same studios as recent records by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge and other giants of soul. Hendrix had served an apprenticeship in r&b, playing with bands like the Isley Brothers, and he had been playing rock for a number of years but he didn’t often venture into the realm of contemporary soul.

This recording is a glowing exception, a glimpse at Hendrix from the other side, suiting his playing to a new context. He starts out behind the first verse, sung by Taharqa Aleem, tucking little squeals and bursts in between horn punches, carefully decorating the spaces in the arrangement. He builds his part gently, squeezing off a little crescendo in the background, as the first chorus reaches it own peak at the front of the recording. He plants silvery lines behind the vocal at the opening of the second verse that shine like rays of sunlight, building his way into the second chorus. Dodging and weaving behind the vocal, darting in and out of the tight, steady soul foundation, he dabs little streaks of color into the arrangement, taking off and riding into the sunset with the rest of the band after the second chorus.

Jimi’s part is not a starring role, more like a character part meant to color the scene, making the lead part shine and look a little brighter. He drops his trademark licks into the mix - an artist signing a canvas - and like the great musician he is, he knows when to stay out of the way and most important, what not to play.

Joel Selvin,
author, pop music columnist
S.F. Chronicle