There is no Bill Graham Presents poster more iconic than the infamous "Flying Eyeball" image for the series of February 1968 concerts headlined by Jimi Hendrix. Topping a sold-out eight show/four night run that began and ended at the Fillmore Auditorium and which featured two nights at the larger Winterland sandwiched in between, this legendary run also included openers of a very high caliber, including bluesman Albert King, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and local favorites, Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin.
In terms of recordings, not much survives from this legendary stand with the notable exception of the recording presented here. This nearly complete direct recording of Hendrix's late show on February 4, 1968, captures Jimi's final performance from this monumental run. Fresh off the sessions for his second album and kicking off the US tour to support it, Hendrix's 1968 performances were rarely less than incendiary, and this particular performance is unique compared to others of this era.
Likely inspired by having the likes of Albert King and Mayall's Bluesbreakers performing on the same bill that weekend, Hendrix places a larger emphasis on pure blues, and his playing is inspired throughout. In fact, the first half of this recording concentrates entirely on blues, beginning with the Experience tearing through Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor." Unlike the frantic tempo employed at their groundbreaking Monterey Pop Festival performance the previous year, here the Experience establishes a slower, deeper groove, more akin to Howlin' Wolf's original, which brings out the best in Hendrix.
Hendrix's own "Red House" follows, a song now considered to be a landmark of the blues, but then virtually unknown to American audiences, as it was not issued on Reprise's US edition of his debut album. Although more concise and focused than later, more expansive renditions, this features some of Hendrix's most emotionally rich playing of the evening.
The traditional, "Catfish Blues," an early staple of the Experience's stage repertoire follows before drummer Mitch Mitchell invites Electric Flag drummer, Buddy Miles, to the stage. Nearly two years before Hendrix and Miles would team up in the Band of Gypsys, what follows is a highly improvisational instrumental reading of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy." Despite the loose unrehearsed nature of this collaboration, these musicians display an innate chemistry, and the performance, essentially a psychedelic jam, is overflowing with creativity from Hendrix and certainly pleases the San Francisco audience.
Mitchell returns to the drum kit afterwards, and after Hendrix apologizes for being unable to play as long as they would have liked (it was a Sunday night with a curfew on the length of performance), the Experience wraps things up with an incendiary "Purple Haze," a song title that had particular resonance to the psychedelic contingency in San Francisco. Unfortunately incomplete due to tape stock running out, what was captured caps off a performance that remains as potent and compelling today as it was nearly half a century ago.
-Written by Alan Bershaw