At this point in Hendrix's career, his great love was the studio and he spent much of his time at his own studio, Electric Lady, developing new material and experimenting with numerous musicians. The process of creating and recording new music held his passion, while churning out requests before roaring crowds was losing his interest.
Without question, Hendrix had a lot on his mind at the time. His first real post-Experience group had fallen apart after playing only five gigs and he was morphing the two groups into one by bringing back Mitch Mitchell on drums and keeping Billy Cox on bass. Legal hassles and contract disputes were escalating. Managerial relations were at an all time low. Even his relationship to his music had become a challenge. Eruptions would occur over "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Purple Haze," but fans seemed either too distracted or unable to grasp his deeply felt new music like "Machine Gun." Sensitive as he always was, Hendrix was literally torn between giving the fans what they wanted and playing music that inspired him and explored new territory.
To all this, add the surroundings. Hendrix arrived in Berkeley - a town that, in 1970, was synonymous with radical political thinking and protes - two days prior to these shows. A week earlier, a riot over Peoples Park left one man dead and others wounded. The previous month, anti-ROTC demonstrators battled police on the University of California campus, and the destruction was so extensive that the campus had been shut down completely. Additionally, the theater was small - only 300-person capacity - and it became well known that they would be filming a feature-length film. Not only did this stir even more controversy, but the clamor for tickets was at a near hysterical state. Over a thousand ticketless fans were outside, determined to get in. These elements all combined to create a pressure-cooker atmosphere. Both the music and film Jimi Plays Berkeley reflect all of these things.
This band had begun touring at the end of April and had a month of shows under their belts; Hendrix had become ill, however, and was forced to cancel a few gigs the previous week. By the day of these concerts, it had been two weeks since their previous show at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Thus, it was decided to use the Berkeley sound check as a rehearsal, running through potential new songs and working out The Kinks from the brief layoff.
The recordings from this afternoon rehearsal are excellent quality and show the band running down versions of several songs that Jimi had been developing in the studio, like "Earth Blues," "Freedom," "Hey Baby" and "Keep On Groovin." While these are relatively loose renditions, it is a fascinating glimpse of Hendrix's mind at work, free from the pressure of the studio or stage.
They also work on some of the Band Of Gypsies material, which was still relatively new to Mitchell at the time, including "Message Of Love," "Power Of Soul" and "Machine Gun," the latter of which was rapidly becoming Hendrix's most powerful song in the current repertoire.
There's also some good fun as Hendrix goofs around on "Blue Suede Shoes" early on in the rehearsal. Well worth a listen and a welcome addition to any collection of Hendrix recordings.
-Written by Alan Bershaw