View Full Version : Alan Douglas Talks Hendrix 1985

04-28-12, 04:02 PM
From Guitar World Magazine September 1985

I first met Jimi in 1969, just after Woodstock. I had my own record company at the time, Douglas Records, which was being distributed by Pickwick. We were the independent, mad label around town at the time, doing weird things. I had a Lenny Bruce record, one by Malcolm X, one by Allen Ginsberg, and I had done a lot of jazz in the earlier sixties that I had also taken over to my label-Eric Dolphy and so on.

So there was a girl named Devon Wilson, who was Jimi's very close friend, and she was also a very good friend of my wife's. One night she brought Jimi over to dinner at the house and we began to talk. I had recorded Muddy Waters at one point, and Jimi was very interested in Muddy Waters, so we started by talking about that and became friends, became real social before any business stuff took place.

It was only about three or four months after I met him, after we'd seen each other socially many times, that he began to come up to my office because he was interested in the things we were doing. See, we were also doing books, like The Essential Lenny Bruce, we were doing films, like EI Topo, and Jimi had that same multimedia inclination. He felt kinda trapped within the narrow vision of the record industry and the management he was with and so on. He was writing: he had film ideas in his mind, and he had book ideas and poetry, all that kind of thing, and he wanted to find expression for all of it. So my operation was interesting for him, and we began to I talk.

Then one night, he came to my house around midnight and asked me if I would come to the studio with him. I did go with him, and when we got there I found out why he'd asked me. Basically it was very disorganized. I could see he was frustrated because he couldn't quite keep the organization together. First of all, he wasn't prepared himself, from the point of view of knowing what tune he was going to do when he got into the studio and how he was going to do it and so on.

See, a lot of his music was the result of an improvised source: he would sit and start jamming, and during the jams he would hit a lick, and then the lick would turn into a figure, and then the figure would turn into a phrase, and so on. So he needed somebody just to organize that process for him. You couldn't tell him what kind of music to play; there was never anything wrong with his music in that sense. It was just whether he was thoroughly satisfied. He had a vision in mind all the time and it was a question of trying to help him get there. So I came back again the next night, and all of a sudden it just became a friendly kind of thing, where I was just going with him to the Record Plant every night.

At the same time I was recording John McLaughlin there, a record called Devotion. Now because Jimi was working with the Band of Gypsys and I used Buddy Miles on the Devotion album, it made it easy for us all to hang around together all the time. So I was working for my own company during the day and with Jimi at night, and it became a 24-hour day between us all. At the same time the Last Poets were -also being recorded when Jimi and Buddy walked into the studio one day; that's how we did Doriella du Fontaine.

So Jimi became part of the family. We were trying to figure out what to do with him, but he had this incredible pressure from management and Warner Bros. and everybody to deliver a record. He'd delivered his third record at the beginning of 1968, so it had been about seven or eight months, and everybody was getting really uptight. That's the reason he came to me: to ask me to help him finish this project, what he considered to be his last rock and roll record. He wanted to go on from there into more interesting places, as far as he was concerned. This last project was going to be a double-record set; if you combine the best from Cry Of Love and Crash Landing you have basically the record he would have come out with then.

What was Jimi like to work with? Well, as a producer my main function was to put a limitation on him. See, he was mysterious, because he didn't really know what he wanted to do out front, so consequently you had to follow where he was going. It took me maybe two months to understand where his head was at in the studio. Outside it was easy, because he'd talk, but inside the studio there was no talking, just playing. He would sit there and start to play something; he almost started with a rhythm pattern. But while he was playing the rhythm pattern maybe he was thinking about the chord structure or the melody line or the lyric, and that would change the rhythm pattern for him.

That's why I was concerned with getting musicians who could play to his virtuosity, because it was hard for the guys he was with to follow him because they didn't know where he was going half the time. See, he would have all the parts in his head at one time, but he was the only one who did. So I would try to help him by defining things for him. I'd say, "Okay, let's forget this for now, let's work on this pattern and do it from beginning to end. Then if the chord structure or the melody line or the lyric doesn't work to it, we'll change that later. But at least let's go from beginning to middle to end for everything."

The thing that finally made me start doing that was Black Gold, an autobiographical suite of eight songs that was pretty complex, so I wanted him to have everything written before we went into the studio. We had this very elaborate double cassette set-up for him at home so he could record and overdub and so on, so he could do a couple of lines at home and musically work out the ideas. So he did it, wrote the songs, and they were beautiful; "Astro Man" is a takeoff of one of them. But when it was time to go into the studio with them he died, and there were a lot of problems in his management office-Jeffrey had the same problems with everybody that he had with Jimi. So two people who worked in his office broke into Jimi's apartment and stole everything to hold it as ransom against some money Jeffrey owed them. Of course, Jeffrey didn't care and the stuff all disappeared. That's the stuff that keeps surfacing. They stole maybe 20-30 yellow legal pads that he used to write lyrics and songs and poetry, all his cassettes, including Black Gold, copies of stuff from the studio, rough mixes, things like that. Anyway, a lot of that stuff is surfacing, and I keep buying it back.

See, when I say Jimi didn't know what he was doing, it wasn't out of confusion; it was because he had so many ideas busting into his head at the same time. While he'd be out there doing the rhythm pattern he'd already be thinking about what he was going to do to it in the booth. So you'd be hearing the pattern, but he'd be hearing a reverb idea to do with it, to double it, maybe- things like that. He was doing basics [backing tracks] all the time, and when you thought he might be doing a finished piece it wasn't really finished because he was thinking about what he was going to do to it electronically. He was thinking like a producer; the best you could do was help him produce. You couldn't produce for him; he was too far ahead. It wasn't just music alone, either; it was the music combined with all the technology he knew.

Every night he'd be in the studio with five thousand new guitar gimmicks-people would bring them to him because they knew he loved to play with them. And every time he used something else it would change the way he thought about whatever he was playing.

Anyway, once that double-record set was done it would be time to move on, so we were talking about what future projects would be. Now, I thought one of his great frustrations was the quality of the musicians he was working with. Not that I'm being critical of them; they just weren't up to his level of imagination, his virtuosity, basically. So I went on a search for musicians with the same kind of energy and the same kind of virtuosity. Larry Young, who I was working with at the time in John McLaughlin's band, was one of those guys: we brought Larry into the studio to start jamming with Jimi just so that he would get a feel. That was basically the direction we were going in.

Certain jazz musicians were the only ones who weren't intimidated by Jimi. For example: we have a jam with John and Jimi where all the way through the jam John is very tentative because he's in Jimi's milieu. See, Jimi was the electric guitarist and John at that point was the acoustic guitarist. So when John began to play electric in the studio with Jimi he became very tentative and unlike himself-he was usually a very powerful force out front, you know. Anyway, Larry Young was the first musician we found who wasn't intimidated by Jimi; he played with him and pushed him. There was an exchange between them on a very interesting creative level.

So the question after that was what kind of a band to put together. And it probably would have been like what John put together, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, one of those kind of bands where everybody could play, everybody was almost a virtuoso. I think it would've been that kind of fusion band. In fact, one of the first projects we tried to do involved Miles. See, Jimi admired Miles a lot, and Miles was always around the scene. But there was this frustrating incident where I had finally arranged, after months and months of negotiating with everybody, a session between Miles, Tony Williams and Jimi.

Then the night we were supposed to go into the studio there were money problems with everybody except Jimi, who wasn't really concerned about it. So it got aborted. But out of that whole thing came some good. Jimi and I would sit and listen to Sketches Of Spain, the Miles album with Gil Evans, and so I got the idea of trying to do an album like that, trying to get the point where Jimi could just play, without being forced to write pop tunes. So we decided to do an album called Voodoo Chile Plays The Blues, with Jimi in front of the Gil Evans orchestra and with Gil doing the arrangements. It was going to be pretty much an updated version of the concept of Sketches Of Spain, with Jimi's guitar fronting the big band instead of Miles' trumpet. So we all loved it and called Gil in, and went over all the songs, and Gil began to write. Unfortunately Jimi died before we had the chance to go into the studio. But subsequently Gil went and recorded an album of Jimi Hendrix music; and if you listen to that album you'll find Gil only wrote two of the arrangements, because he gave the rest to the band. The two he wrote were two we'd discussed.

Anyway, that's the direction we were headed in. I spent about five months in the Record Plant with the Band of Gypsys, recording all those tracks that his management inevitably took over to Electric Lady, that were mixed by Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell, all those tracks that came out on Cry Of Love. But I had known about all those other tracks that were in the can and a lot of them were in my library, all the Crash Landing stuff.

And so in 1974, after we figured it was all over and put everything away, Warner Bros. called me and said that they had just received a record from the Mike Jeffrey estate which was so bad they just couldn't accept it. [Ed. Note: this was Loose Ends.] So they asked me if I thought there was anything better on Jimi Hendrix, because obviously the catalog was doing very well at the time and there was still a lot of interest in him, though it had peaked in about 1972. So I said yes, and I went into the library and pulled out the stuff I knew was good.

The reason it wasn't released at the time, the reason Jimi never finished them, is that there were problems with the rhythm section. So I used as a criterion those songs which had Jimi playing rhythm and lead and doing a vocal. Whatever song I had with him doing all three, those are the songs I used, because they pretty much dictated the arrangement. I mean, if you listen to Jimi's rhythm guitar you know what he was saying, basically. And of course the drum patterns and the bass patterns were there already, it's just that they weren't right. The time was off, that kind of thing.

So I just went back on in with what I considered to be great studio musicians and re-did those tracks. You know, I could've called Mitch Mitchell back and I could've called all those people back in, but they were the reason we had to change the tracks. There was no point in doing that, because I know them all pretty well and I know their capacities and I just didn't think they were capable of re-recording the tracks. There's a big difference between being in the studio and recording, and then coming back to overdub. See, if you listen to those things with a metronome in front of you, you'll find that the tempo changes almost every four bars.

That's what the problem is: how do you get a musician who's patient enough, who understands what he's got to do. I mean, in overdubbing those tracks I must have burned out twenty musicians because nobody can stand it, nobody can handle going through a four-minute song that takes six days to overdub because you can only go four bars at a time. So it required musicians with great patience, like Alan Schwartzberg who can sit there and play two bars and not get frustrated and fucked up and have to walk off the set. Those guys could do that, they could sit there and do two bars, four bars, six bars, eight bars, until they got through the song, and they could make it sound like they played all the way through in one pass. That's the point. I know that a Mitch Mitchell and a Buddy Miles can't do that; they're not technicians, and I needed technicians, So basically that's how Crash Landing got done. Everybody but the people made some noise about it, but the people bought the record. It sold over 600,000 in America, and it sold 1.2 million around the world.

I'm not so happy with Midnight Lightnin', which was the second one I did. But in taking on the obligation of recording Crash Landing I had to take on the obligation of doing three records. It was a business situation between the estate and Warner Bros., and if I didn't deliver the three records they could not deliver the kind of dollars that were necessary to do the first one. Also, the estate was in trouble financially; I could go on and on, but basically Mike Jeffrey told Jimi's father that Jimi's estate was worth whatever he had in his pockets when he died. This deal turned that around. It gave Leo Branton, who is now the executor of the estate, an opportunity to put everybody to task because there was future income, and so he straightened it all out, and Jimi's father is a millionaire today. And at least the legacy of Hendrix has been supported and upheld, so that now he's almost like a star again.

Since 1974 it's just built slowly, slowly, so that at this point I'm busy every day with Jimi Hendrix. I can't even get to my other stuff. It's records and it's films and it's videos, just like he was alive. I get letters in the mail from kids: Dear Mr. Hendrix, can you please send me an autographed picture? His music is ongoing, and people are still learning from it. Certainly any musician has got to refer to him. So Warner Bros has decided that there's a brand new audience out there for Hendrix, and they're going to spend the kind of money that they spend on a new artist. You've got to see the video we just did on him; it's an incredible piece, we spent close to $200,000 on it. And unlike with a lot of new artists, it's all Hendrix: We're not trying to do experimental concept videos. We just took the great Hendrix footage and used an opening and a closing that are fun, and so on.

The new record [Kiss The Sky] itself is 150-gram vinyl, if that means anything to anybody [laughs], virgin vinyl. We're putting out an audiophile-quality record for the same price as a regular record, with a belly band on it, quality packaging-it looks like a Japanese import. But that's all out of respect. I think what I'm going to do is go into the whole library and do the same thing with the first three records, up to Electric Lady/and, anyway.

What I did was this: I took the old masters, used JVC's incredible new digital process that I transferred them to, and then used another digital process to master. So if you listen to the tracks on this new record against the old tracks on the old records, you'll be amazed. It's like listening to a brand new record: all the subtleties, the things you couldn't hear before, come out.

See, we're trying to treat Jimi with the respect he deserves; unfortunately we have only that same body of work that we can deal with. Even with the 700-800 hours of tape in my library, I don't think we have another brand new, unique, unheard LP, because there are a lot of outtakes, or hundreds of hours that are basically the same track. But there are a lot of individual tracks around, so I think one thing I can do is put out a singles collection of things like "Cherokee Mist" that have never been heard before. Although it's not finished from Jimi's point of view-we were going to go back and overdub some more, there's the most incredible feedback guitar on it that you've ever heard. He's playing three guitars on that track: a rhythm guitar, a lead guitar and a feedback guitar. It's just amazing to listen to. So why should I just let it sit there in the library where no one hears it? I'll put it out as a twelve-inch single, and make a collector's series out of it and other things like it. So if we sell 50,000 or 25,000 or 100,000 I don't really care; at least it's available.

Another batch of things I'm going to sit down and listen to is all the Electric Church stuff Jimi did with Buddy Miles and Lee Michaels and all those people. That was what he was fooling around with between Band of Gypsys and the re-formed Experience, trying not to hurt anybody's feelings by putting them all together in one band. There were about four sessions done in California, and I'm going to see if there isn't something to release that makes sense. It's different: it's got organ on it, it's got flute on it, so consequently it's listening to Hendrix in a different context with new colors.

Another thing I want to fix is that no one's ever heard the Monterey Pop Festival in full. I'm doing the complete show, a film, with [director D. A.] Pennebaker; in fact, we're working on it right this minute They only used two songs for the movie, but the complete show had a pacing to it, a buildup to it; it's the best show he ever did, absolutely fantastic. We have six-camera coverage on it, so we're able to do a contemporary cut on it, and we've got eight-track tape on it as well from Wally Heider, so we can do a beautiful Dolby soundtrack. It'll go into video cassettes, midnight movie festivals, pay-TV and all the rest.

See, I'm also trying to put together what I consider the visual body of work. I've uncovered videotapings of the New Years' Eve show [with the Band of Gypsys] at the Fillmore East which nobody's ever seen, except for a very bad version from a kid with a half-inch set-up that's been around the collector's market for a while. I just came up with a two-camera shoot on it. In fact, I called Bill Graham and asked him, "Do you remember anybody shooting," and he said "No." I don't either, and we were both there. I've also picked up this half-hour documentary Peter Neill did in 1967, of one concert in Blackpool with interviews and background. MTV loves it; I'm giving it to them on Nov. 18 [1984]. See, that's what I mean: all of a sudden what's happened is that the basic pulsetakers of pop music are now as interested in Hendrix as they are in any new artist. And I'm the only one available to deal with it all.