A new track featuring Jimi Hendrix and James Booker was recently released. Here's its story.

Cover art for "People, Hell and Angels"

The new People, Hell and Angels collects previously unreleased tracks that feature Jimi Hendrix stepping out of the Experience to try out new musical ideas and configurations. Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, and Stephen Stills all make appearances, as does New Orleans piano great James Booker.

Booker appears on "Mojo Man," a track first cut at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1969. The liner notes say the song was recorded with "the superb Muscle Shoals Rhythm section," but the track listing identifies the bass, drums, percussion and horns as "Unknown," nor is it clear how Booker ended up on it.

The session was actually an Allen Brothers session - two R&B journeymen who were long-time friends of Hendrix's dating back to his early years in Harlem. They cut the song in Muscle Shoals, then took it to Hendrix, who said he liked it. In 1970, he was in the Electric Lady Studios and called the Allen Brothers to sing backing vocals on "Freedom" and "Dolly Dagger." While they were there, he added his guitar to their "Mojo Man" track.

The results, like much of People, Hell and Angels, are more interesting as a footnote to the Hendrix story than as a stand-alone track. The lyrics sound like someone else trying to write in Hendrix's lyrical voice, picking up on familiar imagery without his vision and sounding second-hand in the process. Musically, it's a piece of James Brown-inspired funk, but it's so full of stuff that there's no room for either Booker or Hendrix to assert themselves. Booker is only heard clearly in the intro when his piano responds to the horn line's call; after that, his chords occasionally emerge, but he was clearly hired to be part of an ensemble.

Hendrix's guitar gives the somewhat shapeless tune some definition, adding some cutting fills at the end of lines. Unfortunately, there's already a guitar playing fills and horns playing punctuating blasts in those spots, so the parts clash. With 1:45 left in the song, Hendrix bends a note until it feeds back, then solos over the rest of the track, vocals, horns and all. It's the most exciting part of an otherwise generic track, but Hendrix was too respectful a musician to ignore the rest of the musicians completely, and that constrains the solo. By the end, it's pretty clear that there wasn't a place for him in that sort of music at that time - or there wasn't enough in "Mojo Man" to fuel his imagination. 

For those going to SXSW, the documentary Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Bookerwill premiere Thursday, March 14 at 4 p.m. at Topfer Theatre at Zach Scott in Austin, Texas. It will screen again Friday, March 15 at The Alamo Ritz, Theater 2 at 7 p.m. Tickets will be $10 at the door after SXSW Film badge and pass holders have been seated.