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CURTIS KNIGHT (& THE SQUIRES)


Curtis Knight Featuring Jimi Hendrix:
Live At George`s Club 20 -CD Review

This release is really tricky to review. Expectations were high after the previous volume  of Curtis Knight studio recordings "You Can`t Use My Name". That disc included a lot of new material, completely unheard tracks, new mixes and small added bits and pieces here and there.

With "Live At George`s Club 20" everyone was hoping to finally hear the live tracks as they were recorded, without Ed Chalpin`s manipulations and in improved sound quality. That hasn`t happened. Looks like it never will as based on this release Experience Hendrix do not have the unaltered masters. So what do we get here?

live at georges club 20
"LIVE AT GEORGE`S CLUB 20" 2017 CD ISSUE

There are two schools of thought among Hendrix collectors, those who consider these recordings rubbish and think this release is a rip off.

Then there`s the other group who find that these recordings are at least historically important and some even consider them an enjoyable listen. I`m unsurprisingly in the 2nd category.

If you are not familiar with these recordings I recommend that you listen to them first before buying and make up your own mind. I`m not going to pay any attention to the musical content as most people visiting this website  already have all of this material in their collections, I'm only reviewing the audio quality and presentation.

All of the tracks that we do get here are complete (more or less, some fade out) and all without the overdubs that ruined so many past releases of some of these tracks. But the claim made in the liner notes, "all of the various overdubs and excess manipulation made previously has been removed", is a bit misleading. That sentence has been carefully put together so that it accurately describes these tracks but gives one the impression that things are better than they actually are. The keyword is "excessive". The overdubs and most of the extreme echo effects are gone, true, but the majority of these tracks are far from their original state.

Also, "excessive" is subjective term but many tracks here still have a lot of effects in the mix, often in stereo when the actual music is in mono, and many are available elsewhere in stereo (as apparently originally recorded) while they are included here in mono mixes.

So sadly it is clear that the original tapes were not available. This is also, again very diplomatically, acknowledged in the liner notes: "we have returned as closely as can be determined to the original sound recordings". So, Experience Hendrix may have used the best tapes that they could find, unfortunately those weren`t the raw tapes but later mixes prepared by Ed Chalpin.

If the original masters are lost then that can`t be helped and we have to live with what we have. What I do find a major problem  is that the overdubbed audience again (or still) rears it´s ugly head. Many of these mixes already had audience overdubs done by Chalpin but here new bursts of audience noise have been inserted between some tracks to link them together. The aim probably was to improve the flow of the disc by hiding the cuts but when you are already familiar with the music these really stick out very badly and they were not done discreetly, the noise suddenly comes in and then disappears again.

Dagger Releases are made for fans and collectors so manipulating the tapes in this way is a decision that I cannot agree with, no matter what you do to these tapes they will not sound good so why make things worse?

THE TRACKS
I`ll go through the disc track by track. Please note that I haven`t A/B`d every track to every previous release of this material, there are thousands of lps and cds out there, so something might be available somewhere in better quality than what I`m suggesting here. I just compared the tracks to sources that I recall being the best so far. If you spot any mistakes please let me know.

NOTE: when I say "mono" in this review it means that the band is central / on one channel, they may be effects, EQ etc. that are in stereo, some tracks have a bit of stereo separation, nothing here is really straight 100% mono.

1 Introduction
2 Killing Floor
3 Last Night

Three tracks that seem to belong together (though there probably is a cut / edit in the chat between "Killing Floor" and "Last Night"), they have been found in this sequence on previous releases as well and the audio quality is uniform.
What is different here is that these tracks are mixed in mono. They were already available in a wide stereo mix with drums & bass on the left and rhythm & lead guitars and vocals on the right.

The Dagger release has the band in mono and a rather loud buzzing noise in the left channel. And this isn`t just the original tape mixed in mono, there`s one musically insignificant mix difference that is very interesting when discussing the origin of these tapes.

On the stereo mix you can hear someone saying "one, two" in the left channel after Curtis says "Alright, here we go" at the start of the introduction. This is missing on the Dagger version and it must have been deliberately mixed out. You can still hear it very faintly on the Dagger but it`s practically inaudible, if you take either channel of the stereo mix and turn it into two channel mono the "one, two" is still clearly audible. So the Dagger isn´t just a mono fold down of the stereo tape or just one channel of the stereo mix, it`s something else.

As these two (or three if you count the introduction) tracks are the ones that were previously suspected to be studio recordings the missing "one, two" is very interesting.

First of all, Experience Hendrix clearly didn't have the original master tape. The mono mix and the buzzing in the left channel suggest that this is an old Chalpin mix, not a recent creation. Which probably means that the master is awol.

If the original master is a 2 track stereo tape it would have been relatively easy to take out that "one, two", just bring the left channel down for a second, but the question is why? We again arrive at the old suspicion that this isn't a live recording, when you listen to the stereo tape the ambience is not that of a one mic recording in a nightclub.

I can think of two reasons two remove the "one, two"
- it clashes with Curtis` introduction
- it was spoken by an engineer in the studio and was removed to hide the origin of the tape

The disappearance of the "one, two" is suspicious as is the downgrading of the audio quality. As the Dagger liner notes tell us it was Chalpin who added overdubs to the live tapes in order to improve quality. This was already known as numerous lps have these live tracks with overdubs. But why did Chalpin downgrade the sound quality of the tapes by mixing stereo into mono, adding effects and crowd noise? This missing "one, two" is one more puzzle to solve.

There`s still one more possibility, the original tape actually is mono and the stereo tape that we have is an overdubbed creation with new drums & bass in the left channel and the original mono recording in the right.

I compared the stereo mix to the mono mix on the Dagger and there are no differences to the instrumentation that I can hear. One is simply a stereo mix and the other mono. Is the stereo mix fake stereo? No, it appears to be genuine. The level of drums & guitars stay about the same on both channels but the vocals are clearly strong on the right channel and weak & far away on the left, the bass is much stronger on the left while still audible on the right. Sounds like a two mic recording with one mic next to the vocal mic and another close to the bass amp with not that much distance between the two.

It seems probable that all of these recordings were originally done in stereo but a lot of them have for some bizarre reason been mixed into mono by Chalpin.

I send John McDermott a draft of this review and he made the following comments:
"I am not certain which exact version you are referencing but I think the 'One, Two" comment you mention is from the 1970 overdub session.    

Eddie did his best within the limitations of the mono recording to improve the overall sound.  Some of the techniques he employed may be creating the variations you are citing in terms of mono/stereo.  The 1970 overdubs Chalpin recorded allowed for stereo mixing and a wider image certainly than the original 7 1/2" & 3 3/4" ips tapes.  There are many different examples that Chalpin later released which kept some of the overdubs but not, for example, the drums.  This may well possibly be another consideration in the mono/stereo variations you cite.   It is hard to know which version(s) of this stuff you are specifically referencing.  

These recordings were not made in a studio..." 1

- The following three tracks are also in the same sequence on the tape copy that we have: "Get Out Of My Life, Woman", "Ain't That Peculiar" and "Mercy, Mercy". This may or may not mean that this is the order that they were performed in, there are cuts in the tape between songs, this block of tracks is not continuous.

4 Get Out Of My Life, Woman
A nice clean dry mono mix. The tape version is in comparable audio quality but has added reverb, the Dagger version is dry. This probably hasn`t been available in this good quality before so can be considered an upgrade.

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here.

5 Ain't That Peculiar
A nice clean dry mix. There seems to be a bit of stereo separation but the image is very narrow. The tape version is in comparable audio quality and mix but has a tiny bit of reverb which makes it sound  a bit brighter. I prefer the Dagger version.

6 Mercy, Mercy
This is available in stereo on tape but that mix has some reverb, the Dagger has this in a dry mono mix. So it`s a matter of taste which you prefer, the sound of the Dagger pleases my ear more but it`s in mono. There`s a bit of chat from Jimi missing at the start that is available on tape and other sources.

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here.

7 I`m A Man
Again available elsewhere in stereo but with heavy echo effects applied. The Dagger is in mono, there is some reverb added, the mix is not completely dry but it`s much less soaked in echo than the stereo mix. So though this mix is in mono I´d consider it an upgrade as it`s a much nicer listen. I suspected it might be a mono fold-down of the right channel of the stereo mix (as the echo effects are mainly in the left channel) but I checked this in an audio editor and it does seem to be a real mono mix from the stereo master.

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here. The following two tracks follow each other on the tape copy and there doesn`t seem to be an audible cut between the two.

8 Driving South
Both this and the next track are available in stereo on tape but are here in a mono mix, though both have some echo effects in stereo. These go out and in, after Driving South there`s heavy echo on Curtis` introduction which suddenly cuts out, applied completely in random it seems.

9 Baby What You Want Me To Do
This is available in stereo on tape. And the recording clearly is in true stereo as the tambourine moves around from left and right on the stereo mix (it also does that at the start of "Driving South"), this can`t be achieved with eq.

If this was recorded in stereo with two mics set up on stage and the tambourine is moving around but none of the other instruments are the logical conclusion would be that whoever was playing it was walking around while doing so. As the tambourine also moves around in the stereo image during vocal parts it is not being played by Curtis who`s fixed to the vocal mic. So this track could be from the recording with Ace Hall on tambourine. Unless the tambourine is actually an overdub in which case it would be strange for it to move around in the stereo image - unless the aim was to confuse us into thinking it wasn`t an overdub! You can spend days trying to figure it out...

The Dagger has this in a mono mix with heavy echo in the left channel. There`s very little hiss on the Dagger but the sound quality is a bit distant and muffled so this one isn`t an improvement.

There`s a loud noise at 1.47 which sounds like a mic dropping or something hitting it and at 1.54 we can hear Jimi saying something to someone, probably related to the noise.

- On the tape source this track ends in a tape speed up, someone probably stopped or paused the recording, the recording slowing down as the button on the deck is depressed results in a speed-up on playback. On the tape the next track after the cut is "Shotgun" which starts with someone saying "Ditto you got it".  On the Dagger the tape speed-up has been edited out, the "Ditto you got it" intro from "Shotgun" has been left in but another edit then takes us to "I`ll Be Doggone" instead.

10 I'll Be Doggone
"I'll Be Doggone" is the take with Lonnie Youngblood on sax (another take exist without sax).  It is a clear upgrade, finally a version of this track without bass and drum overdubs. Or at least almost without them, there seems to be some bleed through from a drum overdub, mainly hi hat, though at this point I might just be paranoid. It is in any case a much improved version compared to the old overdubbed mix where the new bass & drum parts drowned everything else out.

The Dagger version is a mono mix but it`s impossible to say if the original was in mono or stereo as the only version to compare it to is the overdubbed one.

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here.

11 Sweet Little Angel
A mono mix with heavy echo on the left channel this is available in better quality and in a dry mix elsewhere.  Also, "Sweet Little Angel" runs directly into "Driving South" on the original tapes, there is no continuous source available but different sources have overlap so it`s possible to edit the two together. So this track is now in the wrong place in the running order of this disc.

12 Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go
Again, a mono mix with heavy echo on the left channel and reverb in the overall mix. In principle this is an upgrade as it sounds a bit better than what we previously had but the heavy effects distract from the music.  

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here.

13 Travelin' To California
This track is preceded by a small bit of previously unheard chat from Jimi:
"This goes out to all the soul folks out there, I hear you all making a lot of noise out there."

The intro has heavy echo applied but this disappears as the track starts. The sound quality is pretty much the same as on the versions that we already had, perhaps a little cleaner, but the Dagger is in mono, this track is already available in stereo.

Right after the tracks finishes Curtis starts the introduction for the next song, this seems to be a continuous piece of tape, I can`t hear an edit though it`s impossible to be sure as there`s overdubbed crowd noise that would mask any possible clues.

The start of Curtis` introduction would seem to be previously unheard:
"Oh yeah, continuing on, and as I said, we`re being,"

which is where we pick up again with the last part of the introduction which is familiar from "You Got What It Takes":
"you're being recorded live, we're making an album right here... fabulous Club 20 in Hackensack, New Jersey". 

At this point the Dagger cuts to Jimi`s introduction for "What`d I Say". So it`s possible that the two tracks, "Travelin' To California" and "You Got What It Takes", flow into each other on the original tapes, a new piece of information.

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here.

14 What`d I Say
"What`d I Say" is misspelled on the cover as "What I Say". The Dagger has this in stereo, the vocals are very distorted as they are on all available versions but otherwise the quality is rather nice here. The stereo is a bit narrow but clear and there is little hiss.

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here.

15 Land Of 1000 Dances
A narrow stereo mix. This is an upgrade in audio quality, unfortunately there`s that annoying echo effect in the left channel again. Thankfully the echo settles down a bit as the track progresses.

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here.

16 Come On - Part 1  
The track is listed as "Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)" on the sleeve, a title Experience Hendrix has to use as the officially registered title for the song has been changed. The mix is very similar to that of the previous track, narrow stereo. This is available in a wide stereo mix which is however spoiled by an audience noise overdub so again the Dagger, while technically inferior, is actually the better mix.

- The transition to the next track has been masked with an audience noise overdub here, sounding really weird as the track fades out. It`s also an odd decision to have the two tracks that introduce the two different line-ups follow one another.

17 Band Outro
A rare track as it has been released only once before, on the 1996 SPV cd "Live At George`s Club" where it was in mono with echo in the left channel. The Dagger seems to use the exact same tape, it is in mono with the same left channel echo effect. However, the best version is available on tape, in wide stereo and without any added effects.

I had previously listed this track as having no sax on it, there however seems to be some sax buried way back in the mix. It`s hard to hear from under the band (best heard at circa 0.45) but it seems Lonnie does play on this track giving us one more little clue for piecing these tapes together. The conclusion is that the line-up with Ditto on drums also seems to have Lonnie on sax even though Curtis doesn`t introduce him here.

- All versions fade out, the Dagger unfortunately tries to smooth the fade with a very obvious crowd overdub, an odd decision especially since we are at the end of the disc.

THE VERDICT
It seems that all of the live recordings originally existed in stereo but it also seems that Experience Hendrix do not have most these tapes. Many tracks here are in mono but they do not sound like modern mixes, the impression that I get is that EH used Chalpin`s old mono mixes, the edits, effects and sound quality all correspond with previous releases of these tracks. If the liner notes are to be believed these are the best available sources that they had which means it`s highly unlikely we will ever get the unaltered tapes in their complete form, they simply don`t seem to exist any more.

So this Dagger Records release is simply a selection of Chalpin`s mixes taken from the tapes that Experience Hendrix has in their possession. It doesn`t even try to be a comprehensive anthology of the complete recordings, seems no other sources were looked at which is a great shame as that`s what everybody was waiting for.

We`ll have to take this disc for what it is, another collection of Curtis Knight live material in a long line of releases. John McDermott`s liner notes describe the situation with these recordings quite well: "The irony is that had these tapes come to light in recent years, unsullied by Chalpin`s clumsy exploitation of this material for decades, their existence would have been celebrated as a major discovery". This would have been the perfect opportunity to redeem these tracks by presenting them all in one complete collection, as this release is an official bootleg even incomplete tracks could have been included, justified by their rarity.

Audio:
If you collect Curtis Knight recordings (And who doesn`t! :) there are many tracks here that you`ll want to have but none of these are really definite mixes in any way. Viewed simply as a collection of new alternate Curtis Knight mixes I would have given this 3 out of 5 stars. None of the tracks are unaltered raw versions which we so have longed for but there are several that are a much nicer listen than what we previously had. But I find the audience noise "links" so annoying that I have to knock one star off and settle for 2 out of 5.

These audience overdubs spoil a lot of the listening pleasure, this release was supposed to finally give us this material free of manipulation so why on earth these crowd overdubs? Just to be clear, I do not mean the audience overdubs that are mixed in the background of the actual tracks, these are more than likely Chalpins work and cannot be helped. I mean the new between track overdubs, they seem to use the same Chalpin audience loops as the old releases which is sort of appropriate and that may have been why they were added, to give an impression of a contemporary live album. Some may just be crossfades to blend one track with audience noise with another without but doing so on a bootleg collection aimed at a collector makes no sense. Was this cd originally compiled as a mainstream release, then released on Dagger Records instead? Would explain the rather odd way this has been put together.

So there doesn`t seem to have been an effort made to make sure that every mix is the best version out there as many are available elsewhere in stereo and in better quality. That may be a legal question, the exact tapes bought from Chalpin had to be used even if better quality exists elsewhere, but I think it`s more likely that EH were unwilling to invest too much time and money. Combing through all of the available tapes and discs would be a huge task and as this release is a mail order only bootleg disc, not a mainstream commercial release, recouping the expenses of having someone work for months or years sorting the recordings out would probably not have been possible.

Packaging:
The packaging is nice, there is a new shot of the band from Ondine and another from an unknown location (from where two shots were previously known to exist). Rest of the images are familiar though the Cheetah shots have rarely been seen in color. Hopefully the upcoming vinyl release will give us even better versions of these pictures.

The liner notes are accurate and give a very good description of the band and the music inside but I was hoping for much more information about the recording dates, tracklists for the gigs and existing tapes. After all one big selling point of this collection was going to be clearing up all the confusion so more information about what tapes actually exist and how these tracks were selected would have been great.

With thanks to John McDermott.

15 April 2017



SOURCES
1 Email from John McDermott 13 April 2017