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CURTIS KNIGHT (& THE SQUIRES)


Curtis Knight & the Squires:
NO BUSINESS -cd review

After a five year wait the 2015 album of Curtis Knight studio material, You Can't Use My Name, gets a surprise 2020 follow up. Of course a lot of tape was left unused by the first volume but a follow up was never promised or hinted at before it was suddenly announced a few weeks before the release date.

No Business (2020)
"NO BUSINESS" 2020 CD ISSUE

As with the volume 1 first a warning: I`m reviewing the cd from the perspective of someone who is very interested in the historical aspect of Jimi`s career pre "Hey Joe". No Business is mostly a collection of jams, demos and novelty songs but for a fan / collector of Jimi`s early work No Business is a fantastic album and a must have. I was quite impressed with the first volume and this second installment easily tops that as there is much more new and historically important music on offer.

A vinyl lp will be released on the 27th of November 2020, a single disc which leaves out 7 of the demo recordings only including the two songs (co-) composed by Jimi.

I`ll review all of the tracks on the cd version which is out now but first some bitching about the presentation. The artwork for volume 2 is, like the first volume, fine. It`s competent but not spectacular, which covers the design of pretty much all Experience Hendrix -releases. Neither Sony nor EH seem that interested in artwork jumping from rather successful covers (like the simple but impressive "metal foil" People Hell And Angels) to rather awful ones (like the photoshopped humanoid on Both Sides Of The Sky). So the design is by no means bad but in my opinion (and I`m of course ever so slightly biased) Jimi Hendrix would deserve the treatment given to the Beatles. I do realize that it probably can`t be done from a marketing perspective as Jimi does sadly not sell as well as the Beatles, but this disc should have come with a large size hardback book with all of the photos and available documents reproduced. And a 5.1 mix!

No Business uses photos from the 1967 PPX sessions only, reproduced in the best quality that has been available so far and introducing two new shots: one of Ray Lucas drumming and another taken from the control room. One interesting new detail can be seen in the control room photo, a table is visible with what looks like a camera package on it, judging by the yellow color perhaps a Kodak Instamatic or the like? There is a pull-out polystyrene tray with flashcubes on it (I believe) and a smaller yellow package which probably contained a camera packaged on the tray which was housed inside the bigger box?

I haven`t suddenly started collecting vintage cameras, reason why I`m speculating is that it looks like Ed Chalpin send someone out quickly to buy a camera to get some shots of the session. Which would explain why these pictures exist. And which would confirm that this indeed was an impromptu affair, Chalpin really did not know that Jimi was coming?

Also on the table is a Scotch 1" multitrack reel tape box...

More shots from the session were included in the teaser video released online shortly before the album, actually probably all of the existing photos from this date. Those shots were also less tightly cropped but the shots here in the cover art for No Business are used as illustrations, not as historical documents. Which has been the Experience Hendrix approach since the beginning, Hendrix albums are presented much more like new releases from a current artist than as historical archive releases. I`m not sure the approach of marketing Hendrix as "hip for kids" is doable anymore, it might be time to go for the "cornerstone of popular music history" -approach instead?



Having said that the volume 2 booklet does include a photo of a complete Studio "76" tape reel log, something that I was disappointed no examples of were included on volume 1, and very interesting it is too. It seems to be from a reel of versions of "Hush Now" and "Love, Love" with vocal overdubs by Curtis. The notes on the log indicate that it`s for a two track reel with the jam session mixed in mono on one track and vocals by Curtis Knight on the other. As the reel is dated 31 July 1967 it appears to confirm that "Hush Now" and "Love, Love" were recorded at the 17 July 1967 session (yes I need to redo the dates & track for the two sessions on the website). It also suggests that Chaplin & Curtis started to work on these tracks right away after the session, several days before Jimi popped in for a second session.

The subtitle for No Business does bug me a bit. Calling this album The PPX Sessions Volume 2 is incorrect in two ways. The first volume was subtitled The RSVP / PPX Sessions, so this, being titled just "PPX Sessions", can`t really be called "Volume 2" as there is in fact is no Volume 1...

Also, this second album includes three RSVP recordings, so calling it just "PPX Sessions" isn`t even technically correct. So why it wasn`t just (sub)titled The RSVP / PPX Sessions like volume 1? Odd.

Another thing about the presentation that is somewhat annoying to me is that even though Volume 2 follows the exact same design as the first album the vol 2 cd  is issued in a jewelcase when the first volume was a digipak. This must be purely a question of cost, but when the series follows one uniform graphic design then it`s a really bad idea to switch the style of packaging this way. These discs are aimed at collectors, and collectors hate this kind of discontinuity.

The first volume was a mainstream release on Legacy, Volume 2 (and the live disc that preceded it) is a Dagger Records release. I think releasing these recordings on Dagger is a good decision. One might argue that volume 1 should have been a Dagger too, but people often forget that the original Curtis Knight recordings are genuine early work by Jimi, recorded and released with his consent. The exploitation only began later, Jimi was fully aware the 1965 & 1966 recordings were going to be commercially released, and as demonstrated by the recordings included here on volume 2 he was actively involved, not just playing along as a session musician but putting a lot of work into them including bringing forth his own compositions.

So, one does not have to like the original 1965 / 1966 Curtis Knight recordings but they were (originally) a career choice for Jimi. The 1967 sessions are trickier as Jimi participated in them hoping to solve legal problems which backfired spectacularly so a Dagger release is a good decision. Not to mention that they are musically way too rough for a high profile mainstream release.

Experience Hendrix seem to have made a point of using the song titles which these tracks we originally first released under. Which is a consumer friendly decision, even though many of the titles used are fictitious or incorrect they are the titles that the record buying public knows these songs by. Renaming tracks could have been considered misleading the consumers. Personally I would have preferred that correct song titles (where possible) would have been used but that`s a difficult choice for a commercial release and I can understand that labeling songs as "jam 1" and "jam 2" with people then actually once again getting "Hush Now" and "Love, Love" would have been a really bad idea. I do comment on the track titles though as it`s important to make clear what the correct original song titles were - if known.


The Studio Sessions

I haven`t A/B`d every second of every Curtis Knight mix that there is for this review, these are just my current impressions and may change in the future...

1 "UFO"
One of my main complaints about volume 1 was that "UFO" wasn`t included. It makes an appearance now here and holding "UFO" over from volume 1 puts in on the same disc with the demo version. Whether by accident or by design all three songs for which we have both original 1965 / 1966 demo and studio versions ("UFO", "I Ain`t Taking Care Of No Business" and "Ballad Of Jimmy") are now together on the same disc.

There is what sounds like a glitch on this track at 1.13, however this is on the master tape as it`s there on the old releases as well. According to the liner notes "UFO" is included here "complete with a new mix". It is a nice well balanced complete mix but it`s in mono which makes me wonder whether it is an unreleased 1966 mix or a modern day Eddie Kramer mix?


2 "No Business"
The track is preceded by some new studio chat which I unfortunately can understand very little of. It`s a nice, clean, probably new stereo mix of the 1967 recording of the song which is complete and runs to the end.

The album uses the original 1967 PPX title for the song, originally it was called "I Ain`t Taking Care Of No Business" (as per the original 1966 songwriters contract).


3 "Hush Now"
"Hush Now" also starts with some studio chat. Jimi`s voice clearly audible but it`s very hard to make out what is being said even thought the chat has clearly been amplified when mixing. I think Jimi says "Ok, play hard" and "Ok, ready?" This is in mono, probably picked up by Jimi`s guitar amp mic? It would seem that there was no vocal mic near Jimi or Bugs.

A complete mix of one of the takes for "Hush Now" follows which seems to run to the very end where Jimi stops playing and the band messes around for a bit until the recording is cut but the tape hiss continues for a moment to demonstrate that this is all that there is on the master tape. "Hush Now"of course is a title made up after the fact when Curtis composed lyrics for the "vocal" version of this jam. This is a very nice clean stereo mix with just a light echo effect on the guitar.

One of the mysteries about this track, who plays the second guitar part in the right channel, is still left unsolved. The album credits do not mention any other guitar players apart from Jimi, nor do they credit the mysterious "Shears" (who can be seen in the pictures playing a Danelectro Bellzouki) with anything, so one has to assume that the identity of the 2nd guitar player (or Shears) is not clear from the tapes or the logs.

The 2nd guitar might also be a later overdub but one would assume it would have been mixed out by EH if that was the case?


4 "Gloomy Monday [Alternate]"
One thing that took me a while to figure out on this disc is the use of the "alternate" designation in the song titles. The logic seems to be that all songs of which a different version was also included on volume 1 are listed as "alternate" versions here,

So "Gloomy Monday" is actually the old single take, with overdubs added later by Chalpin, but in a new mix. Which might actually be an old 1967 mix as it seems to be straight mono and not a new stereo mix of the multitracks? This version runs to the very end.


5 "How Would You Feel [alternate]"
This is a mono mix of the recording released as a single with the lead vocals replaced by a new take with different lyrics. The original backing vocals remain, and some leakage of the original lead vocal can be heard at the end of the track. I assume this is an original 1967 mix (since it`s in mono) but the liner notes make no mention of it.

Tolinski writes that this alternate version was made because Chalpin was "desperate for more Hendrix material" and a new vocal from Curtis was recorded on 18 July 1967. I don`t think that is necessarily the case, can`t imagine anybody being desperate enough to consider releasing this version of the song.

"How Would You Feel"  was a finished track that Chalpin had a right to use, it woudln`t have been necessary for him to produce a new vocal in order to be able to (re)release it. My guess would be that he wanted to replace the protest song lyrics with something more commercial, hence we now get to enjoy Curtis` terrible "boy tries to meet girls" -lyrics.

It is a really bad version but I`m glad it´s included, the new vocal is lyrically & musically rubbish but like the "You Can`t Use My Name" -dialog on volume 1 it gives great insight into the process of Chalpin making and releasing these recordings. And to be fair to Curtis the new lyrics may well have been just a quick test to see if the basic idea would work which was then quickly abandoned, he did a much better job of overdubbing on "Hush Now" and other 1967 "songs".

It also makes one wonder how much influence Jimi actually had on the original version of "How Would You Feel". The song clearly borrowed from Bob Dylan and had "message" lyrics, was it just Curtis & Chalpin cashing in on the times or did Jimi have a hand in writing the song even though he`s not credited for it? In any case Curtis in 1967 was apparently quite happy to forget about civil rights and sing about hot chicks instead.


6 "Love, Love"
Again preceded by some completely new and hard to hear but very interesting studio chat. Jimi say "wanna jam one more time?" and quickly scats the tune that he is going to play for the band making clear whose musical ideas are being used here though the original 1968 Flashing Capitol lp credited Curtis Knight as the sole composer. "Love, Love" is a made up title derived from the vocals Curtis later overdubbed on this track but it is the title the song was originally released under.

Sound quality & mix are very close to "Hush Now" though there is no 2nd guitar here and Jimi has been mixed closer to center with some panning left & right to fill up the space. This is a very nice well balanced complete mix of the jam without excessive echo effects and the guitar up front. We already had an almostcomplete  version which fades out a few seconds before this mix does so there isn`t anything musically new here but it`s a nice clean complete mix.

At the end of the jam Jimi again stops, the band continues for a bit before also stopping and the hiss runs on for a moment to mark the end of a recording. I do very much prefer this type of ending to jam sessions as opposed to tidying them up with a fade, there is no need to try and polish these tracks, they were loose jams and can have abrupt endings on disc.


7 "My Best Friend [Takes 3/4/5]"
These takes of "Ballad Of Jimmy" (which is the original title of this song as confirmed by studio talk back) are another surprise. These are from the session that produced the 1966 version of the track that was not thought to have Jimi on it. He can, however, be heard talking in the studio, and John McDermott confirmed that Jimi is playing the bass on this track. The 1966 version was to my knowledge only ever issued on one lp, "Strange Things" on Music for Pleasure in France & Belgium (and possibly all of the Benelux). Here, however, EH use the alternate title "My Best Friend" even though the track was first released as "Ballad Of Jimi" in 1968, slightly deviating from the "original title" -logic.

The studio chat and incomplete takes are extremely interesting. Jimi appears to be directing the session, after the incomplete take 3 Jimi instructs the drummer ("Harry"? Hard to hear what Jimi says here) telling him to "play the same thing [...] till he comes in".

Take 4 reveals what he meant, the drummer switches to playing a steady beat with just the hi-hat (or cymbal, I`m not a drummer, please do tell me which one he´s playing if you are) until Curtis starts to sing the actual lyrics. On the preceding take the drummer started to vary the rhythm already during the spoken introduction.

After take 4 breaks down Jimi appears to shout more instructions, "don`t forget to..." but the tape is cut here. Take 5 which follows is a complete version of the song. It is very similar to the version that we were already familiar with but it`s not the same. The mix is different as are at least some of the lead vocals and piano, possibly other instruments as well. Since the band was playing live my guess at this point is that it´s not take 5 with new overdubs but rather a different take - I`ll have to get back to that later though ...

What this album clearly demonstrates is that "Ballad Of Jimmy" was a track that a lot of work was put into over the years. We now have a demo version from 1965, a studio version from 1966 (recorded for RSVP) and another studio version from 1967 (recorded for PPX). It´s a real shame that Chalpin chose to overdub the new vocals with Jimi supposedly predicting his death as the song really WAS about Jimi right from the beginning and not just a later fabrication - which is the impression that the reworking left many people with.

The 1967 recording of the song is not included on this album, was three versions of the same track on one cd deemed to be too much?


8 "Hornet`s Nest [Alternate]"
A complete stereo mix of the original single take. The track starts with a studio talkback announcement "Rolling, Kato`s Special take 2" by engineer Bruce Staple, already previously heard on some existing PPX releases but thankfully also included here.

If the original single version was take 2 that probably makes the (actual) alternate take included on the first volume take 1, though there was no mention about this in the liner notes.This track is the other RSVP track that I complained was missing from volume 1.

Tolinski writes that "Hornet`s Nest" was "a 1966 instrumental based on the kitchy "The Green Hornet Theme" by trumpeter Al Hirt." I`d rather say "inspired" than "based" here. Both tracks are both fast paced instrumentals and the theme must certainly have been the original inspiration but saying it`s based on the Al Hirt track goes too far in my opinion, the two are musically too different from each other.




9 "I Need You Every Day [Sick & Tired]"
10 "Suey"
These two tracks were released on a Sundazed 7" in 2018, they were bound to get a cd release and here it is. I won`t repeat everything that I wrote about the single back then, these two tracks are essential early recordings, I`ll direct you to the original reviews instead:

"Suey"
http://www.earlyhendrix.com/jayne-mansfield-reviews

"Sick And Tired"
http://www.earlyhendrix.com/ricky-mason-reviews


The Demo Recordings

Brad Tolinski says in the liner notes that the demo recordings were done at Studio "76" right after Jimi and Curtis first met. I have serious doubts about this. The tapes are very lo-fi and sound exactly like rough demos cut at somebody`s home with a cheap consumer deck. I don`t believe Chalpin would have made mono demo recordings on a cheap portable deck in his professional recording studio.


11 "Taking Care Of No Business"
This is an entirely new track and a truly historical recording. Jimi talked about this demo during the PPX court case:

"There was one time that Curtis started playing this song - I think it was No Business - and like he was playing an old version of it, some demo version or something, I don't know. And we were playing with it. But that old version was made like, you know, a while back" 1

So we knew that there had once been an earlier recording of the track but it only surfaces now. It is very close to the 1967 recording (track 2), so that one was a straight re-recording. The track is also important for being the first Hendrix song that we know of with a publishing contract, and in that it`s the only known pre-fame track composed by Jimi that was later re-recorded with the Experience.

To my ears there are three vocalist here though, Curtis sings the lead and an unknown second person and Jimi do harmony vocals?


12 "Working All Day"
The song was copyrighted under the odd but apt title "Ooh-ah" in 1967:

OOH-AH; w & m Jimi Hendrix & Curtis
Knight. 2 p. © PPX Pub. Co., a div .
of PPX Enterprises, Inc.; 18Aug67 ;
EU10730.

It`s clear from the date that in 1967 Chalpin was busy reviewing / registering everything he had with Jimi on it, this demo probably was never tried in the studio in 1965 but was dug up again in 1967. The Dagger album credits the song to just Jimi. Curtis may really have had a hand in the composing, or it may be a credit added to the copyright registration in 1967 to give him a share in the profits. Impossible to tell with the available info.

Like Tolinski points out Jimi later recycled the "Oaah-ahs" from this track for "Purple Haze". "Working All Day", however, is a clear re-write of "Chain Gang" by Sam Cooke. It`s a fascinating, completely new and previously unknown recording. Jimi does all of the lead vocals making this now the earliest known recorded track with him singing. The tape sounds just like Jimi`s home demos from later in his career do, he sings softly to his own guitar accompaniment. There are one or two backing vocalists doing the "oohs" and the "aahs", and it`s specifically this bit that has been lifted from "Chain Gang". The subject matter of the lyrics also follow the original song very closely but they are completely different as are the vocal melodies, so this is not a cover version but rather a pastiche.



I think there are two probable reasons why Jimi may have composed the song. Either this is one of his first attempts at writing and recording his own songs, and like many artists he starts out by emulating songs composed by others. Or, this remake of "Chain Gang" was specifically written for Ed Chalpin. "How Would You Feel" was a rewrite of a Bob Dylan song, "Working All Day" (aka "Ooh-ah") follows the same template, as does "Hornet´s Nest" to some degree. Did Chalpin want to record hit songs so Jimi and Curtis tried to write them in the style of previous successes?

In any case the song is musically not that amazing, but it`s a priceless glimpse into Jimi working on his own material in 1965, something that I didn`t think we`d ever get to hear


13 "Two Little Birds"
A previously unheard and unknown track with a solo vocal by Curtis. According to the booklet credits this track was composed by Curtis Knight and Jimi Hendrix. I do have to wonder if EH didn`t mix this one up in the credits with "Working All Day" which was copyrighted for Hendrix & Knight?  For "Two Little Birds" I haven`t found any registration at all so why Jimi is included as a co-composer here and Curtis not mentioned at all for "Working All Day" I do not know. It`s of course always possible that EH has information that I don`t.

Whoever wrote the song it`s very much in the 1950`s / doo-wop -style that Curtis had been singing for much of his career up to this point in time so he´s right at home. As apparently is Jimi who plays a very nice and busy rhythm guitar part. It`s very easy to imagine three guys in tuxedos behind Jimi and Curtis going uuh aah which is probably the reason why the song seems to have stayed in the demo stage. It`s not all like the any of the other material that the Squires played live or recorded in the studio.


14 "Suddenly"
Another previously unheard and unknown track with a solo vocal by Curtis and another rather traditional ballad.

The track sounds like a dub from acetate and in general the sound quality of the new demo recordings is a bit worse than on the four tracks that had already been released by SPV. Has the original tape been lost or fallen to pieces in the 20 years since the SPV releases? The liner notes make no comment about the sources used for these recordings.

There was a copyright registration made for this track already in early 1965, long before Curtis met Jimi.

SUDDENLY; w & m Curtis Knight. 2 p
© RSVP Music, Inc.; 10Mar65 ; EU871253.

Tolinski compares the style of the guitar parts on "Two Little Birds" and "Suddenly" to "Little Wing" and "Castles Made Of Sand" and he´s right. Again the composition itself isn`t revolutionary in any way but it`s a completely new addition to the catalog of songs recorded by Jimi Hendrix.


15 "UFO"
16 "Better Times Ahead"
17 "Everybody Knew But Me"
18 "If You Gonna Make A Fool Of Somebody"
These four demo tracks were previously released by SPV and the Dagger Records cd seems to use the exact same master. The Dagger is a bit quieter but otherwise the audio quality is identical as is the musical content. All four SPV tracks are also in the same sequence here. Which is interesting, is the original master for these now lost, or has the tape degraded so badly that EH decided to use the SPV master?

"If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody" is incorrectly titled on the Dagger release, the original title uses "gotta", not "gonna". Though Curtis does alternate between singing "gotta" and "gonna". Again it seems that Dagger uses the title that the track was first issued with instead of the "correct" title as the SPV disc made the same error. The original version of the song was first released by James Ray with The Hutch Davie Orchestra on the 45 "If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody / It's Been A Drag" (Caprice 110) in 1961.


19 "My Best Friend"
Curtis does a solo vocal on this previously unknown and unheard demo version of "Ballad Of Jimmy". This recording has the most ambient noise of the bunch, with what sounds like a doorbell going at 0.28 & 0.40 and cutlery dropping on a plate at 0.59... This new demo is one of the most surprising and nicest things on this album. It follows the studio versions closely and Jimi is playing a pretty basic rhythm part behind Curtis so the recording is not that special musically, but with hindsight the atmosphere & ambience is touching and the historical significance immense.

Obviously this was just a novelty song and inside joke at the time of the recording and not the dark doomy prediction of death Chalpin later tried to frame it.  Now 55 years later it´s very symbolic though, Jimi & Curtis worked on the song a great deal, starting out here with a common goal with the relationship then going very sour in two years time and these PPX / RSVP recordings causing immense problems and heartache for Jimi for most of the rest of his career.

It`s a very dramatic way to end the album with, the tape apparently ran out a few seconds too soon so the album finishes with Curtis singing "five long years he`s be..."


There are still more tracks available from the 1967 PPX sessions: "Happy Birthday", "Odd Ball", "Day Tripper / Future Trip / Flashing", "Ballad Of Jimi" (1967 version) & "Get That Feeling" plus an alt take of "Hush Now" are not included here.  Also still missing are the original mixes from the RSVP singles and the 1967 version of "Suey" which, as we now know, has no Jimi on it it but would still be welcome. Add to that anything unreleased that Experience Hendrix may still have hidden away and there may or may not be a third volume studio recordings coming out one day.

21 November 2020




SOURCES
1 Jimi's PPX court case deposition interview recorded 7 March 1968 in New York City, partially reproduced in Univibes issue #35