Curtis Knight & the Squires:
You Can't Use My Name -cd review
Warning: this review of the new Curtis Knight & the Squires cd/lp "You Can't Use My Name" released by Experience Hendrix / Sony Legacy is going to be heavily biased which should come as no surprise given the whole "mission" of this website. We're here to listen to these early tracks for what they are so in this review I'm concentrating on the mixing and the presentation of the music pretty much leaving out any judgement on the quality of playing or musical worth with the exception of the three new tracks that no-one has ever heard. I don't at the moment have the vinyl issue so I'm only talking about the cd version here.
"YOU CAN`T USE MY NAME" 2015 CD ISSUE
Note that these are all first impressions, this review was written less than two weeks after I got the cd. No doubt there are mistakes and little omissions that will come to light after giving the cd more listens over a longer period of time - needless to say I haven't A/B´d every track to the hundreds of previously released mixes and edits...
1 The disc opens with "How Would You Feel", the first Curtis Knight / Jimi Hendrix recording ever released. The original RSVP single, "How Would You Feel / Welcome Home" (RSVP 1120) which of course was in mono, came out in April 1966 credited just to "Curtis Knight" with no mention of the Squires on the label. Here we have a stereo mix and I believe this is the longest version that's ever been available. The original single faded out at 2.45, some later releases of the track did run longer but I don't recall ever hearing a version this long fading out at 3.48. The new mix is well balanced and faithful to the sound of the original 45 version with no added effects. On the original single the vocals and fuzz bass dominated, here the vocals are perhaps a bit more to the fore than the rest of the band as they are mixed central along with the drums with the fuzz bass left and guitar & bass on the right. A very successful stereo mix, audio quality is of course much better than on the 1966 single.
2 "Gotta Have A New Dress" is in a stereo mix, organ on the left, vocals & drums central and the bass and guitar a bit to the right. The track was originally released (without any involvement by Jimi) by Curtis Knight in October 1962 on the 45 "Gotta Have A New Dress / When You've Got Love" (Shell 45-312). This is (as far currently known) the only occasion that Curtis re-recorded a previously issued track with Jimi. The Knight / Hendrix version wasn't however released at the time so there isn't an original mix to compare to, the stereo mix presented here again sounds very good with no unnecessary manipulations, fading out at 3.06.
3 "Don't Accuse Me" is mixed somewhat differently to the previous tracks, probably because of the very prominent background vocals which thankfully are included in the mix, most releases over the years have used a mix with the vocals removed. The band is mainly mixed left & center, the lead vocals are central and the backing vocals are mixed both left and right. The track fades out at 3.57, around the same point as the old stereo mix. The new mix differs quite a bit from the previously available stereo version with backing vocals, it's narrower and more "up close", the previous vocal mix was wider and had echo added, the mix here is more intimate and "authentic" sounding. None of this stuff was of course recorded with stereo in mind at the time, I find the slightly narrower and more direct mix to be an improvement. The track begins with Jimi saying "take 30" but there's no way to tell if this comment actually preceded this take on the master tape or if it was edited in. Still, nice to hear it though it begs the question whether Jimi was leading the band here if he was counting the takes in? Was there other studio chat on the tapes giving insight into who was running the show at the sessions? The liner notes make no comment about this, it would have been nice to know a bit more.
4 "Fool For You" has only ever been available in one mix which made me suspect that Ed Chalpin did not have a multitrack master for the track. Seems I was wrong as the track appears here in a new stereo mix. Fuzz guitar on the left, vocals, electric piano, bass and drums central and guitar on the right. Again, this mix is narrower and dryer than the one previously available which I again think suits the material better. The mix is also longer than the one previously available, the old mix fades out at 1.48 and the new one at 2.13.
5 "No Such Animal" appears to be the exact same mono mix with bass, guitar, drums, organ & shouting that was originally released split in two on an Audio Fidelity Records 45 in 1970 but it's now presented here uninterrupted. It has been available in one piece on at least one obscure cd and one lp but I own neither, of course the original 45 had overlap between the two parts so it was rather easy to edit together for a complete version. Still, few people have heard this track in any form as it's never had a really widespread release until now. The audio quality is better than the 45 which sounds very thin and shrill in comparison.The track is credited as being licensed from Global Recording Media LLC as are "Knock Yourself Out" and "Station Break". This is very interesting, "No Such Animal" and "Station Break" are tracks that were in the possession of Jerry Simon, the owner of RSVP, the company that released the two original Curtis Knight singles featuring Hendrix. Experience Hendrix has not purchased the original tapes but instead licensed the recordings. The fact that the cd uses the old 45 mono mix does make one wonder where the multitrack for "No Such Animal" is but clearly it was unavailable. I thought Global Recording Media LLC might give us some answers and looked for the company on Google with very little result, just one hit and that gives us only a statement that Global Recording Media LLC is a "New Jersey Domestic Limited-Liability Company filed on July 1, 2009" and a postal code: Morristown, NJ 07962.
6 "Welcome Home" originally was the flipside of the 1st RSVP single (the A-side being track 1 of this cd, "How Would You Feel"). The version here is a new stereo mix with guitar on the left, lead vocals slightly left of center, crowd noises left and right, drums, tambourine, bass and another guitar on the right. For the solo a third guitar track appears in the center with the last note panned hard left. I would have preferred to have the whole solo central as stereo panning is a trick that was only introduced in 1967 on Hendrix records and doesn't thus really belong here. It's also the only occasion of stereo panning on the whole disc. But that's an extremely minor point and one could also argue that this is a 2014/2015 Eddie Kramer mix and not an original 60s mix so it isn't in any way "authentic" to begin with. The original mono 45 mix had one of Jimi's guitars (the one now on the left channel in the new stereo mix) and Curtis` lead vocals up front, the new mix keeps the balance of the instruments the same pretty faithfully with the guitar perhaps slightly more up front though stereo separation of course brings it out a bit more by default. This is the longest version of the track that has ever been available running 3.46 which includes some talking by Jimi and a girl laughing after the music stops.
7 "Knock Yourself Out" is titled on the sleeve as "Knock Yourself Out [Flying On Instruments]". The part with the engineer introducing the track as "Flying On Instruments" hasn't been heard before ("We are rolling, Flying On Instruments take one"), a similar introduction for "Hornet's Nest" (which was originally introduced and recorded as "Kato's Special") has been circulating for a long time. Why "Knock Yourself Out" doesn't get an alternate title on this release is unknown, perhaps the intention was just to confirm that "Flying On Instruments" (a title mentioned in a 21st of June 1966 publishing contract) is not an unknown unreleased track. This track was the B-side of the second RSVP single "Hornet's Nest / Knock Yourself Out" (RSVP 1124), credited to Curtis Knight & the Squires and released in late 1966. The new stereo mix has organ and bass on the left, drums central and guitar on the right. The mix is faithful to the original single with all of the instruments pretty much in equal balance. The original mono 45 mix fades out at 2.34. There have been mixes longer than the single mix released before but none have been this complete fading out at around 6.00, the new mix gives us circa 50 seconds of new music (including a very familiar riff that I now can't place played at 6.20-35) running to the end where the band stops playing and finishing at 6.52 after some extra notes by Jimi.
8 "Simon Says" starts well with a previously unheard bit of chat from the engineer ("Ok this is Simon Says, rolling on take one" after which someone seems to shout "twenty") but unfortunately it is still for me the least successful new mix on the disc. The mix is basically mono with one of the guitars mixed hard left. There is a very rare mix of this track, probably only available on the lp "The Eternal Fire Of Jimi Hendrix", which features a sax part. That instrument is missing here, probably mixed out by Kramer. For historical accuracy it would have been good to have it included - if it indeed was on the original multitrack and not a later overdub by Chalpin. Also, the guitars here are mixed slightly too much to the fore, this track was all about the vocals so it is now a bit off balance. It doesn't have your most exciting lyrics ever so it is understandable to bring out Jimi's playing but it's not how the track was originally meant to be heard so the whole mix is now a bit revisionistic. The new version runs for 3.39 before it fades out, this includes some chat but this mix still has some 15 seconds more music than previously available versions which fade out at circa 3.13 after the line "Simon says do the mashed potato".
9 "Station Break" is a new unreleased track with electric piano, drums, bass and guitar, surprisingly in a mono mix. It's an instrumental, not as developed as the other instrumentals that the band recorded but it's still great to finally get to hear it. This is another track licensed from Global Recording Media LLC so presumably no multitrack was available for a stereo remix. Very strangely there is an edit at roughly 1.44 where a repeat of the previous 2 seconds has been inserted. This added part can be cut out seamlessly so there doesn't seem to have been any reason for inserting it, no tape damage or mistakes by the band to mask. The edit would seem to have been done in analog (as the two segments are not digitally identical) before the track was digitised. Why it's there is a complete mystery.
I asked John McDermott of Experience Hendrix about the edit section and here's his reply:
"We transferred the original master of "Station Break" that Jerry Simon had. Eddie did not make a single edit (digital or otherwise) in the master supplied to EH by Global. What is on the finished CD exactly matches the cassette copy of that same master that Simon's attorney supplied me for reference purposes eleven years ago."
If Experience Hendrix didn't do the edit then Global Recording Media LLC must have, would be very interesting to get hold of someone in the company and ask about this and other recordings that they might still be holding.
10 "Strange Things" comes in a new stereo mix, one guitar on the left, organ, bass, congas and lead vocal central, one guitar on the right. Again the guitars are quite up front but on this mix I think it works, there is a guitar solo so it's justified to have the guitar high in the mix and mixing Curtis slightly back and fading the maniacal laughter adds to the intended "diabolical" atmosphere. The track fades out at 2.55, roughly at the same spot as the old stereo mix.
11 "Hornet's Nest" is a surprise, it's an alternate take to the one that was issued as the A-side of the second RSVP single in 1966, a fact that wasn't mentioned anywhere in the advance publicity. This out-take must never have been in Chalpin's possession instead at the time remaining with Jerry Simon and staying unreleased and unheard of until being now licensed from Global Recording Media LLC for release. It's a complete take timed at 5.07, loose and played very fast. Definitely one for the collectors, a worthwhile alternate version which is a bit sloppy compared to the final take but offers an interesting new angle and different guitar parts by Jimi. Unlike the other two Global Recording Media LLC tracks this one is in stereo suggesting that session tapes for this track perhaps still exist, guitar is mixed left, screaming, bass & drums central and organ to the right.
12 "You Don't Want Me" has drums left and right, Curtis on the left, fuzz bass & guitar central and backing vocals on the right. Jimi's guitar parts are quite low and central unlike other tracks on this album and comparing this to the old stereo mix (just one stereo mix with vocals exists) the instrument placement seems identical. During the last part of the song the track twice bounces to mono and then back to stereo. I suspect that there was no multitrack tape, the old stereo mix was used but the tape that was available was damaged so the unusable parts were patched with an old mono mix. Just guesswork on my part but clearly there was some sort of a problem as we don't get a full stereo mix and apart from differences in audio that could be attributed to mastering the separation and levels seem to be the same as on the old stereo mix. I would have preferred the full mono mix if this is all that was available in stereo, the bouncing between mono and stereo is very distracting especially when listening with headphones and did not occur on old releases of the stereo mix.
I send the preceding text of me speculating to John McDermott and this was his reply:
"There was no tape damage problems with "You Don't Want Me". Eddie worked to bring the best out of what existed. It was wasn't well recorded originally but this is different from the tape itself being damaged in some capacity."
13 "You Can't Use My Name" isn't a song but studio chat preceding a version of "Gloomy Monday". According to the liner notes "Heard for the first time on this album" which is true when it comes to official releases. Part of the chat has been bootlegged a long time ago, in fact on a vinyl lp with the same name as this release, "You Can't Use My Name". But the segment released on the bootleg was only 0.25 long, here we get more than twice as much, the new version runs for 0.56. This is of course the famous studio chat where Jimi asks Chalpin not to use his name and Ed replies "Don't worry about it", a huge stroke of luck that the conversation was recorded and that it has survived to this day.
14 On the bootleg lp the studio chat segment was followed by two takes of "Gloomy Monday", on the new cd the chat is followed by just a single take of "Gloomy Monday" but it's a new previously uncirculated out-take of the basic track. The tempo is slower but otherwise the track sounds like it originated from the same session as the other two. In the liner notes John McDermott tells us that "Chalpin would later issue a different take burnished with additional guitar and electric sitar not performed with Hendrix. The recording presented here showcases Hendrix's actual contribution to the song without these overdubs". So one assumes Experience Hendrix also has the multitrack for the overdubbed master take, hopefully a stripped down mix of that take with only Jimi's original guitar parts will be included on a future volume. The take that is included here is a bit rough and not very different from the two out-takes already available.
In general the inclusion of the whole 1967 segment must have been more of a political / marketing decision than a musical one as "Gloomy Monday" is out of place here being the sole 1967 recording. Then again it is the only actually composed track (probably, which tracks from the 1967 sessions really originally had vocals is still a bit uncertain) that Jimi worked on in 1967 instead of just jamming so it may have been included here for that reason.
Missing from this disc when it comes to 1965-1966 sessions are at least the original 45 take of "Hornet's Nest" and "The U.F.O.". The omission of UFO made me suspicious of Jimi's involvement so I asked John McDermott about the track, his reply:
"There were some additional songs such as "UFO" that we considered but did not include as part of the album. I can confirm that Jimi is on the master. There is not much guitar per se but he was on the original session."
I do hope that the original mixes of the two RSVP singles will be included somewhere. The single versions of the tracks are incomplete but they were the ones officially released in 1966 and thus more or less approved by Jimi so if the original 45 master tapes still exist they should be released in some form, for example as a nice four track cd ep for RSD since they really are collectors items. I also think leaving "The U.F.O." out was an unfortunate decision, it's a silly track, yes, but should have been included for completeness sake. Hopefully it and the other tracks left out that McDermott mentions will surface one way or another.
When it comes to the audio content I think this disc is a success. There are some complaints, the most serious one is the unexplainable 2 second repeat section in "Station Break". Also, I wasn't that happy with the mixes of "Strange Things" and "You Don't Want Me" but in general the new mixes are very good and the three new tracks a great addition. The bits of studio chat liven up the cd and give an unfinished "session" feel reflecting the fact that most of this album would have stayed in the can if Jimi wouldn't have gotten famous so it was a good decision to include them. The chat also unifies the record as it ends with the big studio chat finale of "You Can't Use My Name / Gloomy Monday".
The stereo on the album isn't very adventurous, some might have preferred a wider stereo mix with more ambiance but I find that a bit narrower stereo with instruments dry and upfront is a very appropriate mix for this material given the time it was recorded in, it's a bunch of tracks done with the R&B singles charts and club djs in mind and the mixes conform to that. The most extremely politically correct approach would of course have been to mix it all in mono but even I do prefer stereo when remixing multitracks for a project like this, original 60s mono mixes would be a different matter. For a commercial release of archive material it would have been a 5 star album if it wasn't for the repeat in "Station Break" and the stereo/mono problem in "You Don't Want Me". These kind of faults could easily have been avoided and shouldn't be there on such a high profile release so I'll knock one star off for that and I'll give the audio 4 out of 5. From a collector point of view there is of course always room for improvement and only a 10 cd box including all of the incomplete takes and studio chat will do...
The most striking thing about the front cover is that Experience Hendrix didn't put Jimi's name on it. With everything being about marketing when it comes to selling records these days NOT having the name of your main selling point on the sleeve is a courageous move. I can imagine there were discussions with Sony Legacy about this. The name is of course on the sticker and advance publicity has made sure we know who plays on the album but leaving out "Hendrix" still sacrifices a lot of sold units and pretty much any record company would have had a very hard time agreeing to it. This has of course been underlined by Experience Hendrix by calling the release "You Can't Use My Name" as per Jimi's request - they knew releasing these recordings would be a tricky business so have clearly spend a lot of time thinking about the presentation. In my opinion the approach they took is the best one they could have taken.
The digipak design is competent, not spectacular, which has been the Experience Hendrix way since the beginning. All of the photographs have been seen before (though many not in this quality) except for a color version of a studio shot on page 15 which I've only seen in b&w. The square cd booklet limits the space available and many shots have been closely cropped, colored or are very small. The lp version might have them in larger size but like I said I haven't got it yet. I hope Experience Hendrix will in the future find a way to give us these shots in their original form without any cropping or other manipulation, perhaps as part of a photo book or if the cost of producing something along those lines is a problem then for example as a bonus gallery on a future blu-ray release, valuable content for a minimal investment. Just like the recordings all of these photos have never been available in one place in the quality that they would deserve to be seen in.
The lack of session info in the liner notes is a disappointment. No reason for this is given, worst case scenario is that there were no logs but one would have expected there to be some session info or at least some interesting bits that could have been retrieved from the tapes themselves: was the studio chat that is included on the album all there was left, were there incomplete takes, unreleased songs, who was present at the studio - practically no comment is made about the tapes or sessions at all. If there is nothing to tell it would have been nice to tell us that there is nothing to tell. Or maybe the information is being held back for inclusion in the next edition of "Ultimate Hendrix".
There are also some contradictions in the liner notes and occasional bits that I disagree with but in general they give a good compact overview about the circumstances that produced these recordings, there's certainly enough information for an average Hendrix fan with a "normal" interest in the early recordings. For a commercial release the packaging scores 4 out of 5 stars, it's a nice design that doesn't mislead you into buying something that it isn't and has lot's of relevant photos. A collector again would have wanted a bit more since Experience Hendrix has the goods in their possession - a clamshell box with a booklet of Squires photos inside, another booklet of facsimile studio sheets, copies of the PPX contracts etc...
Overall despite the small faults that the general public won't even notice it's a great release that will get regular play even though most of the material is well past familiar. I'm looking forward to the following volumes which will surely be more challenging but possibly an even more enjoyable listen - how will Experience Hendrix go about presenting the 1967 sessions and have they got the masters for the live material, raw without overdubs?
With thanks to John McDermott and Doug Bell for their help.
9 April 2015