Was JImi Hendrix an Uncle Tom?

Once upon a time, in a scene report from the Monterey Pop Festival, a very young Robert Christgau called Jimi Hendrix a “psychedelic Uncle Tom.”

“I suppose Hendrix’s act can be understood as a consistently vulgar parody of rock theatrics,” the future ‘Dean of American Rock Critics’ wrote, “but I don’t feel I have to like it.” Well, hindsight is a bitch. As it happens, Hendrix spent years on the Chitlin’ Circuit before taking the stage at Monterey. The first disc on West Coast Seattle Boy—The Jimi Hendrix Anthology documents this little-known, journeyman phase of Jimi’s career, which included stints with Don Covay, the Isley Brothers and King Curtis. The playlist includes Covay’s “Mercy, Mercy” (later covered by the Rolling Stones), Ray Sharpe’s “Help Me (Get the Feeling)” and Little Richard’s “I Don’t Know What You Got” (which might just be the greatest soul song we’d never heard before). The other CDs are full of alternate takes, demo recordings and live performances; the DVD contains a 90-minute documentary. But those early recordings are a revelation; you’ll never hear Hendrix in quite the same way again.

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