Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Noel Redding, mostly remembered for his thunderous work as bass guitar player for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, never achieved the same level of fame post-Experience, but it wasn’t for a lack of projects. Jimi chose Redding – then a guitar player – to play bass (Hendrix connected with Redding’s musical taste and hairstyle), then selected Mitch Mitchell for drums to form the early “power trio” in London during the fall of 1966. The line-up only lasted until the pre-Woodstock summer of 1969, but it was enough time to pump out three landmark albums: Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland. Looking back on their disbanding, in 2002 Redding would tell Billboard magazine: “I think Jimi needed to have a rest at that point. He should have actually taken some time off and done nothing, ‘cos we all worked our arses off for three years.”
After the Experience split there were other psychedelic hard rock bands for Redding like Road and the Noel Redding Band, but a decade of legal battles attempting to recover lost Hendrix earnings (documented in his 1990 autobiography Are You Experienced?) eventually took a financial and personal toll.
The Noel Redding and Friends line-up consisted of Redding on bass, Frankie LaRocka (ex-Scandal, John Waite, Bryan Adams) on drums, Anthony Krizan (ex-Spin Doctors) on lead guitar, and Ivan Kral (ex-Patti Smith Group, Iggy Pop) on rhythm guitar. Krizan, LaRocka, and Redding handled vocals. The group played several US tour dates before and after these shows, but Live From Bunkr would be their only album release together. It would be Noel Redding’s last recorded work prior to his untimely death at age 57 in 2003.
Live from Bunkr was recorded over two nights, November 17-18, 1995 at the now defunct Rock Club Bunkr, Prague. (On the VIP list one night was Václav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic.) It was released locally in 1996 followed by European and US distribution in 2002 and 2003. Although November 2020 will mark the 25th anniversary of the shows, this current week is, in a sense, an anniversary of the US release of Live from Bunkr, according to Billboard Magazine. [AllMusic, in a terse, less than favorable review, listed the release date much later.] Inexplicably, the album’s digital tracks weren’t posted on any online sites or streaming services until Krizan released all tracks for the first time on his YouTube page earlier this month.
Here’s how Redding described its conception to Billboard and on the liner notes in 2002:
This CD came about in a strange way. I was in a Japanese Restaurant in New York, where I was having lunch with my good mate, Frankie LaRocka, when Ivan [Kral] walked in and joined us. I had not seen him since 1975 when The Noel Redding Band was touring with Patti Smith group with whom he played rhythm guitar. Conversation got around to “how about playing together?” Ivan suggested a gig in Prague – we said we’d give it a go (I’d never been there before) so, with the inclusion of Anthony Krizan (who had played with Frankie and I many times in the USA) suddenly we had an insta-group.
After roughly one and a half hours rehearsal at the BUNKR CLUB, dinner, bath, etc. we did the gig – here it is on CD.
We were very honored that the President [Vaclav Havel] came to our show and we had the pleasure of meeting him.
The 11-song track listing is comprised of nine Hendrix staples from the Experience era and two non-Hendrix additions. Redding joked: “We didn’t want to do the whole lot of the Experience but there again they’ve never really heard anyone playing it there and playing it well. I shouldn’t say that!”
About the two non-Hendrix/Experience covers, Redding told Billboard:
We threw in “Silver Paper” because I’d just done a stint with Mountain in America on a quick tour and I’ve always really liked Mountain…. We learned it at the rehearsal. I had a vague idea and it was basically ad-libbed but we got through it. Then Ivan wanted to do that Lennon song [“Cold Turkey”], so we did that, which broke up the stuff from the Experience.
Looking back today, Krizan isn’t thrilled with the audio quality of the final product. He told Cover Me that it wasn’t clear how and when the song choices were made for the CD, and since no overhead “live” microphones were used, the energy of the raucous, packed house is almost entirely missing in the final mix.
Let’s take a look at some of the noteworthy tracks on this once-lost CD, about which Hot Press said: “Of course this is not the real Jimi Hendrix Experience, nor does it pretend to be, but it’s probably as good as we’re likely to get this side of judgement day.”
Noel Redding & Friends – Voodoo Child (Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)
Noel greets the crowd sounding like Ringo Starr. Krizan, on vocals and lead guitar, liked the “raw energy” of the CD’s opening track, heard originally on Electric Ladyland. Billboard’s news reviewer acknowledged that his fretwork is “surprisingly effective at mimicking Hendrix’s technique, capturing the wobble-board sound.” Redding: “I thought he did a really good job ‘cos it’s rather hard for anyone since James. A lot of people have tried.”
Noel Redding & Friends – Cold Turkey (John Lennon cover)
Rhythm guitar player Ivan Kral took on the vocal duties for John Lennon’s 1970 Top 30 hit. The band submits a casually understated but respectable rendition that evokes some Alice Cooper hits and ends with a big rock finish compared to Lennon’s longer fadeout.
Noel Redding & Friends – Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)
Billboard cited the “undulating delicacy” of the Hendrix-composed favorite from Axis: Bold as Love. Krizan asserts that the crowd cheer heard near the beginning wasn’t for the start of the song, but for the arrival of President Havel, known as a major rock & roll fan. Krizan, again on guitar and vocals, re-interprets the lead breaks, alternating between subtle and colorful to straight on shredding.
Noel Redding & Friends – Red House (Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)
American born singer Tonya Graves, at the time a recent arrival in the Czech Republic, lobbied Redding to sing the track. “I said to her, ‘Can you sing it in B?’ he told Billboard. She said, ‘Yeah’. So I said, ‘Okay’ and she did it exactly the way the Experience had done it. I thought she did an amazing job.” On guitar, Krizan channels more Stevie Ray Vaughan style and sound than Hendrix here. Redding and the rhythm section even break into a little boogie-woogie shuffle while Krizan attacks during this classic from Are You Experienced.
Noel Redding & Friends – Wild Thing (The Troggs cover)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience elevated “Wild Thing” to iconic cult status at Monterey Pop in 1967, with Hendrix’ infamous closing guitar bonfire sacrifice. Here, LaRocka shines on drums and Krizan turns the classic Chip Taylor-penned primitive rocker into a trippy jam and seasons his guitar break with some “Strangers in the Night” right before the final verse.
Noel Redding & Friends – Hey Joe (The Leaves cover)
It’s fitting that we close with not only the CD’s final track, but with a Redding bass-focused cover classic from where it all began on the debut Are You Experienced album. Krizan adeptly rips through his reinterpretations of the Hendrix lead breaks, but here it’s the perfect set-up for Redding to take an extended solo that showcases his bass picking and chord playing skills before handing it back to Krizan and a long minor chord fade out that’s punctuated by an odd Redding farewell.
Live from Bunkr‘s Tracklisting:
- Voodoo Child
- Stone Free
- Silver Paper
- Cold Turkey
- Come On
- Purple Haze
- Little Wing
- Red House
- Little Miss Lover
- Wild Thing
- Hey Joe
To mark Live from Bunkr’s US release, sole surviving member Krizan and his current band will recreate the Bunkr setlist as part of an anniversary tribute this Saturday (June 27, 2020) during a free livestream performance that can be viewed (live or later on demand) on his Facebook and YouTube pages.