This week we'll look back at one of 2009's most eagerly anticipated box sets. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair, Legacy Recordings has cracked open the rare tape vaults to create the Woodstock Experience. The multi-disc set provides historically accurate assessments of the musical careers of The Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone and Johnny Winter circa August, 1969. Paired together into each anthology is the respective artists' complete and unedited performance. Plus, their most recent studio album at the time of the generation-defining festival. The limited edition volumes also go retro with replicas of the original vintage LP jackets -- donning newly penned liner essays on the CD dust sleeves. Additional eye candy is offered by way of a 12 panel 16 x 20 dual-sided commemorative poster and all the goodies are housed in individually numbered eco-conscious packages. Speaking of which, there is also a special visual treat for those who might have owned a copy of the original studio albums. The graphics on the CD replicate the way the vinyl LP record label looked -- such as the  unforgettable orange RCA Victor Records' label or Epic Records' equally memorable yellow with black text.  

 
Volume 6, Number 3 - November 30, 2009
 
   

 
Jefferson Airplane - The Woodstock Experience
Jefferson Airplane - Volunteers
(RCA/Legacy Recordings)
 

For some, the late 1960's incarnation of Da 'Plane is their favorite. And with the aural evidence located within, it's difficult to argue. Marty Balin (vocals/tambourine), Jack Casady (bass), Spencer Dryden (drums), Paul Kantner (guitar/vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (guitar/vocals) and Grace Slick (vocals) were an undeniably powerful combo, especially when veteran Nicky Hopkins (piano) was added  to the mix. The contents of the live set -- fraught with a myriad of technical anomalies throughout -- is typical of the era. The contents offer up a healthy dose of the yet-to-be-unleashed Volunteers (1969) album while incorporating a wide spectrum of older favorites,  such as the opening cover of Fred Neil's "The Other Side Of This Life". Surrealistic Pillow (1967) is well represented by not only the hits "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit" but  "3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds," and "Plastic Fantastic Lover" as well. After Bathing At Baxter's (1967) is the source for "The Ballad Of You & Me And Pooneil" and "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon," while Crown Of Creation (1968) is represented by a chaotic "House At Pooneil Corners" closer. As an interesting side note -- if not a sign of the times -- the  Volunteers project was and had been completed for several months by the time of Woodstock. But RCA Records (the band's label) had some 'issues' with the lyrics and the cover art.

So, the parties remained in a stalemate for the better part of the spring, summer and well into the fall. The net result being that Volunteers wouldn't make it into stores until October. One of the Jefferson Airplane's signatures was their improvisational skills during the band's explorations into a variety of remarkable sonic spaces. Nowhere is that as evident than the nearly 20 minute epic "Wooden Ships". This particular outing evolves into a lengthy multi-layered and textured jam. It joins Grace Slick's environmental epic "Eskimo Blue Day" and a power-packed reading of Volunteers' title track as a preview of the upcoming long player. Likewise worthy of mention is that due to the exceptional length of the Airplane's live show, the first part of their Woodstock set is located on the latter half of the first [read: studio] CD and then continued onto the second.


 

 
Janis Joplin - The Woodstock Experience
Janis Joplin - I Got Dem Ol' Cosmic Blues Again, Mama!
(Columbia/Legacy Recordings)
 

After the dissolution of the San Fran-based Big Brother & The Holding Company, Janis Joplin (vocals) brought together a slicker sounding East Coast confab. The plan was to ditch the psychedelia and emphasize Joplin's innate penchant for R&B. Taking along Sam Andrew (guitar/vocals) from Big Brother, the new partnership was known officially as the Kosmic Blues Band.  A lack of cohesion behind the scenes unquestionably translated into the grooves of I Got Dem Ol' Kosmic Blues Again Mama! (1969) -- which was an admittedly mixed affair.  Like every artist -- except maybe Richie Havens (who opened the show) -- Joplin and crew had to deal with the interminable backlog before it was their turn to perform. For the vocalist, the wait was consumed by a healthy intake of drugs and alcohol. Yet despite being an overall loose affair, Janis Joplin and the Kosmic Blues Band put on a fairly impressive display for the festival's half a million or so attendees.

Sporting a new backing combo and with her latest long player due for release in literally a few weeks, it is understandable that half of their roughly hour-long set is drawn from the upcoming disc. The opening energetic cover of Eddie Floyd's Memphis Soul classic "Raise Your Hand" sets the pace for a trio of  … Kosmic Blues Again Mama sides. These commence with the Nick Gravenites-penned rave-up "As Good As You've Been To This World". The cover of The Bee Gee's "To Love Somebody" always seems to have fit Joplin's 'hungry heart' persona and she definitely exudes that not only here, but throughout her entire performance. The update of "Summertime," while excellent certainly doesn't rival the intensity of earlier Big Brother & The Holding Co. renditions. The funky "Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)" and Joplin's co-written "Kosmic Blues" are highlights. As is Cornelius 'Snooky' Flowers' spotlight -- an overhaul of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose". "Work Me Lord" is another bluesy Gravenites ballad and is both the final … Kosmic Blues Again Mama entry for this show, as well as the studio album's closer. Fans familiar with and those who favour Big Brother's acid-scorched interpretation of "Piece Of My Heart" may well be dispirited at the slick horn and overall lackluster arrangement. Sadly, much the same can be said for Joplin's signature song -- and typically concluding number -- Willie Mae "Big Momma" Thorton's epic blues "Ball and Chain". While by no stretch of the imagination is it bad, it simply lacks the passion that the comparatively compact Big Brother brought to it.

 

 

Santana - The Woodstock Experience
Santana - Santana
(Columbia/Legacy Recordings)


 

Although they only played for forty-five minutes, Santana's eight-song set ranks as one of the most consistent in the Woodstock Experience series. With the exception of the excellent "Shades Of Time" and "Treat" the remainder of the sextet's self-titled debut was served up to the masses. Issued in August -- the same month as Woodstock -- the Santana (1969) album is an exciting blend of Afro-Cuban jazz with plain ol' Made In The U.S.A. psychedelic rock 'n' roll. This incipient incarnation hailed from the San Francisco Bay Area and  included Carlos Santana (guitar/vocals), Gregg Rolie (keyboards/vocals), Greg Brown (bass) Michael Shrieve (drums), Mike Carabello (percussion) and Jose Chepito Areas (percussion). According to the exclusive liner note text, it was actually music impresario Bill 'Uncle Bobo' Graham who was able to secure the then-unknown group a spot on the roster. At the time, the band split a total of $1,500 for their efforts. However the real payoff came when "Soul Sacrifice" was included in the Woodstock (1970) movie and subsequent triple-album Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

Both their Woodstock appearance and the studio album get under way with a double-barrel attack: the powerhouse instrumental "Waiting," followed by an energetic reading of the soon-to-be Top Ten single "Evil Ways". Returning to the contents of the concert, the stinging bluesy "You Just Don't Care" is a prime outlet for Rolie as vocalist and instrumentalist, with his solo ranking among the best of the bunch. The medley combining Santana's collaborative composition "Savor" with a remake of Baba Olatunji's percussive masterwork "Jingo" again replicates the running order heard on Santana's debut LP. Shrieve impressively links the two works, foreshadowing his contributions -- which are flawlessly prefaced by the compact Rolie-written rocker "Persuasion". Every element of what made this all-too-brief line-up so unique is present on "Soul Sacrifice" as they churn and burn through one of Woodstock's most memorable musical moments. The encore "Fried Neckbones" -- a song that had been in Santana's live repertoire since their inception -- was adapted from Afro-Cuban jazz great Willie Bobo. It was originally brought to the band by one-time percussionist Marcus Malone and a superior version of the song with Malone in tow can be found on the essential Live At The Fillmore '68 (1997) double CD set.



 

 
Sly & The Family Stone - The Woodstock Experience
Sly & The Family Stone - STAND!
(Epic/Legacy Recordings)
 

With the notable exception of the expansive "Dance To The Music" medley, the vast majority of Sly & The Family Stone's spirited funk fest at Woodstock has never been available before. The band were touted as one of the festival's major attractions. And why not, as Sly & company were concurrently holding down the Number Two spot on the Top Pop Singles survey with "Hot Fun In The Summertime" -- which, oddly enough, they did not perform on the evening in question. What they did unleash that Sunday night was a solid chunk of soul -- over half of which was represented on their current platter STAND! (1969). Enthusiasts familiar with the 'hit' [read: studio] versions of these songs are going to be amazed at how tight the arrangements are and how close they stay to the original groove. All parties hit the ground running with an assertive "M'Lady," just to get the crowd in the mood. After a few technical adjustments, the band launch into the first of five STAND! cuts, each of which have become classic rock staples in their own right.

"Sing A Simple Song" is everything one would hope for with the pulsating rhythm and rock solid brass section. Then they gently build into a ferocious "You Can Make It If You Try" replete with all of the compulsive bounce and resilient rhythms the tune is known for. "Everyday People" --  STAND!'s  chart-topping Pop/R&B crossover smash -- briefly lightens the intensity before the impending free for all. As anyone who has seen the Woodstock documentary film will attest, the combo of "Dance To The Music" and "Music Lover/Higher" is an unadulterated zenith as it simultaneously captures the optimism of the culture and unity of the crowd.  The band definitely mean what they say as the same energy peaks and reverberates throughout "I Wanna Take You Higher". In addition to the opener "M'Lady," the oh so apropos "Love City" is a well-chosen deep cut from Life (1968), the studio predecessor to STAND!. And it is a very expressive -- and at times seemingly gospel-influenced -- rendering of that very title track that puts a suitable finishing touch on one of the true Woodstock Experience gems that is guaranteed to garner repeated spins.


 

 
Johnny Winter - The Woodstock Experience
Johnny Winter - Johnny Winter
(Columbia/Legacy Recordings)
 

What an unmitigated delight it is to finally be able to enjoy Johnny Winter Band's entire Woodstock endeavor-- especially since the only thing that had been issued up until this point from their appearance was the up-tempo groover "Mean Town Blues".  Winter (guitar/vocals) is joined by the classic trio members 'Uncle' John Turner (drums) and Tommy Shannon (bass) with sibling Edgar Winter (keyboards) showing up for the second half of the hour-plus set. Prior to his arrival on-stage the three-piece line-up launch into a lively take of J.B. Lenoir's seminal side "Mama, Talk To Your Daughter". If one were to pick a single solo to epitomize Winter's compelling fretwork, it might be found as he reveals equal measures of grace and passion just prior to the final chorus. "Leland Mississippi Blues" -- likewise featured on his self-titled Columbia Records debut Johnny Winter (1969) -- is a Chicago-style stomper that allows the artist to let loose with a larger-than-life shoutin' vocal while cross-talking with his equally blistering electric six-string.

Winter's Progressive Blues Experiment (1969) LP was the source for "Mean Town Blues" and the no-holds-barred version captured here could arguably be the set's centerpiece. Especially as the insanely catchy melody is fused to an equally unrelenting backbeat. The guitarist pays homage to the great B.B. King on "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now" as he flawlessly replicates King's full-bodied sustain and fluid phrasing. After introducing Edgar to the stage, they launch into inspired covers of "I Can't Stand It," an epic ten-minute "Tobacco Road," as well as the slightly Latin-flavored syncopation of "Tell The Truth". The Winter Brothers and band then unveil a retro-fitted "Johnny B. Goode" that would show up again on Johnny's follow-up album Second Winter (1970) and quickly thereafter become one of their signature stage pieces. On the topic of studio efforts, it is certainly a treasure to have the eponymous Edgar Winter (1969) included as part of the package. In addition to being one of the most underrated companion titles in the Woodstock Experience anthology, it had not been digitally remastered in over a decade.    



 

 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

Copyright 2002-2009 Matthew Rowe.
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