Black Gold (partially found Jimi Hendrix demo tape; 1970)
Black Gold is the supposed title for a yet unreleased suite of songs written by musician Jimi Hendrix. A demo tape of these songs was recorded by Hendrix in early 1970, the contents of which have been of interest to fans since his death later that year.
In early 1970, Hendrix recorded a series of 16 songs without his fellow band members in his Greenwich Village apartment on Entronic C90 cassette tape. He wrote the label of a cassette tape of these recordings, “Idea for L.P. Side 1 suite…Black Gold.”.
According to Animals lead singer Eric Burdon, Hendrix intention for these songs was for an animation feature:
“I remember Jimi telling me about his idea for Black Gold...an autobiographical, multi-song fantasy piece he had been working on. Jimi intended it to accompany an animated feature about a black rock star — himself on the road…forty minutes of fresh new material that clearly demonstrated the direction Jimi was headed in. He talked excitedly about the cartoon character he’d envisioned. I know he did at least some work on the suite before he died.”
At least 9 of these songs were unique recordings that had never been heard before. The songs contained lyrical content that was unusually autobiographical for Hendrix. The last 2 songs were a 2-part funk rock song, Astro Man, which contained humorous references to Mighty Mouse and Superman.
During the Isle of Wright Festival in late August 1970, Hendrix reviewed the recordings with his drummer, Mitch Mitchell. The two talked about expanding the tracks and releasing them. The tapes, in a black Ampex brand tape box with the letters "B.G." in Hendrix's handwriting on them, were left in the care of Mitchell.
Unfortunately, Hendrix would pass away due to asphyxiation before he would get to work on the project any further.
Location of the Tapes
Producer Alan Douglas controlled Hendrix's recording from the 1970s until Hendrix's family took over in the mid-1990s under the banner Experience Hendrix. Douglas was present during the early stages of the project’s creation. According to a Rolling Stone interview in 1974, Douglas claimed he had a cassette tape copy of the suite:
“The Black Gold Suite is on cassette and the quality might be OK for us to put it out in audio form, but it is such an incredible story that I’m thinking along the lines of an animated film,”
In a 1985 interview, Douglas intimated that the Black Gold cassette was stolen from Hendrix’s manager and later sold to him. During his tenure with Hendrix's catalogue, no records from the Black Gold Suite were released officially or leaked onto bootleg.
The location of the Black Gold tapes was a mystery for several decades. It wouldn't be until 1992 when an avid Hendrix collector named Tony Brown asked Mitchell about any unreleased material during an interview. Mitchell remembered the Black Gold tapes Hendrix had handed to him and rediscovered them within his household. Brown made the tapes' existence publicly known for the first time afterward. He claimed that the tapes were an expansion of Hendrix's sound.
I wanted to get into sort o', what you would probably call, just pieces, yeah pieces behind each other like movements or whatever you call it. I've been writing some of those, but like I was into writing cartoons mostly, you know, Cartoons, music cartoons. - Jimi Hendrix, interview 1970.
According to The Jimi Hendrix Record Guide website, a track listing was written on J-card of the tapes cover:
|1||Suddenly November Morning|
|3||Captain Midnite (Captain 1201)|
|5||Here Comes Black Gold|
|7||Little Red Velvet Room|
|1||The Jungle Is Waiting|
|2||Send My Love To Joan Of Arc|
|3||God Bless The Day|
|6||Here Comes Black Gold|
|8||Astro Man (Part 1)|
|9||Astro Man (Part 2)|
|10||I've Got A Place To Go|
In their assessment of the recordings, the website breaks down the story and themes of the Black Gold material:
This explains the birth of such characters as Astro Man and Captain Midnite. Tracks with familiar titles, such as "Drifting," "Stepping Stone" and "Astro Man," stick close to the released versions of the songs while "Send My Love To Joan Of Arc" has the same chord sequence as the familiar "Send My Love To Linda." Allegedly, "Little Red Velvet Room" refers to a child, Tami, whose mother, Diane Carpenter, claimed was Jimi's from a relationship in mid-1966. Unfortunately, this song comes to a premature end as the tape runs out.
Side two opens with the jazzy flamenco piece "The Jungle Is Waiting" with Jimi providing the jungle sound effects throughout. Another known song is "Machine Gun," which has Jimi concluding with the line "Thank Hell for Heaven, thank Heaven for Hell." The reprise of "Black Gold" features the lyric "He comes from the land of the Gypsy Sun" which seems to combine Jimi's common themes from "Hey Gypsy Boy" and "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)", though it is unclear whether the music bears any resemblance to these two songs. Next comes "Trash Man," a very short song with lyrics, it bears no resemblance to the instrumental "Trashman" on Crash Landing. "Astro Man" is in two parts with Jimi depicting himself as the hero, saving a girl on an LSD trip from falling to her death in the second part. In the final track, Jimi holds an imaginary telephone conversation with someone called Rosie, who invites him over and "I've Got A Place To Go" closes the tape.
Release Status of the Recordings
Some songs featured on the original recording would eventually be taken into the studio by Hendrix and recorded during the sessions of his unfinished fourth album. Finished studio recordings of Drifting and Astro Man would be released in March of 1971 on the posthumous album "Cry of Love."
In 2010, Hendrix's sister and head of Experience Hendrix, Janie Hendrix stated that the recordings from the tape would be released "this decade". In November 2010, Experience Hendrix released a box set of Hendrix's recordings titled West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology, one song from the Black Gold cassette made its debut, Suddenly November Morning.
Since 2010, there have been no further releases from the Black Gold demo tape.
- Independent article on unreleased albums. Retrieved 23 Dec '17
- Hendrix Guide site on the Black Gold album. Retrieved 20 Sep '19
- Rolling Stone article on unreleased albums. Retrieved 22 Dec '17
- The Age article discussing the release of unheard Hendrix material. Retrieved 22 Dec '17