Just prior to forming the Experience, Jimi Hendrix hit hard times. He had pawned his guitar and was living in a New York City hotel, which is where he met Curtis Knight, a soul singer who worked the local Harlem circuit with his band the Squires. Knight gave Hendrix a spare six-string and brought him into the Squires, where he was soon ushered into the studio to record the single "How Would You Feel." There, Jimi met record man Ed Chalpin, who insisted Hendrix sign a record contract prior to the start of the session. The guitarist later claimed he thought he was signing onto a role as a mere sideman but the contract tied him to Chalpin's PPX Records, a situation that became problematic once Chas Chandler signed Hendrix to a contract in 1966. Once Are You Experienced? became an international hit, Chalpin came calling to collect his share and this is where things got complicated. Lawsuits came down the pike yet Jimi kept heading back into the studio to jam with Knight, all the while claiming he was doing this while not under contract. Whether he was right or not would be a matter for the courts, but it did give Chalpin more music to peddle to other labels -- which he did, striking a deal with Capitol to release an album called Get That Feeling in December 1967 so it could capitalize on the sales of Are You Experienced?
Get That Feeling was the first of what turned out to be countless repackagings of the PPX material, most passed off as a genuine Hendrix record so the label could hoodwink unsuspecting fans. Legacy's 2015 release You Can't Use My Name: The RSVP/PPX Sessions is the first legitimate compilation to place these pre-fame Hendrix recordings in the proper context, annotated by John McDermott, containing all the original, un-overdubbed masters, including an audio snippet where Jimi insists to Chalpin that his name cannot be used upon release. Presenting these fly-by-night singles and late-night jams as archival material instead of a quickie for suckers elevates the music slightly, forcing the listener to tackle this grooving soul as formative Hendrix work. He's not the problem with these sides by any means. Riding the rhythms with more energy than the drummer and sliding into liquid leads, Jimi is what captures the attention and his first stabs at composing -- not so much the instrumental "Knock Yourself Out," but rather the fuzzy, furious "Hornet's Nest" and bright, danceable "Station Break" -- point the way toward his work with the Experience. Knight, however, isn't a compelling leader, although he does work hard, rewriting Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" as a black rock protest song called "How Would You Feel" and swinging along with "Gotta Have a New Dress." Elsewhere, he either fades into the background or simply isn't present, and the rest of the Squires are at his level. Undoubtedly, the star attraction is Jimi Hendrix and even if this is formative, it's fascinating in context -- and that context is what You Can't Use My Name finally provides. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine