At a quarter of an inch wide and 1,800 feet long, the reel of black polyester audio tape in its battered, coffee-stained, green box suggests nothing about the musical treasure it holds. But when played, it is unmistakably Jimi Hendrix – lo-fi, stripped back to a single guitar and unvarnished voice.
Forgotten for decades, the recordings capture Hendrix at his most reflective. The tape, listened to by The Independent on Sunday yesterday, will be sold at auction next month. Expected to fetch between £50,000 and £100,000, the songs, 14 in total, date back to 1968 as Hendrix worked on his third album, Electric Ladyland.
Rather than containing his trademark distorted guitar and a full backing band, most of the tracks feature Hendrix singing and playing guitar quietly by himself in an apartment. Several tracks include a second musician playing harmonica.
"This tape shows his very sensitive, creative side," said Ted Owen, a memorabilia expert and CEO of the Fame Bureau ( famebureau.com), the site that will auction the tape. "The wild man of rock is not there at all."
The tape was given to Carl Niekirk by Hendrix himself. Mr Niekirk worked in a photography studio below the rock star's flat in Brook Street, central London. As there was only one entrance to the flat, Mr Niekirk would often let Hendrix and his friends – including George Harrison – into the flat. "It was a constant stream of people coming and going and partying," he said. At one point, Hendrix asked Mr Niekirk if he could borrow some milk and sugar. When he took it up to Hendrix's flat, the singer gave him the tape. Mr Niekirk said: "Because I asked him, he just gave it to me. As simple as that." The tape then passed to Mr Niekirk's sister, who ran a pub in Epping Forest, and there it languished in a box in a wardrobe.
The tape is now owned by Mark Sutherland and Paul Jackson, who run the Cafe Music Studios in east London. They bought the tape for a nominal sum 10 years ago, and now, after years of legal wrangling with the Hendrix estate, the pair are finally able to sell it.