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Jimi Hendrix Documentary "Hear My Train A Comin'" Reviewed

Guitar God Doc

So many things you can’t do with Jimi Hendrix. For one thing, you can’t give it a happy ending and for another you can’t explain Jimi to  anybodies satisfaction. The man had two obsessions:

1. Music

2. Women.

According to the PBS American Masters documentary directed by Bob Smeaton, these are the twin towers of Hendrix life: they almost seem to feed into each other, pick up a guitar, pick up a girl, all the time, a constant baton passing of the most beautiful women and most most beautiful guitars in the world. Suddenly calling his recording studio “Electric Lady” makes worlds of sense.

Born in Seattle and raised by his loving father, Jimi got his first guitar in his teens and never looked back, even during a stint in the airborne army (where he became best friends with bassist Billy Cox)  and being honorably discharged after breaking his ankle in a parachute jump, he played back up for the likes of Little Richard on the “Chitlin'” circuit before forming his own band and moving to New York and performed a residency at Cafe Wha! where was was discovered by former Animal bassist Chas Chandler, who moved him to London just as it exploded. Paul McCartney was at his first UK performance.  The Beatles were invited by Papa John Phillips to play at the Monterey Festival, the Beatles couldn’t make it but Macca recommended Hendrix and the rest is history.

Hendrix and his backing band the Experience recorded two albums, and Jimi recorded a third solo and then he died. Painfully shy off the stage, Jimi came to life with a guitar in his hands, and, according to this documentary, that was most of the time. He’d go to the toilet with his guitar, he’d make breakfast with a guitar. In an interview with Dick Cavett, Jimi expressed his, more than disinterest, worries about fame, about praise, about really anything that distracted him from what he was born to do: play the guitar.

You can’t walk away from this very good documentary, which includes testimony from Paul McCartney, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, sound engineer Eddie Kramer; Steve Winwood, Vernon Reid, Billy Gibbons, Dweezil Zappa and Dave Mason. As well as his sister and ex-girlfriends. And they all say the same thing, and it is worth remembering, that to be Jimi Hendrix he had to live his life through his electric guitar.

Nobody needs further testimony from me as to Hendrix greatness so all I’ll add is that when I wrote a top ten albums of all time back in the 1980s, Are You Experience? was # 1.

I didn’t love this documentary because, well, I hate the ending, and also it feels like it didn’t dig deep enough; I don’t know how you can really use words to express an artist who used music to explain himself The blues based sonic transmitter that was Jimi was Jimi because he did what he wanted and what he wanted he was the greatest of all at doing: he wanted to use his guitar to express life.

Congratulations to Smearton for giving us plenty of performances, plenty of close up homemade tapes and really getting as close as you can to a man who was a cipher, INTENTIONALLY nondescript, when he wasn’t being the greatest musician of the rock and roll era.

Grade: B+

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