Last week, on Jimi Hendrix’s 39th death anniversary on September 18, I put a film into my DVD tray and laid back to see what would happen on the screen. Like everyone else, I have followed my Hendrix down to the 1998 BBC Sessions album that featured 1967 recordings on radio shows like Top Gear and Saturday Club. I have LPs of the live 1969-1970 Filmore East gigs Band of Gypsys album (from which I hum, “With the power/ Of soul/ Everything is possible” from ‘Power of soul’ every time I have a devastatingly difficult act of responsibility to perform), the earlier epic studio albums, Are You Experienced (with its grammatically radical ‘no question mark’ title), Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland, which I bought from Calcutta’s Free School Street more attracted to its double-spread cover of a bevy of naked women than perhaps to Hendrix’s guitarplay at its apogee. (This old UK album cover, alas, has been replaced by that showing Jimi’s face.)
So what would a DVD reissue of a 1973 film made by record producer Joe Boyd (The Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, etc) bring to my already sated ‘I adore Jimi Hendrix’ life? Well, to put it in one word: perspective.Assembled from live shows, interviews with Hendrix, fellow musicians, family members and friends, the two-disc special edition of A Film About Jimi Hendrix (Big Home Video) charts the trajectory of the greatest rock guitarist and puts his music in a context beyond that of a ‘black musician from Seattle who crossed over for a white rock’n’roll audience’ that most of us are familiar with.
Jimi’s father, the late Al Hendrix reminds the viewer of his son’s musical roots, influences and experiences — BB King, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Curtis Mayfield and Little Richard. In the film, Little Richard, with whose band Jimi played the guitar ‘quietly’ on the side from 1964 to 1965, describes the shy guitarplayer as ‘freaky’. Coming from the well-coiffured Little Richard, that comes across as a Big Compliment.
The highlights of this ‘assembled’ montage of a film are full-length concert performances from the Monterey Pop, Isle of Wight and Woodstock festivals. But more precious are archival images of the yet-to-be legendary Jimi Hendric Experience, with Jimi on guitar and vocals, Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, playing gigs at London’s Marquee Club and on the British TV shows, Ready, Steady, Go! and Top of the Pops.
Made some two years after Hendrix’s death, fellow rock musicians like Pete Townsend and Eric Clapton speak in the movie in a mix of total admiration and nostalgic envy. More light-hearted is Hendrix’s own wisecracks about his own stature on a television talkshow (which he attends wearing a short, blue bathing robe). The predecessor of Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno tells the television audience that Jimi’s army background (he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army where he was a terrible soldier) should quiet his critics who thought him to be too ‘counter-cultural’ and anti-establishment. Jimi laughs this off and we find one of those rare moments where he’s having a public laugh about his own public identity.
The special features on A Film About Jimi Hendrix are worth their while in Fender Stratocastered gold. There’s Band of Gypsies playing ‘Machine Gun’, a never-before-seen 4th of July 1970 Atlanta gig with Hendrix playing ‘Stone Free’. There are some silly, long interviews — Germaine Greer coming across as a undergrad dufus.
But once the 98-minute Hendrix tour was over, I got up and played him back-to-back starting with ‘Hey Joe’ and ending with ‘Fire’. And everything in-between is one powerful, heavy experience.