Short life, lasting legacy of Jimi Hendrix chronicled in new film

Mon Nov 4, 2013 10:30am EST
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By Mary Milliken and John Russell

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With a soft voice and a downward gaze, Jimi Hendrix seemed to shrink in his pastel blue kimono-like shirt as talk show host Dick Cavett called him one of the best guitarists in the world in 1969.

After all, his friends and family said, Hendrix was shy and insecure. When he was performing, however, he was anything but, laying it all out for audiences that couldn't quite absorb the innovation unfolding before their eyes and in their ears.

"On stage there was a magical transformation, like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," said his recording sound engineer Eddie Kramer. "He was quite the star performer on stage, quite sexual and very animalistic, but in complete control."

That Hendrix paradox is at the heart of "Jimi Hendrix - Hear My Train A Comin'" a documentary in the "American Masters" series that airs on PBS on Tuesday.

The two-hour documentary takes the viewer from Hendrix's humble childhood in Seattle and his deep dive into the blues to his four years at the pinnacle of rock music in the late 1960s to his death at age 27 from an overdose of sleeping pills. It features previously unseen performance footage and home movies.

The first chords in the film come from the U.S. debut of the band Jimi Hendrix Experience at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival where he played "Wild Thing" and simulated sex with his guitar before lighting it on fire and breaking it into pieces. Some in the audience look bewildered, some appalled.

"Now you look at it and you have kind of seen it," the documentary's director Bob Smeaton told Reuters. "But imagine looking at that for the first time. Imagine seeing Jimi Hendrix at Monterey in 1967 playing like that."


The cover of "Jimi Hendrix - Hear My Train A Comin" DVD, is seen in this handout image provided by Legacy Recordings. REUTERS/Legacy Recordings/Handout via Reuters