Jimi Hendrix enjoyed just a few years in the limelight and yet to this day we still continue to talk about him and his legacy. He has been considered one of the most important American musicians of the twentieth century and it’s a well-deserved title. No other guitarist has been as unique- in a musical sense and in the way they performed and presented themselves. So it comes as no surprise that there is yet another documentary that is dedicated to him.
Hear My Train A Comin’ isn’t the first Hendrix film to be directed by Bob Smeaton. He has already produced one about the guitar god’s performance at Woodstock plus Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child & Band of Gypsies. Where this doco differs from those previously, however, is that it seems like more of the people closest to Hendrix have come on-board here. Also, this time around his family have offered up old photographs and letters while his ex-girlfriends have been given the chance to provide their sides of the story (and this is possibly one of the first opportunities they’ve had, because in the past the estate has erred on the side of hagiography and attempted to whitewash Hendrix’s fondness for women and drugs).
In addition to personal footage, his documentary also contains a plethora of archive material. There are cuts from his performances at the Monterey, Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals. There are parts taken from some TV interviews he did, including one with Dick Cavett where Hendrix proves to be shy and modest.
Jimi Hendrix was an enigmatic character and chameleon. On stage he was a wild thing- a confident player and showman who knew how to work a crowd (who can forget when he set his guitar on fire at Monterey?) But in person the people who were fortunate enough to know him remember an insecure character and a guy who had a great sense of humour. This documentary charts a lot of territory- from his early family life to joining the US military as a paratrooper (and the place where he’d meet fellow musician, Billy Cox (who is also interviewed here).
Hendrix admired the bluesmen whose music he first listened to from his father’s record collection. He enjoyed the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson. His first breaks in the business were also playing with the likes of Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers and Little Richard. But he’d eventually start his own group and was managed by Chas Chander (The Animals).
There are lots of talking head interviews with Chandler, Paul McCartney, The Experience members: Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, Michelle Phillips (The Mamas & Papas) and Steve Winwood, to name a few. There are also interviews with Al Hendrix (Jimi’s father) and Bob Hendrix (Jimi’s cousin) plus journalists like Chris Welch and Dave Fricke (Rolling Stone) and other people in the business like producers, DJs and publicists.
At two hours, Hear My Train A Comin’ does a good job of painting a portrait of a complex musician who found fame with The Experience and the short-lived, Band Of Gypsies. His death was an untimely one at the age of 27 in 1970. But his legacy continues to shine bright to this day with hits and covers like “Wild Thing”, “Hey Joe”, “Soul Free”, “Purple Haze”, “The Wind Cries Mary”, “Foxy Lady”, “Dolly Dagger” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, to name a few. These continue to be played and mimicked and it’s easy to see why these songs remain so important.
This documentary is ultimately an important addition to the Hendrix canon. It is a solid introduction and an excellent look at this guitar god. And with its rare footage and other material, this will also leave a little something for those diehard fans to enjoy. The Hendrix legacy continues to live on and is celebrated and supported through labours of love such as this.
Originally published on 22 November 2013 at the following website: http://sfmedia.com.au/jimi-hendrix-hear-my-train-a-comin-dvd-review/
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