By Phyllis Pollack
On Wednesday, October 2, 2013, a private screening in Los Angeles unveiled the upcoming documentary, American Masters: Jimi Hendrix, Hear My Train A Comin.' The two-hour documentary will air on Tuesday, November 5, 2013 on PBS.
Directed by acclaimed director Bob Smeaton, it will also be released on both DVD and Blu-Ray in an expanded edition.
The film, authorized by the guitarist’s estate, traces Hendrix’s life from his youth to his final pop festival performance, his gig at the Isle of Fehmarn.
Deftly incorporating interviews, Hendrix footage, a myriad of memorabilia, and numerous hypnotic, previously unseen photos, the story begins on November 27, 1942, with this year marking what would have been Jimi Hendrix’s 70th birthday.
Viewers may be surprised to find that when it comes to some of the most humorous moments from guests appearing in the film, they come from Paul McCartney.
Whether intentionally or not, Sir Paul McCartney’s comments added humorous irony to moments of the film.
One of them was subsequent to Mamas and Papas singer Michelle Phillips stating that when Lou Adler was assembled the list of artists to play at the Monterey Pop Festival, neither she nor her late husband John had heard of Hendrix. With a hint of irony, McCartney said he told them, “Yeah, look into it.”
It was at McCartney’s urging that Hendrix was added onto the bill of what was the first major rock fest. It would be the event that catapulted the guitarist into fame in the States.
McCartney also told the story surrounding Hendrix performing the song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” at London’s Saville Theatre, just three days after the Beatles had released the album.
McCartney, still knocked out by it, referenced it during his 2010 concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
Additional subtle humor enters in the film as the story unravels, noting the fact that Noel Redding auditioned for Hendrix, expecting to play guitar.
A slew of other musicians and insiders and discuss Hendrix, and his genius as a visionary guitarist and musician. Among them are Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Dave Mason, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, and Stevie Winwood.
Hendrix bassist Billy Cox looks back on his days with Hendrix while serving in the army, in addition to the Band of Gypsies period, the revamping of the Experience line-up, performing at Woodstock, and he hints at what would have come in the future, had the guitarist not passed away in 1970 London.
An ample amount of footage is also included, which features the late Hendrix musicians bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
Janie Hendrix spoke affectionately about her father, as she recalled when Jimi arrived to visit his hometown of Seattle after being absent for six years. She noted that their late father Al was so proud of his son, that he shaved his beard off and wore a suit to greet Jimi at the airport.
Her story is augmented with a telling photo of that poignant visit.
Ernie Isley is also queried about the stellar guitarist, who played with the Isley Brothers for over a year, during which time he also lived with the family.
Dweezil Zappa, whose father Frank, famous turned Hendrix onto Wah-Wah pedals, offered some humor regarding the guitar icon destroying his guitars on stage.
Hendrix had famously given the elder Zappa what was left of his guitar after the Miami Pop Festival in 1968.
Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid also added some humor, while discussing the guitarist’s predilection for lighting guitars afire onstage.
Music exec Joe Smith, who worked at Warner Music at the time when Hendrix was signed to the label.
Longtime publicist Bob Merlis also offers insights.
Sound engineer Eddie Kramer talks about his memories Hendrix, via discussing recording sessions, and he tells the story of the creation of the guitarist’s famed Electric Lady Studios.
Among the many interesting highlights in Hear My Train A Comin,’ McCartney addressed the fact that Hendrix was rejected as a guest on the conservative Ed Sullivan Show.
While other artists had promotion vehicles reserved for only the more conservative acts, McCartney states regarding Hendrix, “Some people, it’s just word of mouth.”
Another ironic passage in the film entails Hendrix being slated as the opening act for the Monkeys.
Music mogul Lou Adler, Los Angeles DJ Jim Ladd, whose days on the air started in 1969, and Chris Stamp also supply commentary. Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli is among those seen in the film, as well.
One of Hendrix’s girlfriends, the strikingly beautiful Fayne Pridgeon, discusses the time frame during which Hendrix stayed in her New York apartment, and his devotion to music.
Discussing his personality, virtually all of those describing it come to the same consensus regarding the gifted musician.
Ace Hall, who played bass during Hendrix’s stint with Curtis Knight and the Squires, also reflects on the guitar icon.
Jimi’s cousin, Bob Hendrix, talks about Jimi’s first electric guitar, and his playing acoustic prior to that.
For those who cannot get enough of it, there is plenty of live concert footage in the documentary.
Priceless items shown close up include the famed guitarist’s passport, dated 1966, and a photo of Jimi with a Lenny Bruce album.
Former girlfriend Linda Keith, who had previously been Keith Richards’ paramour, shares her recollections, and notes that it was she who introduced Hendrix to the late Chas Chandler, who ended up managing him.
The film notes that one record label exec that came to see Hendrix perform in New York at the Café Wha passed on the offer to sign the guitar icon.
There is a healthy amount of interview footage with Chandler in the documentary, adding yet more dimension to the film.
While some of the footage in the film may be familiar to some Hendrix fanatics, such as the splices from the Dick Cavett show, there is enough new footage, and a timeless story that will captivate every Hendrix fan.
Notably, the expanded DVD features previously unreleased footage of Hendrix performing at the Miami Pop Festival, the New York Pop Festival in 1970, and the Isle of Fenharm Love and Peace Festival in 1970, his final slated concert performance.
The hypnotic direction of the film moves quickly, and gratefully, there is also a generous amount of music in the film, which will be released through Experience Hendrix LLC and Legacy Recordings.
Hear My Train A Comin’ is a worthwhile tribute to an iconic force that was derailed far too soon.