The PBS series "American Masters" looks at the life and career of Jimi Hendrix in “Hear My Train A Comin’,” which premieres on Tuesday, November 5 at 9 pm (check local listings). The same date sees the release of the documentary on DVD and Blu-ray with bonus features, as well as the release of “Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival,” a previously unreleased show from 1968, on CD, vinyl, and digital download.
The film, directed by Bob Smeaton, who directed “The Beatles Anthology” as well as previous concert films about Hendrix, largely focuses on Hendrix’s work as a musician. Band members Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, and Billy Cox all talk about the experience of working with Hendrix, while other performers, like Paul McCartney, share their observations (McCartney is still clearly tickled by how Hendrix performed the title song of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in concert just days after the album’s release).
Hendrix’s family history is covered as well, and there are interviews with some of the key women in his life, including Linda Keith, who, when she was Keith Richards’ girlfriend, introduced Hendrix to his manager Chas Chandler, and Faye Pridgeon, who looked after a pre-fame Hendrix in New York City.
The film is something of a sanitized view of Hendrix. His brother Leon, whom he grew up with, isn’t interviewed at all; details about Jimi’s childhood come from his cousin Bob, who incorrectly states that Jimi joined the army simply as a means to leave Seattle (in reality, he joined as part of a plea bargain, after he was twice arrested for riding in a stolen car). His drug use is only glancingly referred to (there’s nothing about his 1969 drug bust in Canada, for example), and while much is made of his love of women, there’s no mention of his sometimes cavalier and cruel treatment of them. All of which keeps the portrayal from being as well rounded as it could have been.
But the live footage, much of it previously unreleased is excellent, giving you a real sense of how Hendrix developed as a performer. And his dedication to music comes through strongly; though enjoying recreational drugs, they never sapped his creativity (he wrote lyrics for a song just hours he died). It’s an engaging, if one-sided, portrait of a vibrant, passionate artist who certainly deserves to join the pantheon of “American Masters.”