Jimi Hendrix Vault Spews Forth New CD and Documentary
Though he only released three studio and one concert album while alive, Jimi Hendrix was one prolific motherfucker in his 27 years. After his 1970 death, the Hendrix vaults have spewed forth plenty more music and video, especially in the last few years under the keen stewardship of his estate.
The embarrassment of riches has just expanded with the release of The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival (Experience Hendrix/Legacy). The May 1968 event was one of the first large-scale rock festivals on the East Coast and the first one promoted by Michael Lang, who would later go on to co-produce a little gathering called Woodstock.
Though a relatively new group, the Experience (with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell) were enlisted as headliners for the two-day show, and this CD offers the first live recorded performances of several key Hendrix tunes.
The 11 tracks here are mostly made up of material from the band's 1967 debut, Are You Experienced? And though sometimes overly familiar to 2013 ears, included are a powerful "Hey Joe" with some passionate vocals, a groove-heavy "Foxy Lady," and a screeching "Fire," while "Tax Free" is a locomotive instrumental.
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Hendrix always loved to throw in a few slow blues numbers -- often somewhat apologizing to an audience who came to hear the manic side of his music -- so he throws some heavier coats on versions of "Hear My Train a Comin'" and "Red House."
Not coincidentally, never-before seen footage from Miami shows up in the impressive two hour documentary Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin'. Part of PBS' American Masters series, it is the best single documentary on Hendrix's life and music to date.
Generous with rarely-seen footage and photos, and featuring a long list of talking heads including family members, former bandmates and lovers, and artists like Paul McCartney, Billy Gibbons, Vernon Reid and Steve Winwood, it synthesizes both the Hendrix biography and goes to illuminate just why his music was so groundbreaking at the time -- not the least because he was a flamboyant black singer/guitarist fronting an otherwise white band with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
That situation wouldn't bat an eyelash in 2013, but in 1967, was something entirely different.
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The film makes much of the "two characters" of Jimi Hendrix. The larger-than-life "Wildman of Borneo" stage persona with a massive interest in women (several of whom talk about just how much he "needed looking after" like a lost boy), and the otherwise, shy, quiet, and -- believe it or not -- conservative guy in private.
Unfortunately, the documentary all but glosses over Hendrix's rampant drug use which led to his death, especially in the last year. And brother Leon Hendrix, who has had legal battles with the estate, Experience Hendrix LLC (now run by much younger half-sister Janie) is conspicuously absent, offering any insight into a young Jimi that only he would have. The film's publicist says that Leon was offered a chance to be in the film along with a fee, but did not answer in time to be included.
But the most interesting side alley of the film covers just how the music of Hendrix and other artists of the '60s got out. In an age well before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Kickstarter, Pandora, or iTunes, pretty much the only way to hear new music was on the radio.
And it was on the more free-form FM radio where DJs could have the power to actually pick their own music (wow!), even making a song a regional hit before it spread across the country. That's how music got out to the masses and led them to walk into a record store and make a purchase, something modern rock fans take for granted.
Hear My Train a Comin' runs a massive 190 minutes, including DVD-only bonus live footage from a series of festivals and TV appearances. Both this and the Miami Pop Festival CD are welcome additions to the Jimi Hendrix catalogue...and surely not the last.
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