He only lived to the age of 27, first placed his fingers on a guitar at the age of 15 and has remained a musical legend to this day. The reasons for his success were as varied as his transformations. His style meshed vintage military fashion with the uninhibited flair that came with the ’70s. His enigmatic personality matched well with his constantly evolving performances. His use of instruments had him treating electronic guitars more like lovers on each stage he graced. The fact that Hear My Train A Comin, directed by Bob Smeaton, sticks boldly to the tune of 190 minutes without having covering half the genius that was Jimi Hendrix is a testament to the legacy of a man labelled by many as the greatest guitarist of all time.
The film sticks to a familiar formula as most documentaries typically do, by chronologically starting from Jimi Hendrix’s seemingly ordinary birth in Seattle all the way to his eventual death as an extraordinary musical icon. Through a mixture of grainy unseen performance footage and a collection of interviews featuring familiar faces such as Dave Mason and Paul McCartney, along with band mates, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, viewers are provided with the context into how Hendrix’s music evolved into what it was.
What works here are the unadulterated moments that expose Hendrix for not only being a masterful guitarist, but a man who had simple needs like any other such as music and women. He was a ladies’ man who could supposedly utter a whisper that would have a woman in his bedroom the very next day. Characteristically, he was also an artist who openly smoked reefer, which was a norm for his era. But despite all the “cool” that made up his legacy, in the absence of the stage, he was still a deeply shy and insecure individual who hated compliments.
Whether it was his start in blues, taking his talents to the UK and showcasing his brilliance or his downright rebellious guitar smashing antics in the United States, every action was understandably fitting given his personality. The mouth playing, amp humping, behind the back antics were contextualized beyond simple gimmicks, but rather as an extension of his own vision for his art form. The rebellion even extended to the circumstance of him being a black man with two white band members. He wasn’t a speaker that would join marches during the civil rights days to make a stance, rather it his life that was a stance in itself considering the times and what was expected of a person of his colour.
All these avenues for character examination were made beautifully clear, even more so through the beautiful high definition footage of his guitar playing, which made up some of the more satisfying moments throughout the documentary. Having the opportunity to view Hendrix play “All Along The Watch Tower” and “Purple Haze” along with his infamous Star Spangled Banner rendition at Woodstock 1969 almost made you wonder what it could have been like had he lived longer to play live today.
It would be a disservice to say that a 190 minute film could completely do Jimi Hendrix justice, but in terms of the attempt, Hear My Train A Comin offers just enough to remind us of the importance of the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” and the priceless staple it left on the world of music.
Words By. Noel Ransome