Saturday, November 9, 2013

Doc Feelgood: The Jimi Hendrix Documentary that Goes Down Easy

Cover of the DVD release of PBS' American Masters documentary "Jimi Hendrix – Hear My Train A Comin’"
My first reaction – and that of most of my Hendrix-besotted friends who previewed this documentary in the plush confines of a screening room in Beverly Hills – was one of bliss. To be in that room with its state-of-the-art sound and pristine video ratio going back in the kundalini time machine and soaking up the Jimi juices of rare performance footage and interview chestnuts like the kimono-suited Dick Cavett interview, that was an experience to savor.

And so we came out of that theater in a state of nirvana that could only be described as a floating opera, Electric Ladyland to the max. All my psychedelicisized memories came floating back on the ether and I was floating along with them, looking at the world through rose-colored, er, purple-colored glasses. The documentary was deftly produced, a class act, and along with the well-researched performance footage, it brought in talking heads that didn't have that musty smell of reels recycled from countless clips. There were fresh takes from the likes of sound engineer Eddie Kramer, Paul McCartney, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, Steve Winwood, Billy Gibbons, Dave Mason and some of the folks who knew Jimi or were associated with his career: costume designer Colette Mimram, record execs Joe Smith ("This was the Summer of Love, so you wouldn't do anything that was too outrageous for that crowd") and Bob Merlis, bff  Faye Pridgon, Keith Richards galpal Linda Keith (who introduced Jimi to manager Chas Chandler) – and Chandler himself and other stalwarts from beyond the grave.

Inside cover of the companion "Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival"  CD
The screening confirmed my feeling about avoiding the ominous anniversary of Hendrix' death – September 18 – in favor of the date of his arrival on this Third Stone from the Sun: November 27, when I give thanks for this genius' brief shining flame on the guitar horizon. The little girl whose mom married Al Hendrix, Janie Hendrix, she too looks through those purple colored glasses when she reflects on the lanky guitar player who came back to Seattle to visit. As the executive producer of these recordings – and executrix of the estate – Janie has glossed over the legacy to include testimony from the anointed folks who pass muster with her crowd, and that is my solitary quibble.

It's understandable that the doc doesn't dwell on the forensics of Jimi's death, which have been disputed almost as long as their counterparts in and around Dealey Plaza in Dallas. But the history that is recorded by this august company omits the remembrances of some who are not kosher in the eyes of the new estate. Folks like record producer Alan Douglas, who guided the estate and promoted the posthumous Hendrix mystique before losing his job at the hands of Experience Hendrix LLC's lawyers; electronics genius Roger Mayer, who first introduced Hendrix to the wonderful world of effect pedals, in December 1966 and collaborated with the guitarist until Hendrix's death in 1970. Hendrix once called Mayer "the secret of my sound"; Kathy Etchingham, who lived with Hendrix in a flat on Brook Street and later wrote the memoir "Through Gypsy Eyes"; Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend, the guitarists most blown away by Hendrix' prowess when he came to town. You will hear reminiscences from Jimi's younger cousin Bob Hendrix but for some reason, nothing is heard from his brother Leon, who was cut out, it seems, from the legacy.

Jimi and Kathy Etchingham in the flat on Brooke Street, London where they lived and which is from her book, "Through Gypsy Eyes"
So while this documentary has some brilliant moments in an all-too-brief shining career, I couldn't help thinking when the film ended on another rare, mournful and delicious track, the 12-string rendition of the title track "Hear My Train A Comin’" that the train may have been a-comin' but it's passed us by.

Film Outtake: Janie Hendrix's Memories of Jimi