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Jimi Hendrix, ‘Hear My Train a Comin” – Film Review

Experience Hendrix / Legacy Recordings

Up until now, Jimi Hendrix‘s life hasn’t been all that well documented on film. There have been plenty of concert movies featuring mostly hazy and grainy footage of the guitar great onstage, and a few documentaries hoping to peel away the man from the myth, but there’s never been a definitive work about the artist and his legend.

‘Hear My Train a Comin,’ a two-hour documentary simultaneously releasing on home video and airing on PBS as part of its ‘American Masters’ series, is a nuts-and-bolts Hendrix history for the uninitiated as well as for fans.

Framed in a tidy narrative that even your grandparents can follow, ‘Hear My Train a Comin” succeeds where other Hendrix bios have failed because of the wealth of concert footage, home movies and vintage pics made available to the filmmakers by Hendrix’s family, which is 100 percent behind the project (unlike the upcoming big-screen biopic starring OutKast‘s Andre Benjamin).

It also helps that the fillmakers lined up a bunch of famous people — including Paul McCartney, Billy Gibbons and Steve Winwood — to talk about Hendrix’s influence. But it’s the musicians who spent the most time with him, like members of the Experience and Band of Gypsys, who offer the most insight into the apparently shy-except-when-he’s-onstage legend.

And when ‘Hear My Train a Comin” focuses on Hendrix’s concert pyrotechnics, it’s made immediately clear why he’s one of the all-time greats. From his first U.S. show — where he dry-humped his guitar before setting it on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival — until one of his last, Hendrix bled magnetism. He was a star almost from the start, even when he was backing established R&B heroes like Little Richard and the Isley Brothers.

It took an overseas trip to London, where the Animals‘ Chas Chandler paired him up with a couple of British musicians to form the Experience and guided his career, to get that fire started. Once it ignited, it spread and didn’t subside until Hendrix passed away at the age of 27 on Sept. 18, 1970. ‘Hear My Train a Comin” doesn’t pry too far beneath the surface. It’s not meant to. But it chronicles Hendrix’s story with dazzling footage (his Woodstock performance still thrills) and personal recollections (various girlfriends show up with tales) that bridge the artist and his music. In the end, that’s what matters most.

Next: Top 10 Jimi Hendrix Songs

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