Jimi Hendrix Guitar Hero
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Jimi Hendrix Guitar Hero

Coming of age in the sixties was a turbulent experience but there was one thing that helped to ease the turmoil; the music. Living in New Year City meant my friends and I had access to some of the greatest venues in Rock and Roll. From Madison Square Garden to the legendary Fillmore East not to mention the little clubs and dives that proliferated in Greenwich Village I have been blessed by seeing many rock icons performing live. Among these influential I was witness the artistry of some of the best guitarist the rock world created; Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia and Duane Allman could accomplish magical performances from six simple string but there was one performer I still deeply regret never seeing live in concert; Jimi Hendrix. Like most teens of the day into rock music a sizable and treasured part of my record collection was dedicated to Hendrix. Others could play the guitar, their fingers playing across the frets at blinding speed but there was something unique about the style of Jimi Hendrix. The instrument ceased existing as a separate piece of wood and wires transforming into an extension of his body and soul. You just didn’t listen to Hendrix play the guitar, you experienced it. Even when you only had a stereo recording something transcendental was transmitted by your speakers enfolding you in the use of sound and music like nothing before. Hendrix was also known for his theatricality setting his guitar on fire, playing it with his tongue or in a few infamous occurrences performing ‘lewd acts’ with his instrument. He changed the face of music with every cover band wannabe saving up in hopes of buying as fender guitar. You might get the guitar and possibly plat it upside down left handed use but no one could ever match his talent. It has been noted that at the famous Monterey concert ‘The Who’ did not want to go on stage after Hendrix in fear of the audience being so overwhelmed by his performance that theirs would pale in comparison. On the fortieth anniversary of his death Image Entertainment has added an installment to their ongoing Classic Artist series with ‘Jimi Hendrix: Guitar Hero’.

In a film directed by Jon Brewer and narrated by Slash from ‘Guns and Roses. The documentary delves into the life and musical influences of the great but tragic figure. The film opens with a series of talking head sound bytes from some of my generation’s most notable guitar players. Some may find it odd but Micky Dolenz of ‘The Monkeys’ is prominent in the list. I did feel my age a bit noticing how all the musicians involved were old men but I’ve been getting that feeling a lot lately. Some of his contemporaries recall his entrance to the rock scene in London. He was staying with some other musicians and grabbed a guitar to sit in for some jams in small local clubs. Immediately everyone within range of hearing knew they were in the presence of greatness. Within ten days of arriving in London Jimi does the unthinkable asking to sit in with the reigning guitar god, Eric Clapton playing with Cream at a popular club, the Poly. Drummer Ginger Baker had some doubts but Hendrix sat in performing one of their most difficult songs with unbelievable ease. Clapton recalls the incident noting that Hendrix burst on the scene fully developed as a performer with a distinctive, well established style. What amazed people even more was he played his guitar upside down to accommodate being left handed.

Hendrix didn’t play major venues. Most of the clubs were small seating a couple of hundred people at most. Hendrix grew steadily in fame mostly by word of mouth, the Club scene in London then was a relatively small community with John Lennon and Mick Jagger mixed in with a myriad of other aspiring musicians. He was seen by a record producer who tossed him in with a couple of other musicians creating an ad hoc group called the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He then was able to cross the Atlantic with his first hit, "Hey Joe’. Back then the primary musical influences came from England so although he came from Portland Jimi had to establish his musical credentials in London. It was there that he was influenced by the flamboyant Edwardian style clothes that would become part of his rebellious image. By this time it was not unusual to see such rock heroes as ‘The Beatles’, ‘The Rolling Stones’ and ‘Clapton all sitting there enthralled by listening to what Hendrix could do with his guitar.

This is what was so truly incredible about Jimi Hendrix; his appeal extended not only to fans that couldn’t tune a guitar but to some of the best musicians that the world ever produced. Hendrix was looked upon those normally considered as his peers as soaring far above the pack in sheer talent, performance and presentation. This documentary steers well clear of the controversy and scandals that often overwhelm any retrospective on his life and career. Rather than dwelling on the negative this documentary celebrates a consummate musician redefining his chosen means of artistic expression. This is somewhat of controversial decision since many would argue that this condones the drug abuse that eventually cut this brilliant life short. Rather you should consider that this celebration of the music the propelled a generation and altered rock and roll history. There are some of his most well known performances including the one in Woodstock that brought an entirely new appreciation of our national anthem. This isn’t a documentary that is fair and balanced view; it succeeds in what it set out to do; introduce Hendrix to yet another generation.

Posted 09/12/2010

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