The Guitar Hero

Jimi Hendrix

Forty years after his death, Jimi Hendrix continues to fascinate music fans and historians alike. There are tons of documentaries, concert films, even feature films about the guitarist. Joe Boyd’s 1973 Jimi Hendrix documentary is often considered the touchstone by which all others follow. The Guitar Hero bears a similar tone and presentation, offering insights from insiders like Eric Burdon, Hendrix’s girlfriend Kathy Etchingham and his brother Leon, along with contemporaries such as Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Mick Taylor, Stephen Stills. Slash does an ample job narrating, although the film doesn’t really require narration. In some cases, the star-power director Jon Brewer employs to tell the tale sometimes overplays the subject.

The surreal opening with the displayed birth and death dates of Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell leads one to think this is a film about the Jimi Hendrix Experience, when it clearly only touches on the Experience as part of its primary focus on Hendrix. Throughout, there are non sequiturs that come close to throwing the story off the rails. Somehow, it all seems to wash out in the mix.

A lot of attention is given to Swinging London and its small clubs where rock royalty gathered to see the mysterious black guitarist from America. This is where the talking heads fill in the blanks. Yes bassist Chris Squire, whose band opened for Hendrix, offers his account. Drummer Joey Covington, who worked for a spell with Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane, has his perspective. Comparisons between Cream and the Experience from Clapton and Ginger Baker add some drama and tension, but it seems like writer Charles Cross, who penned Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, is the only one with a comprehensible assessment of the guitarist’s rise.

Other characters that help flesh out Hendrix’s story include Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. A former roadie for bands that played with the guitarist, Lemmy provides an unapologetic, straightforward view of Hendrix without putting him on a pedestal. Micky Dolenz brings some comedic flavor to his recollections about Hendrix opening for the Monkees. Hearing Stills and Mason chat about working with Hendrix is simply priceless.

Regarding the guitarist’s passing and opinions of what he may have accomplished had he lived, everyone seems to have their own spin. Hendrix’s neglected brother Leon says he wanted to write symphonies. Cross thinks he would have expanded the size of his backing bands, based on the huge ensemble he brought to Woodstock. Stills firmly believe he would have gone into fusion. Whichever direction Hendrix may have headed, all pretty much agree he was one wicked guitar player. Complete archival footage (aside from the a striking performance of "Hey Joe" in the Bonus section) and interviews with more credible (and living) participants in the man’s life might have lent The Guitar Hero a higher degree of authoritativeness. But as a loving tribute to the man as a musician, a guitarist and a creative spirit, it’s an informative and entertaining piece most Hendrix fans wouold enjoy.

~ Shawn Perry

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