Jimi Hendrix – Hear My Train a Comin’ (DVD)

Jimi Hendrix – Hear My Train a Comin’ (DVD) (Experience Hendrix / Sony Legacy) review

A phenomenal two-hour documentary worthy of the Hendrix legend

As legendary a figure as Jimi Hendrix still is, it’s easy to forget that he was also a human being.  Hear My Train a Comin, a new documentary on DVD, paints the most complete picture of the gifted guitarist that we’ve ever seen.  Hendrix concert footage is all over the Internet, but what was he like offstage?  Through extensive interviews with family members, and especially former girlfriends, we find out that the Hendrix we saw onstage was a lot different from (and oftentimes, at odds with) the man he was away from the spotlight.  Interviews with Hendrix’s family and the inclusion of home movies and photos, help add a human side that we haven’t seen before.

The film was directed by Bob Smeaton, who handled the fantastic Beatles Anthology, and he imparts the same amount of warmth here.

Throughout the film, Hendrix’s original engineer, Eddie Kramer, sits behind the studio board with the session tapes;  isolating Hendrix’s vocals and guitar, and revealing some fantastic things.  For instance, how clear and beautiful his voice was on “Little Wing.”

We find out from the film that Hendrix was only concerned with two things in life – music and women.  While there’s an abundance of music in the movie, there’s also an attempt to include some of his many companions, who all paint him in a sincere way – as a shy guy offstage who never let the guitar get out of his sight, even taking it to the kitchen and bathroom!

There’s some amazing early footage of the Experience on Top of the Pops before they took off.  And, you see the guitarist playing in small clubs – imagine stumbling in on him by accident.

Hear My Train a Comin’ compiles interviews with several key musicians and friends – some of whom are no longer with us: bandmates Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Buddy Miles, and Billy Cox, as well as producer/manager Chas Chandler.  These are interspersed with exclusive new conversations with Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.

There’s fantastic footage of Hendrix on the Dick Cavett show, where he shows off his humorous side.  There’s also grainy footage of both the Beatles and the Stones hanging out with him – everyone wanted to be near him.

Of course, there’s plenty of material of the three music festivals which create the trajectory of his career.  First, at the Monterey Pop Festival, where Hendrix lights his guitar on fire and creates the buzz that will signal his rise in popularity.  Second, at Woodstock, cementing his legend forever with his rousing (and shocking) rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Then finally, the Isle of Wight Festival, where we see Hendrix  disoriented, less than a month before his death.

Even if you saw the film during it’s run on PBS, this DVD is still worth picking up for the fantastic bonus material.  First, there’s recently-found footage from the Miami Pop Festival, featuring the original Experience that’s professionally shot, and sounds great too.  Then, there’s the New York Pop Festival, which is grainy, yet has an immediacy, especially with some of the extreme closeups on Hendrix.  Lastly there’s extremely rare footage from the Love & Peace Festival in September of 1970.  The quality isn’t very good, yet it’s significant – as the final performance of the Experience.  Hendrix would pass away less than two weeks later.

The final scene, where Hendrix is strumming a 12-string acoustic guitar, singing how he’s “waiting for a train to come” is chilling.

There is no more iconic figure in rock than Jimi Hendrix.  Kids who’s parents weren’t even old enough to have seen the legendary guitarist are wearing shirts with his likeness.  Hear My Train a Comin certainly has plenty of the pyrotechnics of his live performances.  But, there’s also a human side that we’ve never seen before.  —Tony Peters