Film Review: American Masters: Jimi Hendrix- “Hear My Train A Comin’”

By Devon Wendell

The Experience Hendrix estate and the good people of PBS present a brand new Jimi Hendrix documentary, Hear My Train A Comin’ as a part of their American Masters series. There was an advanced screening of the film at The Sony Entertainment Room in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, October 2nd. It will air nationwide on PBS on November 5, when the DVD will be released.

Directed by Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology and Festival Express), Hear My Train A Comin’ takes us on a chronological journey through Hendrix’s entire life. The film starts with Jimi’s troubled childhood in Seattle, then his days as a U.S. paratrooper, to his stint on the chitlin’ circuit, (backing up some of R&B’s greatest legends of the 60s such as Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, and Wilson Pickett to name a few) and of course his taking London by storm during the height of the swinging `60s and becoming the most influential guitar player of all time.

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix

The film features loving accounts of Jimi’s musical genius and his gentle personality by legends who knew or played with him such as; Steve Winwood, Ernie Isley, Billy Cox, Noel Redding, Chas Chandler, Mitch Mitchell, Dave Mason, Buddy Miles, and Sir Paul MCcartney. We also hear from Jimi’s father, the late Al Hendrix, his half-sister Janie, and his cousin Bob Hendrix, plus an array of journalists and a few of Jimi’s many girlfriends.

Although it’s great to hear tons of loving accolades and admiration for Jimi by so many different people, the message gets redundant quickly and the film could have used more music footage and less talk. It’s made clear over and over again how dedicated Jimi was to his music as he recorded, gigged, jammed, and practiced around the clock. But we don’t really learn anything more than that and most of us already know this about Jimi.

The film also only presents us with baby-boom era rockers and fails to examine how Jimi impacted other musical genres of the `60s and `70s such as jazz, blues, and funk.

Aside from footage that fans have already seen countless times like excerpts from The Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, The Band Of Gypsies, and The Berkeley Concerts, there isn’t much of anything we haven’t seen before. The only “new” stuff are very brief portions of “Foxy Lady” and “Tax Free” from the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, and a quick shot of “Spanish Castle Magic” from The Isle Of Fehmarn, Jimi’s last official concert before his death in September of 1970.

Sir Paul MCcartney’s accounts of how Jimi Blew the English rock scene away (including himself and the other three Beatle members) upon his arrival in London in 1966 is the most interesting and heart felt celebrity appearance in the entire film. But no matter what is said about Jimi by his band members, friends, and girlfriends, we don’t get a true insight to who Jimi really was. There’s a huge void. Even with the presentation of Jimi’s personal letters home to his dad from the Army and later from England after the formation of The Experience, there is still a shroud of mystery surrounding Jimi’s life.

There is also a blatant glossing over of Jimi’s self destructive behavior in a possible attempt to white wash his image.

overHear My Train A Comin’ does have some fine moments like film footage shot by Jimi and drummer Mitch Mitchell of moments on the road on planes and long car rides between gigs from The Experience’s first tour of America of 1968. There is also footage of Jimi jamming backstage at Madison Square Garden with The Rolling Stones in `69 with audio but just as the music gets cooking, it’s cut off by more talk, usually right as Jimi begins to solo. There isn’t that balance between interview segments and music that the Warner Brothers 1973 film Jimi Hendrix, (directed by Joe Boyd, John Head, and Gary Weis) successfully achieved.

Bob Smeaton could have cut this film down by 30 minutes. Two hours is very long for a documentary that often loses focus and feels repetitive.

With that being said, Hear My Train A Comin’ is a suitable introduction for young people who don’t know anything about Jimi Hendrix. However, for those of us who do, this is yet another Jimi Hendrix documentary with too much of the same stock footage, opinions, and speculation which makes me think we’re only supposed to know so much about such a genius.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

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