When I was in sixth grade, my cousin Charlie was a freshman in high school and taking a beginning guitar class. Anyone who’s ever taken a beginning guitar class knows how they go: students spend a bit of time learning theory and practicing basic skills, and then fill the rest of their time with learning from each other or just noodling–by the time I finished my own beginning guitar course a few years later, I had learned the minor pentatonic scale as well as the blues shuffle, thanks in part to the wizardry of upper classman, Sean Harold.
One of the songs my cousin Charlie learned in his class was Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” When he played the song for me, I was enamored, begging him to play the intro over and over again, until he got pissed and tabbed it out for me to learn myself. I began learning everything I could about Jimi Hendrix. For Christmas that year I asked for Hendrix records and received Jimi Hendrix: Live at Winterland from my aunt. I really loved that record. It had a solid smattering of songs, including a great cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” It also came with liner notes that doubled as the handbill for that show. I hung that poster on my wall until the corners disappeared, victims of repeated push-pin punctures.
From that record I moved on to Are You Experienced?and Electricladyland. I recorded the Woodstock documentary off PBS just so I could watch the Hendrix performance at the end. Like most things that I discover, I became infatuated, consuming as much as I could: music, videos, books. I wanted to learn everything about Hendrix. And the really great thing about studying Hendrix was that I was exposed to all sorts of other amazing music.
Over time my obsession cooled and I branched away from Hendrix, though I would return from time to time, especially whenever something new was released.
Over the weekend, I watched John Ridley’s 2013 biopic Jimi:All is by My Side, starring Andre “3000” Benjamin in the titular role.
Overall I was pleased with the film. Benjamin turns in a stellar job as Hendrix, looking, speaking, and moving the part. He’s not Jimi, but he’s not far off. He certainly embodied Hendrix more than any other actor. I know that he spent a number of years studying Hendrix to get everything just right.
The story takes place over the span of Hendrix’s transition from New York to London. Shows him playing with Curtis Knight, falling in with Lina Keith (Imogen Poots), meeting Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), traveling to London, and making the scene with clinger Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell). A lot of shit goes down in that first year and audiences are there to see Hednrix grow from a sideman to a frontman and how the expectations take a toll on his psyche.
Unfortunately, the Hendrix estate wouldn’t sign off on the rights to his music, so all of the songs in the film are covers. We don’t get to hear any of the tunes off Are You Experienced? but there are two standout moments, in my opinion. The first occurs when Hendrix finally arrives in London. Part of the agreement for his willingness to travel was Chas Chandler’s promise that Hendrix could meet Eric Clapton and Cream. Hendrix shows up to one of their gigs and asks to sit in. They jam on “Killing Floor” and Hendrix scares Clapton off the stage. Not sure if Slowhand really was scared of Hendrix, but it makes for a great contribution to the Hendrix mythos.
The final performance of the film immortalizes The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Apparently Paul McCartney and George Harrison were in attendance for this performance, blown away by the fact that Hendrix was covering their tune which had only come out two days prior.
The women in Hendrix’s life complete this tale. He loves Linda Keith and she clearly loves him but they can’t be together because of her involvement with Keith Richards, so he takes up with Etchingham. She dotes on him, putting much of herself into the relationship but not getting much in return from the introverted Hendrix. Both women love the man for different reasons, but they do love him. I think he tries to love back but he’s too much inside his own head to really deal, preferring to be left alone to read science fiction novels.
I’m sure this film takes quite a few liberties, but if you’re a Hendrix fan or even remotely interested in him or rock history, you should check out Jimi: All is by My Side.