Published Nov 05, 2013Made as part of the PBS series American Masters, Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin' is the kind of warm, fuzzy documentary that fits in perfectly with the widely held view of Hendrix as one of the greatest ever guitarists whose life was tragically cut short.
Director Bob Smeaton, who also worked on The Beatles Anthology covers Hendrix's life from the early days, through his time in the military and his musical career through historical footage and interviews with friends, family, bandmates and other acquaintances. Much of the interviews with key figures from Hendrix's bands are recycled from earlier pieces since they are no longer alive, but there are some new conversations, including one with Paul McCartney, who is more than happy to share his memories and take some credit for getting Hendrix started in the UK. When it comes to his private life, it is Fayne Pridgon who really humanizes Hendrix as she reminisces about his shy offstage persona.
There are no major revelations here: Hendrix was a nice guy and a very talented guitarist whose innovative style is still having an immeasurable impact many years after his death. It doesn't exactly brush over any unsavoury elements, but it really doesn't dwell on them either. Not surprisingly, it's the music that really makes the documentary. As soon as a guitar was put into his hands, he turned into something really special.
Studio engineer Eddie Kramer breaks down just how groundbreaking Hendrix was in the studio by dissecting some tracks at the mixing desk, but the live performances are better still. Onstage, it is hard to think of anyone who has managed to rival his charisma and originality, and it turns out there is still some new footage in the archives that hasn't seen the light of day before.
Ultimately, Hear My Train A Comin' is a two hour celebration of Jimi Hendrix and not much more. There's no denying it is a well-made documentary but it isn't terribly exciting either — longtime fans won't find much new here apart from the extras.
The DVD also includes more complete footage from a trio of music festivals: the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, the 1970 New York Pop Festival and Love & Peace Festival, also in 1970. Rounding out the extras is a clip from British show Top Of The Pops in 1967 on which the band perform their signature hit "Purple Haze."