From the very first notes of "Wild Thing" electrifying the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 Jimi Hendrix fans will be riveted by a new two-hour "American Masters" documentary, "Jimi Hendrix -- Hear My Train a Comin'," premiering Tuesday, Nov. 5, on PBS.
The documentary, directed by Bob Smeaton, traces Hendrix’s meteoric rise as a rock icon and guitar god who came out of humble beginnings in Seattle, and whose life and career were cut short at the age of 27, just as Janis Joplin’s and Jim Morrison's were.
Seeing a cutaway of a fresh-faced Joplin in the crowd at Monterey is just one of the many pleasures of this film, which also features recently uncovered footage of Hendrix playing the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, home movies taken by Hendrix himself and an extensive archive of photographs, drawings and family letters that provide new insight into his personality and musical genius.
The documentary, an expanded version of which is also being released on DVD and Blu-ray, allows the music to play while incorporating insights from Hendrix's father, sister, former girlfriends, bandmates and some of his earliest boosters from his star-making trip to London, rock superstars Paul McCartney and Steve Winwood. Also among those interviewed are sound engineer Eddie Kramer and bass player Billy Cox.
Even those who know Hendrix’s story may be surprised to learn about his early gigs backing greats including Wilson Pickett, Little Richard and the Isley Brothers before a former member of the Animals named Chas Chandler became his manager and took him in 1966 to England, where they formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. Interviews with all three add depth to the history of Hendrix.
Their performance of “Purple Haze” on the U.K. show “Top of the Pops” in 1967 set them on the road to superstardom that soon led back to the States, where producers on the Ed Sullivan show deemed the act too risque to be on TV.
No matter -- it made the Experience a huge concert attraction and just seemed to add to Hendrix's image as a unique artist who was also breaking racial barriers during the height of the civil rights movement. Gigs like the one at Woodstock in 1969 made them legendary.
You may come away from the experience wanting to hear more of the interviews with Jimi himself, like one of the few TV appearances he did on Dick Cavett, yet still thrilled to hear from an artist who has remained inimitable for 40 years.
PBS has made the full documentary available for online streaming. Here it is: