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“Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin.” PBS.org
“Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin.” PBS.org

INDIEWATCH: Jimi Hendrix doc highlights a portrait of a ‘wild man’

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Find out how Jimi Hendrix catapulted into the music scene in “Hear My Train A Comin,” which documents this megastar’s career in the late ’60s through interviews with his father, Paul McCartney and more.

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This film looks at his early life, his influences — Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson — and his very first guitar that cost $5.

“Every spare time he had, he’d be working on that guitar,” said Jimi’s dad, Al Hendrix. “So when he got good on that, I went and got him an electric guitar.”

Cut to footage of Jimi ripping up “Johnny B. Goode” juxtaposed with clips of his soft-spoken, velvety voice in interviews.

“He was two different characters. When he was playing he was super confident, he was in total control, his focus was immaculate, but when he wasn’t playing he was desperately insecure,” says Linda Klein, one of his longtime friends. And the change from rock god on stage to gentle Jimi off stage reveals a comforting humanity in this film.

My fave and the most mind-boggling footage in “Hear My Train A Comin” is of the first time he played in England. The crowd didn’t know what to expect, and here’s this African American man leading a band of Brits.

“You can say the stars were aligned, I would actually say he had everything he needed. He showed up, and he didn’t waste a single bit of it,” says David Fricke, of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Footage of Jimi ripping it up, flipping his tongue and making air love to a ginormous speaker was simultaneously fascinating and blush-worthy. Shots to female audience members show their utter intrigue, and one woman who was in the arena that night says she was way grossed out.

“It wasn’t the sexuality of the show that appalled me, it was what he did to his instrument.”

And if you haven’t seen this clip before, you’re in for a mesmerizing treat.

“Here, he was throwing lighter fluid on his guitar and setting it on fire, and I had never seen anything like this in my life,” she said.

Watching it, I couldn’t tell if the whole fiery guitar thing was a gesture of anarchy mixed with devotion or just plain rock ‘n’ roll, but I knew I wanted more. Modern musician Dweezil Zappa said “Before that day, there was nothing like that that had ever happened in the world.” And I’m pretty sure any guitar torching would be lacking compared to Jimi’s.

This performance rocked England’s socks off, and this film shows that what followed was a huge following by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles — John Lennon tipped a promoter off to Jimi.

And Paul McCartney says of Jimi opening a concert with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” the week it was released: “For me, that is one of my proud moments, that someone that I loved as much as that, that someone who was destined to be one of the greats, would open with one of our songs.” (Totally different world of music.)

“Hear My Train A Comin” covers most of the goods, Jimi’s changes in musical tastes, his high concert demand because he was too intense for a lot of TV shows and commentary on his stage showmanship.

But “Hear My Train” kinda skirts over some key points like his drug use and his accidental death by sleeping pills.

Chalk that up to I wanted to see more, and this doc will leave you wanting.

More footage, more music, more Jimi.

It’s so worth a watch.

Grade: A-

Available: Amazon Prime (to own), Netflix Instant

Time: 1:29

Rating: TV-14 

Indiewatch is a weekly review of independent films and documentaries. Reach Lavine at mlavine@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5346, read her blog at reeltalk.areavoices.com.

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