Sunday 16 December 2018

Voodoo man Hendrix

With the release of a new Jimi Hendrix album, Barry Egan hails the beauty of the man and his revolutionary music

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix

In 2005, when Patti Smith curated the Meltdown Festival in London's South Bank, she paid homage to a guitar-burning left-hander who held a special poignancy for the punk priestess. As she said in advance of Meltdown - where various stars would be playing a set entitled Songs Of Experience in sonic tribute to Hendrix - Patti had met Hendrix three weeks before he died. "There was a party to open the Electric Lady studio [in New York], but I was too shy to go in," recalled Patti.

"So I sat on the steps. And out came Hendrix; he asked what I was doing and said, 'Hey, I'm kind of shy too'. So we sat on the steps and he talked about what he was going to do when he got back from London; how he was going to create a new language of rock'n'roll; I was so excited. And then he was gone. He never came back.

"So Jimi never got to record in Electric Lady, but I did," added Patti referring to her first single, a cover of Hendrix's Hey Joe. "I want the Songs of Experience evening to emphasise the great beauty of Hendrix's music. People talk about the Star Spangled Banner and burning his guitar, but Jimi also loved poetry; there is a lot of beauty in there too."

Almost five decades after his death on September 18, 1970 in London, no one is in any doubt of the beauty in the music of Jim Hendrix. He burned so brightly in the short time he was with us - 27 years - but the music he left behind will go on forever, like his heroes Strauss and Wagner (of whom he once said: "Those cats are good.") Listen to the aforesaid Hey Joe, Crosstown Traffic, Bold As Love, Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, Voodoo Child (Slight Return) or The Wind Cries Mary and you'll soon feel some sort of emotion rise in you (unless you're Simon Cowell) at this revolutionary music.

"I tell you, when I die I'm going to have a jam session," said Hendrix, in a collection of hitherto unseen interviews published in 2010.

"I want people to go wild and freak out. And knowing me, I'll probably get busted at my own funeral. The music will be played loud and it will be our music. I won't have any Beatles songs, but I'll have a few of Eddie Cochran's things and a whole lot of blues. Roland Kirk will be there, and I'll try and get Miles Davis along if he feels like making it.

"For that it's almost worth dying. Just for the funeral," said Hendrix, whose autopsy concluded that he choked on his own vomit and died of asphyxia while intoxicated with sleeping pills. (His German girlfriend, a painter named Monika Dannemann, later said Hendrix had taken nine of her Vesparax sleeping pills, some 18 times the legal dose.

"It's funny the way people love the dead. You have to die before they think you are worth anything. Once you are dead, you are made for life," added Hendrix almost prophetically.

"When I die, just keep on playing the records." Hendrix's estate has ensured that his fans found it impossible to ignore the music of their idol: despite having released only three studio LPs, over a dozen albums of material have been released since his death. Released last month, the Both Sides Of The Sky album was recorded in late 1969 and early 1970. With tracks like Hear My Train A Comin, Sweet Angel, Cherokee Mist, and Joni Mitchell's Woodstock with Stephen Stills sitting in, it is worth checking out, perhaps for one reason alone: it is Hendrix.

And, as Anthony DeCurtis wrote in the New York Times in February, 2010: "Unlike some of his classic-rock peers, Hendrix is not a figure who requires rehabilitation. In 2003 he topped Rolling Stone magazine's list of all-time great guitarists and the 'freak flag' iconography surrounding him - his wild hair, wilder clothing and daring performance antics - have made him an enduring symbol of personal freedom.

"But far beyond his continuing commercial significance, Hendrix is a particularly potent figure for our time, perhaps even more intriguing in symbolic terms now than at the time of his death."

The wind cries Jimi.

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