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A candid and revealing trip into a psychedelic mind in the guitarist..

Book Review: Hendrix on Hendrix: Interviews and Encounters with Jimi Hendrix edited by Steven Roby

In his introduction to Hendrix on Hendrix: Interviews and Encounters with Jimi Hendrix, editor Steven Roby says he hopes this volume will become a “valuable reference for years to come.” It’s difficult to believe this isn’t exactly what will happen.

On one level, Roby has compiled a treasure trove of previously published interviews Hendrix gave to a wide variety of periodicals between 1966 and 1970. Putting all these together under one cover is more than valuable on its own.

But beyond these out-of-print interviews, Roby also transcribed radio and television conversations that haven’t been readily available elsewhere since their original broadcasts.

Into this mix, Roby also provides previously unpublished court transcripts in which Hendrix defended himself in his drug and record contract cases.

Altogether, there are over 50 interviews from the in-depth to the short publicity knock-outs.

On another level, this collection shows the arc of Hendrix’s public presence from his British debut to his post-Woodstock fame. It begins with the early days when Hendrix introduced himself to music fans by talking about his childhood, his time as a paratrooper, and how he came to England to become a star.

It ends with a conspicuously tired musician who had to leave the Dick Cavett set early, cut one concert short due to exhaustion, and expressed uncertainty about his future musical direction.

While it’s easy to assert what we read in between comes as close as we’ll ever get to having a Hendrix autobiography, it’s important to remember the guitar player was answering questions responding to whatever agenda interviewers had.

For example, in the early interviews, not surprisingly, there’s considerable repetition as Hendrix discusses his formative years and telling and retelling how the Experience came together. In the aftermath to Monterey, Hendrix is repeatedly asked about burning his guitar and the onstage visual antics that came to be a dominat topic in many of the interviews. It becomes very apparent Hendrix is annoyed with being asked about that subject over and over.

In fact, there were many more questions Hendrix answered about his concerts than his studio work. Early on, he gets a chance to talk about songwriting, as in “The Wind Cries Mary.” He gets a chance to discuss some of the work for Electric Ladyland and how Band of Gypsies was thrown together to fulfill a record contract.

This isn’t to say there’s little about the creation of his music. Clearly, Hendrix was a consummate musician who claimed a serious monogamous relationship would be impossible considering his lifestyle. He was a music critic, saying Blood, Sweat and Tears were over-blown, The Monkees embarrassing, and Alvin Lee and Ten Years After awe-inspiring at Woodstock.

As time progressed, it’s plain he preferred the line-up of himself, Billy Cox on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums and likely would have continued with this group in one form or another had he lived.

It’s also instructive to see how his personal philosophy evolved over those few short years. Readers will have to come to their own conclusions as to whether Hendrix was being visionary, mystical, stoned, or playful when he talked about the “Electric Church” and his other cosmic and spiritual themes.

There’s no question he believed art and music were the means to change the world, and not the violence some groups of the time advocated. As journalist Keith Altham Noted in one of the final interviews, the Hendrix he spoke to was far different from the public persona fans saw onstage, and this contrast is evident throughout the book.

In the main, Hendrix defies easy labeling or categorizing as his creative imagination was best expressed in his music and not any verbal discussions where he tried to explain the often unexplainable.

Hendrix on Hendrix: Interviews and Encounters with Jimi Hendrix is indeed a valuable reference work not only for historians looking for insights into Hendrix and his times, but for those who like to explore the artistic personality. This isn’t a straight-forward account of “we did this here, we did that there, and then we . . .” Neither it is an apologia for a life, as many autobiographies tend to become. Instead, the full text becomes a document of how one individualistic genius — and Jimi Hendrix absolutely deserves that label — reacted and responded to the very energetic and surprising milieu he was part of and helped shape.

About Wesley Britton

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