Headline of the century?

 

Capture

Sanseverino

French pop music?

Frankly, much of it’s shit.

Johnny Halliday?

Well, with a 50 year career he must have something, but I’m fucked if I can see what it is…

Listening to the local pop radio here, Radio Alouette, it seems that UK and US pop are still a long way ahead of French pop, which tends to sound a bit ‘Eurovision’, if you see what I mean.

However, look beyond the charts and playlists and the French do have some great contemporary pop music.

What I particularly like is the fact that some of it borrows from earlier musical forms like chanson and manouche (gypsy swing).

One of my favourite artists is a guy called Sanseverino – web site with video and audio here.

Stephane Sanseverino is a fabulous guitarist heavily influenced by Django Reinhardt who performs mostly original material which is often comical – although I confess that I don’t always get the humour in his songs as there seems to be quite a lot of slang in his lyrics.

 

However, he’s no one trick pony with some album tracks featuring electric guitar and more modern jazz-based stylings.

Worth checking out if you’re into gypsy jazz with a pop slant.

Tiny is as tiny do

Say ‘jazz guitar’ to people and I’m pretty sure that the mental picture they have will be of a chap in a sports coat and tie sitting down playing a big hollow-bodied guitar – possibly a Gibson – and with a tone which might best be described as ‘mellow’:

Of course, I’ve described a stereotype but there’s quite a few such players scattered throughout jazz guitar history and they’ve never interested me much. Yes, I can admire their skill but 5 minutes of someone like Jim Hall

is a bit like aural Ovaltine and gets me reaching for my pyjamas…

Fortunately there are many exceptions to this, and I’m not talking Les Paul toters blasting fusion through Marshalls, either…

…Ladies ‘n’ germs…

…meet…

…TINY!

Tiny Grimes was and still is unique amongst the ranks of jazz guitarists because he played an electric tenor guitar which has only four strings tuned DGBE like the top four strings of a standard 6-string guitar.

Tiny played rough and his swing style makes a great contrast to someone like his chief influence Charlie Christian, for example, who was less ‘polite’ than most jazz guitarists up to the mid 1960s but sounds positively reserved against Tiny.

Some people have described Grimes as one of the forefathers of rock ‘n’ roll and his 1946 recording ‘Tiny’s Boogie’ as the first rock ‘n’ roll record. Well, that’s a moot point but certainly he plays with a very raw tone – slightly overdriven – with plenty of Chuck Berry-style double stop bends and all this before Chuck gave up a life of crime and decided playing guitar was preferable to being a prison bitch.  In fact, Chuck was in prison whilst Grimes recorded ‘Tiny’s Boogie’.

With Tiny’s heyday in the 1940s there’s very limited video footage of him available, but there’s this which features a solo and also one of the strangest dancers you’ll ever see:

So,  check out Mr Grimes – as ever, Spotify is your friend…

And speaking of ‘tiny’, here’s some bonus guitar that has almost nothing in common with Tiny. It’s Uncle Frank with a particularly nasty solo on ‘City of Tiny Lites’. For some reason, Frank always seemed to be able to whip it out in a poisonous manner when playing a German show. The visuals are pretty fucked up but the playing is sublime:

 

Gently does it

One of the best gadgets I’ve ever bought is my iPod Classic. Its 160Gb capacity means that I’ve been able to leave all my CDs and other music media packed up, along with my main stereo. All I need for instant music here until we move permanently is contained on the iPod which I’ve hooked up to a Panasonic mini hi-fi.

I’ve got about 150Gb of audio on the iPod which gives me plenty of choice and just lately I’ve been listening to some audiobooks.

I’ve never been too fond of audiobooks but listening to them whilst I was laid up with a cold which turned into a sort of stomach flu last month was very enjoyable and I’ve continued to listen to them.

With such a huge capacity on the iPod it’s easy to overlook things but I’ve rediscovered some Douglas Adams audiobooks I put on there a couple of years ago on a whim.

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I have all five of the Hitchhiker books, read variously by Douglas Adams, Martin Freeman and Stephen Fry. I also have both Dirk Gently books read by the author.

I first heard ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ when it was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was OK, although I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit too clever-clever and perhaps tried too hard to be different.

However, I continued to listen to the broadcasts and after that the next two radio sequels and then the TV series. I even read the first three books.

After about 1982 I didn’t bother with Adams again until just recently, although I did buy the DVD set of the TV series and also borrowed the recent(ish) film from the library, although I found the latter to be an execrable piece of shit that should have never been made.

Being able to catch up, as it were, with Adams’ writings after the original trilogy I’m starting to really appreciate him again and a re-evaluation is now due.

From what I’ve heard of the last two Hitchhiker books (and also the two Dirk Gently novels), I reckon he got better and to me they seem to be a vast improvement over the original trilogy.

This might well be heresy to Hitchhiker fans, but his later novels seem to have benefited from concentrating more on character and plot and less on witty observations and all the fussy details when the Guide is quoted.

In short – more substance and less gimmick.

Arthur Dent becomes a far more rounded character and the passive, bumbling ingénue of the first three books develops into a far more realistic and assertive individual to whom one can relate more closely. The early Dent is a comic book character; the later one a comic novel character – a big and welcome difference.

This depth of characterisation extends to his Dirk Gently novels which were a real surprise to me. I thought they were excellent, with a wealth of references to all manner of things that piqued the intellect, plot lines which interwove in a labyrinthine way and, at times, some quite haunting descriptions of the ways in which the main characters’ minds worked.

Dirk Gently himself is an amazing invention. At times he seems to act as a deus ex machina facilitating intersecting twists and turns in the plots and subplots just when you think they can progress no further. The closest parallel I can think of is the character of Dr Who and so it was really no surprise to discover that Adams wrote the scripts for three series of the iconic TV show at around the same time that Hitchhiker got off the ground.

I’ve been reading more about the author himself and he was one of those people who was fortunate enough to be able to indulge his passions as part of his work. Interested in science, music, computers and the conservation of endangered species, Adams brought these all to bear on his work and they even became his work at times.

Adams’ life, before the phenomenon that Hitchhiker became, followed a pretty similar path to many of his peers’ – boarding school, Cambridge, BBC script writing; a bit of a cliche really. But Adams was much, much more than most of them, and, had he lived, then people like Stephen Fry might well have far fewer Twitter followers.

He was, if you like, what Stephen Fry thinks he is.    .   

Yes, Adams was a true Renaissance man for the technological late 20th century and, had he not died in 2001, would have been equally at home in the 21st.

To wrap this article up, here’s my favourite Adams quote:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

Let’s go on a bender!

I don’t often get technical here when I’m talking guitars, so apologies if this article causes a little bit of head-scratching. However, I will try and explain some of the simple musical terms I use and there are some good sites on the net that you can consult if you want more comprehensive information.

As a young kid I was interested in the guitar quite early on and when the Shadows came on the scene I wouldn’t say that I immediately wanted a guitar, but it certainly started me becoming more curious about actually playing one.

I eventually got a guitar when I was about 10 which was frankly a guitar-shaped piece of crap, along with Bert Weedon’s ‘Play in a Day’ (a bold and frankly ludicrous title!), and I didn’t progress at all – it was all Greek to me.

However, I got a better guitar – a reasonable classical guitar – when I was 13 and got properly started on playing by a friend who showed me the basics.

One day, I asked him what the strange noise was that I’d heard on a Rolling Stones record (‘It’s All Over Now’, if I recall correctly) and he told me it was produced by bending a guitar string.

This was quite simply my guitar epiphany.

Once he showed me how to do it – not easy on a nylon-strung classical guitar – I was up and running and bending strings like a string-bending motherfucker.

Bending strings is one of the main techniques in blues, and hence rock (birthed as it is in the blues), guitar.

Generally speaking, like playing barre chords, it’s one of those major hurdles in learning to play that you think you’re never going to get over. As always, perseverance is the real key and so you just have to keep on plugging at it.

String bending is usually, but not always, used on the unwound strings because it’s easier and also being higher in pitch the notes tend to stand out more when bent. The most elementary way of bending a string is by gripping the neck  much as you would a baseball bat and then simultaneously pushing down through the fretboard and across the fretboard (usually upwards) with a finger. I find myself using the third finger most often and backed up with the first two fingers to make it easier. When you’ve developed fretting hand strength then bending becomes easier and you should be able to bend with different fingers in various different ways, depending on what you’re actually playing.

The lighter (smaller diameter) the string, the easier it is to bend and the less tense the string, the easier it is, too. Some guitarists detune a semi-tone or a tone which helps facilitate bending and most players who string bend and want wide bends will also favour a lighter string. The trade off is in tone when, in my experience, lighter and slacker strings give you a less full-bodied sound, although it really is horses for courses here. There are no rules!

I use D’Addario 10 gauge strings in standard tuning and with a pretty high action set up on the guitar (usually my US Tele) which some people find makes bending difficult, but really isn’t at all extreme. This combination, however, suits me just fine as it gives me easy bends with maximum tone for my style of playing. 

Where bending first came from no-one really knows, but it’s been suggested that the sound emulates slide guitar which is one of the blues guitar styles first documented.  WC Handy writes that he saw a guy using a bone as a guitar slide sometime around 1910 or so.

In blues there are a couple of really common bends that give the music much of its unique ‘flavour’.

The first is a bend raising the 4th note in the scale a semitone above to the flattened fifth. This note can be heard in context with the root note by singing the first three notes of ‘Mars’ from Holst’s ‘Planets Suite’. The first note is the root, the second the fifth and the third the flattened fifth. The flattened fifth isn’t a note you want to hang on to for too long as it actually clashes with other notes you might use in a blues, but if you move to it and away from it during the course of a blues melody or solo then it gives you a ‘bluesy’ sound.

The second note often bent is the minor third to the major third and also, interestingly, microtonal notes between the two. This only works in a major key blues and sounds wrong in a minor key blues. The ambivalence of this third note – the one that determines whether you’re in a major or a minor key – also gives you that ‘bluesy’ vibe.

Almost every blues (or rock) guitarist you can name bends notes. Some bend more than others, but very few don’t bend at all. There are many ways of bending notes and not just the two notes I’ve described above.

There are unison bends, double and triple bends and even pre-bends where you bend a string up to a desired pitch before plucking and then pluck release the bend.

As for how far you can bend a string, the only limitations are those set by the actual physical conditions – set up, string gauge, fretting hand strength, etc. It’s perfectly possible to bend an unwound third string up a fourth on a standard tuned guitar if you play in the middle of the string length where it’s at its slackest. 

I said above that guitarists usually bend notes up towards them and this is generally true as the unwound strings – especially the first and second – are close to the edge of the fretboard and you can push the strings off the neck. However, this isn’t a rule and you can push down – especially easy with an unwound third string – if you want and it may be necessary for certain licks. This downwards bending gives a slightly different sound – remarkably hard to define and best appreciated by listening to a player who habitually bends downwards – and it’s also a bit easier to bend the string – meaning that you can bend it to a higher pitch.

One of the best-known players to bend downwards and achieve these very wide bends was the late Albert King who played this way because he used a standard right handed guitar but played left handed. This meant that everything was ‘upside down’ and the more commonly-bent strings were nearest him. To bend a string he would push down and achieve his distinctive licks with overbends on such tracks as ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ and ‘Oh Pretty Woman’.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about his unusual method of playing:

King was a left-handed "upside-down/backwards" guitarist. He was left-handed, but usually played right-handed guitars flipped over upside-down so the low E string was on the bottom. In later years he played a custom-made guitar that was basically left-handed, but had the strings reversed (as he was used to playing). He also used very unorthodox tunings (i.e., tuning as low as C to allow him to make sweeping string bends). Some believe that he was using open E minor tuning (C-B-E-G-B-E) or open F tuning (C-F-C-F-A-D). A "less is more" type blues player, he was known for his expressive "bending" of notes, a technique characteristic of blues guitarists.

All of this stuff about bending and upside down guitars leads me to conclude this article with a recommendation of a musician some people might not have heard of, but of whom I’m starting to get very fond indeed.

Like Albert King, Doyle Bramhall II plays guitar ‘upside down’. However, although his music is blues-based, Doyle’s original compositions operate within a much wider format. It’s bluesy, yes, but there’s also soul, rock and acoustic melodicism in there that produces a really fine brew. There aren’t very many wailing guitar histrionics and fast work outs at all, but there are plenty of intense and thoughtful songs, punctuated by some of the most original and soulful blues-based guitar stylings I’ve heard in quite a few years.

220px-DoyleBramhallIICrossroads2007

Although he’s probably been seen by more people as a sidesman (to Eric Clapton, no less, to name the most famous he’s played with) he grew up in Texas and played around the region, eventually achieving a degree of fame with the Arc Angels – recently reformed – and a reputation as a killer player. However, it’s his solo releases that have me really excited, with 1999’s ‘Jellycream’ getting most play lately. What I particularly love are the intricate yet direct songs the guy writes and it’s a real treat to hear some original chord progressions for a change. His guitar playing is best described as ‘sinuous’ – muscular yet supple with enough twists and turns to hold the interest and also avoid the usual ‘I come from Texas and I play a Strat’ cliches. This guy is certainly no SRV clone!

Without wishing to blow my own trumpet (!) I think I have a pretty good ear and can usually pick up what I hear quite easily and emulate it on guitar. Doyle’s playing doesn’t seem to give up its secrets at all easily and I really like that in a player’s style and technique. If I hear a piece of guitar playing I really, really like then I usually get a guitar out and try and play it. In a strange way this often strips away some of the mystique the music may have had, but I then end up appreciating it on a different, more technical level. So far, Doyle’s preserved his mystique and I reckon his playing is going to intrigue me for the foreseeable future. Simply put, it’s unique.

So, please check Doyle out, but make sure you don’t confuse him with his father – Doyle Bramhall (no II!). The elder Bramhall is a fine drummer who’s released some good blues-based albums of his own, but they’re far more mainstream than his son’s releases.

Remember, you need the Doyle Bramhall with the ‘II’.

And happy bending!

TV ad of the year?

Not normally a category worth mentioning, but check out the 1664 beer ad with Motorhead’s Lemmy performing a slowed down bluesy version of ‘Ace of Spades’.

Superb!

Getting wood with Graham Norton

Hoorah!

The wood we ordered arrived yesterday afternoon – and not a day too soon.

We had enough wood left for one night’s fire and then it would have been the Calor gas heater which isn’t too effective – especially with some one degree nights forecast.

You buy wood here in cordes and steres. Apparently a stere is a cubic metre of wood, and there are three steres to the corde. We ordered two cordes which now looks like this:

P1010365

Two hours earlier it was just a heap on the drive…

Firewood here is almost always oak or beech, although chestnut is also available. Personally, I couldn’t give a flying fuck if we got a lorry load of teak if it was cold and we needed a fire!

Whilst sitting waiting for the wood man I saw a trailer for the Graham Norton Show.

I have nothing whatsoever against anyone of any sexual orientation or gender bent – as long as nobody gets forced into anything they don’t want to do or to which they are mentally incapable of consenting – but Graham Norton really pisses me off. I know a few gay people very well and they don’t camp around or bitch like Norton, so why do some high profile gays seem unable to appear without exhibiting this stereotypical behaviour?

What Norton seems to be is a grotesque caricature – not a million miles away from the camp, bitchy, mincing homosexuals that Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick were portraying as Julian and Sandy in ‘Round the Horne’ in the 1960s.

The big difference is that Julian and Sandy were far more amusing and infinitely more subtle.

Does Norton piss gays off?

I’d like to know.

Missing musings with Merlot

Seeing as we’re not exactly rushed off our feet here, getting up is a leisurely and fairly late affair.

The alarm usually goes off at 9.30 during the week and the first job is to put the coffee machine on so that a 4-mug pot of Colombian can be consumed as soon as possible.

Then it’s usually coffee and cigarettes with BBC1 ‘Breakfast’ on, so we can get the headlines in the UK and in the region we left.

Yes, I know exactly what a puddle of utter arse gravy ‘Breakfast’ is, but this morning it surpassed itself.

Between about 9.40 and 10.10 (French time, so knock an hour off if you’re in the UK – and if you’re in the US do whatever the fuck you want as you normally do anyway) there were three what can only be called advertising slots for:

  • A ‘Riverdance’ in Beijing DVD plugged by its principal lead dancer – whose name escapes me
  • Some dodgy singer warbling on about Aretha Franklin in a song from her new album – whose name escapes me
  • Some dodgy singer touring the UK singing Hollywood songs – whose name escapes me

Now, whilst I can see what the guests and the various organisations and people behind them get from these plugs on the show, what does the BBC get?

I assume these people get paid to appear, in which case it’s fucking doubles all round for them, isn’t it?

However, even if they do it for free then they at least get the plugs.

Do they pay the BBC for the publicity? I doubt it – unless it’s brown paper bag time involving BBC execs and artistes’ agents – but if they do pay a fee then that’s advertising revenue being generated and is really no different to advertising the VW Polo or Andrex toilet paper, in principle.

However, whether the BBC gets paid or not, it’s still advertising and if it’s for free, then why not fucking charge for it and defray some of the costs and reduce the licence?

If it isn’t for free then why not advertise cars, nappies, funeral plans or baked beans?

Whether it’s a new book, play, TV series, film, tour, album or show the BBC seems to bend over backwards to publicise it and that, as far as I’m concerned, is advertising.

Or am I missing something here?

Given that the majority of the budget of Universities and other higher education bodies consists of staffing costs, why not drastically reduce the length of vacations and thus make 3 year courses last only 2 years?

At a single stroke, tuition fees for a degree course would then be reduced by a third, making any future hikes in tuition fees unnecessary in the immediate future and more affordable in the long term.

Or am I missing something here?

Here’s something I didn’t miss.

Fancy a little jaunt over to France? There’s a music festival on in Le Mans next month and of particular interest is one of the acts towards the bottom of the bill:

P1010354 (2)

(Written with the aid of a bottle of Merlot whilst waiting for some real bacon to grill…)

The success of failure…the failure of success

Language is an amazing thing…

…whether it’s your own with all the expressive power and beauty that you can summon up in order to communicate or a foreign language that you’re trying to come to grips with.

After 7 months here in France, it’s getting slowly but steadily easier to both understand spoken French and to speak it ourselves.

I find the whole French language ‘experience’ very rewarding and today was great, with an hour-long chat with our neighbour, totally in French, and then arranging a delivery of firewood with M. Thireau at Renaze when I also had to give him directions to our place, again all in French.

Obviously, I’m still exposed to English (we’re not so immersed in the culture that we’re conversing in French at home, and the Sky Box carries all the usual English-speaking channels) and the few ex-pats that we have dealings with – we didn’t move here to get involved in some sort of British enclave – give us a chance to chat in our Mother Tongue from time to time.

However, after intermittently watching British TV here for a few months, I feel forced to ask, what the FUCK has happened to the English language?

In particular, what the FUCK is it with all this ‘heart and soul’ and ‘with passion/passionate about’ shite?

It seems that almost everyone who does anything has done, is doing or will do whatever it is with all their ‘heart and soul’ or that they’re ‘passionate’ about it.

It doesn’t matter what it is, there’s always this self-promoting, self-justifying cack which really doesn’t mean anything after even superficial analysis.

I’ve even heard it justifying total failure where it’s used as some sort of excuse – ‘well, I was really passionate about it’ – as if simply wanting to do something was some sort of key to success. What about skill, talent, practice or self-discipline, for fuck’s sake? 

Everyone, from an X-Factor contestant to a Commonwealth Games competitor, puts their ‘heart and soul’ into their efforts and says so with monotonous regularity  – but how else should they approach their endeavours if they’re serious about gaining success?

But it’s not just that these once valid but sparingly-used expressions of supreme effort and mental dedication have lapsed into cliché – they’re now used to justify lacklustre and mediocre achievement and even abject failure.

Fuck me…I can just about tolerate these expressions from people who clearly make an effort – it’s just lazy speech – but when it’s some obviously talentless twat in a TV talent show then it’s a bit more than just linguistic sloppiness – it’s self-delusion, as they clearly mean it.

Personally, I find it somehow emblematic of a generation, sapped of ambition through a culture of tolerance towards the average and mediocre, which now believes that merely stating that an effort has been made is the same as actually making an effort.

Increasingly low expectations in society  have robbed people of the ability to self-criticise and self-evaluate, with the result that even complete failure can be judged as some sort of success as long as the ‘passion’ was there or that one’s ‘heart and soul’ were in it.

I can clearly remember being told by my parents and teachers that as long as I did my best then it was no shame if I failed, but it seems that today it’s sufficient just to state that you did your best, even though no real effort was made. Thus the individual is taught to deceive himself in a misguided attempt to insulate him from failure.

But it goes even deeper than this.

Decades of deception on the part of successive governments and education experts have created a myth – the myth that no matter what background and/or intellectual capacity an individual has, he or she can be equipped to transcend these specific and often fixed limits and become enabled to achieve success. In essence, it’s a very laudable aim – but impossible to attain unless you lower your sights and redefine success.

A prime example of this can be found in the well-documented practice by some primary schools a couple of decades ago of banishing the competitive element from events like sports day. All participants were considered achievers and given a certificate regardless of whether they’d come first or last.

No-one lost.

But no-one won.

Those who came first were deprived of any sense of achievement and those who came last were deceived into thinking that they’d achieved equal placing with the winners.

Given that these children then entered a competitive society upon leaving school, many of them were ill-equipped to deal with competitiveness in the wider arena of work and other social situations.

(Nowadays, of course, we’re doing the same thing but with university students and Media Studies degrees…)

With educationalists seemingly given carte blanche over the last 50 years or so and government attempts at social engineering (admitted by those responsible in the last three Labour governments of the last 13 years) seeking to introduce equality across the socio-economic strata defined by ethnicity, gender, religion, race, income, environment and education, the British public was sold a monstrous lie – the lie that everyone could be a winner. In purely Darwinian terms this is a patent impossibility and, within the complex social structures of human society, pure fantasy.

Yes, equality of opportunity is a worthy goal, but only within very broad limits. Taking a metaphor from the school sports day example above, you can produce equal placings in a 100 yard dash if you handicap the faster runners with a time or distance penalty, but would those results have any real meaning either to the runners themselves or the doting parents?

Indeed, you could just dispense with entering potential winners in the race and thus ensure that some of the potential losers won – and that’s just what happened when the concept of ‘positive discrimination’ began to manifest itself in job selection, and shortlists and quotas began to specify that only certain groups of people would be considered for certain posts. Thus, those with a proven track record of success or obvious potential were often denied access to certain positions. So, once again, success was left unrewarded and the mediocre – and occasionally the failures – elevated to jobs beyond their skill sets.

Even within government itself, failure appears to be rewarded, with serial incompetents such as David Blunkett and Lord Fondlebum being given new cabinet posts after serious lapses of judgement and after a suitable period of time. Lesser figures in national and local government, finance, the Civil Service and a wide variety of public services seem to be able to escape accountability with impunity and, even when they are unable to continue in their job, often benefit from substantial severance payments and generous pension deals.

Naturally, the media plays a part in this celebration of the mediocre…

On one TV channel you can watch a documentary about the British airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain who really did put their ‘heart and soul’ into what they did, and often lost their lives in the process. Although I don’t doubt that their mental state must have been in turmoil, to say the least, prior to scrambling, nevertheless they just went ahead and flew off to an uncertain fate and possible death.

However, on another channel you can watch the day to day work of a haulage company, Eddie Stobart. I’ve just seen an extract involving the trucking of a load of cream cakes to Tesco in Didcot with the driver nervously saying what a difficult load it was. Now, whilst I have the greatest respect for truckers – with the exception of those fuckers who overtake their colleagues on the motorway with only a 1 mph speed advantage – it’s not exactly a matter of national defence or a process which might well result in death.

So, we celebrate the mundane in the same terms as we celebrate the heroic with few of us aware of the absurdity of it all.

Meanwhile, the absurdity formed after years of social manipulation and the drive for equality at all costs sits like a tumour at the heart of our society – success is largely derided unless it’s approved by a celebrity TV jury and failure is accepted as an inevitable consequence of equality.

Indeed, at times, I’m hard-pressed to tell the difference between success and failure… 

Jimi – the last post

Yes, I know that I’ve written a lot about Hendrix of late, but 2010 is the 40th anniversary of his death after all and thus a good time for myself as well as the film makers to remember one of the all time greats. No more – at least for a while – I promise.

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BBC4’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix threw up an extremely interesting documentary last night.

The 90 minute ‘Jimi Hendrix: Guitar Legend’ was far more typical of your average ‘rock doc’ than ‘Voodoo Child’ which I reviewed here a couple of days ago.

There was lots of interview footage featuring various celebs and brief clips of Jimi on and off stage – on the face of it, pretty uninspiring – but the approach that the film maker took was what made this absolutely essential viewing.

The key to understanding the film lies in the train of events that followed Jimi’s death.

As I understand it, after he died, his estate did not go directly to his family but spent some years under dispute. His financial affairs whilst alive were somewhat murky, which didn’t help matters, and it wasn’t until quite a few years later that the Hendrix family gained control of the various interests which were of considerable worth.

At first Jimi’s father Al was the chief beneficiary, but his daughter Janie (from a subsequent relationship after Jimi’s mother died) took over the estate when he died. However, Jimi had a younger brother Leon who was ‘paid off’ if I recall correctly. Leon’s past was somewhat colourful by all accounts, with booze and gambling featuring very heavily,

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

When Al Hendrix died of congestive heart failure in 2002, his will stipulated that Experience Hendrix, LLC was to exist as a trust designed to distribute profits to a list of Hendrix family beneficiaries. Upon his death, it was revealed that Al had signed a revision to his will which removed Hendrix’s brother Leon Hendrix as a beneficiary. A 2004 probate lawsuit merged Leon’s challenge to the will with charges from other Hendrix family beneficiaries that Janie Hendrix, Al’s adopted daughter, was improperly handling the company finances. The suit argued that Janie and a cousin of Jimi Hendrix (Robert Hendrix) paid themselves exorbitant salaries and covered their own mortgages and personal expenses from the company’s coffers while the beneficiaries went without payment and the Hendrix gravesite in Renton went uncompleted.

Janie and Robert’s defense was that the company was not profitable yet, and that their salary and benefits were justified given the work that they put into running the company. Leon charged that Janie bilked Al Hendrix, then old and frail, into signing the revised will, and sought to have the previous will reinstated. The defense argued that Al willingly removed Leon from his will because of Leon’s problems with alcohol and gambling. In early 2005, presiding judge Jeffrey Ramsdell handed down a ruling that left the final will intact, but replaced Janie and Robert’s role at the financial helm of Experience Hendrix with an independent trustee.

Although it’s probably inevitable that such disputes will follow the death of someone like Hendrix when the posthumous earnings potential is so high, nonetheless it casts a long and unpleasant shadow over the deceased’s artistic legacy and does nothing to promote respect for the dead person, but Hendrix’s family seems to have done rather less than most to diminish these negative feelings.

‘Jimi Hendrix: Guitar Legend’ was very firmly in the pro-Leon camp with zero involvement by Janie et al at ‘Experience Hendrix’. From the accounts given in the film by both Leon and Jimi and Leon’s aunt, Jimi’s father Al Hendrix was a poor father and quite content to send Jimi and Leon away to stay with relatives in Canada, see Leon taken into care and to let the two boys to be fed by neighbours.

As well as Jimi’s brother and aunt, other people interviewed who spoke very candidly were Lemmy of Motorhead (once a roadie for Jimi) and Eric Burdon, a long term friend. Neither had a good word to say about the late Monika Danneman, who was with Hendrix when he died, and Burdon still seems to believe that Jimi committed suicide. Lemmy, on the other hand, attributed Jimi’s death to a poor response from the emergency services and stated that Jimi was still alive when he went into the ambulance, although the official line was that he’d been dead for some time when found. Danneman’s part in all this remains a mystery, with her giving several differing accounts of the events of that day in various interviews.

Of course, with zero involvement by Experience Hendrix, the film was short on decent film clips, but the interviews featuring lots of people who actually knew Hendrix made up for this. Eric Clapton, Zoot Money, Lemmy, Kathy Etchingham, Alan Douglas, Ben Palmer and many others spoke authoritatively and lent the film a certain gravitas that the Experience Hendrix film lacked.

Linking all this was Slash of all people who – of course – was not one of Jimi’s contemporaries. However, he spoke cogently about Jimi and firmly cited him as highly influential and still extremely relevant today.

If you missed either film then it’s probably available on iPlayer, but you really do need to see both if you’re any sort of guitar/rock/Hendrix fan.

‘Voodoo Child’ was a ‘coffee table’ film, heavy on the glossy visuals but short on source material, whilst ‘Guitar Legend’ went to the people who knew Jimi so that it gave a more intimate portrait of the man both on and off stage.

If you can only stand to watch just one of the two, then go for the ‘unofficial’ ‘Guitar Legend’ which digs rather deeper than ‘Voodoo Child’.