Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

Two music documentaries

The BBC have recently broadcast two interesting music documentaries. The series Imagine profiled Jimi Hendrix with quite a bit of footage I hadn’t seen before, and with a more thoughtful and less sensationalistic script than is usually the case when TV does Hendrix (note to TV execs: no – Jimi was not an era-defining guitarist because he twice set his Strat on fire or because he played it with his teeth). This prompted me to have another look at DVDs of Jimi at Monterey and at Berkeley in 1967 and 1970 respectively. 5.1 sound makes a huge difference to the immediacy of watching these films even on a small screen. In 1967 Hendrix looks happy and full of life; by May 1970 he looks world-weary – it is quite a contrast. When I return to Hendrix’s studio albums after watching the live stuff I’m always delighted to find his music richer, touching and more multi-dimensional than in concert where the limitations of working in a power trio are all too evident. He needed more colours to frame his music.

The other documentary was a profile of Elvis Costello. This was also interesting, though Costello is in a way quite a guarded person, and an hour wasn’t long enough to cover such a long and varied career. For me, his best work was done on his first five or six albums, and they remain hugely entertaining and full of memorable songs, with great wordplay and high calibre arrangements by the Attractions. Since then he has stretched himself as a songwriter and singer. Unfortunately, I do not think his voice is up to the demands of the more sophisticated material he does – as becomes evident when he pushes into his upper range. That said, I cannot think of many other contemporary songwriters who exhibit as much sensitivity and awareness toward melody.


4 responses

  1. Hello Rikky– I’m intrigued by your comparison of Jimi’s live and studio work. I’m about to make a very late start in getting know his work, and I’d like to know if you can suggest any studio albums as a starting point.

    November 12, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    • Hello Farron, I would say any of the three albums ‘Are You Experienced’, ‘Axis Bold As Love’ or ‘Electric Ladyland’, but for best effect I would take them in that order i.e. the order they were released in – that way you can experience Hendrix’s development just as people did in 1967-68. The first two albums have a mixture of fast / rocky and slower ballads and recent issues are enhanced with the non-LP singles – make sure the copy of Are You Experienced you get has ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Wind Cries Mary’ on it. On Electric Ladyland you can hear Hendrix stretching out and painting on a bigger canvas. I feel his greatest music is pretty much on these albums, although you may eventually want to investigate ‘First Rays of the New Rising Sun’ the incomplete album he was working on at the time of his death.
      I hope this is useful.
      Best wishes

      November 13, 2013 at 7:39 am

  2. Katie Rosewood

    Thanks Rikky, it’s so interesting to hear your thoughts on various musicians. Just got another of your books to work through this summer!

    November 13, 2013 at 7:19 am

    • Hello Katie, thanks for your comment and glad you liked the post. There is much to say about the achievements of Costello and Hendrix in their very different worlds and times. Feel free to ask about anything in the book you’ve just got or how best to apply it. Best wishes, Rikky

      November 13, 2013 at 7:32 am

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