Few musicians have exerted as profound an impact as Jimi Hendrix, and a new hour-long documentary demonstrates how pervasive his influence has been. In Searching for Jimi Hendrix, legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and his partner, Chris Hegedus, speak to artists as diverse as Los Lobos, Chuck D, Rosanne Cash and Cassandra Wilson about the guitarist’s effect on their lives and work. They also film those artists – and others like Laurie Anderson, Charlie Musselwhite and Mark Isham – recording versions of Hendrix’s songs.
The project began, strangely, as a search for the smashed, incinerated guitar Hendrix hurled into the audience at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 – the subject of Pennebaker’s classic documentary Monterey Pop. When that proved too complicated, Hendrix’s former producer Alan Douglas began lining up musicians to cover some of the guitarist’s material. The idea was to generate an album and an accompanying documentary. Music-industry reshuffling has delayed the album’s release; Pennebaker and Hegedus no longer even know who’s overseeing that aspect of the project. The filmmakers, who had worked for nearly two years, simply got tired of waiting: “We just decided we made this film and we might as well release it, because it’s kind of nice,” Pennebaker says. The film will premiere on the Bravo Channel on February 12th and then will have subsequent showings.
Many of the performances in the film, though presented in unfinished form, are riveting. In particular, Laurie Anderson beautifully evokes the post-apocalyptic, underwater world of “1983”; Los Lobos fire up a letter-perfect reading of “Are You Experienced”; and Neville Staples of the Specials concocts a rough-house, dance-hall rendition of “Up From the Skies.” “I also thought it was wonderful how Chuck D took eight bars of music from a Hendrix concert in Atlanta and wrote this totally personal rap about Jimi and what he meant,” Hegedus says. “It’s very powerful.”
So does the film find Hendrix? “No,” says Pennebaker, laughing. “We found a lot of people who have some aspect of him in their heads that they can’t get rid of. It’s amazing the messages that came out of that guy.”
This story is from the February 18th, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone.