Jimi Hendrix: Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Jimi Hendrix

Brian James

Jimi Hendrix

Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Jimi Hendrix

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2003-09-09
UK Release Date: 2003-09-15

Recently, Rolling Stone ran a feature on the one-hundred greatest guitarists of all time, and though it was worth flipping through to see who made the list and what positions they occupied, it held precisely zero suspense for the top spot. Of course, it was Jimi Hendrix and could have been no other, a fact even this lame, pander-to-the-younguns publication had to acknowledge. Nearly anyone who ever picks up a guitar even to fiddle around has had or is having dreams of being Hendrix, a man who blurred the boundaries between his instrument and his soul more visibly than any other rock musician. To watch him was to watch his Stratocaster disappear entirely into his body, becoming an appendage as natural as his arms. His vocabulary was limitless, his technique unmatched to this day. His was the axe that launched a thousand ships, each one nearly capsizing under the weight of Hendrix's endless progeny.

As Jesus could tell you, having such an ample following means that countless competing and even mutually exclusive interpretations of your teachings vie to be seen as the true continuation of the legacy. With Hendrix, most listeners came away mimicking his flashiest moments -- the lightning solos, the warped guitar effects, the deafening explosions of feedback. This, of course, is what made him such a hero to the white audience, but underneath it all was a greasy, down-home core that he had fortified in his rough years on the chitlin circuit, playing with such luminaries as the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. He may have expanded on that core to brilliant extents in his solo work, but he never forsook it. In a long-standing debate with his friendly rival, Eric Clapton, Hendrix insisted that the heart of the blues was rhythm, not the phrasing of the lead guitar. That he was right explains how he could venture a great distance from the old I-IV-V and still sound more blues than Clapton doing a sledgehammer take on "Spoonful" with Cream. He wasn't interested in being a purist (i.e., pretentious thief), so the blues camp has never made quite as strong an effort to claim him as one of their own as might be expected for a man of his stature.

It comes as some surprise, then, that Martin Scorsese has attempted to do just that by including him in his Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues series. The project's major flaw is its rockcentric view, one that, despite its obvious reverence for the blues, imagines it as something of a prelude rather than a self-contained art form. This is probably what lets Hendrix sneak in, but it winds up being good for everyone that he did. His compilation thankfully expands Hendrix's blues beyond just "Red House", an overrated and frankly boring song that still finds its way into countless bar-band set lists. A few other tracks from his three studio albums are included as well, but for the most part, the album is comprised of cuts either previously unreleased or contained only on his box set. Hendrix aficionados who already have the box will surely decry this as one more in a long line of rip-offs from the Experience Hendrix folks, but it's nevertheless a nice grab for would-be completists on a budget.

Yet it's much more than simply a collection of leftovers for miserly die hards. As revisionist history, it's a minor triumph, revealing a side of Hendrix unknown to all but a few. (An earlier compilation, the simply titled Blues, prevents this from being a bigger revelation.) For other rockers, a blues album could wind up demonstrating little more than their conservative side, but this turns out to be one of Hendrix's more adventurous posthumous affairs. A couple of duds clutter the proceedings, and epic jam "Voodoo Chile" distracts from the overall spirit, but once the album achieves momentum, it's striking.

The best tracks skip over the wanky soloing and mold the genre in Hendrix's image. Not many people know how to do this without sounding ignorant or disrespectful, but with grounding as firm as Hendrix had, he can make a song as far out as "It's Too Bad" or "Blue Window" sound authentic even when the listener has little idea what it's being authentic to. As with Scorsese's largely stellar box set, this album demonstrates a diversity of the blues that may be the best-kept secret in all of pop music. If you're in one of the countless bands dumb enough to think that all blues are supposed to sound like variations on "Red House", either shell out the sizeable chunk o' change it takes to acquire the Scorsese box set to learn from many masters or just pick up Hendrix's album to learn from one who can do the work of about a dozen.





Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.