Today in history… September 18th, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died of a drug overdose In London, at just 27 years old.
In recent years, there’ve been numerous attempts to bring Jimi Hendrix’s life-story to the theatrical screen, but securing rights to the man’s story and his music has proven to be challenging via Experience Hendrix, the gatekeeper to the musician’s estate.
One of those attempts, which is currently in post-production, is the Andre Benjamin project that initially excited many (titled, All Is By My Side, helmed by John Ridley) but later disappointed when it was revealed that the project didn’t have approval of Jimi Hendrix’s estate to use any of the musician’s original songs, with reps for the estate accusing the filmmakers of moving forward with the project without their official permission…
That didn’t stop the production of the film, however, which shot in Ireland over the summer, and, as I noted, is currently in post-production… but without the use of Hendrix’s original music.
So how one can make a film on the life of Jimi Hendrix and not use any of Hendrix’s music – especially when the film will center on the making of Hendrix’s first album?
A work-around… as revealed in a Rolling Stone piece in July:
The film will not, however, include any songs written by Hendrix, the rights to which are controlled by the late guitarist’s estate. Instead, the film – set in London in 1966 and 1967 – will include Benjamin’s new versions of covers that Hendrix performed during those years, shortly before the release of his landmark debut, Are You Experienced. Audiences will see Benjamin singing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (which Hendrix famously performed in a London club with members of the Beatles in the audience), “Wild Thing,” “Hound Dog,” Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” and Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart,” plus two songs, “Future Trip” and “Driving South,” that Hendrix played as a backup musician for Curtis Knight and the Squires.
So, no Hendrix-written classics like Purple Haze or The Wind Cries Mary. Unfortunate news that turned off many of you, as I recall. But I suppose they’re doing what they have to do to get the film made.
What’s really interesting about all this is that, according to the Rolling Stones piece, the producers actually never approached the Hendrix estate for permission to use hs songs because their plan was to set the film in “Hendrix’s pre-fame era.“
“This is the story of Jimi being discovered as a backup musician and how he went to London and became Jimi Hendrix,” says the producer. McKittrick says that focusing on early stories about Hendrix – like the times he jammed with Cream and met Eric Clapton – is preferable to a biopic about Hendrix’s full life story. “That would be like making a movie about Kurt Cobain,” he says. “We all know how that story ends.”
And in response to that, a rep for the Hendrix estate replied:
“They want to make a Jimi Hendrix movie without Jimi Hendrix music… It would be like making a movie about Lincoln without being able to use the Gettysburg Address.“
Production company Matador Pictures has an official synopsis for the film on its website which reads:
This is the true story of the year Jimi Hendrix became the worldwide musical legend every generation worships as the greatest guitarist of all time. Based on the true events surrounding the year from 1966 to 1967 that Jimmy James Marshall arrived in England and returned to America as Jimi Hendrix. It is also very much the story of an amazing young woman named Linda Keith who literally plucked Jimi from obscurity and inspired him to play his music his way. Though the two would not remain together, the very rich, deep and true affection they shared stayed with them for the remainder of Jimi’s too-short life. Their love is immortalized in the awe inspiring, yet over-looked Hendrix track titled ‘Sending My Love To Linda’. Rather than another telling of the downward spiral of a rock icon, this is the detailing of how a love supreme changed music history.
So it’s more of a love story it seems, focusing on just 1 year in Hendrix’s life.
The production is apparently legally in the clear to license the non-Hendrix cover songs that Andre will be singing in the film.
Producers are planning to take the film to Sundance Film Festival in 2013, hoping for a release soon after that festival.
Also, a soundtrack album featuring the Andre Benjamin covered songs is a possibility.
The feature film is written and directed by John Ridley (primarily a screenwriter; this will be his second feature film directorial effort).
Let’s wait and see what that first trailer looks like.