Fender Bender

Jimi Hendrix turned the electric guitar upside down — literally. Although left-handed, he played a right-handed Fender Stratocaster with its strings restrung in reverse order, just one more boost to the inventiveness of his sound. Hendrix was the first guitarist to make amplifier feedback part of his music. He introduced distortion to rock and roll. Of course, the ’60s were prime time for guitar heroes, and a bit of graffiti spray-painted in a London underground station famously declared: “Clapton is God.” But Hendrix challenged that deity in 1966 when he, the black, American, new kid in town, jammed with Cream and performed a stunning double-time reinterpretation of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” As Cream guitarist Eric Clapton later put it, “My life was never the same again.”

So what does all this mean today? It means you should make a point to catch “Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin’,” which premieres on November 5 at 9 p.m. on PBS. The new documentary includes home movie clips, interviews with people like Paul McCartney and Steve Winwood, and recently unearthed footage of the 1967 Miami Pop Festival. That’s post-London and pre-Monterey Pop, with Hendrix at his peak. In a word: electric. —John Birmingham


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