Jimi Hendrix: The Star Spangled Banner
The Star Spangled Banner
Jimi Hendrix (guitar)
Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix (MCA/Universal MCAD-11671)
Composed by Francis Scott Key and John Stafford Smith.
Recorded: New York, August 19, 1969
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
When Jimi Hendrix took the stage on the final morning of Woodstock--"by the dawn's early light," as it were--the audience had dwindled from hundreds of thousands down to an exhausted, mud-covered remnant. But the stubborn 25,000 saw Hendrix unexpectedly pause mid-way in his set to rip apart "The Star-Spangled Banner." In that chaotic year of 1969, the Vietnam War and the protests against it were two of the storms raging, and Jimi channeled some of that national anger into his electric and electrifying deconstruction of the national anthem--"rockets red glare," indeed.
Several musicians were on stage, but this is a straight duel between Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell. The latter simply flails steadily for three minutes, while Jimi unleashes his full arsenal: echo, reverb, string-pulling, fingerpicking, atonal shrieks, wailing sirens and fire alarms, martial music and incoming missiles, bombs bursting in air, white noise. Shards of the hallowed, hard-to-sing melody can be heard at the relatively calm launch, and here and there throughout the cataclysmic performance, but the rest is Hendrix shredding his guitar, the national anthem, and the history of music.
Thanks to Coltrane and his acolytes, a New Thing was happening "o'er the Land of the Free," and ravenous Jimi tapped into that too--and in so doing he set the course, and the bar, for scores of jazz guitarists ever since, from John McLaughlin to Vernon Reid and Bill Frisell, from Sonny Sharrock to Blood Ulmer and John Zorn. These days, chord changes may still be observed, but otherwise anything goes, from the initial count-off till "the twilight's last gleaming" and final cymbal crash.
Reviewer: Ed Leimbacher