When Jimi Hendrix returned to his native America as a star, the country he knew had changed.
Presenter Tom Robinson explores the pressure the guitarist was under to make an explicit political declaration and how Jimi’s beliefs and racial outlook would not be shaken by the political trends of the time. Hendrix a former member of the parachute Regiment was ultimately a patriot (the programme explores his military career.) He rejected the mystical racist separatism of the Nation of Islam who’d successfully recruited Muhammad Ali to their struggle.
In fact, the guitarist was suspicious of any activist which saw race as the eye of the hurricane circling America and even more suspicious of black organizations which sought to recruit him. Jimi spoke through his guitar – the stage at Woodstock was the place where Hendrix took his chance to make a key statement about the Vietnam war. Towards the end of his set as he launched into ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ it was an eloquent (and wordless) statement. An epic deconstruction of the national anthem familiar to every American. Many saw it as a political statement against the Vietnam war. In retrospect however, it can also be read as a swan song for the era of peace and love and for Hendrix himself, who died in his sleep the following year.
Broadcast March 2016 BBC Radio 4 Xtra