There are multiple moments in Jimi Hendrix’s short but eventful career that are hailed as iconic: his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, setting his Fender Stratocaster alight at Monterey Pop, blowing Eric Clapton away during his Cream guest spot.
However, ask the Hendrix cognoscenti and they’ll tell you that – from a playing point of view – it’s hard to top his extended version of Machine Gun, recorded live with Band of Gypsys at the Fillmore East on January 1, 1970.
Now, through a quirk of the internet, a fully colorised clip of the 12-minute performance has surfaced on YouTube.
It is, admittedly, intercut with the occasional bit of stock footage for rights reasons, but it brings to vivid life the greatest rendition of Machine Gun ever captured – an event, some would argue, is the single greatest electric guitar performance in rock history.
Indeed, in a new Guitar World interview, Vernon Reid of Living Colour breaks down exactly why the Fillmore East performance of Machine Gun is so important.
“It’s the one electric guitar performance that stands out as being about more than just the notes he’s playing,” says Reid.
“Jimi was playing the zeitgeist there and spoke to what the nation was going through. He was communicating with people who were walking in rice paddies in Vietnam thousands of miles away. He was in solidarity with the Vietcong and the American G.I.’s with Machine Gun.”
The 1970 recording captures the full blend of dark bravado, patriotism, disillusionment, confusion and violence that faced the country’s youth at the turn of the ’60s. You can hear it all in his playing.
“Jimi plugged into something cinematic,” says Reid. “Like a movie coming from his guitar. If you look at a song like [Eddie Van Halen masterpiece] Eruption, while extraordinary, it’s about the guitar itself, but Machine Gun is about the nation at a specific point in time. Jimi plugged into that at an unprecedented level.”
As Hendrix himself concludes amid the applause at the close of the clip: “That’s one we don’t wanna hear anymore, right?”
Last month, news emerged of a new Hendrix concert recording, Jimi Hendrix Experience: Hollywood Bowl August 18, 1967, which captures the guitar hero on the cusp of his fame, playing to an audience of open-mouthed Mamas and Papas fans.