“Jimi: All Is By My Side” was written, directed and executive produced by John Ridley, who won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “12 Years a Slave.” “All Is By My Side” stars André Benjamin of hip-hop duo OutKast as Jimi Hendrix.
Imogen Poots stars as Linda Keith, who was Keith Richard’s girlfriend and the woman who discovered Hendrix. She introduced him to Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), who became his manager. Hayley Atwell (of the “Captain America” films) plays Kathy Etchingham, one of Hendrix’s long-term girlfriends. The cast is rounded out by Tom Dunlea as Mitch Mitchell, Oliver Bennett as Noel Redding and Danny McColgan as Eric Clapton.
My love for Jimi Hendrix began at age 15 when I ran away and discovered Greenwich Village, a Mardi Gras stuck in the times of tie-dye and patched jeans. It was 1975, and the ghosts of the 27 club — Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison — were everywhere. They were on T-shirts and posters and their records blasted from little headshops as you walked down West Eighth Street or stopped for a falafel at Mamoun’s on MacDougal Street.
Washington Square Park was filled with guitarists, and Hendrix wannabes with scarves tied around their head played acoustic versions of “Little Wing” and “Crosstown Traffic.” One afternoon, I was tripping on acid at the apartment of a guy I’d picked up in the park. I watched his white-bricks wall melt into waves of color to “Purple Haze” on his stereo. That was when I had what you might call a spiritual awakening. Finally, I’d found someone who understood me. It was Hendrix, a man who’d been dead for five years.
I became obsessed with his music and with him. I gobbled up every book I could find. I stared at photos and projected a living, breathing, human being onto them, much as a kid does with a doll or invisible friend. The first book I read was “Jimi” by Curtis Knight, an R&B musician Jimi played backup for in the years 1965 to 1967. During one performance with Knight, Linda Keith was in the audience. She was Keith Richard’s 19-year-old girlfriend who became mesmerized by Jimi’s talent and introduced him to Chas Chandler.
It is that slice of Hendrix’s life that is the topic of Ridley’s film, and André Benjamin nailed Jimi’s body language, the look, everything. He became Hendrix for this role.
The movie has some weaknesses, the main one being that the Jimi Hendrix estate would not agree to let any of Hendrix’s music be used in the film. We are deprived of experiencing the Jimi Hendrix Experience blasting off at Monterey. The film ends before we even see him walk into that life-changing, star-making concert.
“All Is By My Side” is worth seeing, though, especially for Hendrix aficionados and obsessed fans like me, and it was an honor to land an exclusive interview with Ridley for TheBlot Magazine.
Dorri Olds: How did this project come about?
John Ridley: It started late one night years ago. I was viewing a website with a bunch of Hendrix rarities. One song was powerful and emotional and really connected with me. I looked at the title of the song and it was “Send My Love to Linda.” I thought, “Who’s Linda?” I started doing research, interviews, looking for archival material and piecing together elements of those early years of Jimi’s life that a lot of people didn’t know about. When he left New York City for London, he went through a transformation as a man and an artist. It was a story that had an emotional velocity for me that was worth telling.
Did you take liberties?
As few as possible. There weren’t many needed. Because we’re talking about a very limited time frame, these are events when Hendrix arrived in London and met Clapton, Chas and Mitch and Noel and played for The Beatles in the Saville Theatre. These things happened, and with great rapidity, so rather than a cradle-to-grave bio pic where you have to move a lot of things around, there wasn’t a lot we had to move. We were presented with a history that tells its own tale.
Ida [Ruth Negga] was based on Jimi’s girlfriend Devon, who he met later in his life, but as one of his primary girlfriends of color and because her experience growing up was very, very different than Kathy’s and Linda’s, I thought it was very important to add a character like that earlier in the story. Since it wasn’t Devon, I used her middle name Ida. That was a little liberty taken, but I wanted to give a picture of the ethnocentric side, which is not normally dealt with. I thought it was important to get into. Other than that, it is largely factual. When there is an interesting history like his, there is little need to alter anything.
What can you say about Linda?
By all accounts, Linda was a remarkable person. She was very young, but had a lot of depth. She’d been around music and had an amazing understanding of the blues. She is someone who had great expectations of somebody based on their artistry and believed in what he could accomplish. Certainly that was borne out in history. To have someone who is only 19 and has the wherewithal to bring musicians to managers and not take no for an answer — that’s pretty special. It had a major impact not just on Jimi but on music history.
Had you always been a Hendrix fan yourself?
Like a lot of people I certainly thought I was a Hendrix fan. Then I began to dig more deeply into these stories. You really find out about someone as a person rather than just a rock ‘n’ roll icon. I liken it to kids who walk around wearing Che Guevara T-shirts but they don’t know much about the man, his politics and history. Or whether he was good or bad and what he believed in. A lot of people who call themselves Hendrix fans couldn’t tell you about his Polytechnic performance or the Saville performance or how he met Chas Chandler.
Had you known Jimi Hendrix beat up women, like he did Kathy Etchingham in the movie?
The stories are out there. We’re not the originators of them. One doesn’t have to be a good detective to find some of these stories. But it is also something that we didn’t want to dwell on or obsess on that or his drug abuse. Those problems were there, but he was a far more complex individual than any one aspect of his story. My problem is with these greatest-hits versions of biopics [where] you only get superficial aspects of a life instead of the real history. For me, it was a great pleasure to dig as deeply as possible into this man’s life.
“Jimi: All Is by My Side” opens on Friday, Sept. 26. Rated R. 116 min.
Watch the trailer:
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.