We can’t think of any better person to ring in the new year at PKM than Jimi Hendrix. A new documentary investigates the Hawaiian concert that became Rainbow Bridge, and corrects a misperception that Hendrix was losing his creative direction by being there. Richie Unterberger spoke with film director John McDermott about that event and Hendrix’s future plans and projects, all of which were cut short by his tragic death in September 1970.
Several rock superstars ventured into films in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with results that were often haphazard, to say the least. The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour was their biggest critical failure, alternating splendid music with amateurish plotlessness. Disputes over how to film and release the soundtrack to their rockumentary Let It Be played a big part in their breakup. The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus wasn’t released for almost thirty years. Bob Dylan’s 1966 tour documentary Eat the Document almost entirely eschewed historic live footage for mundane scenes of the singer and the band outside the concert halls. The Doors’ documentary Feast of Friends was nearly incomprehensible.
There were also absurd blends of fantasy, reality, and shards of music, from Neil Young’s Journey Through the Past to the Incredible String Band’s Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending. The Who never even got to the starting line with Lifehouse, a rock opera that was supposed to also be a film, and that no one but its originator Pete Townshend could understand. The list could go on.
“This was the first time a movie had been financed on the promise of a soundtrack album,”
Arguably no such project, however, was as downright bizarre as Rainbow Bridge. Part improvised hippie raps, part surf film, part surrealism, and wholly amateurish, its attempt to ride the Easy Rider bandwagon for countercultural films was jaw-droppingly awful. Its one saving grace was Jimi Hendrix, who can be seen performing in the Maui hills with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox before an audience of several hundred hippies on July 30, 1970, less than two months before his death. Conditions were so windy that foam had to be cut from the band’s equipment cases to cover the microphones.
Hendrix’s appearance in Rainbow Bridge (and his very brief “acting” role in the film itself) wasn’t a mere happenstance cameo. The movie was financed by his record label, in a deal arranged by his manager. The intention had been for Jimi to do the soundtrack. When a Hendrix LP titled Rainbow Bridge appeared in late 1971, however, it contained no recordings from his performance in the film, adding to the confusion.
How did such a weird deal ever get greenlighted, and what could Rainbow Bridge have been had Hendrix not died in September 1970? That’s what the new Blu-ray documentary Music, Money, Madness…Jimi Hendrix in Maui investigates. It’s now part of a package that also features a two-CD set with recordings from both of his Maui shows on that day, and bonus Blu-ray features with all of the existing color footage (some not used in Rainbow Bridge) of his Maui performances.
The Roots of Rainbow Bridge
Concerts from Hendrix’s final months have been well represented by DVDs, such as Jimi Plays Berkeley (filmed May 30, 1970), Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (from July 4 of that year), and Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight (the last time he was filmed well in performance, on August 31). His Maui concerts were unlike those, however, and indeed unlike concerts by almost anyone. So was the road to how it got staged in the first place.
“This was the first time a movie had been financed on the promise of a soundtrack album,” explains Music, Money, Madness director John McDermott. Hendrix’s manager, Mike Jeffery, “had gone to Warner Records, because Jimi and [Jeffery] were partners in Electric Lady Studios. Come January 1970, they’re effectively out of money. There’ve been cost overruns, there’ve been all kinds of construction problems which led to those overruns, which just bled them out. Jimi had been kind of financing it on a pay-as-you-go basis, where he would go perform a handful of shows and come back, and his share of money would be used to kind of keep the studio project going.
“So Jeffery went to Reprise, Jimi’s label at the time, and was able to secure a loan against Jimi’s future royalties to pay for the studio. From the vantage point of [Reprise/Warners executive] Mo Ostin, it was a smart play. Because this is a recording facility from which Jimi Hendrix would make more product and be able to deliver more product to Warner Brothers. He was selling a great number of albums and it wasn’t that much of a risk.
“As we detail in the film, there’s that ‘oh by the way’ moment where Jeffery then says [Jimi’s] working on a new project now.” Warners thought Jeffery meant a new Hendrix album—something they were dying to get, as Jimi hadn’t put out a studio LP since Electric Ladyland a year and a half earlier (the March 1970 Band of Gypsys concert album came out on Capitol, for complicated legal reasons). When Jeffery “said it was a soundtrack for him—none of which was true, of course—Warners flipped and said, ‘You owe that to us.’ He said, ‘No. You check your contract. You don’t get a soundtrack album.’
“So Jeffery was able to kind of hastily make a deal. They put effectively half a million dollars into this surfing documentary project called Wave, for which Jimi Hendrix was going to create a soundtrack record. Paul McCartney had done Family Way, George Harrison had done Wonderwall Music. There’d been a few contemporary rock artists scoring movies. Warners thought that was interesting. It was never sold [to] them that Jimi Hendrix would appear; he would perform. They thought he was providing a score for this film.”
Although a little off the wall, the notion of Hendrix scoring a surf documentary has its appeal, even though he’d famously intoned “you’ll never hear surf music again” in “Third Stone from the Sun.” “It would have been interesting to see how he reacted to the footage, not being a surfer or anything like that,” says McDermott, who as the author of Jimi Hendrix: Sessions (co-written with Billy Cox and engineer Eddie Kramer) might have heard more Hendrix music than anyone but Jimi himself. “But kind of how he felt his music could serve those scenes. It would have been great.” But it wouldn’t turn out that way.
The Road to Rainbow Bridge
There are some surf scenes in Rainbow Bridge, but much of the film is an interminably meandering cinema vérité document of stoned hippie culture, improvised without a script. Directing this opus was Chuck Wein, whose primary film credit had been as writer and assistant director on one of the Andy Warhol films starring Edie Sedgwick, Beauty No. 2. He’d also worked as director on another 1965 Warhol film, My Hustler. Why choose Wein, when so many other candidates might have been eager to work on a movie connected with Hendrix?
“It was all about timing,” feels McDermott. “Easy Rider made it seem to some of the more stodgy executives that a crazy film like this could work. Easy Rider worked, so why wouldn’t this work? He was associated with Warhol, whose star at that point was shining brightly as this creative force that few people understood, but they were certainly aware of. So he had a lot of things going for him in that right moment. And Jeffery, incredibly, fell into it and bought into it.”
Already a successful rock manager with the Animals before the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jeffery had his eye on expanding from artist management into other fields. “I think he saw this as a future,” adds McDermott. “He had an interest in producing a film about Michael Collins, the Irish rebel. He had some visions for doing more theatrical type productions.” But Jeffery and Hendrix were so eager to get more money to finish Electric Lady—and Warners/Reprise so anxious to get another Hendrix album, even if that might be a soundtrack—that haste might have overridden good judgement.
Hendrix scoring a surf documentary has its appeal, even though he’d famously intoned “you’ll never hear surf music again” in “Third Stone from the Sun.”
For while Easy Rider might have been unfathomable to studio suits, it was far more professional than Rainbow Bridge (and a number of other late-‘60s/early-‘70s counterculture films, for that matter). It starred top actors Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson. While they weren’t experienced producers and directors, Fonda (who produced) and Hopper (who directed) were Hollywood veterans who knew something about filmmaking and devising stories for the cinema, co-writing the movie with Terry Southern. Supporting actresses Karen Black and Toni Basil were far more accomplished than anyone with speaking parts in Rainbow Bridge. Even the non-speaking cameo by a celebrity non-actor (Phil Spector, as a drug connection) came off well. And its soundtrack—the first hit movie to effectively use a diverse selection of period rock songs to complement the action—was groundbreaking, featuring Hendrix’s own “If Six Was Nine” in one crucial scene.
From Easy Rider:
Rainbow Bridge leaves the impression that it was kind of an excuse for a bunch of surfers, hippies, and various hangers-on to party, meditate, and pontificate on film. It wasn’t what a staid Maui Episcopal prep school, Seabury Hall, had in mind when they allowed the participants to use the grounds for many scenes. (As the son of the school’s headmaster diplomatically remarks in the documentary, the filmmakers didn’t get their security deposit back.) More worrisome for Warner Brothers and Jeffery was the realization that there might not be material for a marketable film. Unless, perhaps, Hendrix himself could do more than just write the soundtrack.
“Which is really what led to them needing more Jimi Hendrix content in the film,” says McDermott. “I think that’s what led to the whole idea of Jimi doing the concert in the pasture. They needed to film something, because what they were doing at the school just wasn’t panning out.”
When Rainbow Bridge began filming in May 1970 with Hawaiian surf scenes, he stresses, “Jimi Hendrix was never part of this creative process. It’s not a Jimi Hendrix project.” Chuck Wein, however, “was incessantly trying to get Jimi to appear in the film. Because I think they knew they needed it. They were working without a script and hadn’t really filmed anything of substance. There was a bit of a panic there that they’d better have something in the can.”
The Maui Concert
So when Jimi arrived in Hawaii—where he was to give his final US concert on August 1, at the Honolulu International Center—“he’s told, ‘Hey, tomorrow we’re gonna be filming you guys,’” resumes McDermott. “It’s that kind of a thing, just kind of thrown in their lap. Mitch, Jimi, and Billy viewed this as like ‘yeah, this is Mike’s movie, and so we’re gonna play to the people that they’ve been filming here.’ They saw it solely, I think, as ‘we’re a backdrop to this whole thing.’”
In a scenario unimaginable today—unimaginable almost anytime, really—cast and crew rounded up a few hundred Maui youngsters, letting likely suspects on Lahaina’s main drag know the Jimi Hendrix Experience would be playing on a ranch near the Haleakala volcano. A rudimentary stage was quickly constructed, and a multi-track tape machine procured from Honolulu. To guard against wind at the 2,000-foot altitude, the foam covering Hendrix’s vocal mike was as big as a boxing glove.
“Jimi was the guy selling out basketball arenas and headlining rock festivals,” points out McDermott. “Three weeks before he’s headlining the Atlanta Pop Festival,” to a crowd of several hundred thousand. “But here he’s part of this incredibly wacky show, which is playing to a few hundred people seated in astrological order. I mean, you couldn’t make it up.”
Spur of the moment and semi-professional as it was, the Experience didn’t just go through the motions, or play the minimal amount of material needed to supply Rainbow Bridge footage. The two shows packed in about 100 minutes of music, with just one song (“Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)”) appearing in both sets. Although favorites like “Foxey Lady,” “Fire,” “Purple Haze,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Spanish Castle Magic,” and “Stone Free” were featured, more than half the songs had yet to appear on record. Some, like “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun),” “Dolly Dagger,” “Ezy Ryder,” and “Freedom,” would have likely appeared on Hendrix’s next studio album had he not died before he could finish it at Electric Lady.
Once they were in this improbable milieu, continues McDermott, “It had to be fun. Because one thing about Jimi, Mitch, and Billy, they loved to play. They really did enjoy playing with each other. In the first set, obviously a lot of his signature songs are there. But the ability to just come out and try the new things, and see how they react to the audience and what that interaction is about, it’s clearly evident that the three of them are having fun.”
And not, at the time, thinking this was a major endeavor, immortalized half a century later on a three-disc combination CD/Blu-ray. “To them, they were bemused. Because this was somebody else’s party. I don’t know that Jimi, Mitch, and Billy would have been happy if this were a Jimi Hendrix Experience show and it was this untogether. I think that would absolutely not have had the same carefree, light, cool, vibe. I think the very fact that this was Mike’s deal, or Chuck Wein’s deal, made it all fine. Because they were just doing what they did, which was just playing music.
Easy Rider made it seem to some of the more stodgy executives that a crazy film like this could work. Easy Rider worked, so why wouldn’t this work?
“If this were a Jimi Hendrix show and it was untogether as that, I have a feeling it would not have been as easygoing. But I think in this context, it really was. They had fun. What was the downside? Beautiful location, beautiful day. Wind aside, they’re just doing their thing.”
As long as Hendrix was around, he was also corralled into briefly appearing in a few non-musical scenes for Rainbow Bridge at Seabury Hall, even awkwardly rambling in one of the stoned raps about wizards, past lives, and such. “As it kind of continued to blossom into ‘well, now we’re gonna film you, and now you wanna be on camera,’ he didn’t want any of that,” says McDermott. “Even the one scene where he’s in the movie with the rifle out of the window, we thought it was important to put [cast member] Les Potts in [the documentary] saying, well, actually they were filming the yoga scene, and Jimi was saying, ‘Now you get back off your heads, move your ass, and break’s over.’
But unlike how it appears in Rainbow Bridge, Hendrix “wasn’t shooting the guy giving the speech. That was all put together later to kind of make it seem like this was a scripted thing. Jimi just had fun, opened up the window and did that. But that’s how desperate they were to have some Hendrix in the film. If he had opened up the window and sang ‘Happy Birthday,’ they would have tried to make that work too. They had so little Hendrix that they just had to try to find a way to get him involved.”
Rainbow Bridge Post-Production
Hendrix’s mind wasn’t on Rainbow Bridge when he left Hawaii. He had a brief European tour (including the set filmed at the Isle of Wight festival) later that summer, and his biggest priority was finishing what would have been his fourth studio album. “Jimi has a vacation in Hawaii, comes home, goes right back into the recording studio, and Rainbow Bridge is forgotten,” says McDermott. “That’s Mike’s project.” But Hendrix’s death in London on September 18, 1970 “changed everything.”
Getting Jimi to write an original score for the movie wasn’t an option. Besides the Maui concert footage, the rest of what had been filmed for Rainbow Bridge would be difficult to salvage, especially without a Hendrix soundtrack (or accompanying Hendrix soundtrack LP). “To have this flame out as spectacularly as it was doing, that had to be really disconcerting,” McDermott observes. “After Jimi dies, there’s no way back for Michael. Because it was Jimi’s largesse, if you will, that even made it all possible. It wasn’t as if he was going to be able to go back to Warners now and say, ‘Give me another half a million, I gotta fix this.’”
ne way to fix it, or at least exercise damage control, was to insert 17 minutes from the Maui concert. “The Hendrix footage ultimately became something where they were working around the gaps in the film that had been shot,” notes McDermott. Producer Barry De Prendergast and Wein, he believes, “were fighting over what the movie was going to be. They always knew they had the Hendrix. That was the saving grace. But I think it was the argument of how much of this stuff is gonna make the final film, and do you need it.”
Another was to make drastic cuts to the rest of the material. As hard as it is to sit through Rainbow Bridge’s two hours (Hendrix’s performance excepted), it must have been grueling to view the rough cut, which ran for a little more than four hours. “It’s amazing that De Prendergast was allowed to literally cut the negative and toss the rest of it. That to me just seems completely shortsighted. It seemed like slash and burn at the time. Just get this thing out, we gotta rescue it.
“If Jimi hadn’t died, he might have looked at that footage and said, ‘Nah, I don’t think it captures it, I won’t approve it. Maybe we can film us doing something else.’ He would have asserted a more creative control over the presentation of his music, I believe strongly.” But “Jeffery realized that he was in a deep hole, particularly after Jimi died. I think that’s what led to trying to pack in as much Hendrix.”
Yet another way to get something out of Rainbow Bridge was to issue a soundtrack album, even if Hendrix could no longer write an original soundtrack for it. But while an LP titled Rainbow Bridge did appear until a year after Jimi’s death, it didn’t include any of the Maui performances heard in the Rainbow Bridge film. Instead, it presented studio outtakes spanning 1968 to 1970, along with one live track that had been recorded in May 1970 at the Berkeley Community Theatre. Excerpts from most of the tracks of the LP were used on the soundtrack as incidental music. But fans expecting a sort of Hendrix movie from the way Rainbow Bridge was advertised, and/or an actual soundtrack to that film on the album of the same name, understandably felt perplexed, or even burned.
Three weeks before he’s headlining the Atlanta Pop Festival,” to a crowd of several hundred thousand. “But here he’s part of this incredibly wacky show, which is playing to a few hundred people seated in astrological order.
“When I bought the Rainbow Bridge record, I thought it was fantastic. ‘Dolly Dagger’ and ‘Room Full of Mirrors’ were two great songs,” says McDermott. “The Cry of Love”—Hendrix’s first posthumous album, released in March 1971—“had ‘Dolly Dagger’ and ‘Room Full of Mirrors’ pulled from it prior to its release. I think you add them to Cry of Love and that just makes a great record greater. But I had no idea—like, why is it supposed to be in Maui? And they have a live song from Berkeley on there. Like, what’s this all about?
“That built up the anticipation to see the film, ‘cause the songs on that record were great. They were these really amazing studio performances, fresh material. Then when I saw the movie, I was further confused. Because now, like, what the hell is this? And none of the things that I had heard on the record were [performed] in the movie.
“If you’re asking me what the real flaw of his association with this project [was], I think it’s the confusion it created in the time shortly after his death, where people wondered, is this where Jimi Hendrix was going? Rainbow Bridge was the second thing that came out after his death, and quite close to Cry of Love. Its greatest sin is that it negatively impacted people’s understanding of where Jimi was headed, and that’s unfortunate. He’d matured and gotten to the point where he owned and controlled his own recording facility. I think that next record would have been a fully formed creative statement that would have further defined his reputation.
“Because of Michael Jeffery’s poor decision-making in this instance, it came back and fell on Jimi’s reputation. Because Jimi wasn’t here to defend it, or articulate what his vision was.”
Making the Music, Money, Madness Film
McDermott, one of the top experts on Hendrix, has written several books on Jimi, as well as the liner notes for and working on the production of several Hendrix compilations. He’d tried to detail the story of Rainbow Bridge in his first Hendrix book, Setting the Record Straight, nearly thirty years ago. With access to outtake footage that could be incorporated into a Rainbow Bridge documentary, he felt such a film “could serve two goals. One was kind of to unhitch Jimi’s unique performance—a very relaxed kind of cool performance in an amazing setting—from the whole wackiness of Rainbow Bridge. And yet at the same time, kind of explain how his posthumous legacy was done harm by the unfair association, or really close association, of his name with this film.
“I knew the players that I could speak to, because I had spoken to many of them when I did my book. I knew the story was really fascinating, and you could expand it and detail a really interesting chapter in Hendrix’s career. That’s really what led to the doc.”
Considering Music, Money, Madness was made nearly half a century later, quite a few participants in Rainbow Bridge’s production were interviewed for the documentary. They include cast members, script supervisor Bambi Merryweather, Electric Lady engineer John Jansen, and photographer Brian Byrnes, who took pictures of the Maui shows. Since many documentaries try to glorify their subjects, it’s refreshing to hear some of the commentators admit the film wasn’t very good, or even disastrous. Asked for her assessment, Hendrix friend Colette Harron pulls no punches: “It was awful!”
Its greatest sin is that it negatively impacted people’s understanding of where Jimi was headed, and that’s unfortunate.
One notable absentee is the movie’s star actress, Pat Hartley, who along with some other cast can be seen grooving to the Experience on the Maui ranch. “We did inquire, but the interest just wasn’t there,” according to McDermott. “Obviously, Pat had been someone Chuck knew in the Warhol Factory days. I think she would have added something, but she just didn’t want to participate.” Naturally some of the other key players in the saga are no longer alive, including Hendrix and Jeffery (who died in a 1973 plane accident). Neither is Mitch Mitchell, but he’s represented by comments in an interview filmed before his 2008 death.
Chuck Wein also died in 2008, but he’s also represented by an archive interview, from an unexpected source. When he speaks on camera in Music, Money, Madness, “Chuck was really being interviewed as part of a surfing documentary, and yet the opportunity came up to explain the whole background and history of his involvement in Rainbow Bridge. It had never been used or broadcast, but I was aware of it. Chuck was allowed some time to detail his, shall we say, unique perspective”—one that, perhaps unsurprisingly, views the Rainbow Bridge project in a much more positive light than its numerous critics do.
“Nothing articulates Hendrix better than Hendrix, so you wish there were more of Jimi kind of giving you some sense of what he thought of this whole deal. But he died six, seven weeks later or so. There really wasn’t ever any commentary from him. So that was sorely missed. But we really felt like we got the voices we needed to be able to tell the story so that people could understand not only the problems of the production, but what happened after Jimi died and they actually tried to bring the film to market.”
Restoring the Footage and Sound
If you want to experience Hendrix’s Maui performances in a more complete and uninterrupted manner than you can in the Rainbow Bridge movie, the Blu-ray’s bonus footage serves as something of a pure concert film. “Something” is a key qualifier here, since unfortunately the cameras weren’t running all the time and missed a good deal of the show. Indeed, sometimes they weren’t running all the way through some songs, and still photographs fill in some of these gaps. How was this footage found, and could any more still be out there?
“Like all things with Jimi Hendrix, when the Hendrix family was able to win its litigation and take back control, we’ve had to kind of keep a big net out there for film, tapes, photographs, all kinds of things,” says McDermott. “Many of which were in the archive at one point during Jimi’s lifetime, or just shortly after his death, that all went astray. Then you also had other people that had various complaints or legal things where if you resolved it, you could get the materials back.
“So we had a couple of different sources for additional Maui footage that we were able to pursue, and actually did it many years ago, always keeping the hope that there might be more. Then you reach a point where you can’t find anymore. You’ve truly exhausted every lead you have. So we went forward on that basis, feeling like, ‘Well, this is everything that exists. We’re gonna make the very best of it and try to share it with folks as best we can.’
“If it was just the original seventeen minutes, I don’t think we could have done this project. We were able to expand it in a way that I think people are like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s great.’” Although, as he acknowledges, “in those sections where the cameras inexplicably shut off, you see what’s missing. Yes, they filmed some things, and it’s beautiful. But how do you not have the cameras running for ‘Purple Haze’? I mean, I know Jimi used to play with his set list, but you gotta think that the cameramen might be ready for that one. Like, ‘Hey, let’s turn on. People know this song’. Sadly, that’s not the case. They didn’t get into it until they were already into the verse. We’re just grateful they had ‘em all on for ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return).’”
“Jimi has a vacation in Hawaii, comes home, goes right back into the recording studio, and Rainbow Bridge is forgotten,”
Restoring the sound from the Maui shows was also a challenge, as “it was not recorded in the manner in which Eddie [Kramer, who engineered much of Hendrix’s catalog] had done for Jimi in places like Woodstock or Miami Pop or things like that. Or a great remote engineer like a Bill Halverson and Wally Heider, how they had done for example the Winterland concerts there. You would have two eight-track machines staggered so you don’t miss anything. You’d have a place where you could at least set up your monitoring, and treat it as an exercise.
“If you think about [his show in] Berkeley, similar situation. They brought in Abe Jacob to kind of come in from McCune Sound in San Francisco, just making sure everything was right. Jimi would do a sound check, you’d be careful to know that you’re gonna be recording this performance. You want everything to go right. I think here, they had none of that.” In fact, there were so many problems with the original recording that Mitchell replaced his original drum parts on performances that were used in the Rainbow Bridge film.
“But for us, Eddie did a great job to bring as much fidelity into the mix as he could, particularly with Jimi’s vocals, which were hampered by all the foam they had wrapped around the microphones. I think with Mitch’s drums, not only was it the issue of the fact that he had to overdub them. There were a bunch of different problems. Since we were presenting all of the performance, there were mike issues. There were other problems happening that day that Eddie really was able to work around, isolate, negate.
“Some of those distracting technical gremlins that were a part of that throughout the whole thing, he just did a great job being able to slowly, carefully figure out ‘okay, how can I get as much of Jimi in fidelity here to the listener without having to implement techniques that would take away from what he would normally sound like, and your enjoyment of him in a live context like this?’ He was able to do that.”
The Rainbow Bridge That Could Have Been
Would Rainbow Bridge have been better off just being a Jimi Hendrix concert film? It’s unlikely that was ever considered, especially as he was already highlighted in the Monterey and Woodstock movies, and Jimi Plays Berkeley (featuring his May 30, 1970 appearance) would come out in 1971. But as McDermott reminds us, “They played the following night in Honolulu. They had a sold-out show at the HIC Arena. Billy Cox was like, ‘Oh, we were on that night.’ Mike Neal, who did the front-of-house sound for the band, says [it was] one of [his] favorite Hendrix moments of working with him.
“Hearing that makes you realize god, they were so stupid to not cover that in some way; to go over there and get some great footage of Jimi. I’m just surprised they didn’t go to Honolulu only because of the technical problems that happened that day, with the wind and the recording glitches and things of that nature. Why of all the money they spent on footage, they wouldn’t have just said, ‘Jesus, why don’t we take two of the guys over to Honolulu and we can get some footage?’
“But I think for Chuck, the spectacle [of the Maui concert] was enough. The very fact that he had been able to kind of conjure up this show in this pasture with Jimi—that was more important than actually what Jimi was doing. That’s the unfortunate thing. Why wouldn’t you have tried to get as much real Jimi and cover it in a really compelling and amazing way?
“I had thought that they didn’t have the capability to do it. But as I dug further into it, they had the crew, they had the film stock. They had already been over to Honolulu previously. They had sourced one eight-track tape machine from Honolulu. That was one of the biggest surprises for me, that they weren’t smart enough to just say ‘hey, we better go and see what else we can get with the guys, and film them over in Honolulu.’ It was a tremendous missed opportunity.”
But as McDermott allows, “That enters into a whole other can of worms, where they would have to gone to Jimi and said, ‘Oh, can we film you, can we do this?’ I think he would have reacted in a negative way and said, ‘No no no, we’re not ready for that. This isn’t the time for that.’ I think in the field, it was fun, it was whatever. But I think them then getting in front of a Jimi Hendrix show and filming it in the way they did, he would have wanted more control, more input, more pre-event knowledge of what was gonna go down.”
The Soundtrack Album That Never Happened
The most interesting question Music, Money, Madness raises is: what might a real Jimi Hendrix soundtrack to Rainbow Bridge have sounded like? Not the mere seventeen minutes in which the Experience are seen playing in the film, or the Rainbow Bridge LP, whose tracks weren’t intended as the soundtrack to anything. Part of the reason Rainbow Bridge ever got off the ground was because Jimi was supposed to have composed and performed an original score, though this fell by the wayside when he died less than two months later.
“I think he viewed that as a cool project that he could do at the studio,” McDermott speculates. “He did meet [Mike] Hynson”—one of the guys who’d surfed on a trip around the world in the 1966 documentary The Endless Summer, and is interviewed in Music, Money, Madness. “Hynson said, ‘When we’re surfing, your music kind of fits. Because you can do your guitar thing around that.’” Of course Rainbow Bridge turned into something different than a straight surf film, though at least Hendrix might have soundtracked its surf scenes.
Still, McDermott thinks “Jimi would have approached it in a really interesting, creative way. He would have been able to use a lot of those kind of fascinating tones and interesting structure that he’d build around specific themes, whether it’s manipulating feedback or coming up with other cool things. If you look at how he brought his imagination to interpreting ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ you can only imagine what he would have done with the surfing footage. Because it would have struck him in a unique way, and that would have manifested itself into a fascinating soundtrack had he been given the opportunity to put 100% of his creativity into it.
“If this were a Jimi Hendrix project, it would have been done so much differently. Jimi would have been at the tip of the spear, saying, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do.’” But with the way Rainbow Bridge ended up being filmed and posthumously marketed, “He’s kind of passing through somebody else’s creative idea. Sadly, with his death, he becomes the victim of I guess what you’d call the circus of ambition by others, that he had only a tangential connection to.”
that next record would have been a fully formed creative statement that would have further defined his reputation.
Say Hendrix hadn’t died, and had managed to apply his talents to soundtracking a movie more on the level of Easy Rider. What might have resulted in that scenario? For McDermott, there’s “no doubt in my mind that would have been a tremendous addition to any kind of film like that. It could have been a counterculture film, it could have been the most straight-up commercial property that you had. It all would depend on the script, the placement, the usage. He was an artist whose talent was such that incorporating his creativity within something would only make it stronger.”
When the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “If Six Was Nine” was featured in Easy Rider, John adds, Jimi’s initial producer/co-manager Chas Chandler “told me when they all saw the movie, how impactful it was for them. Because it presented that song in a way that they had never thought of before. When they cut it, it was just a great track, and it was the closing [song] on the Axis [Bold As Love] record. There was a great deal of pride in the fact that it was used in the movie so prominently.
“But with Rainbow Bridge, Jimi wasn’t afforded that opportunity to kind of put his thumbprint in there and say ‘yeah, here’s the right song, this’ll be great.’ The problem is that even the insertion of his music into the film was all done without him reacting to it. They took a bunch of pieces that existed because they were on tape, and found ways to put them into the film.
“If you had another movie like Easy Rider that was not necessarily the same story, and Hendrix was given that opportunity to really take a step back and say, ‘Okay, here’s what I feel like I can creatively bring to this’…If it was just a simple surfing documentary, Jimi’s music, if it had been in that manner and that context, would have improved it.” As it was ultimately used in Rainbow Bridge, “Just putting it in, in a posthumous way from what exists from out of context-type recordings…yeah, it’s Jimi. But I don’t know that it has the same impact.”
The Meaning of Maui
Rainbow Bridge wasn’t the best showcase for Hendrix’s talents within either the movie or the not-quite-soundtrack LP compiled in conjunction with its release. Now the music he performed before the cameras on July 30, 1970 stands apart from the movie with the Live in Maui CD and the standalone bonus footage in the accompanying Music, Money, Madness documentary. What makes his Maui shows significant when compared to other recordings and live performances in his extensive discography/filmography?
“I think it’s the relaxed nature of the presentation,” says McDermott. “This is not Jimi on stage closing the Atlanta Pop Festival. It’s not that huge heightened anticipation for Jimi Hendrix to bring an amazing event to a close, whether it’s Woodstock, Atlanta…think of all the various huge events he was a part of. It’s just different. It’s those guys having fun in the strangest of circumstances, just enjoying not only the hits, which they’re happy to play and having fun with. But it’s also being able to present new material in an engaging, cool way, where you clearly see they’re feeding off each other and having a good time. It’s so different from a fan who might have the Monterey DVD, or the Woodstock DVD, or something like that. This truly gives you another perspective of what Jimi was like on stage.
“There’s really nothing like it in the entire Hendrix library. Here it’s like you’re on a movie set, and the guys are just there to have fun. Once you unpack that from the wackiness of the Rainbow Bridge movie, you’re allowed to enjoy it in that context. You get to see Jimi and the guys tearing it up, playing things like ‘Dolly Dagger’ and Freedom.’ It somehow gave us the gift of Jimi in a cow pasture at the slope of a volcano on a beautiful sunny day in front of maybe 400 people. There are some things you just can’t script.”