There are a lot of things that writer/director John Ridley’s upcoming biopic of rock great Jimi Hendrix, All Is By My Side, has going for it. The most obvious asset being its star, André Benjamin, who has shown potential as an actor, has a ton of experience being a musician, and looks pretty much exactly like Jimi Hendrix once he’s all dressed up in costume and letting his afro roam free. There’s one huge stumbling block that has a lot of people questioning what the point of making this movie is at all though: the Hendrix estate didn’t sign off on letting them use any of the musician’s music in the film. How do you make a movie about Hendrix’s music career without showing him playing any of his music? Rolling Stone has the scoop.
Apparently the biggest strategy Ridley and company are employing when it comes to getting around the issue of not being able to use any of Hendrix’s copyrights is that they’re going to focus on an isolated part of the musician’s career, the period where he was just emerging onto the scene in ’66 and ’67. Or, as producer Sean McKittrick puts it, “This is the story of Jimi being discovered as a backup musician and how he went to London and became Jimi Hendrix.” In McKittrick’s opinion, focusing on just the early part of Hendrix’s career is smarter than making a movie that covers his whole life, because, “That would be like making a movie about Kurt Cobain. We all know how that story ends.”
Of course, many people would probably like to see a movie about Kurt Cobain, and even more would probably be interested in learning more about the last days of Jimi Hendrix, so the real reason All Is By My Side is sticking to the early years is probably so it can get around the No Hendrix Music mandate and present a time in the musician’s life when he was mostly performing covers of other people’s songs. To that end the film’s producers have licensed a treasure trove of other people’s music, which Benjamin has recently recorded covers of for the film’s soundtrack. Tracks include The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ Chip Taylor’s song ‘Wild Thing,’ which is best known for its cover by The Troggs, ‘Hound Dog,’ which was made famous by Elvis Presley and Big Mama Thornton, the Muddy Waters song ‘Mannish Boy,’ and the Elmore James song ‘Bleeding Heart.’
That’s definitely a strong group of songs, and it will be interesting to hear what they sound like when Benjamin performs them as Hendrix; but does it make up for the fact that the film won’t contain any Hendrix originals? A representative for the Hendrix estate probably put it best by saying, “They want to make a Jimi Hendrix movie without Jimi Hendrix music. It would be like making a movie about Lincoln without being able to use the Gettysburg Address.” I hear they’ve licensed some sweet Chester A. Arthur speeches though.