Forty years ago this weekend, at the height of the Vietnam War, guitar great Jimi Hendrix played the national anthem at a concert in upstate New York. He appeared Monday morning at the very end of the three-day concert when many of the 400,000 concert-goers had already left. Hendrix came on after Sha Na Na. Hendrix had made his name in America two years before at the Monterey Pop Festival. In another year and a month Hendrix would be dead. He was a shooting star across our sky.
Jimi Hendrix was not particularly anti-war at the time. In 1967 he even did a radio spot urging young men to serve in the army, as he had done in the early 1960s.
He was probably attracted to “The Star-Spangled Banner” mainly as a musical challenge to see what he could do with a well-worn piece of music that had lost its freshness. He did the same to “God Save the Queen”, “Little Drummer Boy”, “Auld Lang Syne” and “Silent Night”.
Hendrix performed “Red House” at the same concert. His E string breaks during the song but he carries on and does the rest of the song without it. “Because he is that awesome,” as my son puts it.