1970 was the year that Jimi Hendrix both left this world, and, nine months earlier, recorded his greatest performance. First take a moment to appreciate the fact that the late show performance of "Machine Gun" -- the New Year's Eve take that was included on the album "Band of Gypsys" --was captured on videotape. (Do we have footage of Charlie Parker stealing the show at J.A.T.P with "Lady Be Good" or John Coltrane tearing through "Chasin' the Trane" at the Village Vanguard?) Let's just give thanks for the technology that's allowed us to experience this epochal moment.
Jimi left us much, much too soon, but this terrifyingly vivid performance proves that he didn't leave us with promises unfulfilled. "Machine Gun" is the climax of his too short career, a summing up of all that he had achieved as a guitarist and sonic mastermind, as well as a gift to future musicians. It can also be heard as Hendrix's unspoken challenge to those who would follow: "This is what can be done with an electrical instrument -- now where are you going to take it?"
The beauty and musical significance of "Machine Gun" lies in Jimi's expressive use of technology. Never had a guitar been made to cry with the pain that he extracts from it. An electric guitar that is, one hooked up to an arsenal of amplifiers and effect boxes, all in Hendrix's unerring control. The machine was essential, but the man told it what to do.