Veteran scribe Mick Wall will be familiar to many regular Loud readers, having being interviewed on several occasions on the site. For those unaware, here’s a quick rundown. Having penned biographies of rock titans such as AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, The Doors, Meatloaf and many more, he now fittingly turns his attention to Jimi Hendrix. Wall, who has edited magazine specials on Hendrix, has ample fodder to work with here, dissecting the life of a man who revolutionised the art of guitar playing and left a generation of despairing axe gunslingers in his wake.
Somewhat of an iconoclast in ideology and approach, Wall’s previous books – notably on AC/DC and The Doors – eschewed merely incorporating the numerous well-worn “truths” that many biographers regurgitate before moving on to cover the next major event in the subject’s life. It’s a pattern continued here, as Wall attempts to deconstruct the many myths and overall mystique that inevitably surrounds certain artists, particularly those who died as young as Hendrix. This style also prompts the reader to question what they had previously believed.
This biography’s timeline jumps about frequently, and the non-linear format may be jarring for some initially. It’s also written in a vivid, kaleidoscopic style that places you amongst the action, while often taking detours to profile key figures in Hendrix’s inner circle such as producers, managers, fellow musicians and girlfriends.
Furthermore, a concerted effort is made to provide historical, social and political context, documenting events such as Martin Luther King’s death and the rise of the Black Panthers, and the ensuing effect on Hendrix’s behaviour and perception at the time. Nearly 50 years after his passing, this does help put the axeman’s cultural impact into sharper perspective. Said tack may be divisive, however, much like the “flashback” sections of Wall’s Zeppelin bio irked or outright confused some.
These chapters are occasionally interspersed with extended Q&As featuring additional pivotal people in Hendrix’s life, such as ex-partner and writer Kathy Etchingham, and producer/engineer Eddie Kramer. They provide a welcome breather from the primary story-telling device, while also affording some of the book’s greatest insights. The latter’s interview in particular delves into the lucrative business that is the seemingly endless line of posthumous Hendrix releases. Although fascinating, it perhaps also leaves the reader wanting a little more, such as a wider examination of the inner workings of the operation of Hendrix’s estate nowadays. They are notoriously protective of the late guitarist’s image (or in 2019 terms, his “brand”), as their lack of endorsement for 2013 biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side highlighted. So perhaps those involved in the estate simply didn’t grant the author access.
Two Riders Were Approaching… doesn’t aim to be comprehensive, or even definitive in some respects. Instead, the 300-plus pages largely attempt to capture the essence of the man and those around him – the troubled upbringing, rise to fame, showmanship, immeasurable influence on music in just a four-year period, and premature, still contentious death. On that front, it succeeds.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the plethora of Hendrix-related books already on the market would be sufficient, and the back cover even acknowledges that his is a story told many times before. But the unique approach and fresh interviews undertaken should afford sufficient points of difference and intrigue, even for those whose shelves are sagging under the weight of Hendrix content.